Skip to comments.Will jury, or judge, decide George Zimmerman's fate?
Posted on 06/11/2012 8:37:12 AM PDT by Aunt Polgara
The nation's fixation on the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has led many to question whether an impartial jury could be found for the trial of his killer, George Zimmerman.
But it's possible a judge, not a jury, will decide Zimmerman's fate. He says he fired in self-defense, and many expect his lawyers will eventually ask for an immunity hearing under Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law.
Often described as a "minitrial" in which the burden of proof is on the defense and the judge serves as jury, such hearings are unlike other criminal-justice proceedings.
The lawyers' roles are reversed, the burden of proof is low, and the stakes couldn't be higher.
"If the judge dismisses the case, it's game over," says Eric Schwartzreich, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who has represented multiple "stand your ground" defendants since the law was passed in 2005.
Since the Trayvon Martin shooting, the law has been the subject of renewed debate. A task force created by Gov. Rick Scott to re-examine "stand your ground" will hold its first public meeting this week.
The law allows civilians to use deadly force anywhere they're legally allowed to be, so long as they are not committing a crime and have a reasonable fear of death or serious injury.
Even if immunity from prosecution isn't granted, the hearings can have value for defense lawyers, Schwartzreich said. They can test their theories, their witnesses and often, their client in a courtroom.
(Excerpt) Read more at articles.orlandosentinel.com ...
Will the judge who decides this be the same one who revoked Zimmerman’s bond in order to placate Crump, or will there be a judge who hasn’t already tipped his hand?
You're saying that SYG isn't NECESSARY to defend Zimmerman's actions if his story is correct, but would it not still apply in the sense that it could short circuit a full trial and also provide a civil liability shield (if FLA's SYG has that feature)?
Glad to know that.
I can pin you down and proceed to bash your brains out.
I require you to lay there and take it.
Dont hurt me.......
The reason it doesn’t apply is because it requires that you have the option to leave, but the law says you don’t have to.
In Zimmerman’s case he did not have that option. He was being held down and beaten. That means that simple (and very old) self defense standards applied. He would have been every bit as much within his right do defend himself BEFORE the SYG law was passed for the simple reason that it does not apply in this case.
You’re saying that SYG isn’t NECESSARY to defend Zimmerman’s actions if his story is correct, but would it not still apply in the sense that it could short circuit a full trial and also provide a civil liability shield (if FLA’s SYG has that feature)?
That I don’t know. But I’m so black and white on how I interpret the law that since Zimmerman did not have the option to flee, and SYG’s whole premise is that you do not have to flee if you have the option, that I don’t see its relevance here. The question being asked by the charges is did he commit 2nd degree murder or was it self defense. SYG would only apply if the two men were not already physically engaged.
I also believe that SYG could only be used as a defense if the two men were already engaged physically. The whole SYG thing gets messy at that point because, assuming words alone are not legally considered enough of a threat, when does SYG permit a man with a gun to shoot a man without a gun?
Your ignorance, so clearly displayed is embarrassing. Any attempt to explain the law would obviously be futile. Did you even read the article? Its not a bad summary of an SYG IMMUNITY hearing.
Just in case you’re actually interested in facts see FL Stats. 776.032 then check FindLaw for the appellate case Peterson vs. State of Florida which established the SYG trial procedures later affirmed by the FL S.Ct.
Too taxing? Google “How to boil water”, master that then get back to me and we’ll proceed with tougher concepts. Sheesh!
—Your ignorance, so clearly displayed is embarrassing.—
Yeah. I don’t live in Florida, but I’ve read the law, read the law’s author’s interpretation of the law and why It does not apply here, and read plenty of other articles about the practical application and its purpose as well as existing “self defense” legal protection.
Regarding the SYG immunity hearing, I’m very ignorant, I admit. But I’m not embarrassed. It’s not my job to know. What I am trying to deal with is the law as written and the meaning of English words and how they apply to this case.
Your superiority complex could be dialed down a bit though. Adults don’t talk that way. At least, not at first utterance. Get to know me. See if I may not be who you perceive me to be after reading only a few of my posts. IOW, be slow to anger. ;-)
BTW, these two contradictory parts of the article are comical. First this:
“There are some judges that don’t want to stick their foot out there and say the buck stops here,” Cobbin said.
