Assuming that a high-profile murder case can make it past trial preparation in reasonably useful shape, it finally goes to trial.

So, the question needs be asked: what IS a trial ?

To the gut-reaction public, a trial is an action by which the public’s judgment of the outcome is confirmed. If the public thinks an accused guilty, the trial is supposed to find him gulty. If the public thinks an accused is not guilty, the trial’s job is to find him or her nor guilty.

In the pre-Civil Rights South, trials, of Black people most of all, were exactly what I have said above, except that a finding of not guilty was never an option. To bring an accused to trial was to obtain a guilty verdict. No more, no less. Today we do it differently. We are prepared — so we say — to accord the accused a fair trial, complete with defense lawyers paid from public funds if need be and a jury carefully selected by both sides. Rules of evidence are accepted. The jury is allowed to deliberate for as long as it pleases them. Yet a verdict of guilty is expected, in the end, just as back in the old South.

A trial, however, is not that AT ALL. A trial is a procedure for getting at the truth of the matter, let the chips fall as they may. Impartiality is the guide. A trial has no expected outcome other than that the outcome will be as close to the truth as is feasaible given that human minds and procedures only approximate.

As this is what a trial is, it’s not at all a given that the public agrees that there should be trials of high-profile murder cases. The public says it does, but its actions in high-profile criminal cases say otherwise.


Nonetheless, we have trials, and those whom we entrust with governance in our society are unshakably committed to having trials and ensuring their fairness. Grumble though we might, we at least allow trials to take place without interference. Court TV, no doubt, has helped to give the public an interest in letting trials take place according to the rules. By “rules,’ we mean the presentation of evidence, its cross examination, and attorneys’ summations before and after the presentation of evidence.


Whole libraries of hornbooks have been written on the Law of Evidence. (The best is the classic treatise, Wigmore on Evidence.) We cannot do an extended discussion of Evidence Law here, but suffice to say that it includes all the familiar — but very difficult to apply — “Law and Order” cliches : the rule against Hearsay, the admissibility of death bed speech, forensic findings, surveillance camera footage, witness testimony, confessions, authentication of records, evidence illegally obtained, telephone messages, and the like.

The basic rule of admissibility is this : does the evidence help to get at the truth ? Or is it prejudicial, or irrelevant, or self-interested, or otherwise unhelpful ?

Does it go without saying that conjecture is not evidence ? An expert giving expert testimony is permitted to give an opinion. No one else may do so. Can I add that race prejudice abiout the accused, and such like, are not evidence ?

Unfortunately, those of us who watch a high-profile trial on TV, or read about it in the news, have nothing to offer a trial except opinion, conjecture, or even, for some of us, race prejudice. Because that is all that we have; because we are not even in the courtroom, where presentations play out differently than as filtered by media, and where boredom is the usual sound; because we feel strongly about the ccas — if not, it would not be high profile — we tend to decide the outcome of a trial on grounds that must play no part in that trial ! Ironic, isn’t it ? But none theless toxic to the administration of a trial.

Thus the dilemma that continues present in today’s criminal law : we say we wnat fair and impartial trials, but we do not. We say we want the jury to reach ITS verdict, but in fact we wnat it to reach OUR verdict.

We want these things vehemently, noisily, frigheningly.

Given what we are like in this regard, it’s a wonder that trials — real trials — exist at all. Perhaps it’s the innate skepticism that also resides in our souls, along with the conjectural certainty, that gives trials room to breathe, and flower, and produce — one hopes — their fruit of truth.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere



On a hot humid Saturday night in mid-July, the world (or at least the Social Media world) reacted to the “not guilty” verdict given to George Zimmerman. The reactions (at least on this writer’s Facebook feed) varied from the “First Casey Anthony, now this? (Expletive) Florida,” to the “The Jury made their call. Now it’s time to move on to real issues, like Obama and the NSA.”

Confession: I admit to having posted my Verdict rage, as well, on Facebook. I felt that evidence sufficient to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder of 17-year old Trayvon Martin was a slam dunk for the Prosecution. Naive of me. I had indeed forgotten that this Florida, home to the Casey Anthony acquittal as well as the year 2000 Florida Recount.
So what did this verdict mean to Millennials — “Generation Y”… “Hipsters” — whatever you may want to call them ? Gen Y has pretty much earned the reputation of being both apathetic and lethargic — mostly by being both apathetic and lethargic. A game of “Candy Crush” and the posting of “Grumpy Cat Memes” appear to enage more Y’ers than the use of Facebook to organize marches against student loan debt and the endless drug war that has imprisoned good people and cost many innocent lives. Most Millennials shy away from discussing sociological and economic issues. It’s complicated, and, after all, nobody wants to alienate others by stating an opinion.

Nonetheless, the Zimmerman Verdict we could not ignore. the finding was too impossible. Tweets and posts roiled our outrage. In several cities, protests broke out the next day in solidarity for Martin. Oakland’s and Los Angeles’ protests even turned violent.

Flash forward now to almost a week later. As I sit here in my favorite Coffee House in Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, I look around and overhear my peers lingering over their iced drinks talking about the issues of the day. People here in this ordinary American city are still talking about the Zimmerman verdict. Apparently some of us haven’t moved on the next outrage — I’m speaking, of course, about the July issue of Rolling Stone with accused Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover.

So here’s what we’re saying :

“To me, it seems like a flash in the pan. For my generation, there will be a big discussion about issues like the Zimmerman case. But I’m not sure that it will lead to any real discussion to any changes in the judicial system” — Kofi Edzie, 24, from Lowell.

“The only silver lining here is that it is bringing race back into the discussion, but as a young millennial, I think that we have all of these immediate concerns such as student loan debt for example, that I don’t think that social media is going to inspire any of my peers to make any changes,” Edzie added.

Another coffee adept, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he credits Social Media for bringing Millenials to discussion of race in the 21st century.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to say that things won’t change, but you have to give our generation some credit for at least opening up the dialogue on race. I don’t think that it’s fair to dismiss our generation as ADHD,” opined my unnamed table neighbor.

There were also Generation X’ers at the coffee house, such as Kevin Fahy, who felt somewhat more cynical.

“I don’t think that anything is going to change. I just came back from Ocala, Florida, where my folks live, and a lot of people down there think that Zimmerman did the right thing. Of course, a lot of them are older, upper class retired folks,” said Fahy, 52 and also a Lowellite. Semi-retired from working security for many years, Fahy feels that today’s Millenials fail to utilize their energy to organize for social causes.

“This isn’t the civil rights marches of the sixties. This isn’t Kent State. People aren’t going to get off their asses to do anything, even change the channel on their TV’s,” Fahy tells me.

Fahy may yet be wrong. It’s hard to expect immediate moral commitment from a generation inundated with “Grumpy Cat” memes and living the distraction life on Social Media. That said, Gen Y’s are young yet, very young. They will grow. If there’s any good to be extracted from this depressing tale of a young man walking home after buying some Skittles and Iced Tea, it’s this. Gen Y has not yet spoken. It will. Perhaps.

There’s hope, and plenty of it, for what a generation still finding its way and place will say and do. A generation that may very well rise up and do whatever it takes to advance justice, by any means necessary.

— Dave Morrison / Here and Sphere Guest Contributor