Dee Dee did not lie or commit perjury in Zimmerman case

March 5, 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Before the beginning of today’s hearing in the Zimmerman case, the prosecution informed the defense that Dee Dee (the name given to Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend to protect her anonymity) did not go to a hospital instead of attending Trayvon’s funeral.

Judge Nelson dismissed the defense motion for Dee Dee’s medical records as moot.

The defense now claims that Dee Dee lied.

As the following partial transcript of her interview under oath by prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda conclusively demonstrates, she not lie or commit perjury.

BDLR:_ OK._ I’m not saying that they did._ I’m just making sure the records’ clear on that….Um…you obviously found out about what happened to Trayvon, right?_ And at some point you ended up knowing that he was killed, right?

Dee Dee:_ Yeah.

BDLR:_ Were you able to go to the funeral or to the wake?

Dee Dee:__I was goin’ to go, but…

BDLR:_ OK, what happened?

Dee Dee:__I didn’ feel good.

BDLR:_ OK, did you end up going to the hospital or somewhere?

Dee Dee:_ Mmmm…Yeah, I had high blood pressure.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The question is unclear because he asked if she went to a hospital or somewhere.

Therefore, her answer was not a lie and if it was not a lie, it certainly was not perjury.

Nevertheless, let us assume for the sake of argument that she did lie.

As I said in response to a comment by Unabogie,

I think you are being way too literal.

Lying is lying, by definition, but there is an unlimited number of reasons why people lie.

Intentionally lying to conceal the existence of more than a $100,000 in cash from the court during a bail hearing is, by any standard one might choose to apply, a far more serious matter than lying because you did not want to admit that you were too upset to attend a funeral.

I do not believe the prosecution is the least bit worried about this turn of events.

Proof of perjury requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unambiguously lied under oath about a material matter.

BDLR’s question was ambiguous and DD’s response was not about a material matter, as is the case regarding Shellie Zimmerman’s denial under oath during a bail hearing that she did not know about the money she had transferred into her account.

Therefore, even if we assume for the sake of argument that Dee Dee lied, she did not commit and will not be charged with perjury.

Anyone who says she lied and committed perjury is mistaken and anyone who claims that Dee Dee is as guilty of perjury as Shellie Zimmerman is wrong and guilty of asserting false equivalencies.

As I said in an earlier comment this morning before I saw the transcript, I do not believe this development today changes anything.

I predict DD will be one of the last witnesses called by the State after all of the evidence about the shooting and the events that led up to it have been admitted into evidence.

She will simply be confirming what the evidence has already proven. BDLR will ask her about the false statement and she will probably break down and cry as she admits that she lied about that because she was too embarrassed to admit that she was too upset to attend the funeral.

I think the jury and everyone in the courtroom, except the defendant, will understand that and forgive her for lying.

I believe Sybrina will be the last witness because she is Trayvon’s mom and the emotional impact of her testimony will be extremely powerful.

After all is said and done, I do not think anyone will remember, much less care, that DD lied. It’s just not very important.

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Zimmerman: Representing Him and the Inevitable Question: My God, What Have I Become?

October 22, 2012

Brown posted this comment Sunday night at 8:31 pm:

“Correct, but what I was trying to convey was that DeeDee might not understand that he would of been justified. Let’s just say that yes TM told DeeDee that he might have to turn around and face this dude and fight him because he felt threaten. DeeDee as a young teen who doesn’t know anything about SYG, might not understand that TM would of been in the right. If you look through her eyes, she only sees TM a kid who doesn’t fight had to fight against a grown white man. Do you see how it might put her in a position of thinking that if she were to say something like that, her thought process might be, OH boy if I say that TM would be in the wrong. She doesn’t understand that the law was on his side as soon as GZ followed him.”

Although Brown’s comment is about Dee Dee, her comment also is applicable to what clients say to their attorneys. For example, I have previously stated that the Fifth Commandment mandates that lawyers should not assume that their clients tell them the truth.

Brown’s comment pinpoints one of the reasons why clients will lie to their lawyers. For example, because the client might not realize that he has a valid self-defense claim in a murder case where there were no eyewitnesses (or he fears that no one will believe him if he tells the truth), the client might tell the lawyer that he was at a family BBQ when the death occurred. This is a false alibi defense that he also might have provided to the police.

