In all of the media commentary and analyses of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, the focus was almost entirely on the three rules of evidence employed in deciding if George Zimmerman was guilty of murdering the teenage boy. These rules from least to most rigorous include:
- Preponderance of the Evidence: the greater weight of evidence, not necessarily established by the greater number of witnesses testifying to a fact but by evidence that has the most convincing force; superior evidentiary weight that, though not sufficient to free the mind wholly from all reasonable doubt, is still sufficient to incline a fair and impartial mind to one side of the issue rather than the other.
- Clear and convincing evidence: Evidence indicating that the thing to be proved is highly probable or probably certain. This is a greater burden than preponderance of the evidence, the standard applied in most civil trials, but less than evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the normal in criminal trials.
- Reasonable doubt: The doubt that prevents one from being firmly convinced of a defendant’s guilt, or the belief that there is a real possibility that the defendant is not guilty. ‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ is the standard used by a jury to determine whether a criminal defendant is guilty. In determining whether guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must begin with the presumption that the defendant is innocent.
In capital cases, the last and most rigorous rule is always applied. Unfortunately, this rule can never address the two different standards that any good parent knows must be applied to the conduct of adults and teenagers.
One of the best explanations our marriage and couples counselors have ever heard about what it means to be an adolescent is that these creatures, even at their healthiest, often exist to drive us crazy! The reason is they have a hole in the brain or as yet insufficient myelenation in their pre-frontal cortex. That’s why when they get their driver’s license, we worry about their safety because teenagers are more likely to have accidents as a consequence of sudden surges of testosterone. For parents who have managed, with understandable ups and downs, to get through the early child rearing years, when their kids hit adolescence, often with a bang, the parents are faced with a whole new set of challenges designed to cause them high anxiety; for example, body piercings, tattoos, late night or all night parties and last, but certainly not least, sex. And let’s not forget alcohol and drugs.
It’s extremely difficult for caring parents, teachers, police and judges to give these former children the emotional space they need to grow into greater independence and autonomy while still giving them appropriate limits. The former kids may behave like impressively sophisticated young adults one minute and morph into confused, anxious children the next. It’s often an emotional roller coaster for the adults who have to deal with them.