Zimmerman: Lawyers Lawyers Everywhere — Important Hearing Today at 1:30 pm EDT

October 19, 2012

Lawyers for prosecution, defense and various news media organizations will be in court this afternoon before Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson to argue about various discovery related issues in the Zimmerman case. This should be interesting, so you may want to pay attention.

The always reliable and accurate Frances Robles of the Miami Herald has the breakdown:

Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda filed papers Thursday in Seminole County Circuit Court asking a judge to muzzle defense attorney Mark O’Mara, whom the prosecutor accuses of taking to the Internet to try his case in the media.

“Unless defense counsel stops talking to the media about the case, in person or by use of defendant’s website, it will (be) more difficult to find jurors who have not been influenced by the media accounts of the case,” de la Rionda said. ” … An impartial jury could never be seated.”

De la Rionda asked Circuit Judge Debra Nelson to issue a gag order, which would silence the defense, prosecutors, law enforcement and any of the lawyers’ employees. If the judge agrees, lawyers and investigators would not be allowed to make any statements outside the courtroom about the case, evidence, credibility of witnesses or possible sentences. If the judge allows it, they would even be kept from opining about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

I am not surprised by the State’s motion. The defense has been trying its case in the Court of Public Opinion for months now and the prosecution has at long last run out of patience.

Of course, the prosecution has benefited more than the defense from this strategy. After all, who can forget George Zimmerman’s appearance on the Sean Hannity Show. His smirks, denial of regret, and shifting of responsibility for Trayvon Martin’s death onto God Almighty Himself has to be one of the greatest moments in network television history for this still young second decade.

Although there may still be more gold to be mined in the proverbial “them thar hills,” I think the prosecution comprehends the notion of diminishing returns and wants to cash-in its winnings and move on to other pleasantries of a somewhat more formal nature.

The defense and media lawyers will be objecting to the motion and I do not expect Judge Nelson will seriously consider granting it. Florida’s Sunshine Law is an impressive barrier to a gag order. I predict she will deliver a sternly worded rebuke to defense counsel and we shall see what we shall see.

Judge Nelson also will be hearing argument concerning the defense request to subpoena Trayvon Martin’s middle school and high school records. The State objects to the request on the grounds that the information in the records, whether good or bad, is protected from disclosure by privacy statutes and it would be irrelevant and inadmissible at trial. Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda called it a “fishing expedition.”

As I have said before, I believe the rules of evidence permit the defense to introduce evidence of a pertinent character trait in support of Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was the aggressor. For example, if Trayvon Martin was known to be an aggressive bully who started fights, the defense would be permitted to bring that out at trial. Specific acts of misconduct would not be admissible, however. The defense would be limited to introducing the evidence as a character trait. Assuming such evidence exists, which I doubt, it might be in the school records. Therefore, I believe the defense has a legitimate reason to want to review the records.

The problem is that the defense may post Martin’s records on its website, regardless whether they contain any reference to misconduct of any kind, whether admissible or not. The State already did that with George Zimmerman’s school records and has apologized for doing so, claiming it was a clerical mistake. Now it seeks to prevent the defense from administering a dose of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

There is a solution to this sort of problem and I have previously recommended it. It’s called in camera review. No, it does not involve a camera. In camera review is a legal term that means in chambers. That is, the school records would be filed under seal and Judge Nelson would review them in her chambers and decide whether they contain evidence the defense has a right to review. She discloses it to both sides, if they do. Presumably, she also would order both sides not to publicize the records and might even threaten to hold them in contempt of court, if they were to violate the order.

As I said, I doubt the records contain the information that the defense has a legitimate reason to seek, so this dispute will likely be more like a proverbial tempest in a teapot. If there is any substance to it, there is a solution to deal with the records and protect privacy that has worked in the past.

The State also wants Judge Nelson to order the defense to file its requests for subpoenas in the future under seal so that it cannot publicize them on its website before submitting them for the court’s approval. This argument is part of the prosecution’s strategy to stop the defense from trying its case in the Court of Public Opinion.

This is another issue that Judge Nelson can handle with a stern warning and threat to use her contempt powers. I predict she will do so rather than establishing a special rule for O’Mara, as opposed to all other defense counsel, when seeking court approval for subpoenas.

The prosecution also is seeking George Zimmerman’s medical records at the clinic where he sought a permission-to-return-to-work authorization the day after the shooting. The defense objects on privacy grounds. I think the defense likely waived doctor-patient privilege and privacy concerns when it released a portion of his records and has intimated that his ADHD condition might explain some of his inconsistencies.

Finally, there is an interesting issue about the discoverability of Trayvon Martin’s social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter). A lawyer representing Facebook has refused to comply with the subpoena.

Once again, here’s Frances Robles,

On Monday, Facebook lawyers sent a letter to O’Mara vowing to fight the subpoena. Martin’s social-media account, Facebook attorney Furqan Mohammed said, is not only irrelevant to the case, but by law cannot be released. Mohammed said federal law protects the account information, and added that arguing the issue would have to be done in a California court.

