Zimmerman: Probable outcome of defense motion for acquittal after prosecution rests case-in-chief

May 3, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

Searching Mind posted a comment in which he asked me to explain what might happen when the defense moves for a judgment of acquittal after the prosecution rests upon completing the presentation of its case-in-chief.

The defense in any criminal case can and should move for a judgment of acquittal, sometimes called a directed verdict of not-guilty, after the prosecution completes its case-in-chief.

Pursuant to Jackson v. Virginia, 443 US 307, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979), the rule the judge must apply requires her to assume for the purpose of ruling on the motion that all of the prosecution’s evidence, together with all of the reasonable inferences to be drawn from it, are true. Given that assumption, she must decide whether a rational trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty. In the context of this case, she would have to apply that test to whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the crime of murder in the second degree and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not kill Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

With regard to the murder charge, I think the likely area of dispute will be the sufficiency of the evidence that the defendant’s act of shooting Trayvon evinced extreme indifference to human life (i.e., depraved mind). The answer to that question will depend on whether he shot Trayvon in self-defense.

With regard to self-defense, I believe the dispute will concern whether the defendant reasonably believed himself to be in imminent danger of death or serious injury when he shot and killed Trayvon.

I believe the judge will conclude the evidence was sufficient to convince a rational trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant evinced a depraved mind when he shot and killed Trayvon, since I am expecting she will find that the evidence shows that he was not justified in using deadly force because, regardless of the defendant’s claim that Trayvon initiated the confrontation, the defendant’s injuries did not reasonably place him in imminent fear of death or serious injury when he pulled the trigger.

I am not anticipating that the prosecution will have any difficulty satisfying that test. I do not believe that any rational person will dispute that the person who uttered the 40-second terrified shriek for help that ended so precisely with the gunshot that it appeared to have been silenced by it, was not the person who had the gun. If it had been the person with the gun, he would have continued screaming for help after the shot since, according to the defendant, he thought the shot missed. No, I do not believe there is any chance that a rational trier of fact would conclude that the person armed with a gun uttered that shriek or was in any danger whatsoever from that unarmed person when he pulled the trigger.

After Judge Nelson denies the defense motion, the defense will have the option of putting on a case or resting and submitting the case to the jury.

I would not be surprised if the defense rests without calling the defendant or any other witnesses because the prosecution’s case is strong and the defendant so hopelessly compromised himself with a blizzard of conflicting and inconsistent statements such that no jury would believe anything he said.

Notice that I did not mention Dee Dee (W8). I intentionally did not mention her because I have never believed she was a necessary witness, much less the prosecution’s star witness, as the defense and the media have described her.

Her testimony will be cummulative rather than critical. In other words, it will be mere icing on the cake.

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