Zimmerman: The immunity hearing should not be combined with the trial

April 30, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Good evening:

The immunity hearing should not be combined with the trial for the following reasons:

A defendant has a 5th Amendment right to remain silent throughout the trial. If the Court were to combine the trial with an immunity hearing, that would put pressure on the defendant to testify during the defense case.

Depending on how well the prosecution’s case-in-chief might have gone, the defense might be tempted after the prosecution rests to rest and not put on a defense. However, because the burden of proof in the immunity hearing is on the defense, the defendant would have to testify. This is a classic example of compelling a defendant to testify and possibly incriminate himself by doing so. The 5th Amendment expressly prohibits compelling a defendant to incriminate himself.

That would not be the case if the immunity hearing were held before trial. The defendant could testify in the immunity hearing without waiving his right to remain silent at the trial.

Another reason not to combine the two is that the order of presentation differs. The State goes first at trial, but the defense goes first in an immunity hearing. Strategy can change dramatically depending on whether a party has the burden of proof. Whether a party goes first or second will affect the evidence it will present, its choice of witnesses, and the order in which the witnesses will be called.

Finally, the purpose of an immunity hearing is to identify strong self-defense cases early on and to immunize those defendants from criminal and civil liability so that they do not have to endure the psychological and emotional wear and tear of living a life in limbo while possibly in custody for a year or more before trial. Saves the expense too for all concerned. Combining the immunity hearing with the trial cancels out all those advantages.

Finally, just because a defendant has a fundamental right to an immunity hearing does not mean that he cannot waive that right as the defendant did today.

500 people are going to be summoned to court for jury service in this case and it makes no sense to go to the time, trouble and expense to do that just because the defendant wants to wait and see how jury selection and the prosecution’s presentation of its case is going before he decides whether to seek immunity.

_________________________________________________

Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

If you like this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.

Thank you,

Fred


Afro-Peruvian emperor wears no clothes

April 24, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

BDLR has filed a motion asking Judge Nelson to order the defendant to appear at the April 30th hearing and state on the record that he is waiving his right to the immunity hearing.

H/T to Southern Girl 2 for providing the link to BDLR’s motion

He also asks Judge Nelson to issue an order that she will not permit the immunity hearing to take place during the trial or after it.

I support this motion. In fact I published three posts in early March warning that this needed to be done to avoid significant legal problems that might otherwise come up forcing a retrial of the case, if the jury convicted the defendant.

1. Combining the immunity hearing with the trial in the Zimmerman case is a terrible idea

2. Combining the immunity hearing with the trial in the Zimmerman case is a terrible idea (Part II)

3. Post trial immunity hearings are a terrible idea

This motion is an example of a prosecutor taking action to protect the record from a collateral attack by a new lawyer representing the defendant after he is convicted and sentenced to prison and arguing that the defendant is entitled to a new trial and a statutory immunity hearing because he never waived his right to that hearing and did not know or consent to Mark O’Mara waiving it for him.

BDLR also wants Judge Nelson to clarify the record regarding the possible merger of the statutory immunity hearing with the trial, which O’Mara had suggested as an alternative to holding the hearing during the last two weeks of April, so that the record shows that she considered and denied O’Mara’s request more than a month before trial. Such an order would foreclose an argument by O’Mara that he never waived the statutory immunity hearing and reasonably believed and relied to the defendant’s detriment on the two matters being combined.

Best to clarify that current ambiguity in the record so that it does not result in reversal and remand for an immunity hearing and a new trial, if the defendant loses the immunity hearing.

Therefore, I believe BDLR’s motion is timely and necessary to protect the record.

Although I believe O’Mara decided long ago that he had no chance to win the immunity hearing because the defendant could not withstand cross examination due to his many conflicting and inconsistent statements. I think he decided that he did not want to formally admit in open court on the record that he was waiving his client’s right to the statutory immunity hearing because he was concerned about the effect that his waiver would have on his efforts to substantially increase donations to his “innocent” client’s internet defense fund and win the trial in the court of public opinion. To use a poker analogy, folding your hand at the last minute by waiving the hearing establishes that you were bluffing when you kept insisting that you had a winning hand.