The REAL key is hidden in the first quote from the article and applies to this case specifically: What judge is going to risk his, and his family’s life and limb giving Zimmerman immunity even if he DOES righteously deserve it? :-P
Stand Your Ground is just one provision of the FL self-defense law. Since GZ was pinned to the ground, that part of the law obviously doesn't apply to him.
There are two other parts of that law that are critical to GZ.
1)FL’s self defense law gives GZ the option of asking for an immunity hearing before a judge in which he only needs to prevail by a preponderance of the evidence (not proof beyond a reasonable doubt). If GZ wins at the hearing, he doesn't have to go through a full blown trial.
2)If GZ wins the immunity hearing it makes him (and his condo assoc., etc.) immune from civil suits brought by TM’s family. If he is found not guilty after a trial, Trayvon’s family could still go after him in a civil suit.
If he loses the immunity hearing, he can still claim self-defense at a trial.
The downside to asking for an immunity hearing is that each side will have insight into the trial strategy of the other and witness statements will be set in stone.
Do I think Judge Lester has the guts to free George in an immunity hearing? I would have said possibly yes, but after his hissy fit at the second bond hearing, I have changed my mind. I believe that he violated George's due process rights by allowing the prosecution to file a motion to revoke bail at a hearing that was scheduled for media access to the discovery and not allowing MOM to have time to prepare for the motion or to get GZ to the hearing. IM(never to be)HO, it was unconscionable for the judge to force MOM to defend against the motion on the fly.
Do I think that people with an agenda are using the SYG meme to attack citizens’ rights to self-defense? Absolutely yes!
>>Will the judge who decides this be the same one who revoked Zimmermans bond in order to placate Crump, or will there be a judge who hasnt already tipped his hand?<<
Generally, it would be the same judge unless MOM files to have him removed from the case, which would probably be a risky thing to do in case the judge refuses, or if the new judge is worse. The first judge on the case seemed to me to be too inexperienced for a case like this.
At least Judge Lester seems to have a generally good working relationship with O’Mara even though I think he really, really blew it with revoking GZ’s bond, especially considering that the motion by the prosecution deceptively edited Shellie Zimmerman’s testimony as shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpzBX9Q56Ws
>>If the judge rules it was self-defense, can the State appeal this decision, or is it game over?<<
I believe it is game over at the state level, but who knows what the feds might do... probably depends on who the attorney general is when the time comes.
Regardless of which way the “Dennis hearing” goes, the case can be appealed. A “Dennis hearing” is the term used for a Florida self-defense claim, when the defendant asserts he is immune from prosecution under Florida statute 776.032. The judge must take evidence and weigh it, and decide if the evidence supports a conclusion that “more likely than not” it was self defense.
Thanks Auntie Pol. :-)
You and I are in agreement regarding your opinions. I did not know about the nuances you mentioned regarding the immunity hearing.
As I mentioned before, I’m not all that familiar with how it works and applies. The civil suit angle is very interesting.
I think that downside works in the general sense, especially when the evidence is equivocal or defendant really didn't act in self defense. In this case, the evidence is so strongly in Zimmerman's favor - or better said, the evidence against his account is from unreliable witnesses (DeeDee and Sybrina) whose accounts are contradicted by on-scene eyewitnesses.
I don't see much in the way of harm to trial strategy. Zimmerman is going to tell the same story he told SPD. Twice if Judge Lester can't figure out or won't say which witnesses are more credible/reliable.
Thanks, Cboldt, for your expert opinion. Doesn't sound right to me, but I do believe you. In a trial, once you are found “not guilty,” it's over. Should be the same with the Dennis hearing, don't you think?
If the Dennis hearing is appealed, would they postpone the trial until it is over? GZ could be an old man by the time this is all over.
Having revoked bail for Zimmerman I doubt that Judge Lester will assign much weight to anything he says, even though he took a lie detector test when he gave his statement to the police and passed it.
Let's see if the judge assigns any weight to the prosecution's witnesses who themselves have serious credibility problems at this point. Sybrina and DeeDee will collapse under cross-examination.
