Nitty Gritty: Three Questions for Jury to Answer in Trayvon Martin Murder Case

December 31, 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Thankfully, 2012 will soon pass into the rearview mirror.

As we look forward to next year, I think today is a good day to review the three predominant questions that the jury will have to decide when the defendant charged with murdering Trayvon Martin goes to trial. I posted this comment last night.

Actually, O’Mara has conceded that SYG and the castle doctrine do not apply and the evidence will show that, as a matter of law, the defendant was the aggressor.

As the aggressor, the defendant can use deadly force in self-defense only if,

(a) Trayvon responded to his aggression by using more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself;

(b) He reasonably perceived that Trayvon’s use of such force created an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury; and

(c) He attempted to end the confrontation and withdraw before he used deadly force.

O’Mara announced at a press conference that he will argue that the defendant could not withdraw before using deadly force because the defendant was lying on his back unable to withdraw with Trayvon straddling him raining down blows MMA style and slamming his head into the concrete sidewalk.

Those are the basic three questions that the jury will have to decide.

The Court will instruct the jury to presume the answer to all 3 questions is “Yes,” and the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer is “No.”

Keep in mind that, as a practical matter, the defendant will have to testify and that means he will be cross examined, thoroughly.

Malisha was the only person to attempt an answer and this is what she said:

Professor, thanks for the clarity.

The three questions. I love them. I always love “three questions.”

(a) Did Trayvon respond to Fogen’s aggression by using more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself?

I think the answer “NO” is easy to prove because in fact Fogen killed Trayvon. Thus, Fogen’s aggression against Trayvon was, by definition, potentially lethal from the get-go. Thus, also by definition, deadly force was authorized.

(b) Did Fogen reasonably perceive that Trayvon’s use of such force created an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to himself, to Fogen?

I think the answer “NO” is also easy to prove because injuries that Fogen sustained were nowhere near life-threatening. If he was beaten at all, he was beaten in such a way as to do no serious damage. A fender bender would have hurt him more than the encounter with Trayvon Martin hurt him, even if both scratches on his head AND a minor injury to his nose were all attributable to contact with Trayvon Martin.

(c) Did Fogen attempt to end the confrontation and withdraw before he used deadly force?

Fogen has not even claimed that he did so. Even as he narrated his non-credible self-defense story, he claims that he told the neighbor to help him “restrain” Trayvon Martin, but he never told Trayvon Martin that he wanted to stop fighting. Nor did he tell Trayvon Martin, at any point (according to his own narrative) that he had a gun and would shoot unless Trayvon Martin stopped hurting him. Remember, even as he narrated that he “spread out [Trayvon’s] hands,” he still claimed that Trayvon was continuing to struggle and curse. And at no time before or after firing his one shot did Fogen say, “I’m leaving now; I’m going back to my schtruck now; I’ll leave you alone now,” or even, “The police are coming so stop fighting now and we’ll wait for them.”

Now it is your turn. What are your thoughts?

How do you think the defendant will do on cross examination?

I also will start an open thread for those who wish to discuss other matters.

Many thanks and many blessings to all of you for participating and making this blog a great and safe place to discuss the case.

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

Fred


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.


Zimmerman: Jury Instructions for Second Degree Murder and Self-defense

July 12, 2012

Here are some definitions for y’all to keep in mind.

All state and federal trial courts use sets of pattern instructions that are submitted to juries to follow during their deliberations. The instructions define legal terms, the elements of the crimes charged and the relevant defense claimed by the defendant. They also include a presumption of innocence, burden of proof, and definition of reasonable doubt instruction that is given in all criminal cases.

You are in an upper level graduate school course so you know this part by heart:

The defendant, George Zimmerman, is presumed innocent and remains innocent unless the jury unanimously finds him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defendant has no burden to produce any evidence or to testify in this case. He has a constitutional right to not testify and the jury may not assume anything regarding his silence.

The State has the burden of proving each element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

Since the defendant admits killing Trayvon Martin, but claims he was legally justified to do so in self-defense, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

A reasonable doubt is a doubt for which a reason exists. It is such a doubt as would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully, fairly and carefully considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence.

Each side is entitled to the benefit or detriment of the evidence, regardless of which side introduced it.

Evidence may be either direct or circumstantial. Direct evidence is perceived directly by the senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Circumstantial evidence is inferred from a chain of circumstances which in ordinary common experience leads to a particular conclusion. One type of evidence is not necessarily better or worse than the other. It is for the jury to decide how much weight to give to the evidence.

Murder in the Second Degree

In Florida second degree murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual.

Imminently dangerous conduct means conduct that creates what a reasonable person would realize as an immediate and extremely high degree of risk of death to another person.

A person evinces a depraved mind when he engages in imminently dangerous conduct with no regard for the life of another person.

The Florida jury instruction for second degree murder (Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim.) 7.4) provides that an act is imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind if it is one that

1. A person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another

and

2. Is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent

and

3. Is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

Element number 2 will be the battleground and that is why I italicized it.

Self-Defense Instruction

This is the pattern jury instruction for self-defense that the State must disprove beyond a reasonable doubt.

An issue in this case is whether the defendant acted in self-defense. It is a defense to the charge of Murder in the Second Degree with which the defendant is charged if the death of Trayvon Martin resulted from the justifiable use of deadly force.

“Deadly force” means force likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

In deciding whether defendant was justified in the use of deadly force, you must judge him by the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the time the force was used. The danger facing the defendant need not have been actual; however, to justify the use of deadly force, the appearance of danger must have been so real that a reasonably cautious and prudent person under the same circumstances would have believed that the danger could be avoided only through the use of that force. Based upon appearances, the defendant must have actually believed that the danger was real.

A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another.

No duty to retreat..

There is no duty to retreat where the defendant was not engaged in any unlawful activity other than the crime for which the defendant asserts the justification.

If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.

An Aggressor Cannot Claim Self-Defense

The legal justification to use deadly force in self-defense is not available to a person who:

1. Initially provokes the use of force against himself, unless such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm

and

2. That he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant.

These instructions or ones that are substantially similar will be given, if this case goes to trial.

The lawyers on both sides will be preparing for trial with these instructions in mind and y’all should keep them in mind as we continue to evaluate and discuss the evidence.

Keep in mind that Trayvon Martin’s alleged use of force may have been legally justified as reasonable force in self-defense while standing his own ground. The State will have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted in lawful self-defense in order to prove that GZ’s use of deadly force was not legally justified in self-defense.

Clear as mud you say?

That’s why we have a comments section, right?

Last one in the pool is a rotten egg.


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