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Trayvon Martin & The Rise Of A Lynch Mob Mentality

Posted by on in Florida Criminal Law
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I suppose I should not write this.  I suppose I should just go with the flow created by the apparent overwhelming ground swell of the media and popular outrage over the Sanford Police Department’s failure to arrest George Zimmerman on a murder charge.  As a criminal defense attorney that knows well that the police are not only fallible but also capable of outright dishonesty, I still feel the need to speak in opposition to the idea that we can know with certainty the facts of this investigation by reading news reports or listening to popular media accounts.  As my friends and associates lineup on Facebook acknowledging that they have signed a petition essentially demanding that Zimmerman be immediately arrested, I can’t help but smell a lynch mob mentality that causes me to step back and urge caution.

Yes, seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was apparently unarmed when he was killed.  But what precisely transpired in those few seconds when George Zimmerman attempted his interaction with Trayvon Martin are critical to the legal analysis of whether probable cause exists to pursue murder charges.  If in fact Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head and had wet grass stains on his jacket as was initially reported, I’m not sure that the lynch mob urging an immediate arrest and prosecution is correct.   

The decision to prosecute or not should be based on the evidence and I just can’t trust the media to report the “facts” and analyze the “law” when the investigations are not even complete.  As I understand it, a special appointed Florida prosecutor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are all now investigating the circumstances that led to Trayvon Martin’s death.  Let those charged with the duty to investigate and prosecute complete their investigations and issue reports before jumping to conclusions.  Maybe the decision to arrest Zimmerman will be made by one or all of the law enforcement agencies investigating the physical and circumstantial evidence, but that determination should not be made simply because the media or a lynch mob demands such.

Unlike almost every media report I’ve heard or read concerning Trayvon Martin’s death, I just can’t assume that I know the facts of this case better than the law enforcement officers and prosecutors that are currently investigating Martin’s demise.  The decision to arrest a human should be based on the law and facts, not emotional beliefs arising from media hype, political posturing and Facebook petitions.  For all of those out there demanding an arrest based on whatever news source you've heard or read, I urge caution.  Media reports and popular outrage should not be the sole basis of decision making in any justice system.

Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.