Want Justice for George Floyd? Root for a Fair Trial, Not a Specific Outcome | Opinion

The trial against Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with killing George Floyd, begins today. Everyone wants justice. But what that justice might look like often differs depending on political perspective. For some, an acquittal will mean justice wasn't served, while others will view a conviction as a miscarriage of justice.

Emotions in this case are understandably high. But in a way, this predicament haunts every court case: Two sides stroll into court, each wanting a different outcome and each ready to label victory justice and defeat injustice.

Can it be that justice is genuinely subjective? Is justice, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? As a criminal prosecutor who has won and lost many jury trials over the last two decades, I say no.

At least in the American legal system, justice is a process, not a result. Lawyers and judges call this the due process of law, though folks who were smart enough to avoid law school simply call it fairness.

Now, fairness is hard to define, but we all recognize it when we see it: Two siblings jockeying for the bigger part of the last remaining brownie may groan at the idea, but when mom says one gets to cut and the other gets to pick, they will grudgingly acknowledge her system is fair. When I watch baseball, I occasionally loudly dispute a strike called or missed, but I recognize the umpires don't favor either team; there's a rulebook everyone knows, and the field is level from one end to the other. The game—even when my favorite team loses—is undoubtably designed for fairness.

So, too, is the American legal system. I've won some cases with middling evidence and lost others with strong evidence. In each case, a common thread was manifest: procedural fairness. A judge with no interest in the outcome presided, jurors chosen from the community voted, and there were court rules that both sides understood and followed. Fair's fair.

Whether you call it fairness or due process, it's a venerable tradition. As the kid brother to the British legal tradition, due process came to America as a hand me down. It emanated from the Magna Carta and the court cases flowing from that great charter. Our laws, borrowed and improved from British jurisprudence, follow suit.

The term due process may have been coined in old England but Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe the notion is as old as the universe itself. People of faith, myself included, trust that just as no human invented the multiplication tables or gravity, which were discovered, not devised, by people, so too is justice a creation of God. The moral compass points true north; we don't force the needle in that direction.

Those who insist justice must line up with their current feelings bring a magnet to the moral compass, distorting its guidance. Self-indulgent shouts of "I must be right" mark a wearisome phase through which toddlers pass, yet adults who exhibit this egocentricity deserve less tolerance, and certainly no brownies.

More than ever, in moments of deep controversy and high emotion, fealty to this crucial lesson is paramount, which means that as we brave the storm of the Derek Chauvin trial, we must lash ourselves to the mast of the fundamental tenet, that justice is a process. Setting aside the very real, if not likely, possibility of a hung jury, Americans must be prepared to accept a verdict different than that of their own whim or passion.

George Floyd
A juror was dismissed in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged in the death of George Floyd, after saying the death was "unjust." Here, demonstrators hold a vigil in honor of George Floyd on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Megan Varner/Getty Images

Too often, those with the strongest views about high profile legal cases have watched little of the trial. Second guessing jurors who sat through every minute of testimony and arguments and considered every scrap of evidence is like reviewing a book after only glancing at the back cover. Juries deserve deference.

Of course, some juries lose their way. My mouth dropped when a jury declared O.J. Simpson not guilty, and I'm in the majority of Americans who believe he's a murderer. Yet as a citizen who fully embraces the U.S. Constitution, I accept the outcome of his criminal (and civil) trial as a valid expression of a system designed—not guaranteed—to be fair.

No procedures run by fallible humans will ever be perfect, so setting that as the standard is naïve. In sports, cheer for your favorite team to win. In politics, vote for your desired candidate to be elected. But in the legal system, hope—and pray— not for the result you crave, but for the process of justice itself to prevail.

Mark R. Weaver is a criminal prosecutor, crisis communications consultant, and the former Deputy Attorney General of Ohio. He is the author of the book "A Wordsmith's Work." Twitter: @MarkRWeaver

The views in this article are the writer's own.