• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

George Zimmerman Waives “Stand Your Ground” Hearing

Ever since the Trayvon Martin shooting became a national news item, it has brought focus to Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a law which strengthens the common law defense of self-defense and gives criminal defendants the right to a pre-trial evidentiary hearing on the issue of self-defense that, if successful, would result in dismissal of all charges before trial. When he first took the case on, Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O’Mara stated that the defense would be seeking such a hearing in the case prior to the trial date, currently scheduled for this coming summer. Today, though, the defense surprised many observers by waiving the right to a hearing under the “stand your ground” law:

George Zimmerman’s attorneys stunned court observers Tuesday when they waived their client’s right to a “Stand Your Ground” hearing slated for April that might have led to a dismissal of the charges in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin a year ago.

However, the defense lawyers didn’t say whether they would waive the immunity hearing outright. They left open the possibility for that hearing to be rolled into Zimmerman’s second degree murder trial. Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain in his Florida subdivision, shot and killed the teen, who was visiting a house in the area.

The move allows the defense more time to prepare for the trial this summer, but also raises the stakes.

Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law entitles a person to use deadly force if he believes his life is threatened, and absolves them of an obligation to retreat from a confrontation, even if retreat is possible.

In recent weeks, the Zimmerman defense has suffered several legal setbacks. Judge Debra Nelson has ruled in favor of the state that Zimmerman’s bail conditions should not be loosened, and that Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump was not required to sit for a deposition about his interactions with the state’s most important witness, a young woman who was the last known person to speak with Trayvon Martin before his death on February 26 2012.

(…)

Zimmerman contends that he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin after the teen confronted him as he walked to his father’s girlfriend’s house. Were Judge Nelson to have accepted his account under Stand Your Ground, all criminal proceedings would have immediately stopped, and Zimmerman would have walked free.

But another unfavorable ruling by Nelson could have been interpreted by jurors as a sign of guilt. Waiving the hearing could also prevent the prosecution from picking apart Zimmerman’s testimony.

An interesting decision, and somewhat surprising, but I do get the logic of their decision. In this particular case the “stand your ground” hearing was always a risky one to begin with, especially since it would require the Defense to put Zimmerman on the stand, which not only exposes him to cross-examination but also provides fodder for further cross-examination at trial should the hearing prove to be unsuccessful. Additionally, they appear to have drawn a judge who is at least somewhat skeptical of the defense position, meaning that it may be smarter to put the issue of self-defense in the hands of a jury.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    especially since it would require the Defense to put Zimmerman on the stand, which not only exposes him to cross-examination but also provides fodder for further cross-examination at trial should the hearing prove to be unsuccessful.

    I am a little surprised they even considered it especially after the bail fiasco left egg on all their faces.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. PD Shaw says:

    They left open the possibility for that hearing to be rolled into Zimmerman’s second degree murder trial.

    If I understand this correctly, this would be better than two trials, which would place the defendant at the risks Doug mentions. Essentially, there would be one trial and the plaintiff could ask both the jury and the judge to free him under different standards. I wouldn’t have thought the defense could do this, but what do I know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. legion says:

    I’m kinda surprised they waited this long… my IANAL understanding of the way Florida wrote their SYG law gave me the impression that it flatly wouldn’t apply to this kind of situation in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. JKB says:

    An Orlando Sentinel story on the hearing reveals another piece of information that may hurt the prosecution. Their star witness has been found in another lie under oath.

    Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, the state’s most important witness in the George Zimmerman murder case, was caught in a lie, it was revealed Tuesday.

    It was not the first piece of misinformation tied to her, but it was the most damaging to date and left prosecutors in a very awkward position.

    A big part of the state’s 2nd degree murder affidavit relied on her statements. Now they have a witness with a perjury history.

    That story also reveals the SYG hearing would take about 2 weeks. That’s a long time out of the lawyer’s prep for the main trial and also a big expense in legal fees.

    Still this case doesn’t have a direct SYG application and the state has already decided to not rule it self defense. Probably not a lot of upside to the SYG hearing at this point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    This case was never about SYG. Zimmerman’s defense has always been based on self-defense — that Martin struck the first blow and was beating the living crap out of Zimmerman when Zimmerman shot Martin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  6. matt bernius says:

    @JKB:
    Thanks for not including a link to the article in question:
    http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-03-05/news/os-zimmerman-witness-8-medical-records-20130305_1_george-zimmerman-trayvon-martin-bernie-de-la-rionda

    BTW on this:

    Their star witness has been found in another lie under oath.

    The two apparent lies had to do with (a) her age and (b) where she was on the day of the funeral (she claimed she was in the hospital due to grief).

    Granted, to JKB’s point, the fact this happened will give the defense the opportunity to cast doubt onto her account. But to be clear, the two particular lies don’t have anything to do with the specific testimony she has given about the events of that evening.

    It’s also fair to note that Zimmerman’s wife was also caught in a lie as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. JKB says:

    @matt bernius:

    Sorry, you had to use Google. It must have been very stressful.

    As for the girlfriend, her credibility is now suspect. Also, should the prosecutor decline to charge her with perjury, that can be shown to be a possible consideration for her testimony. True or not, it can influence the juries reasonable doubt.

    As for Zimmerman’s wife, she isn’t a material witness in the case so her being caught in a lie is not relevant.

    Here is a good and thorough discussion of the issue by a defense attorney at TalkLeft

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  8. PD Shaw says:

    I’m not sure I understood the reason for the lies, but the transcripts of the “girlfriend” indicates someone who is very suggestive, and easily confused or sloppy with the details. It seems like she will make a very poor witness, likely to testify inconsistently to her past statements and easily led by the defense to (indirectly) contradict herself on cross-examination.

    This point made towards the end of the TalkLeft piece is interesting:

    Her lie about the hospital may not directly relate to her final phone calls with Trayvon, but what about her embellishments, such as, when she talked to Crump, there’s no mention of her being able to hear “a little something” like “get off me,” like there is when she told her story to the prosecutor two weeks later? What will the jury think of her not telling anyone that she was on the phone with Trayvon until the Martins called her and told her about the phone records?

    You don’t have to believe she is lying; the jury might believe that she is someone who got caught up in a very dramatic series of events, with which she was ill-equipped to handle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. matt bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:

    You don’t have to believe she is lying; the jury might believe that she is someone who got caught up in a very dramatic series of events, with which she was ill-equipped to handle.

    Agreed and well said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @matt bernius: Let’s finish that thought:

    You don’t have to believe she is lying; the jury might believe that she is someone who got caught up in a very dramatic series of events, with which she was ill-equipped to handle, so she lied.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1