Opening statements in the Zimmerman trial today

June 24, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Good morning:

Opening statements are scheduled to begin at 9 am EDT, but they probably will not start before 9:15 because both sides are going to want to get a ruling from Judge Nelson before opening statements on the defense argument that several statements by the defendant after the shooting to W13 and the police are admissible pursuant to the res gestae exception to the hearsay rule.

She previously granted the State’s motion in limine to exclude all of the defendants statements after the shooting on the ground that they were self-serving hearsay. The statements at issue today were excluded pursuant to that ruling. Therefore, the defense cannot mention them in their opening statement, unless Judge Nelson reverses her earlier decision regarding these particular statements.

They want to mention the statements during their opening statement because GZ said he killed TRayvon Martin in self-defense.

The State likely will oppose the defense motion with an argument similar to the one that I made in my Friday evening post.

I believe opening statements are extremely important because they provide the first and only opportunity for each side to explain their respective theories of the case to the jury and briefly discuss the supporting evidence. Many lawyers compare an opening statement to a road map. If a lawyer makes a good opening statement, jurors will have a good overview of the case and the evidence that will be presented. If a lawyer makes a bad opening statement, the jurors will be confused and not know what to expect.

An opening statement should not exceed 20 minutes. Therefore, clarity and brevity are important. Detail, not so much.

An opening statement is not an argument. For that reason you will hear the lawyers often say, “We expect the evidence will show ABC or XYZ.

If a lawyer starts arguing what the evidence means, you should expect opposing counsel to object.

Prior to opening statements, Judge Nelson will instruct the jury that the remarks of counsel are not evidence.

Evidence consists of the testimony of the witnesses and the exhibits admitted by Judge Nelson.

I am hoping the State will mention what the evidence will show about GZ’s phone calls before and after he killed Trayvon.

Bernie de la Rionda (BDLR) has to decide whether to introduce any of the defendant’s statements during the State’s case in chief or save them for rebuttal.

He could do it either way, but the less he introduces during his case in chief, the more likely GZ will testify.

Here’s the link to the livestream coverage.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nbcnews.com/52117880/

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What really happened moments after the gunshot in the Zimmerman case

June 22, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Good morning:

Don West impeached his client with the legal document he filed yesterday titled, Defendant’s Specific Response to State’s Motion in Limine Regarding Self-Serving Hearsay Statements of Defendant.

He said at pages 2-3.

Witness 13 and his wife heard a commotion in the back of their townhome. They heard yelling and then heard a shot. Witness 13 grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see what had happened. Within seconds of the shooting, W13 approached Mr. Zimmerman who was staggering, bleeding and breathing hard. The witness observed blood on Mr. Zimmerman’s face and the back of his head consistent with someone having been injured in a fight. Mr. Zimmerman asked W13 if he was bleeding? Witness 13 said “Yes” and W13 asked Mr. Zimmerman what had happened? Mr. Zimmerman told W13 that the other person was “beating me up” and he shot him.

Within a minute or so, Sanford Police Officer Tim Smith arrived on foot at the location where Mr. Zimmerman and W13 were standing. Officer Smith spoke with Mr. Zimmerman at the scene upo his arrival. Mr. Zimmerman acknowledged being the person who fired the shot and that he had a firearm on him. Mr. Zimmerman spontaneously stated that he had yelled for help and that no one helped him.

With that fresh in your mind, please watch what the defendant told the police about those moments during his walk-through for the Sanford Police Department a little less than 24 hours after he killed Trayvon Martin.

Thank you to LLMPapa for preparing these two clips from the walk-through.

Clip 1

Clip 2

Congratulations, Mr. West.

You have succeeded in proving that your client lied.

Can you pass the straight-face test when you argue to Judge Nelson that the defendant’s “spontaneous” statements to W13 are reliable and accurate?

What is she going to think about your credibility and professionalism when the State shows her the walk-through video?

By the way, was his statement to the person he called on his cell phone another “spontaneous” utterance?

As long as you are spillin’ the beans, why don’t you tell us who he called and what he said.

FYI: A few minutes after I posted this article, I reversed the order of the two clips because #2, which is now #1, is more directly relevant given the focus of the article. I apologize for any confusion that may have caused.


Zimmerman’s statements after the shooting are not admissible

June 21, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Good evening:

Don West filed a written motion this afternoon identifying the defendant’s statements that he claims are admissible pursuant to the res gestae exception to the hearsay rule.

The statements are hearsay and not admissible pursuant to the res gestae or any other exception to the hearsay rule.