Not exactly the ideal position for the defense to be in on the eve of trial.

BDLR is going for the jugular with this motion to clarify for all the world to see that the Afro-Peruvian emperor wears no clothes.

_____________________________________________________

Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

If you like this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.

Thank you,

Fred


Combining the immunity hearing with the trial in the Zimmerman case is a terrible idea (Part II)

March 8, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Good Afternoon:

I have done more research on the Florida SYG immunity hearing and concluded that the legislature intended that the hearing occur prior to trial. The Florida Supreme Court agrees.

The Florida legislature created confusion when it did not provide a procedure for asserting, litigating and deciding a defendant’s claim of immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability under the SYG law.

In Dennis v. State, 51 So.3d 456, 462 (2010), the Florida Supreme Court stated,

While Florida law has long recognized that a defendant may argue as an affirmative defense at trial that his or her use of force was legally justified, section 776.032 contemplates that a defendant who establishes entitlement to the statutory immunity will not be subjected to trial. Section 776.032(1) expressly grants defendants a substantive right to not be arrested, detained, charged, or prosecuted as a result of the use of legally justified force. The statute does not merely provide that a defendant cannot be convicted as a result of legally justified force.

(Emphasis supplied)

In Dennis, the Court approved a procedure to conduct SYG immunity hearings developed by the trial court in Peterson v. State, 983 So.2d 27 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). That procedure requires the defendant to file a motion before trial requesting immunity pursuant to Rule 3.190(b).

In Peterson, the First District Court of Appeals set forth the procedure to be followed after the defendant files the motion to initiate the process. The Court said at pages 29-30:

In the absence of a procedure for handling these matters, we find guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Guenther, 740 P.2d 971 (Colo. 1987). In that case, the court decided that Colorado’s similar immunity statute authorized a trial court to dismiss a criminal prosecution at the pretrial stage and did not merely create an affirmative defense for adjudication at trial. Id. at 976. The court further determined that a defendant raising the immunity would have the burden of establishing the factual prerequisites to the immunity claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 980. The court imposed the same burden of proof as it would in motions for postconviction relief or motions to suppress. Id.

(Emphasis supplied)

The immunity hearing would resemble a trial with four important exceptions:

(1) The order in which the parties present their respective cases would be reversed with the defendant going first,

(2) Rather than being presumed innocent with the right to remain silent and no obligation to testify, the defendant would have the burden of proof,

(3) The burden of proof would be by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., more probable than not), and

(4) The judge would be the fact-finder and decide the outcome, instead of a jury.

Judge Nelson told Mark O’Mara that, if the defense wanted an immunity hearing, she wanted to hold it prior to trial sometime during the last two weeks of April. She reserved those two weeks for the hearing and told O’Mara to file an appropriate motion prior to that time, if the defendant decided to ask for one.

At the hearing on Tuesday, she asked him if he still wanted her to reserve those two weeks because she wanted to use that time to schedule other matters, if he did not intend to ask for a hearing, . He responded that he would not be asking for a hearing during those two weeks.

He added that he was not waiving the hearing; rather, he was considering “combining it with the trial.” She acknowledged that she understood he was not waiving the hearing. However, he did not request and she did not agree to combine it with the trial. Whether she will agree to do so has yet to be decided.

O’Mara would have to file a motion to dismiss pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.190(b) asking her to combine the immunity hearing with the trial and she would have to grant his motion for that to occur.

I published a post here two days ago in which I explained why combining the two matters could create constitutional error resulting in a reversal and remand for a new trial, if Judge Nelson denies the motion for immunity and the jury convicts the defendant.

There is little point to having an immunity hearing, if it is going to be combined with a trial at the risk of injecting constitutional error into the trial that requires convictions to be reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Finally, please know that I made a mistake in some comments earlier this week when I said Florida has a rule that requires immunity hearings to be held no later than 45 days before trial. Florida does not have such a rule. I recalled Judge Nelson’s statement that she wanted to schedule an immunity hearing not less than 45 days before the June 10 trial date, if the defense decided to request one, and mistakenly assumed there was a 45-day rule. I realized my mistake while researching to write this article. I apologize for any confusion that might have caused.

