Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Put Zimmerman in NRA Custody

Posted at 2:27 pm, April 16th, 2012
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

Every person awaiting trial is presumed innocent. Courts usually require that they post bail to assure their appearance at trial. If the accused is penniless, as Zimmerman is reported to be, the presumption of innocence doesn’t prevent him and the many others in the same boat from being jailed to await trial. Jails in this country are filled with people whose poverty prevents them from posting the money required by judges to meet bail requirements. Nor can they pay the fees charged by professional bail bondsmen to post bail for them.

(The Miami Herald and other media outlets are asking a judge to unseal court documents in the case.)

Creative judges can make the theory of the presumption of innocence a reality by fashioning alternatives to bail. If the accused has a job or family and other roots in the community, courts sometimes release them on their recognizance, simply a promise to appear, backed by an added penalty for absconding. Or judges can require the accused to wear an electronic device to monitor whereabouts. Or the judge can compel the accused to spend nights in jail or to be released in the custody of an individual or organization.

It would be fitting if the judge who sets the conditions for Zimmerman’s bail require that he be released in the custody of the National Rifle Association or some of its members. After all, the association is chiefly responsible for passage of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which Zimmerman invoked in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In a sense, the NRA bears some responsibility for the pickle Zimmerman finds himself in. Having helped fashion the law, the NRA ought to be willing to help deal with the consequences.

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