Mr. West describes the statements as follows:

Witness 13 and his wife heard a commotion in the back of their townhome. They heard yelling and then heard a shot. Witness 13 grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see what had happened. Within seconds of the shooting, W13 approached Mr. Zimmerman who was staggering, bleeding and breathing hard. The witness observed blood on Mr. Zimmerman’s face and the back of his head consistent with someone having been injured in a fight. Mr. Zimmerman asked W13 if he was bleeding? Witness 13 said “Yes” and W13 asked Mr. Zimmerman what had happened? Mr. Zimmerman told W13 that the other person was “beating me up” and he shot him.

Within a minute or so, Sanford Police Officer Tim Smith arrived on foot at the location where Mr. Zimmerman and W13 were standing. Officer Smith spoke with Mr. Zimmerman at the scene upo his arrival. Mr. Zimmerman acknowledged being the person who fired the shot and that he had a firearm on him. Mr. Zimmerman spontaneously stated that he had yelled for help and that no one helped him.

The defense bases its argument on Alexander v. State, 627 So.2d 35, 43-44 (1st DCA 1993), where the Court stated,

We conclude that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of witnesses to the shooting that described appellant Alexander’s exclamations and actions immediately after firing the shot that killed the victim. This testimony was admissible under the res gestae rule now codified in sections 90.803(1), (2), and (3), Florida Statutes (1991), which define the conditions for admissibility of (1) spontaneous statements, (2) excited utterances, and (3) then existing mental and emotional conditions of the declarant. The statements about which these witnesses could testify were made almost simultaneously with the act of shooting, a period of time too short to support a finding of fabrication that would destroy the apparent trustworthiness of this evidence. The mere fact that statements are self-serving is not, in and of itself, a sufficient evidentiary basis for their exclusion from evidence. No legal principle excludes statements or conduct of a party solely on the ground that such statements or conduct is self-serving. State v. Johnson, 671 P.2d 215 (Utah 1983); State v. Wallace, 97 Ariz. 296, 399 P.2d 909 (1965); Commonwealth v. Fatalo, 345 Mass. 85, 185 N.E.2d 754 (1962). See also United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340, 381 (7th Cir.1972), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 970, 93 S.Ct. 1443, 35 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). While exculpatory statements of the accused generally are excluded from criminal cases because of their hearsay character, 29 Am.Jur.2d Evidence ยง 621 (1967), the courts of this state have long recognized an exception to this general rule where the statements form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense. Jenkins v. State, 58 Fla. 62, 50 So. 582 (1909); Lowery v. State, 402 So.2d 1287 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981); Watkins v. State, 342 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DCA), cert. denied, 353 So.2d 680 (Fla. 1977).[2] Furthermore, Florida has followed a liberal rule concerning the admittance of res gestae statements. See Appell v. State, 250 So.2d 318 (Fla. 4th DCA), cert. denied, 257 So.2d 257 (Fla. 1971). Accordingly, we do not see any basis on this record for concluding that this testimony was lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value. Thus, we are impelled to conclude that the exclusion of the proffered testimony of res gestae statements in this case was an abuse of discretion and, under the circumstances of this case, cannot be treated as harmless error.

(Emphasis supplied)

Accord: Stiles v. State, 672 So.2d 850 (4th DCA 1996).

Therefore, the critical question for Judge Nelson to decide is whether the statements “form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense” such that the Court can find that there is no basis to conclude that “the testimony [is] lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value.”

Contrary to the defense assertion that “within seconds of the shooting,” the witness saw the defendant “staggering, bleeding and breathing hard,” the evidence will show that the witness described the defendant as “calm and collected” and within a few minutes all of his vital signs were normal when an EMT checked him. Indeed, he was cool, calm and collected.

With the exception of a few minor injuries that did not require stitches, a trip to the ER or even a bandaid, the defendant did not even appear to have been in a fight. Moreover, the only witness who described seeing a fight subsequently retracted that statement.

The evidence also will establish that the terrified death shriek ended when the defendant fired the fatal shot and both of the state’s expert witnesses have excluded the defendant as the person who uttered that haunting scream.

The evidence will show that, at the time he uttered the statements, he knew that the police were on their way and due to arrive any second.

Finally, the evidence will show that, instead of using his cell phone to call 911 for an emergency vehicle and attempting CPR until medical assistance arrived, he mounted Trayvon, placed his hands around his throat and subsequently stood up and had a casual conversation with a neighbor about the type of gun and ammunition he used to shoot Trayvon.

Under these circumstances, unlike the two cases cited by Mr. West, there is no basis for Judge Nelson to conclude that the statements “form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense” such that the Court can find that there is no basis to conclude that “the testimony [is] lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value.” In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Here is Wiki with a little more information on the res gestae exception, in case it remains unclear:

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, res gestae is an exception to the rule against hearsay evidence based on the belief that, because certain statements are made naturally, spontaneously, and without deliberation during the course of an event, they leave little room for misunderstanding/misinterpretation upon hearing by someone else (i.e., by the witness, who will later repeat the statement to the court) and thus the courts believe that such statements carry a high degree of credibility. Statements that can be admitted into evidence as res gestae fall into three headings:

Words or phrases that either form part of, or explain, a physical act,

Exclamations that are so spontaneous as to belie concoction, and

Statements that are evidence of someone’s state of mind.

