Citizen’s Arrest or Civil Disobedience?
By Alton H. Maddox, Jr.
On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, in Sanford, FL, fatally shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin. There was no probable cause for his seizure. This is a homicide and it requires the prosecuting agency in Florida to immediately empanel a grand jury and vigorously seek an indictment. Any homicide requires a criminal prosecution and a jury verdict.
So far, Zimmerman is offering reasons why he should not be arrested for the homicide. He argues that Florida has a license to kill law which exonerates him from any criminal charges. The point that he is missing, however, is that only a judge or a jury may find a reason for an acquittal.
The condition precedent for an acquittal is an arrest. Zimmerman is not willing to submit himself to the jurisdiction of the court and public officials are not willing to arrest him. In the meantime, no one is willing to effect a citizen’s arrest of him even though probable cause exists for his arrest.
When animal rights activists obtained evidence that Michael Vick had abused some dogs, they demanded swift and certain justice. Both the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia invoked their criminal laws to successfully initiate criminal actions against Vick who could explain his actions at trial. He could also present character evidence at trial.
Public officials claim that Florida’s “stand your ground law” has actually muddied the waters. This law may muddy a conviction but it does not muddy an arrest. Any claim of self-defense may be invoked after the prosecution has presented its case to a petit jury. It is premature to present this claim of self-defense before trial. The media should back off.
A claim of self-defense is a jury question. It is incumbent on a defendant to make this claim at trial. It should be aired before a judge or petit jury. A defendant may also offer character evidence at trial. Zimmerman, however, chooses to try a murder prosecution in the media while he is in hiding.
It is good for the governor of Florida to appoint a special prosecutor to show a lack of bias in local officials but Zimmerman must be taken into police custody forthwith. This arrest can be achieved by a citizen. The special prosecutor must be unbiased and the grand jury investigation should have started yesterday. Zimmerman has already admitted that he killed Martin.
Instead of making a citizen’s arrest, Rev. Al Sharpton is urging civil disobedience. This advice is wrong-headed and suicidal. Civil disobedience has no place in jumpstarting the arrest process. Persons who engage in civil disobedience to arrest a suspect are engaged in a questionable tactic since those same persons can effect the arrest of Zimmerman without fearing an arrest of themselves.
Given the fact that Rev. Sharpton heads the Madison Avenue Initiative, this idiotic ploy will only help the media and its advertisers. These false arrests will add excitement to evening news program in addition to public affairs programming. Rev. Sharpton is cashing in on a dead body.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “civil disobedience” as follows:
A deliberate but nonviolent act of lawbreaking to
call attention to a particular law or set of laws
believed by the actor to be of questionable
legitimacy or morality. [Emphasis added]
The protest of the killing of Trayvon Martin also involves the lack of an arrest. The right to arrest Zimmerman is clear. To be sure, some persons do have concerns about the text of Florida’s self-defense laws but the problem is not the failure of anyone to invoke the arrest laws of Florida. Civil disobedience makes no sense in provoking the arrest of Zimmerman. It is civil suicide.
In effecting the arrest of a criminal suspect, an arrest by a law enforcement officer is the second option. There can be a citizen’s arrest and not civil disobedience. Moreover, “wanted posters” should be circulated to encourage Zimmerman to come out of hiding. The arrest of Zimmerman by a citizen is lawful. It is also lawful to circulate “wanted posters”.
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