Now let us assume that you are the lawyer and your reliable investigator, Paul Drake, has interviewed everyone who was present at the family BBQ and no one recalls your client being there until a couple of hours after the victim was killed. In other words, your client had plenty of time to kill the victim and get to the BBQ before the witnesses saw him.

You decide to confront your client. Lawyers often refer to these confrontations as a “come-to-Jesus moment.”

After telling your client that his alibi defense is not going to work, he tells you what really happened. You realize that he is describing a situation that constitutes self-defense under the SYG law in your jurisdiction.

Let us say this happens mid-trial after the prosecution rests its case and now it’s time for the defense to go forward.

Now what do you do?

In Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157 (1986), the SCOTUS considered a similar fact situation. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant to assistance of counsel is not violated when an attorney refuses to cooperate with the defendant in presenting perjured testimony at his trial.

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Berger, the SCOTUS said:

Page 475 U. S. 160

I
A

Whiteside was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury verdict which was affirmed by the Iowa courts. The killing took place on February 8, 1977, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Whiteside and two others went to one Calvin Love’s apartment late that night, seeking marihuana. Love was in bed when Whiteside and his companions arrived; an argument between Whiteside and Love over the marihuana ensued. At one point, Love directed his girlfriend to get his “piece,” and at another point got up, then returned to his bed. According to Whiteside’s testimony, Love then started to reach under his pillow and moved toward Whiteside. Whiteside stabbed Love in the chest, inflicting a fatal wound.

Whiteside was charged with murder, and when counsel was appointed, he objected to the lawyer initially appointed, claiming that he felt uncomfortable with a lawyer who had formerly been a prosecutor. Gary L. Robinson was then appointed, and immediately began an investigation. Whiteside gave him a statement that he had stabbed Love as the latter “was pulling a pistol from underneath the pillow on the bed.” Upon questioning by Robinson, however, Whiteside indicated that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was convinced that Love had a gun. No pistol was found on the premises; shortly after the police search following the stabbing, which had revealed no weapon, the victim’s family had removed all of the victim’s possessions from the apartment. Robinson interviewed Whiteside’s companions who were present during the stabbing, and none had seen a gun during the incident. Robinson advised Whiteside that the existence of a gun was not necessary to establish the claim of self-defense, and that only a reasonable belief that the victim had a gun nearby was necessary, even though no gun was actually present.
Until shortly before trial, Whiteside consistently stated to Robinson that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was

Page 475 U. S. 161

convinced that Love had a gun in his hand. About a week before trial, during preparation for direct examination, Whiteside for the first time told Robinson and his associate Donna Paulsen that he had seen something “metallic” in Love’s hand. When asked about this, Whiteside responded:

“[I]n Howard Cook’s case, there was a gun. If I don’t say I saw a gun, I’m dead.”

Robinson told Whiteside that such testimony would be perjury, and repeated that it was not necessary to prove that a gun was available, but only that Whiteside reasonably believed that he was in danger. On Whiteside’s insisting that he would testify that he saw “something metallic,” Robinson told him, according to Robinson’s testimony:

“[W]e could not allow him to [testify falsely], because that would be perjury, and, as officers of the court, we would be suborning perjury if we allowed him to do it; . . . I advised him that, if he did do that, it would be my duty to advise the Court of what he was doing, and that I felt he was committing perjury; also, that I probably would be allowed to attempt to impeach that particular testimony.”
App. to Pet. for Cert. A-85. Robinson also indicated he would seek to withdraw from the representation if Whiteside insisted on committing perjury. [Footnote 2]

Whiteside testified in his own defense at trial, and stated that he “knew” that Love had a gun, and that he believed Love was reaching for a gun, and he had acted swiftly in self-defense. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had not

Page 475 U. S. 162

actually seen a gun in Love’s hand. Robinson presented evidence that Love had been seen with a sawed-off shotgun on other occasions, that the police search of the apartment may have been careless, and that the victim’s family had removed everything from the apartment shortly after the crime. Robinson presented this evidence to show a basis for Whiteside’s asserted fear that Love had a gun.

