What We Can Expect as the Steps to the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman Case

What We Can Expect as the Steps to the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman Case

STEP 1 – Now that Zimmerman is in custody, he has a “first appearance” before a judge

* Zimmerman had his first appearance at 1:30 p.m. Thursday April 12, 2012.
* First appearance hearings have to happen within 24 hours of someone’s arrest.
* The judge read the charges, so Zimmerman is clear about the crimes he is accused of.
* The judge addressed Zimmerman’s right to counsel.  Zimmerman has hired Mark O’Mara.

STEP 2 – Zimmerman’s bond

* Second-degree murder is considered a “nonbondable” offense because the maximum penalty is life in prison.
* Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, asked for an “Arthur hearing” in an attempt to get bond set.
* At the “Arthur hearing,” the burden was on the prosecutors to show that Zimmerman should not be given bond.

To meet that burden, they had to present evidence to support no bond.
If the prosecutors fail to meet the burden, the judge will look at other factors to decide whether to set bond. Those factors include Zimmerman’s ties to the community, whether he’s a flight risk and whether he’s a danger to the community.
* This hearing was an opportunity for the defense to see the prosecution’s evidence against Zimmerman.

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The Defense has yet to have discovery, so any evidence that the state is sitting on hasn’t been shown to the defense.  This was the first opportunity for the state to use any evidence they have that incriminates Zimmerman to keep him from being bonded out.  The state provided no evidence but rather relied on the affidavit which also provides no evidence.  The judge even said as much that he is more familiar with affidavits having more substance.  At this point every and any evidence that has come to light backs up Zimmerman’s claims.  The state, if it had damaging evidence against Zimmerman’s claims, had the opportunity to put Zimmerman’s bond request in jeopardy.  The state provided no evidence.  Why? Because the state was being nice?  Or, the state has absolutely no evidence that doesn’t actually support Zimmerman?  It seems the prosecution is standing on “Trayvon is dead because Zimmerman followed him, and caused Trayvon to attack Zimmerman.”  Lunacy!

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STEP 3 – Arraignment

* The arraignment appears to have been set for April 29, 20012.

* Zimmerman may or may not appear in open court for his arraignment.

Often the defendant will waive the appearance at the actual court hearing and his attorney can enter a written plea of not guilty on his behalf.
* Zimmerman will be arraigned and must enter a plea on the charges, most likely “not guilty” (at this stage, defendants almost never plead guilty).

In fact, O’Mara has already indicated that publicly.

STEP 4 – Defense files a motion to dismiss based on “stand your ground” law

* Zimmerman is entitled to a pretrial evidentiary hearing on whether he can use the stand your ground immunity.

* The burden at that hearing is on the defense to prove by “a preponderance of the evidence” (meaning it’s more likely than not) that Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force.

In Florida, an individual can use deadly force anywhere (with no duty to retreat) as long as he/she:
– is not engaged in an unlawful activity;

– is being attacked in a place he/she has a right to be; and

– reasonably believes that his/her life and safety is in danger.

* The judge decides whether Zimmerman’s actions were justified and therefore entitle him to the stand your ground immunity.

If the judge finds the force was justifiable, then the charges are dismissed and Zimmerman is immune from further criminal prosecution and, possibly, civil liability.
If the judge finds the force was not justifiable, then the charges against Zimmerman move forward (see steps 5 and 6 below)
* If the judge rules Zimmerman is immune, the prosecution can appeal that decision to a higher court.

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Zimmerman will probably not be found immune to prosecution due to ‘stand your ground’ due to a loophole the prosecution will attempt to create.

Florida Statutes:  JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE 776.013 

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Here is where the loophole may be attempted. From the Defense argument, Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle and with Trayvon’s attack, prevented Zimmerman’s retreat.  In this scenario every aspect of the Stand your Ground statute has been fulfilled.  I suspect the prosecution will actually attempt to use the facts that Trayvon WAS on top of Zimmerman, so no ability to retreat was present, therefore Zimmerman couldn’t have “stood his ground”, and therefor this is a self defense case instead.

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“Stand your ground” vs. self-defense:
possible legal arguments in the case of State of Florida v. Zimmerman

Incident

Self-defense argument

“Stand your ground” argument

Neighborhood watch co-captain George Zimmerman sees a stranger in the Sanford community. He calls 911, pursues Martin to “keep eyes” on the suspect so to be able to relay proper information to the police and the operator cautions him not to follow. 

Partially relevant. Following Martin may  weaken the self-defense argument, but only if evidence is provided that shows Zimmerman initiated a confrontation with Martin. Prosecution also has to provide evidence that Zimmerman continued pursuit of Martin which is not currently supported by the 911 call, in that Zimmerman can clearly be heard ceasing his pursuit seconds after being suggested to do so and responds with “ok”.

Not relevant. Following somebody is not provocation to get punched.

Zimmerman is carrying a concealed weapon.

Not relevant.

Not relevant. Outside of Zimmerman’s legal right to carry a firearm, Zimmerman was also not “on duty” in the capacity as a neighborhood watchmen when this situation occurred. If he had been “on duty”, it would have been a violation of Neighborhood Watch code of conduct, which may have resulted in Zimmerman’s dismissal from the Neighborhood Watch, but would still not have been a crime.

Zimmerman allegedly confronts Trayvon Martin.

