Monthly Archives: June 2013

Reflections on the First Week of George Zimmerman’s Trial

There was a fairly eventful first week of testimony in the Second Degree Murder trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  After the Defense’s opening statement “knock knock” joke misstep, things have been consistently going in their favor. In order to prove second degree murder, it seems that the State is going on the theory that Zimmerman was on top of Martin  when the shooting occurred; otherwise they have trouble overcoming self-defense. So far, they have not been able to make their case. Several of the neighbors heard or saw part of the altercation, but the only one who got a good look prior to the shooting, neighbor John Good, testified that the person wearing black (Martin) was on  top, swinging MMA style at the person on the bottom, who was wearing red (Zimmerman).

John Good on the Stand

John Good on the Stand

Much discussion has centered around the testimony of Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin right up to the confrontation. While her testimony was not great for the prosecution, and the defense was able to exploit her significant credibility issues, she will not be the witness on which this case will turn. She did not see anything, and can’t could not know about the degree of force used by either party.

The State is trying to make Zimmerman the instigator of the confrontation, and the Defense is suggesting that Zimmerman started it. Only Zimmerman can testify to that, and presumably will take the stand, maybe within a few days. However, the real legal issue is not who started it, but whether Zimmerman had a real fear that he might be killed or receive great bodily harm. It is not necessary that his injuries be severe, or that Martin was trying to kill him. Under the law, he may be justified in deadly force if he legitimately thinks he may be seriously harmed. The physical evidence, the injuries to his face and the lacerations on the back of his head, support his story that Martin bested him, and was on top of him, banging his head on the pavement.

There is some method to the madness of the State’s case so far. They have chosen to present some of the weaker witnesses to blunt their force and prevent surprise to the jury later on. The State would have had no credibility had pretended that John Good wasn’t a witness, and if they chosen to let the Defense present that testimony later on. The State had to put that out there. Also, they have already gotten by the testimony of Ms. Jeantel. I anticipate they will wrap up the prosecution case with series of strong witnesses, whose testimony will be a lot more recent when the jury retires to deliberate. There is a suggestion that they will present the testimony of Martin’s father, who will state that he recognizes the screams for help overheard on the 911 calls, and that they are by his son, Trayvon. That will be exceptionally emotional testimony, and will likely have the jury in tears.

By the time the State is finished with their case, the pundits who are chalking the trial up as a loss will asking if Zimmerman’s lawyers can save him. The Defense will then try to couch the case in facts and what is provable and what is not. While the tragedy of the young man’s death is apparent, criminal liability is not. The Defense will stress that the State cannot prove that Zimmerman was not in fear for his life. They may call Mr. Good back to the stand to reiterate that Zimmerman was on the bottom getting beaten. Good also says he believed the screams were from the person on the bottom, whom he believes to be Zimmerman. It may not even be necessary to put the Defendant on the stand, but I expect Zimmerman will testify that yes he followed Martin, but that Martin confronted him, broke his nose and knocked him down, jumped on him, and was beating his head against the ground. He will testify that yes, he was in fear for his life. Unless the State can find some hole in his testimony, or he changes the story, or something else extreme, they will have difficulty disproving what he says. Crimcourts will be watching to see out it plays out.

Big Brother is Watching, and Recording

Lee County is adding more scanners that scan and record all license plates that drive by. I had not even heard of these until last night’s story, but apparently they are already in use up and down the SW Florida coast; Lee County just happens to be adding more of them. Perfectly legal, your license plate must be visible and the roads are public… but it’s another way for the government to track its citizens. I’m sure the data collected from these operations will be added to the NSA’s warehouse of information that is being build right now.

Oh, after I wrote the paragraph above, I ran across this article on Drudge today. The license plate scanning, and recording, is already far more extensive than I had imagined. I had never even heard of these until this week, and they have apparently been in heavy use for several years now. It makes you wonder in what other ways the government is watching and tracking without us even knowing about it. Satellites? Cell tower and GPS information? The breadth of possibilities is frightening.

