Zimmerman and the wheels of justice

posted at 12:31 pm on June 2, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I know it probably seems as if I’ve developed a bit of a dim view of the justice system of late, though I’m really trying to maintain a positive outlook. I previously expressed some doubts about precisely who our system of rights and due process are serving with regards to Lois Lerner. That situation struck me as a person who had been accused of no crime, but who was taking advantage of every nook and cranny of the justice system to thwart even the possibility of future charges as if she already were. The legal beagles, including my friend and attorney Doug Mataconis, have had their say on it and apparently that’s the way of the world in our courts. But how about a different case where someone already has been accused of a crime, such as that of George Zimmerman in Florida?

I find it improbable beyond words that you’re not already familiar with the case of Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, so I won’t waste your time with an update of the whole affair here. But there was a recent revelation as we approach the start of the trial which definitely caught my attention. It involved a request on the part of the defense to introduce certain items into evidence which would seem to paint Martin as something other than the Skittles purchasing pedestrian the state claims he was.

Lawyers for George Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin, will be barred from mentioning Mr. Martin’s marijuana use, history of fights or high school suspension during opening arguments in Mr. Zimmerman’s trial, which begins June 10.

At a hearing Tuesday in a Seminole County court, Circuit Judge Debra Steinberg Nelson denied a string of defense motions concerning evidence that was intended to portray Mr. Martin as a troubled teenager with a propensity for fighting and an interest in guns. Prosecutors argued that such evidence had nothing to do with Mr. Martin’s death.

All of this background material – listed at the link – will be inadmissible, at least during opening statements and perhaps for the duration of the trial, depending upon how the prosecution seeks to play their hand. My immediate reaction was to wonder how that happened? What of the importance of offering the defense every opportunity to portray their client in the best light, and of the bedrock assumption that each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is not a history of potentially violent and illegal activity relevant to how Martin might have reacted that day?

There are postings from social media containing very disturbing admissions, texts and e-mails. Is this not evidence? Should this not be available to the jury if they are to give the defendant every chance and the assumption of innocence? Once again, according to Doug, apparently not.

The question, though, is whether evidence like this should be admissible at trial.1

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about how trials work, especially criminal trials, is that not all “evidence” is admissible evidence. Not every piece of information that might somehow be tangentially relevant to a criminal case2 is admissible at trial. The classic example that most lay people are familiar with is hearsay evidence, which essentially refers to evidence of statements made outside of a courtroom setting that are, for one reason or another, not subject to cross-examination. There are literally dozens of exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow such statements to be admitted into evidence under the right circumstances, but the general rule is that if a party wishes to present evidence of something that someone who isn’t available to testify, for whatever reason, then that evidence is inadmissible unless an exception applies.

In the Zimmerman case, though, we’re dealing with the somewhat more complicated issue of character evidence. Quite obviously, Zimmerman’s hoped, and if given the opportunity during the trial still hope, to use evidence about Trayvon Martin’s past to establish that he was a violent person, thus reinforcing the defense theory of the case that Zimmerman was attacked by a young guy who he saw roaming around his neighborhood. To many lay people, including many people that I discussed this issue with on Twitter and Facebook yesterday evening, it seems self-evident that any evidence that shows that Trayvon Martin was a “thug” is relevant to Zimmerman’s defense and therefore ought to be something that the jury should be able to consider. As a general rule, evidence regarding the character of the victim, or the Defendant, is considered inadmissible unless it somehow becomes relevant to the actual facts at issue in the case. The most well-known example of this is the body of law that has determined, largely correctly, that the sexual history of a woman claiming that she was raped is inadmissible in a rape trial.

(For the record, I was one of the “lay people” on Twitter referenced above. It went on for quite a while.)

It’s a long explanation, so you should click through to get the entire thing, but I don’t care for it a bit. It seems to me, particularly in the two cases we are drawing parallels between here, that there is a rather large, gray area when it comes to when the rules do or do not apply in giving the accused the benefit of the doubt. We’re talking about something that happened with (I believe) no other first hand witnesses. There is precious little to go by in terms of hard evidence to determine what happened during the altercation aside from one sided phone records. How is background information like this not applicable?

But I suppose the legal community has once again spoken and some of us laypersons are simply too dense to understand the law. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree or like it.


