March 28, 2012 By Wallin & Klarich

Can a defendant in a case that makes national headlines get a fair trial in America? It’s a legitimate question that criminal defense attorneys ask. With technology giving every American instant access to up to the minute information, and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook making everyone a de-facto judge and jury, it seems harder and harder to find impartial juries.

Traditional media certainly doesn’t help either. With hundreds of channel choices, news programs are forced to fight for ratings, often times rushing to judgment rather than reporting facts. The tragic death of Trayvon Martin is a perfect example of this.

Everyone from TMZ to CNN has covered this story. He has been a trending topic on Twitter. There is virtually no person in America that has not heard of this case, let alone already formed an opinion. Without knowing the facts of this case, which have yet to be fully released to the public, it would be irresponsible for us to express an opinion one way or the other with regards to the guilt of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin on the fateful night.

What we do know is that Zimmerman is claiming self-defense, and as of right now, he has not been arrested or charged with a crime. Self-defense is a legitimate argument in a murder trial, and Florida’s now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law mucks things up further. In California, in order to prove self-defense, a murder attorney needs to show that a reasonable person would have believed their life was in imminent danger and had no other recourse but to use deadly force.

It’s impossible to say if this was the case or not in the Martin case without knowing the facts. As more details about the case are leaked to the public, it seems as though there was definitely a scuffle between Zimmerman and Martin. Zimmerman had injuries consistent with someone who had been punched in the nose and possible had his head beaten into the ground. There is supposedly at least one 911 call that suggests it was Zimmerman on the ground moaning in pain calling for help.

What we don’t know for absolute certain is the chain of events that led to that scuffle. And those crucial facts are not for social media to make a ruling on. George Zimmerman may very well be guilty of a crime. There is no question that the entire scenario could have been avoided if Zimmerman had simply waited for police to arrive rather than continue to follow Martin. But given the national media attention that this case has gotten, it may be impossible for Zimmerman to find a jury that hasn’t already formed an opinion on his guilt.

The very foundation of our legal system – innocent until proven guilty – is under attack by the court of public opinion, and that is a scary thought.

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