Charlotte County Sheriff’s Deputies Are Going After Gay People (Still)

While it was a big day yesterday for supporters of gay rights, with two victories in the Supreme Court, persecution still exists right here in Southwest Florida. Just Tuesday, a Charlotte County Sheriffs detective conducted an undercover sting explicitly designed to target homosexuals. The detective posed undercover as a gay man, and deliberately tried to attract gay men. He flirted with a man who was hitting on him until the man touched his crotch area. He then arrested the man for Battery.

This is the second time CCSO detectives have carried out this type of sting operation in the past week or so. The report indicates that law enforcement was investigating possible illegal sex activities. However, this guy, and the guy last week, were not charged with illegal sex activities. These guys were entrapped to commit battery. They were set up by a flirty undercover to think he was initiating foreplay. It’s textbook entrapment, and CCSO is spending our tax dollars to set up these undercover stings. This isn’t new; CCSO has been running these stings for years. It’s time somebody called them out for their discriminatory targeting of homosexuals, and their unlawful techniques in doing so. Nobody has ever prosecuted a hot chick who touched a guy, and for the undercover to act like he is interested in the target to entice touching is reprehensible. That CCSO is spending money on this is ridiculous.

That the first guy is still sitting in jail from his set up is shocking. He pled out at first appearance, without the advice of an attorney. He has been locked up since then, and will also have to do probation after his release. He has no apparent local criminal history before he was set up. That’s what the Sheriff’s office banks on, that these targets will just plead out and not fight the case. Meanwhile, the media regurgitates the CCSO press release.

It’s worth noting that Florida still has a law against “Unnatural and Lascivious” acts, F.S. 800.02, which theoretically would outlaw any homosexual contact. As far as I can tell, there are no reported cases for simple homosexual contact, but the law is still on the books. It could conceivably be applied to quite a bit of heterosexual activity as well. Imagine that… criminalizing consensual adult behavior.

It’s Hard Out Here For Lawyers

In case anyone needing reminding, this suit alleging that Arizona deputies beat a lawyer who was trying to comfort his client is shocking. I wish it would go to trial, but these things generally resolve before that level. Still, it’s a reminder of all the things that attorneys are up against.

Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Trial Opening Statements

While the media is all over the Defense attorney’s failed knock knock joke during opening statements, in the long run of the trial, I don’t think that’s going to be a big deal. While it was ill-advised, and certainly fell flat, it’s not so problematic as to irreparably put off the jury. He apologized, and moved on. I am more interested in some of the other things that came up in opening statements.

Zimmerman's injuries

Zimmerman’s injuries

First, the prosecutor made a bold claim that Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin “because he wanted to.” It’s an interesting strategic gambit, because Zimmerman’s desire to kill Martin is not an element of the crime. The jury instruction for second degree murder specifically states, “it is not necessary for the State to prove the defendant had an intent to cause death.” The State has essentially raised the bar for themselves by telling the jury they are going to prove intent. The claim is further challenging because the injuries that Zimmerman suffered indicate the killing occurred after the physical altercation. If “he wanted to” kill Mr. Martin, why would he wait until he had been beaten to do so? The state will still be entitled to the jury instruction that it is not necessary to prove intent, but they have made a promise to the jury that they will show it.

More Zimmerman Injuries

More Zimmerman Injuries

Secondly, the Defense statement indicated that one of the witnesses saw someone matching Mr. Martin’s description “mounted on top” of Mr. Zimmerman, “beating him senseless.” Witness John Good will testify and has referred to what he saw as a “ground and pound“, which is consistent with the injuries to Zimmerman’s nose and the bleeding from the back of his head. This fits with the Defense story that Zimmerman shot to stop a felony from being committed on himself, which would justify the killing. The Defense will argue that the shooting was justified regardless of who initiated the confrontation. However, the Defense says that Mr. Martin’s friend who had been on the phone with him will testify that Martin initiated the confrontation.