The defendant’s statements establish that he was in a full cover-up mode knowing that the police were en route and due to arrive any second.

Therefore, the cases cited by Mr. West do not apply and the defendant’s statements are inadmissible hearsay.

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Hearsay Rule (Part 4)

October 23, 2011

Welcome back, class.

First, here’s a clip showing the best opening statement that I have ever seen.

Before we review the remaining exceptions to the hearsay rule, I want to emphasize the difference between the present-sense-impression exception, which is a statement by the declarant reacting to an event as it happens or shortly thereafter, and the excited utterance exception, which is a statement reacting to an event while under the influence of the emotional response caused by the event. For example, let’s return to our cozy couple, Amy and Beauregard, lost as they are in each other’s eyes to the eternal frustration of the waiter and owner of the restaurant, who want to lock-up and go home. Let’s also move the dinner to a month after the accident.

Beauregard nudges the bill aside and reaches for Amy’s hands saying, “I’m so sorry, honey. Tears and mascara are strolling hand in hand down her lustrous apple cheeks and falling on the white linen tablecloth, staining it. “You liked Peter, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Even though he was my boss and kind of nerdy. I’ll never forget his screams. I never heard someone scream like that. It was awful, Beau.”

“How did it happen?”

“Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit him in the crosswalk and he bled to death right in front of me.” She sobbed and squeezed more tears from her baby blues.

Okay, is her statement admissible under the present-sense-impression exception?

No, because her statement describes an event that occurred a month earlier.

Is her statement admissible as an excited utterance?

Yes, because she was under the emotional influence of the event.

Note that this exception has been used to introduce the statements of sexual assault crime victims, particularly children under the age of 5, even though they were being questioned by adults, social workers, or police using leading questions, and even though the child never testified at the defendant’s trial. This is an especially difficult situation for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, not to mention the children and the defendants. Young children are particularly susceptible to forming false memories regarding incidents that never happened when authority figures question them with leading questions, e.g., “Is that when your daddy touched you in your private place?”

Now, beginning with the third exception, since we already have discussed the first two, let’s move on to the other hearsay exceptions in which the availability of the declarant is immaterial:

3. Statement about a then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition;

4. Statements to medical personnel for purposes of medical diagnosis (Yes, what you tell your doctor about a preexisting medical condition is admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule in a legal proceeding between you and your insurance company to determine whether coverage was properly denied);

5. Statements that were recorded to preserve recollection at a time when the declarant had knowledge of the event described, but has now forgotten (this exception happens more and more now, given how many years can pass between an incident and when a legal proceeding regarding that incident finally happens);

6. Records of regularly conducted business activity that were prepared as part of the business, as opposed to generated for purposes of litigation;

7. Absence of an entry in records kept in (6);

8. Public records and reports;

9. Records of vital statistics;

10. Absence of public record or entry;

11. Records of religious organizations;

12. Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates;

13. Family records;

14. Records of documents affecting an interest in property;

15. Statements in documents affecting an interest in property;

16. Statements in ancient documents;

17. Market reports and commercial publications;

18. Learned treatises;

19. Reputation concerning personal or family history;

20. Reputation concerning boundaries or general history;

21. Reputation as to character;

22. Judgment as to previous conviction; and

23. Judgment as to personal, family, or general history or boundaries.

There are an additional 5 exceptions to the hearsay rule when the declarant is unavailable to testify and be questioned about the statement:

1. Former testimony, if the party, or predecessor in legal interest, against whom the statement is being offered had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination;

2. Statement under belief of impending death concerning the cause of circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death (e.g., the so-called dying declaration);

3. Statement against interest (i.e., a statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. By the way, regarding the Troy Davis legal case: a statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement);

4. Statement of personal or family history; and

5. Forfeiture by wrongdoing (i.e., a statement offered against a party that has engaged in or acquiesced in wrongdoing that was intended to, and did, procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness).

Y’all can look up these rules on line for further information. Once again, the rules are FRE 801 defining hearsay, FRE 802 which says hearsay is not admissible except under these rules, FRE 803 which list 23 exceptions where hearsay is admissible regardless if the declarant is available to testify, and FRE 804, which lists 5 exceptions where hearsay is admissible, if the declarant is not available to testify.

Again, the states apply substantially the same rules in state courts and they follow the same numbering system, which makes it easy to find the corresponding state rule and compare the two.

Finally, never forget that a statement by a declarant that is NOT offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement is NOT hearsay!

Cross posted at my website and at the Smirking Chimp.


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