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Comment pages: 1 4 5 6

Zimmerman was legally armed. For the third time, what law did Zimmerman break before Martin attacked him?

NotCoach on June 3, 2013 at 11:52 PM

Good luck on getting some rational, agenda-free talk from Hog Wild – you’re gonna need it! :)

Anti-Control on June 4, 2013 at 12:21 AM

This entire trial is a political stunt. They are abusing Zimmerman with this bogus trial because he refused to buckle under the jack boot that the racist Obama tried to place on his throat! Remember Obama playing a race card against Zimmerman when he thought Zimmerman was ‘a white guy’? Obama quickly shut his ignorant trap when the truth got in the way of his race baiting tactics. Anyone that has read the prosecutors case realizes she is a total political jackass who thinks appeasing her master in Washington will garner her favors in the future.

This particular ruling is likely to be tossed out within the first few hours of the trial. As soon as ANY witness, like Martin’s girlfriend states ‘what a nice guy Martin was’, the defense will bring up a motion to admit the ‘character building’ aspects of Martin, and this will all be admitted.

Martin was a vicious person that wanted to beat the hell out of Zimmerman in the same manner he had just beaten his classmate. That incident, which removed Martin from school, is what led to Martin being in that community.

The real question after this trial is over is: What responsibility do Martin’s parents have for NOT SUPERVISING the son they KNEW had a problem with VIOLENCE against other people? Treyvon could have just as easily attacked his brother, who would not have been able to defend himself as well as Zimmerman did!

Freddy on June 4, 2013 at 2:57 AM

Haven’t read the comments, but here is why I think this history of Trayvon matters. We have Zimmerman’s testimony of how Trayvon was acting, as well as what he supposedly did to start actually start the fight. So, since we don’t have Trayvon’s side, it matters whether or not Zimmerman was telling the truth. I’m pretty sure that if Trayvon had a reputation of a nerd, who was more likely to be the victim of bullies and never did drugs or alcohol, the prosecution would use that to cast doubt on everything Zimmerman said. So isn’t it also appropriate to have such evidence than shows what Zimmerman testified to happens to fit Trayvon’s record? If Zimmerman was lying, it was an amazing coincidence that it fit what we know about Trayvon! No, it isn’t “proof”, but it is supportive.

dabbigkahuna on June 4, 2013 at 3:46 AM

I should also note, Hog, that in my single days, like many young ladies, I was approached by squirrelly, disreputable-looking men. A simple “get the hell away from me” was usually enough to get them moving to greener pastures. Are you suggesting Trayvon was somehow incapable of doing the same? Or are you saying I could have utilized the more permanent solution of pounding the guy’s head into the sidewalk? It certainly would have saved my friends some time and trouble!

Maddie on June 4, 2013 at 12:20 AM

No I’m not. I’m saying, and no one so far has presented evidence one way or another other than second hand hear say, how the confrontation started. Witnesses, saw Martin thumping Zimmerman, but didn’t see how it started. Did Zimmerman attempt a citizens arrest he had no right to execute? Did Martin turn a corner and launch an ambush when Zimmerman was close enough to do so? Did they speak before the confrontation, if they did, what was said?

We simply don’t know, do we? So isn’t a thorough investigation to find out what actually happened the next logical step?

It’s too bad you judge people by the way they look. By the way, from Zimmerman’s own words, he did that too.

Hog Wild on June 5, 2013 at 12:28 AM

???? How did Zimmerman judge by how someone looked?

He described BEHAVIOR. Everything about “looks” was in response to the need to provide a description.

Further, what was there in his history that showed him trying to make a citizen’s arrest before?

We know Trayvon got away. Zimmerman said so, Trayvon’s girlfriend said Trayvon told her so. It was some time after that when contact was made again. How could that happen, at the location it did, unless Trayvon came back? His escape was in the direction of where he was staying and the home was literally seconds away. Why would he come back?

dabbigkahuna on June 5, 2013 at 1:28 AM

Hog Wild on June 5, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Getting the Facts Straight in the Zimmerman Case

Pay attention to the time stamps, and how far away Martin was from where he was staying when Zimmerman says, in the 911 call, he lost sight of Martin and stopped following him. Zimmerman was on the phone with the 911 operator for two more minutes after that.