Relevant. Under Florida law if you are the first aggressor in a confrontation, you forfeit the right to self-defense. The prosecution would have to provide evidence that Zimmerman was the first physical aggressor. Again, following some one doesn’t fulfill the definition as being the first aggressor. Following somebody is not provocation to get punched.

Relevant.

Zimmerman claims he was returning to his truck when Martin confronted him, then punched him.

Relevant. According to George Zimmerman’s version, he was punched without provocation. Following somebody is not provocation to get punched. While  on the ground being pinned and having his (Zimmerman’s) head slammed into the concrete, he couldn’t retreat even under the old law if he wanted to.

Relevant. This is where Martin can stand his ground and not retreat into the car.

According to Zimmerman, Martin punches him and brings him to the ground.

Relevant.

Relevant. “The real issue [in Stand Your Ground] is what happens around the 60 seconds prior to the shooting.” (Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office,Tampa Bay Times)

Someone is heard in the 911 tapes calling for help.

Relevant. If it’s Zimmerman, it bolsters self-defense. If it’s Martin, it undermines self-defense.

Relevant. If it’s Zimmerman, it bolsters self-defense. It presents Zimmerman using deadly force as a last resort, in that, in the 911 tapes a person can be heard screaming for help for 45 seconds.  This doesn’t include the amount of time that preceded the beginning of the recording, that caused the caller to make the 911 call.  This would not support a claim that Zimmerman hunted Martin down.

If it’s Martin, it undermines self-defense.

Aspects of the prosecution’s arguments that George Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin do not meet the required “First Aggressor” standards that would void ‘stand your ground’.  Furthermore the argument that following anyone deletes a person’s ability to self defend is ridicules.  This would mean that Zimmerman would’ve had to have fore-knowledge that Trayvon was going to attack him and that he was choosing to place himself in peril.   All citizens have an expectation, if legally within property, not to be attacked by another person.  Just as words or an argument has never been a justification for physical aggression in the courts, so too is pursuing a person not justification.  If this was so, there would be a lot of cases dealing with a member of the media being physically attacked because they asked questions that angered the attacker and/or pursuing the attacker in attempt to gain an interview or answers.  The cases would be thrown out because the media person basically “had it coming to them”. This is obviously not the case. In a nut shell, no matter what your “feelings” are, no one has justifiable rights to attack someone because they are annoying, saying things that anger you or following.  Trayvon Martin meets none of the aspects of ‘stand your ground’ besides having the right to be where he was. 

Zimmerman’s police call: The “pursuit” starts at 2:05

911 calls before the shot:

STEP 5 – Pretrial

* Both the prosecution and defense could file a slew of pretrial motions in the case that deal with anything and everything from turning over documents and evidence to keeping certain evidence out at trial. It is too early to tell.

STEP 6 – Trial

* Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder.

To convict someone of second-degree murder prosecutors have to prove several things beyond a reasonable doubt.
– First, that Trayvon Martin is dead.

– Second, that George Zimmerman’s criminal act caused Trayvon Martin’s death.

– Third, that Zimmerman knew his actions were reasonably certain to kill, that he committed the act with a depraved mind and the act itself was indifferent to human life.

NOTE: Prosecutors do not have to prove that Zimmerman intended to kill Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman could assert self-defense at trial, but the burden is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn’t self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury will have to consider the circumstances surrounding the killing and decide whether it was second-degree murder or a justifiable use of deadly force.
The jury could also look at lesser-included offenses. At some point during or after the trial, the attorneys will meet with the judge in what is called a “charging conference” to argue which legal instruction the judge will give the jurors. We will not know which lesser-included offenses will be given to the jury until then.
* It is too early to tell what lesser charges the evidence may support, but one possibility is manslaughter.

To convict someone of manslaughter, prosecutors have to prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt:
– that Trayvon Martin is dead AND
– that Zimmerman’s acts caused Trayvon Martin’s death

NOTE: Manslaughter does not require that it be an intentional killing, only that the act that caused death was intentional and not justified or excusable.

Zimmerman could assert self-defense at trial, but the burden is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn’t self defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury will have to consider the circumstances surrounding the killing and decide whether it was manslaughter or a justifiable use of deadly force.
NOTE: In the charging document, Corey alleges that Zimmerman killed Martin with a gun. That is important, because if the jury does convict Zimmerman of the lesser charge of manslaughter, using a gun increases the penalty that Zimmerman would face on a manslaughter conviction.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Zimmerman faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison without parole.

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Now if and when Zimmerman is acquitted, Eric Holder and the full force of the United States Attorney General’s office will come down upon Zimmerman with racial profiling charges.  This, like many other lawsuits  from the government with unlimited funds, is meant as a ceremonial crushing and punishment of Zimmerman for being found not guilty. Zimmerman will be required to put forth a defense against Federal charges that is meant to drain any and all funds, as it will be dragged out as long as possible. 

Zimmerman has been found guilty in the media and by some high ranking members of government so he will be punished by one mean or the other, even if is found not guilty in criminal, civil and federal courts.

Excerpt sources:

Y! Big Story: After Zimmerman arrest, questions about ‘stand your ground’ By Vera H-C Chan Trending Now

http://news.blogs.cnn.com What’s happens now that Zimmerman is charged in Trayvon Martin death?

The 2011 Florida Statutes CHAPTER 776 JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE

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