The Burden of Proof and George Zimmerman


On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin. The story immediately attracted national attention as it involved an unarmed teenager and a zealous neighborhood watch captain. Millions were outraged at the death of Martin and assumed Zimmerman was guilty of the crime even though there were no eyewitnesses and Zimmerman claimed the shooting was self-defense.

Fueled by media reports, Zimmerman was quickly found guilty in the court of public opinion. Despite this hindrance, George Zimmerman had a legal advantage on his side. In America, the burden of proof is on the accuser. This means that the State of Florida and the prosecutor's have to prove that Zimmerman was guilty of shooting Martin with the intent to kill. The prosecution must demonstrate that the killing was not in self-defense or that there were no other factors in play that could bring the charge down from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

In this case, the prosecution's burden of proof seems to be working favorably for George Zimmerman's defense. One of Florida's prominent defense attorney's, Diana Tennis claimed that the prosecution's witnesses were hurting their case, saying, "when you are talking about state witnesses as if they are defense witnesses, that is a problem for the State of Florida … and any time you end each day with either a zero-sum game or the defense coming out ahead, that's a problem when you're the prosecution." Going into the trial, almost everyone assumed that this was an open and shut case for the prosecution. However, the burden of proof has turned out to be a major obstacle in the State of Florida's case against George Zimmerman.

By Owen Dirkse, Summer Intern