The jury returned a verdict of second-degree murder, and Whiteside moved for a new trial, claiming that he had been deprived of a fair trial by Robinson’s admonitions not to state that he saw a gun or “something metallic.” The trial court held a hearing, heard testimony by Whiteside and Robinson, and denied the motion. The trial court made specific findings that the facts were as related by Robinson.
The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed respondent’s conviction. State v. Whiteside, 272 N.W.2d 468 (1978). That court held that the right to have counsel present all appropriate defenses does not extend to using perjury, and that an attorney’s duty to a client does not extend to assisting a client in committing perjury. Relying on DR 7-102(A)(4) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, which expressly prohibits an attorney from using perjured testimony, and Iowa Code § 721.2 (now Iowa Code § 720.3 (1985)), which criminalizes subornation of perjury, the Iowa court concluded that not only were Robinson’s actions permissible, but were required. The court commended “both Mr. Robinson and Ms. Paulsen for the high ethical manner in which this matter was handled.”

B

Whiteside then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. In that petition, Whiteside alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel and of his right to present a defense by Robinson’s refusal to allow him to testify as he had proposed. The District Court denied the writ. Accepting the state trial court’s factual finding that

Page 475 U. S. 163

Whiteside’s intended testimony would have been perjurious, it concluded that there could be no grounds for habeas relief, since there is no constitutional right to present a perjured defense.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and directed that the writ of habeas corpus be granted. Whiteside v. Scurr, 744 F.2d 1323 (1984). The Court of Appeals accepted the findings of the trial judge, affirmed by the Iowa Supreme Court, that trial counsel believed with good cause that Whiteside would testify falsely, and acknowledged that, under Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222 (1971), a criminal defendant’s privilege to testify in his own behalf does not include a right to commit perjury. Nevertheless, the court reasoned that an intent to commit perjury, communicated to counsel, does not alter a defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel, and that Robinson’s admonition to Whiteside that he would inform the court of Whiteside’s perjury constituted a threat to violate the attorney’s duty to preserve client confidences. [Footnote 3] According to the Court of Appeals, this threatened violation of client confidences breached the standards of effective representation set down in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984). The court also concluded that Strickland’s prejudice requirement was satisfied by an implication of prejudice from the conflict between Robinson’s duty of loyalty to his client and his ethical duties. A petition for rehearing en banc was denied, with Judges Gibson, Ross, Fagg, and Bowman dissenting. Whiteside v. Scurr, 750 F.2d 713 (1984). We granted certiorari, 471 U.S. 1014 (1985), and we reverse.

I believe The SCOTUS decision in Nix v. Whiteside can be distinguished from the facts in my hypothetical because of the lack of certainty that the client intended to commit perjury.

This distinction is important as it helps to define the boundary between a lawyer’s duty to provide effective assistance of counsel to his client and his ethical and legal obligation not to assist the client to commit perjury to beat the charge.

Criminal defense attorneys routinely navigate close, but not too close, to the land of perjury.

Many times they do not want to know the truth and you should take that into account when you hear Mark O’Mara or any other criminal defense attorney speak about a case.

This is why I say that a criminal defense attorney should never judge his client. That responsibility is assigned to judges and juries.

But sometimes, you cannot help it and therein lies the rub as well as the doubt and the inevitable question:.

My God, what have I become?


Zimmerman: Dee Dee, Show Don’t Tell and The Importance of Listening

October 21, 2012

Whonoze asked the following question that I believe warrants a lengthy response, as it touches on a number of important issues about this case and lawyers in general.

He said,

Prof. L.:

If you were Zimmerman’s attorney, how would you handle the segment of DeeDee’s interview with BdlR in which, as I put it, “she offers to perjure herself.” Please review that segment of the recording. At ~15:51 into the interview, BdlR asks DeeDee if Trayvon said the man was coming to hit him just before the confrontation.

