Monday, July 29, 2013

From Left to Write: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

This post was inspired by the novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver. Mere months before Noa’s execution, her victim’s mother changed her mind Noa’s sentence and vows to help stay the execution. Join From Left to Write on July 30 as we discuss The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review. Due to the highly sensitive nature of this post I want to make it clear that these opinions are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of anyone at From Left to Write.

It's hard to be a lawyer sometimes. Actually all of the time. Either your relatives want you to do work for free or your own knowledge of the law makes you argue something when it's clearly not worth your time just because you know you're legally correct. There are some decisions that absolutely SHOCK the heck out of me, yet at the same time they don't because I've seen how the law works from the inside. There are always cases that support each side of any issue. Cases from each of the 50 states and cases from the Supreme Court from which lawyers argue citing the main decision or the dissent, whatever supports their argument. Everything is debatable. If you're not familiar with the legal reasoning of the Trayvon Martin case, the reason GZ was found "Not Guilty" is that Self Defense as a legal concept is an absolute defense against culpability. If you can win on the Self Defense, the prosecution doesn't even get to the elements of the crime.
When I was reading The Execution of Noa P. Singleton I was struck by the absolute need for me to post about the Trayvon Martin decision because of the existence of a gun shot in each case that irrevocably changed the lives involved in the shooting.  One single shot ended the life of one character and erased any hope of redemption for another character in The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. One single shot ended the life of Trayvon Martin and the ability for GZ to have a normal life. One act, one fraction of a second, one death that had consequences reverberating far beyond that which the shooter could have imagined. Yet, the similarities end there. For GZ was able to argue successfully the defense of Self Defense that led to a "Not Guilty" verdict.

These are the elements of Self Defense:

Element 1 - Actual belief regarding use of physical force by other person

The first element is that when the defendant GZ used defensive force against Trayvon Martin, he actually -- that is, honestly and sincerely -- believed that the other person was using or about to use physical force against him. The jury found this element satisfied by GZ's voice on the 911 call. I discuss this later, but I think this isn't ironclad. Since no one was there, do we know for sure whether GZ was actually being attacked? Anyone can call 911 and scream that they are being attacked.

Element 2 - Reasonableness of that belief

The second element is that the defendant's actual belief about the force being used or about to be used against him was a reasonable belief. The jury found the belief to be reasonable. Why? Because they believed that Trayvon Martin had actually attacked GZ. I have a different theory. The friend that he spoke to one minute before the entire episode took place warned Trayvon that if there was a big man following him, then he may be about to rape him. Teenagers are very impressionable. And yes, Trayvon had marijuana in his system, so he probably was more sensitive to the suggestion that he was about to be raped. Did the jury even consider that Trayvon Martin was acting in his reasonable belief that he was about to be attacked? Of course not, they only look at it from the perspective of the person who killed him. If Trayvon were justifiably defending himself against an attack, then doesn't that negate the reasonableness of GZ's belief that Trayvon was using force? You don't tell rape victims that they will be punished because they defended themselves against the rapist, do you?

Element 3 - Actual belief regarding degree of force necessary

The third element is that when the defendant used physical force upon Trayvon Martin for the purpose of defending himself, he actually -- that is, honestly and sincerely -- believed that the degree of force he used was necessary for that purpose. If anyone believes they need to shoot to kill when the other person is unarmed, they are not using the degree of force necessary. Is taking a life so easy that you need to shoot to kill when it is your "standing your ground" that has brought you into the situation? GZ only had to use force because he didn't run away or call the police when he first spotted Trayvon. If GZ thought Trayvon was dangerous enough that he had to shoot him, he should have called the police, not acted like a vigilante. And if he wasn't skilled enough with a gun to shoot Trayvon only enough to stop the attack, then he had no business walking around with a gun in the first place. My name is on the NRA Roll and I have no problem saying that anyone who doesn't know how to use a gun shouldn't have one. This is not about gun control, this is about people having guns who are NOT qualified to have them.

Element 4 - Reasonableness of that belief

The fourth element is that the defendant's actual belief about the degree of force necessary to defend himself was a reasonable belief. I was a successful corporate attorney because I was  paranoid. On an M&A deal, I always thought the other side was out to get us so I would dig until I found the hidden liability they were trying to foist onto us. So my theory is this--I think GZ planned in advance to kill Trayvon Martin. He had seen Trayvon walking home on another occasion and thought it would be the perfect crime. His neighborhood patrolling was just a pretense for him to walk around armed, waiting for the right opportunity. Then he would pretend that he was being attacked, make a 911 call, and kill the unarmed black teenager in cold blood. Is my theory reasonable? Any more reasonable than killing a unarmed teenager because he's black and wearing a hoodie? I'm convinced that if Trayvon Martin had been Asian, even if he had acted in the same exact way, GZ would not have killed him.

I wonder how GZ can maintain his silence. Even if this all were true and the defense of Self Defense actually applies to him, how could anyone who has killed another living, breathing human being out of sheer arrogance hold his head up in society. If it were me, I would have taken a deal with the prosecution to serve at least some jail time to atone for the taking of Trayvon Martin's life. Was he afraid if he did that, that he would be marked man in prison and likely killed before he could get out? He is a marked man now, getting death threats every minute and not able to leave his house without body armor. He may even have been safer in prison.

Since the verdict, I've been thinking about so many different arguments that people have been making about how the jury couldn't find enough evidence to convict. But they don't sway me. GZ killed Trayvon Martin. In my mind that makes him Guilty. Of killing someone! If the legal system doesn't hold him accountable, GZ should atone for it himself. None of us should get away with something because the law lets us do it. If that were the case, we might as well all steal and cheat and lie on our taxes because we will probably get away with it. There is right and wrong. There is justice and injustice. If we want our children to grow up to be decent human beings, we need to stop racial profiling and admit to our prejudices. These days whenever I see a black person, I want to apologize for the failings of society, of the law, of myself. I'm afraid they might take it the wrong way if I do that, so I end up just averting my eyes and feeling guilty. I can only do what I can and make sure my children don't grow up with prejudice. I hope all of us can do whatever little thing we can to make sure something like this never happens again.

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