Two and a half minutes after the 911 call ended a resident made a 911 call to report the ongoing altercation, with Martin on top of Zimmerman — per eyewitness testimony. That’s over four minutes after Zimmerman said he lost sight of Martin, who was at the time only 400 feet away from where he was staying based on Zimmerman’s statement. Other sources show the altercation took place at least 400 feet away from where Martin was staying.

Martin could have walked that final 400 feet in about a minute. He could have run there in less than half that time. To repeat, Zimmerman was on the phone with the 911 operator a full two minutes after he said he lost sight of Martin about 400 from where Martin was staying.

About three minutes after Zimmerman hung up the shot was fired that killed Martin.

And a cop showed up less than a minute after that.

Either Martin did not go straight back to where he was staying after Zimmerman lost sight of him, doing who knows what in the interim and doubling back, or Zimmerman was lying his ass off to the 911 operator in real time, continuing to follow Martin for about four minutes, following him God knows where in that time. Two of those minutes were on the phone with the 911 operator. All this time Zimmerman knew a cop would be there any minute. He could have shown up the moment Zimmerman ended the 911 call for all he knew.

There are diagrams available on the internet showing the relatively small area in which this all took place, that show all of the landmarks and locations with distances.

The first investigators could not find a single flaw or inconsistency in anything Zimmerman said about what had happened. And he was willingly talking to the cops starting less than a minute after Martin was shot right through the next five or six hours.

The prosecution is either counting on getting OJ’s first jury to convict on second degree murder — a jury that will ignore the facts substituting their own fictional narrative — or the prosecution is going to lose this trial. Their star witness claims she was on the phone with Martin up until he “ran”, which is when Zimmerman lost sight of him, 400 feet from where he was staying, and four and a half minutes before he was shot. She has been caught lying twice, including once while giving sworn testimony. She said she was at the hospital during during Martin’s funeral — her reason for not attending — when she wasn’t. She will probably be charged with perjury for that.

Repeating… the original investigators could not find a single flaw or inconsistency in Zimmerman’s version of events. It fit completely with all of the known facts. Which is why the first DA decided not to prosecute.

Once the incident was politicized, another prosecutor was assigned and a grand jury hearing scheduled. The grand jury would have seen all of the facts and the analysis and conclusions of the original investigators. The new prosecutor decided on her own to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder before the grand jury hearing. At the time she charged him the grand jury hearing was only a couple of weeks away. It was cancelled. Given that a good prosecutor can legendarily get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, why did she choose to head off a grand jury hearing?

Now you can continue to say we do not really know this or that, but a great deal is known and it is available if you go look for it. And the prosecution has offered up almost nothing new other than a star witness who has established herself as a liar, and whose claims her phone call with Martin ended when Martin “ran”, two minutes before Zimmerman’s 911 call ended, and over four minutes before Zimmerman was shot.

farsighted on June 5, 2013 at 10:01 AM

and over four minutes before Zimmerman Martin was shot.

farsighted on June 5, 2013 at 10:08 AM

We simply don’t know, do we? So isn’t a thorough investigation to find out what actually happened the next logical step?

It’s too bad you judge people by the way they look. By the way, from Zimmerman’s own words, he did that too.

Hog Wild on June 5, 2013 at 12:28 AM

No, we don’t know. Explain to me exactly how “a thorough investigation” will determine what happened, once and for all. We already know who was there, what happened to them, and when they arrived on the scene. All the information to be gathered has already been done, and for the most part, disseminated to the public. Do you seriously expect some sort of Perry Mason/Quincy, M.E. moment?

And while you’re at it, explain to me how you know me well enough to say I “judge people by the way they look.” I’d never even heard of Trayvon Martin until months after he died. Never laid eyes on him. I judge him based on his actions and words.

And you just did the same thing to me, so feel free to get off your high horse any time now.

Maddie on June 5, 2013 at 12:29 PM

It’s too bad you judge people by the way they look. By the way, from Zimmerman’s own words, he did that too.

Hog Wild on June 5, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Forgot to add, Zimmerman gave a physical description to the 911 dispatcher at the dispatcher’s request. Giving a description of the guy is not racial profiling.

Maddie on June 5, 2013 at 12:32 PM

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