Let's see how much weight he assigns to the witnesses that back up that forensic evidence and favor Zimmerman. Actually this evidence, together with his statement that night, is enough to acquit him without him having to take the witness stand in front of a judge that has already prejudged his credibility.
To date the prosecution has no evidence to back up their case, except that the defendant misled the judge at his bailbond hearing -- and that is no evidence at all.
Since you politely responded I’ll elaborate but in bullet point fashion as time is short.
Your post: “SYG does not apply in this case. Nobody who understands that law believes it does.”
No ifs, and or buts. Sorry but you invited a hit with that unsupported and imperious two line pronouncement.
SYG is actually an extension of pre-1995 self-defense law designed to assist a person forced to defend themselves against imminent death or serious bodily harm.
Re applicability: The law simply states that if you are lawfully in a place and face death or serious harm you may meet force with force which has always been true under common law but it changed the treatment of the defense.
The SYG law creates an IMMUNITY from arrest, prosecution or civil liability IF you establish that your actions were valid self-defense.
The immunity from arrest can be overcome by police determining probable cause that your right to self defense
was inapplicable because of other unlawful activity.
The SYG hearing for dismissal of charges was actually a creation of the courts simply trying to meet the immunity from prosecution provision of the law. If I’m immune from arrest or prosecution why are you taking me to trial?
Rarely is legislation the product of a single author and even the author often cannot foresee the application of his law in practice.
Perhaps of interest, the original bill provided that a court finding of valid self defense would allow for the defendant to recover attorney’s fees and costs from the charging authority (cops/state attorney) but that part got edited out.
Where you say the bill author thought the SYG inapplicable its unclear to what extent he was relying on the media distortions or even to what extent the media distorted/edited/misreported his statements. Not out of the realm of possibilities. ;-)
Judges, not all but many, regularly make their decisions based on the law, the arguments, the evidence and would be offended to be accused of caving to public opinion.
In the GZ case, with the incredible media and interest group pressure, the intent and correct application of the law may in fact become a victim.
I don’t know what happened in this case. I’ve read quite a bit and have an idea that GZ should be found to have acted in self defense.
Lastly, rarely mentioned, is that in an SYG hearing the judge is both the trier of fact and law.
Prior to SYG, if any question of fact was present (which would invariably be the case) the motion to dismiss would be denied and it was off to trial for the defendant.
Hope this helps. ;-)
So then that's why the Trayvonistas and their legal community are so opposed to SYG -- it hits them in the civil litigation wallet.
I think it is a given that if Obama is president when the state case disintegrates (if it does), then federal charges will be filed.
In a trial, once you are found innocent by a jury, it is only (almost) over. If found guilty, defendant has an absolute right to an appeal, period, so a finding of guilt by a jury is not automatically "the end." Defendant has a time certain within which to appeal, and after that time runs, it is over.
Generally, defendant can't argue that the jury misread the evidence, but they can cite errors of law such as unqualified experts, evidence that should have been suppressed, etc.
If it is impossible to reach the trial result on the evidence, the trial result can be overturned as "clear error." But for that to happen, there must be an absence of evidence on some critical point, and by absence, I mean to include that which can be inferred from direct evidence, as well as the direct evidence.
The reason Zimmerman can appeal an adverse finding at the Dennis hearing is an artifact of the law - immunity from trial is meaningless if he has to stand trial in order to get a right to appeal. BTW, I see you asked about the remedy for Zimmerman being jailed on account of what Lester took as Shellie's lies and Zimmerman's silence. There is no remedy, as far as I can see. The time to protest is immediately after the decision, because once June 29th rolls around and Zimmerman is freed or given bail, the issue is moot. Judges have absolute immunity, short of taking bribes to throw cases. Even if Lester's order is clear error, Zimmerman won't have money damages for being out of work, etc.
-- If the Dennis hearing is appealed, would they postpone the trial until it is over? --
Yes. An appeal would stay the trial action. The results of the Dennis hearing aren't final until after an appeal is decided, and even then, the loser at appeal might choose to petition the FL Supreme Court to hear the case. There is no right to that step, but there is a right to ask for it.
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