“We think the attorneys for Facebook are essentially saying the same thing we have been saying all along: Trayvon’s Facebook and social media are completely irrelevant,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Martin’s family. “All of these issues are distractions that take the focus off George Zimmerman.”

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Zimmerman: Why No Amount of Lawyers, Guns and Money Will Save Him

September 27, 2012

The role of the lawyers during a criminal trial, whether prosecution or defense, is to present evidence through witness testimony via direct and cross examination, raise appropriate motions and objections at appropriate times, argue what facts have been proven or not proven to the jury, and argue to the judge which legal rules should be applied to resolve disputed issues that come up from time to time.

Lawyers are advocates, not witnesses. Juries are instructed in every criminal case that statements by lawyers are not evidence and may not be considered as evidence.

There are only two exceptions to this rule:

(1) By implication: When a lawyer asks a leading question and the witness agrees or disagrees, the jury may consider the answer as evidence that incorporates the lawyer’s statement in the question asked. As is true of any evidence admitted during trial, the jury gets to decide whether to believe or disbelieve the witness who agreed or disagreed with the statement and how much weight to give to the answer.

(2) By stipulation or agreement: When opposing counsel agree that the jury may consider a particular fact as undisputed. The stipulation then becomes part of the evidence the jury may consider.

Mark O’Mara will tell the jury during his opening statement that the evidence will show that Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense. During summation, he can argue what facts have been proven or disproven in support of his argument that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not kill Martin in self-defense. The jury may not consider anything he says as evidence and the same is true for anything the prosecutor says.

Zimmerman’s statements to police and various other witnesses before trial may or may not be admissible at trial according to the rules of evidence.

Subject to the Rule of Completion, the prosecution may introduce any statement he made under the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule. The Rule of Completeness permits the defense to clarify the meaning or intent of any statement offered by the prosecution by completing the statement.

For example, let’s assume a defendant said during a long custodial interrogation at the station house, “Sure I did it. I’ll admit it if it makes you happy and you let me go even though I would be lying if I said that.”

If the prosecution elicited the statement, “Sure I did it,” the defense would be permitted on cross examination to elicit the rest of the statement, “I’ll admit it if it makes you happy and you let me go even though I would be lying if I said that.” The purpose of the rule is to prevent the prosecutor from abusing the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule by introducing bits and pieces of statements that misrepresent what was said.

Statements admitted under the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule are defined as not hearsay by the rules of evidence. Hearsay, of course is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

The declarant is the person who made the statement and, but for the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule, a defendant’s statement would be inadmissible hearsay.

In fact, it is inadmissible hearsay, if the defense offers the defendant’s statement to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In the example above, the defendant’s statement comes in under the Rule of Completion because the prosecutor opened the door by using the admission rule to create a false impression that the defendant had confessed. If the prosecutor had not done that, the statement would be inadmissible hearsay, if the defense offered it to prove the defendant did not commit the crime.

The vast majority of Zimmerman’s statements to police and others before trial are inadmissible hearsay, if offered by the defense to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

I believe we can reasonably assume that the prosecution will not offer Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements during its case, so the jury will not have heard any evidence of self-defense when the prosecution rests its case.

Because of the hearsay rule, O’Mara cannot get any of Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements admitted to prove the truth of the matters asserted during the defense case, unless they would be admissible pursuant to one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule.

In another post, for example, I mentioned that Martin’s statements to Dee Dee expressing fear and describing what the creepy man was doing would be admissible to prove the truth of the matters he asserted because they are statements expressing an excited utterance and a present sense impression. Those are two exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements are not admissible pursuant to those exceptions because he had an opportunity and a motive to be deceptive after he killed Martin.

O’Mara probably will attempt to admit Zimmerman’s statements to the Physician’s Assistant at the family clinic where he sought treatment and permission to return to work. He will argue that Zimmerman’s statements are admissible as statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment, an exception to the hearsay rule.

Unfortunately for Zimmerman, his claim of self-defense was neither relevant nor necessary for medical diagnosis or treatment. Therefore, those statements are not admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule.

In fact, Zimmerman probably will not even get a self-defense instruction, unless he testifies, because there will not be sufficient evidence to support giving a self-defense instruction. O’Mara cannot create a sufficient evidentiary foundation to support instructing the jury on self-defense by what he says during his opening statement because his statements are not evidence.

Therefore, Zimmerman has to testify. If he testifies, the prosecution gets to cross examine him. That means the prosecutor can confront him with every statement he made before trial that is inconsistent with or in conflict with a statement he made on direct examination.

During its rebuttal case after the defense rests, the prosecution can introduce any evidence it has that rebuts evidence presented by the defense during its case. This would include presenting forensic or other evidence that rebuts something Zimmerman said and it also includes evidence of bad character, if the defense opened the door by presenting evidence of good character during its case.

In conclusion, Zimmerman is between the proverbial rock and a hard place because he is unlikely to get a self-defense instruction unless he testifies, but if he testifies, his credibility likely will be destroyed by all of his inconsistent and conflicting statements to police and others.

Damned if he testifies and damned if he does not, George Michael Zimmerman is in such a hell of a jam that no amount lawyers, guns and money will save him from a lengthy prison sentence.


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