I note parenthetically that Florida could use such a rule, but it’s up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether to promulgate one.

If you like this post and the quality of this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.


Combining the immunity hearing with the trial in the Zimmerman case is a terrible idea

March 6, 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Several of you, including Xena, Southern Girl and Towerflower, have asked me to comment on the possibility of combining an immunity hearing with the trial. I do not believe that is a workable solution because it would violate the defendant’s right to remain silent and the presumption of innocence.

Let us use the defendant’s case as an example.

In a typical immunity hearing, a defendant has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely so than not so) that he acted in self-defense. He puts on his case first, since he has the burden of proof, and the prosecution goes second. If the judge concludes that he satisfied his burden, she will enter an order granting him immunity from civil suit and dismiss the criminal case.

A defendant is not required to testify at the immunity hearing, but if he testifies, and most will since they have the burden of proof, he does not waive his right to remain silent at a subsequent trial, if the judge denies his motion for immunity.

If the hearings are combined in GZ’s case, the prosecution will go first because it has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the defense manages to poke some holes in the prosecution’s case such that the defendant and his lawyers are pretty confident about winning the trial without putting on a defense. They do not believe the defendant needs to testify and he does not want to testify.

The defense moves for a judgment of acquittal and for an order granting immunity.

For the purpose of the criminal case and ruling on the motion for a judgment of acquittal, the judge would be required to decide whether a rational trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty based on the evidence introduced during the prosecution’s case. Let us further suppose that the judge decides that a rational trier of fact could convict the defendant and denies the motion for a judgment of acquittal.

For the purpose of ruling on the immunity issue, the judge would be required to decide whether the defense had met its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had acted in self-defense. There is little likelihood that the judge would grant the motion because the defense has not put on its case and the defendant has not testified. Therefore, the judge would deny the motion.

Now what happens?

If this were “just” a trial, the defense would rest without introducing any evidence or putting the defendant on the stand to testify. I won about 80% of my trials by employing this strategy, including some self-defense cases by relying on the presumption of innocence and arguing reasonable doubt.

The defense cannot use that strategy, however, if it wants a shot at immunity. Since it has the burden of proof, it must put on a case and the defendant has to testify.

Do you all see the problem now?

The defendant has to give up his right to remain silent to have a shot at immunity, but if he testifies, he risks not only losing the motion for immunity, he also risks being convicted by the jury, if the jury does not believe him.

In other words, in order to exercise his statutory right to an immunity hearing, he is forced to give up his right to remain silent and be presumed innocent in the criminal case.

Notice that combining an immunity hearing with the trial only hurts a defendant.

There is a very long line of SCOTUS cases that prohibit forcing a defendant to give up one constitutional right to exercise another.

That is the problem with combining a pretrial immunity hearing with a trial.

It is also the reason why pretrial suppression hearings in criminal cases are not combined with trials.

I realize that this procedure has been followed in other cases in Florida, and Judge Nelson could decide to follow it in GZ’s case, but I think she would be unwise to do so.

For example, if the defendant were to testify, the jury found him guilty, and Judge Nelson denied his motion for immunity, you can bet that he will claim that he was forced to waive the presumption of innocence and his right to remain silent in order to exercise his statutory right to an immunity hearing and that his lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by waiving his right to a pretrial immunity hearing.

I believe that the case will be reversed and remanded for a new trial, if the scenario that I have described takes place.

The scenario is not far fetched.

Frankly, I am shocked that defense counsel would even consider combining the immunity hearing with the trial. Either they are incompetent or simply using this idea as a smokescreen to conceal that they know they have no case.

They may be unwilling to admit publicly that they do not really intend to pursue the request for an immunity hearing during the trial for the simple reason that they fear financial contributions to the defense would wither away to nothing.

I regard that as theft by misrepresentation.

GZ’s supporters should be screaming bloody murder about this latest turn of events.

Instead, his supporters, including some criminal defense lawyers who should know better, are calling yesterday’s decision a victory for the defense.

If you like this post and the quality of this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.


%d bloggers like this: