The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

July 15, 2013

Jury instructions at center of Zimmerman verdict

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — Despite a clamoring by some for a conviction against George Zimmerman, jurors acquitted the former neighborhood watch leader of all charges, leaving many Americans to wonder how the justice system allowed him to walk away from the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Part of the answer is found in the 27-page jury instructions on two matters: justifiable use of deadly force and reasonable doubt. Jurors were told Zimmerman was allowed to use deadly force when he shot Martin not only if he faced actually faced death or bodily harm, but also if he merely thought he did.

Reasonable doubt can come from conflicting evidence and testimony, which jurors heard plenty of over nearly three weeks.

Some Martin family supporters may never understand the gap between the legal basis for the jury's acquittal and what they perceived as the proper outcome: Zimmerman's conviction for either second-degree murder or manslaughter.

"There is a difference between the law and what people think is fundamentally justice," said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based civil rights group.

Under Florida law, jurors were told to judge whether Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force by the circumstances he was under when he fired his gun. The instructions they were given said they should take into account the physical capabilities of both Zimmerman, 29, and Martin, 17. And if they had any reasonable doubt on whether Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force, they should find him not guilty.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt" is the highest standard of proof prosecutors face in American criminal courts. It means the jurors believe there is no other logical explanation for what happened than the defendant is guilty. If faced with two plausible explanations for what happened, jurors are supposed to acquit.

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