The state will have an extreme challenge, in light of the injuries and eye-witness testimony, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman was not justified in using force under the circumstances. It’s a shame that the case was not reviewed by a grand jury before the state made their filing decision. Keep in mind that the previous prosecutor on the case declined to file any charges, then decided to submit the case to a grand jury. However, after being appointed, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey decided that grand jury review would not assist her, and upped the charges to second degree murder (the reviewing officer had recommended manslaughter charges). She did so in spite of the fact that a grand jury was already in the process of being convened. Ms. Corey had her assistants handle the case, but was present in the courtroom as opening statements began.

There has been a great deal of speculation whether Zimmerman will testify, and he almost certainly will, in order to tell the jury that he felt he was in danger. Depending on how much of his previous statements are entered into evidence, and how much detail the eyewitnesses are able to give, it may not even be necessary for him to take the stand. Still, the jury will want to hear from him, and I fully expect him to take the stand in his defense.

Also, the latest legal issue on the case is whether Zimmerman’s previous calls to the police about activity in his neighborhood will be admitted. As a general rule, character evidence, that is, evidence of a propensity to commit a crime due to the character of the defendant, is not admissible. The other calls will not be admitted unless the state can convince Judge Nelson that there is a relevant reason for their introduction. They may not like the result they are asking for, as the calls may demonstrate that Zimmerman had a reason to be concerned about strangers walking around in his neighborhood. The judge has reserved ruling on that issue.

UPDATE: Here’s new police video, including more documentation of injuries, and the lie detector that Zimmerman passed. His success on the lie detector will not be admitted into evidence, but I still agree with the analyst HLN cites, who believes that an acquittal is likely.


George Zimmerman Trial is Underway

If you have been on the internet in the last 24 hours, you are probably already aware the opening statements were yesterday, and that his attorney started out with a knock knock joke. While the media is making a big deal out of it, and while it fell flat, it’s unlikely to hurt him in the long run. The state even presented their first couple of witnesses. Hopefully I’ll have more time to add some thoughts on openings, and the judge’s ruling excluding the state’s voice recognition testimony.

Be Safe This Weekend – DUI Checkpoint Planned in Lee County

LCSO is running a DUI checkpoint this weekend, location somewhere in Lee County… It starts tonight, location not advertised. They will be randomly stopping cars, without probable cause. Keep in mind, the legal limit is .08, which comes around quicker than you realize. Also, you are already under arrest before you are asked to blow. If you refuse to blow, they will suspend your driver’s license… but if you blow over, they will also suspend it and it can be used against you in court.

Don’t drink and drive… but if you make a mistake, call a lawyer.

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George Zimmerman Jury Selection Moves Into Second Phase

zimmerman in court

George Zimmerman

The attorneys in Zimmerman’s murder trial have gone through their preliminary questioning, and have a pool of 40 potential jurors to start asking more pointed questions. They have dismissed several hundred others, who carried too great a risk of being prejudiced by the extensive media coverage on the case. They may be able to seat a jury by the end of the week. Since it is not a capital case, Florida only requires a jury of six, whose decision must be unanimous. The judge also plans to seat four alternates, and to sequester all of them during the course of the trial (after the jury selection). Zimmerman has admitted that he shot teenager Trayvon Martin, but claims that he was justified in using self-defense to do so, implicating Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The case, with its racial implications, has generated controversy around the country.

See our continuing coverage here:

Attorney Cordell to be on B 103.9 Tomorrow Morning (Wednesday)

Tune in to Big Mama and the Wild bunch on B 103.9 Wednesday morning for the ask a lawyer segment. I’ll be on air around 9:30 and taking callers. Check it out!

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The Italian Court of Cassation issued its written ruling on the reversal of Ms. Knox’s acquittal. The ruling was released in March, and the court is now releasing its written findings and explanation of the rulings. Details can be found … Continue reading