An interesting logical fallacy in the arguments in the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman trial

Y. B. Karasik,
Thoughts Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.
e-mail:karasik@sympatico.ca

George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. He claims that did it in self-defence because feared for his life after Trayvon Martin knocked him down and started slamming his head against a concrete curb. I don't know whether this is true or false.

But when I read the final arguments of the prosecution I initially agreed with them:

"He is dead through no fault of his own. He is dead because another man made assumptions. Because his assumptions were wrong, Trayvon Benjamin Martin will no longer walk on the Earth" [1].

The arguments resonated with me as they resembled the root cause analysis: A happened because of B, which happened because of C. But then I thought why stop at C and claim that A happened specifically because of it. C also has its cause D, etc. After all had George Zimmerman not been born the incident would have not happened. Why would not claim that Travyon Martin was killed because George Zimmerman was born ? Since this seems to be an exaggeration the question arises: where to stop in tracing causes and effects and what cause in such an infinite series should be considered the true cause ?

At this point I realized that tracing causes and effects in judicial cases may run into a logical fallacy undocumented yet, and not entered into the database of the known fallacies. That is why I decided to explain and codify it.

The fallacious arguments are like this: who created the whole situation ? Zimmerman, as he mistook Martin for a burglar, started following him, which caused Martin's indignation and angry reaction, which resulted in a fight. Hence, Zimmerman is guilty.

The fallacy is in assuming that all causes are the subject of law. The fact that Zimmerman started following Martin is indeed a cause of the incident. But is this cause a subject of law ? In other words, does the law say anything about one person following the other ? If no then the fact that Zimmerman started following Martin is not a legitimate cause and, hence, irrelevant to the case. But if it says something, then we have to ask if this law is the same one which is applicable to murders ? And if the answer is no then again the fact of following is irrelevant to the case.

To make it clear consider the following hypothetical situation. Suppose you came up to a person on the street and asked him a question. In response he punched you. From the standpoint of the cause-and-effect analysis he punched you because you asked him a question. If you did not come up to him and did not ask he would not punched you. But there is no end to the cause-and-effect analysis. Why did you come up and asked that question ? Because something else happened. Who was responsible for that ? Etc., etc., etc.

Of all causes there is a limited amount of ones regulated by law. Law does not regulate such a cause as coming up and asking a question. (At least I never heard of such a law.) Hence there is nothing illegal in coming up and asking a question. But the law regulates such causes as punching. It makes them illegal (irrespective of causes that caused it).

When one mixes causes not regulated by law with causes that are regulated he resorts to a logical fallacy. When one mixes causes regulated by one type of law with causes regulated by another type of law he also resorts to a fallacy.

I don't know whether Zimmerman following Martin was legal or not. But even if it was illegal it had to be the matter of another case. The case at hand is whether Martin indeed started inflicting the life threatening injuries on Zimmerman and thereby caused him to fear for his life ? Such causes are regulated by another type of law than following somebody and cannot be mixed. Trying to mix them and thereby switch attention from one subject to another is a logical fallacy.