What do the trials of Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson and the officers who assaulted Rodney King have in common?
Beside widespread national media coverage, each trial featured an unsympathetic defendant accused of a violent crime.
Each jury was unable to reach a guilty verdict due to lack of evidence — prompting a widespread outcry from the public against what they viewed as a failure of the judicial system.
The recent trial of George Zimmerman is no different.
Although it should have been expected given the lack of evidence, the “not guilty” verdict immediately elicited small protests around the nation. Dissenters gathered in the streets, most of them to show sympathy for Martin’s family.
Others took a more aggressive tone, accusing the court system of injustice or corruption. They waved signs with powerful slogans, including “No Justice, No Peace,” “The whole damn system is guilty!” and “Justice system is a joke.”
These protesters who attack the court system emerge every time a verdict like this is reached, but the system never changes.
Instead of demonstrating a problem within the courts, these protesters show just how unfamiliar they are with justice system and why it operates the way it does.
Like it or not, the “not guilty” verdict is exactly what our justice system should have chosen given the evidence.
Zimmerman may have been guilty. Despite the lack of evidence, there is an upsetting possibility that our justice system just allowed a murderer to walk free. And to these protesters attacking the justice system, this is all that matters.
But this view is short-sighted. If the courts had allowed the conviction of Zimmerman despite the lack of evidence, these protesters may have gotten the justice they so longed for. Lowering the amount of evidence needed for a conviction may have resulted in a more favorable outcome in this instance, but there is a catch.
Lower thresholds for conviction would mean that more people who are truly innocent would be wrongly found guilty.
The hard truth is that the justice system will never be perfect.
We can never send all the bad guys to jail while letting all the good guys go free. Mistakes will be made. There will always be a few innocent people that get sent to jail, just as there will always be a few guilty people that go free.
The only choice we have is deciding how many innocent people we want to wrongly imprison in order to convict the guilty.
Eighteenth century English jurist Sir William Blackstone set this bar pretty high with his famous quote: “It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
This idea that it is better to allow a criminal go free than to wrongly imprison an innocent person is why the amount of evidence needed for a conviction is so high. This is the basis of “innocent until proven guilty.”
So in some instances like the Zimmerman trial, a possibly guilty man may be set free.
For the friends and family of Trayvon, this is understandably hard to accept.
But while Zimmerman may walk free, these protesters need to remember that the same system allows innocent people elsewhere in the nation to walk free as well.
Robert Klare is a 22-year-old engineering senior from New Orleans.