DeeDee: [very quietly] Yeah. You could say that.
SA d l R: I don’t want you to guess. Did he ever say that?
DeeDee: [after long pause, still quietly] How he said it, he just…
SA d l R: [interrupting] No, no. Do you understand? Did he say that or not? If he didn’t, that’s alright…
DeeDee: The man, he got problems. Like he crazy.
SA d l R: Trayvon told you that?
DeeDee: Yeah the man lookin crazy. Looking at him crazy.
SA d l R: When did Trayvon tell you that?
DeeDee: …He was walkin, before he say he was gonna run….
SA d l R: He said the guy looks what?
DeeDee: Crazy. And creepy.

Thus, despite BdlR’s admonition, DeeDee never says anything amounting to “No, Trayvon did did not say that,” but instead goes back to an earlier point in the conversation to bolster her assertion that Trayvon was afraid of Zimmerman.

Now, I do not care how anywhere here interprets this passage, or how they think it speaks to DeeDee’s overall veracity. I know that (and I mostly agree). But we are not going to be sitting on a jury in Seminole County FL, and we are not defense attorneys with an ethical obligation to present a zealous defense of George Zimmerman.

So, first, I would like an experienced defense attorney to role-play, evaluate this part of DeeDee’s statement to BdlR from a defense point of view, and imagine how you might use it at trial (if at all.)

Second, role playing a prosecutor, how would you prep DeeDee in anticipation of any strategies you think the defense might take?

My Answer:

I honestly do not believe Dee Dee offered to perjure herself in that exchange.

This appears to be a classic example of a witness having formed an opinion of what was happening in those final moments before the phone went dead. She’s struggling with attempting to differentiate between her opinion and what she actually heard Trayvon say or not say.

Thus, when “BDLR asks her if Trayvon said the man was coming to hit him just before the confrontation,” she answers

DeeDee: [very quietly] Yeah. You could say that.

BDLR picks up on her apparent uncertainty and says,

“I don’t want you to guess. Did he ever say that?”

She resists being pinned down to a “yes” or “no” answer because her opinion is based on more than what Trayvon said or did not say in those final moments.

For example, she knows Trayvon is a non-violent person who would never pick a fight with anyone and he had been expressing fear and describing strange, creepy and aggressive behavior to explain why he felt that way. She’s reviewing all of that preparing to tell him why she believes all of it can be summarized and expressed as a “Yes” answer to his question. In other words, she wants to supply context because context, rather than what he actually said or did not say in that final moment before the line went dead, answers the question everyone is asking.

She says,

“DeeDee: [after long pause, still quietly] How he said it, he just…

BDLR, who is not warm and fuzzy and lacks patience and an ability to listen, doesn’t “hear” what she is telling him. He interrupts.

“SA d l R: [interrupting] No, no. Do you understand? Did he say that or not? If he didn’t, that’s alright…”

Now, she realizes he doesn’t get it, so she tries to summarize it all by saying the man was crazy. She says,

“DeeDee: The man, he got problems. Like he crazy.”

BDLR is basically a bull in a china shop and he needs to develop some people skills.

Lawyers have an expression for context. We call it “totality of the circumstances.”

Story tellers have a rule for telling stories that they call “Show, don’t tell.”

Someone with some patience and listening skills needs to spend some time with her and tease out all of the specifics that she was attempting to identify and sort out before BDLR started pressuring her for a “yes” or “no” answer.

When she testifies, he needs to ask her to relate those specifics to the jury and leave out her opinion. What the hell does he expect her to say, when she wasn’t actually there and can only rely on what Trayvon told her and who she knew him to be?

Most of what Trayvon said to her, is admissible hearsay pursuant to the excited-utterance and present-sense-impression exceptions to the hearsay rule The rest is admissible non-hearsay because it will be offered to show his mental state, as opposed to being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

BDLR needs to let her show, not tell.

When the defense inevitably attempts to pin her down on cross with the “yes” or “no” answer that BDLR asked, the jury will already have figured out what happened from the context that she supplied by showing rather than telling.

Her denial that Trayvon told her Zimmerman attacked him immediately before the line went dead becomes irrelevant because the jury, everyone else in the courtroom, and the world watching on TV will know that Trayvon did not have an opportunity to say anything when Zimmerman attacked him.

I used to spend a lot of time listening before I decided to do anything. It’s a good practice to develop and I do not believe very many lawyers have developed that skill.

BDLR seriously needs to spend some time working on it because he can be a hot mess without it.


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