North Carolina grand jury indicts officer for voluntary manslaughter for killing schizophrenic teen

February 4, 2015

Good news from North Carolina: A grand jury has indicted Officer Bryon Vassey for voluntary manslaughter. He is the officer who allegedly said, “We don’t have time for this,” before shooting and killing a schizophrenic teenager who had been subdued by two officers.

Think Progress has the story,

Officer Bryon Vassey was one of three officers from different North Carolina precincts to respond to a call by the family of 18-year-old Keith Vidal last month. The teen, who suffered from schizophrenia and weighed just 90 pounds, had apparently picked up a small screwdriver and wasn’t putting it down. But his parents say the two other officers already had the scene under control when Vassey walked in. They say the third officer simply tased Vidal, then took out a firearm and shot him dead, saying “we don’t have time for this.”

Records show Vassey was at the Vidal residence for just 70 seconds before calling in that shots had been fired, reports the North Carolina Star News.

The two officers who had subdued Vidal before Vasey arrived were cleared of wrongdoing by the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation.

I wrote about the incident here.

In the Boiling Spring Lakes case, there were three different officers at the scene. The first two didn’t open fire, but Vassey did. His lawyer, W. James Payne told CNN that Keith Vidal attempted to stab one of the officers multiple times with a screwdriver, but the officer was wearing a bulletproof vest, did not request assistance and was not injured.

Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wilsey, who witnessed the shooting with Vidal’s mother, told CNN that the detective disrupted the situation,

“(He) walks in the room, walks around the corner, (and) says, ‘We don’t have time for this. Tase that kid now. Let’s get him out of here.'”

At a protest following the shooting, Keith’s mother warned,

“My word that I want to get out to every family who has a mentally ill patient: Do not call the police department for help,” Vidal’s mother told reporters. “Because your son will probably get shot and killed, just like mine did. Think twice about who you call for help.

Vassey has to post a $50,000 bond by today or surrender himself at the county jail.

I was really beginning to wonder if a grand jury would ever indict a cop. This indictment gives me some hope.

In other good news, a week before Christmas a jury in Missoula, MT rejected Markus Kaarma’s claim of self-defense, based on Montana’s stand-your-ground statute, and convicted him of deliberate homicide for the shotgun killing of a 17-year-old German foreign exchange student named Diren Dede. After an unsolved burglary, Kaarma installed some motion sensors in his garage and set a trap by leaving the door open with his wife’s purse in plain view. When Dede set off the sensor, Karma entered the garage and fired his pump shotgun four times, killing Dede.

Kaarma, whose case is similar to the Byron David Smith case in Minnesota (he also was convicted), will be sentenced on February 11th.

These three cases provide a basis for guarded optimism. I use the word ‘guarded’ because the victims in the three cases were white and I am not convinced the results would have been the same, if they had been black.


SYG statutes violate the Fourteenth Amendment

July 30, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Good afternoon to all of our friends.

In this article, I argue that the SYG statutes violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because they are being used to justify and, in effect, license and encourage race-based murders of young black males.

The law of Self-defense

A person can use force, which would otherwise be unlawful, in order to prevent an aggressor from injuring them or someone else. However, they cannot use excessive force, which is defined as the use of force that exceeds the amount of force necessary to prevent being injured.

If a person uses excessive force against an aggressor, the aggressor can use force in self-defense, including deadly force, if necessary, but only if they first offer to quit the attack and withdraw or attempt to withdraw from the fight.

When can a person use deadly force in self-defense?

A person can use deadly force in self-defense or defense of another person, if they believe they are in danger of suffering imminent death or grievous bodily injury.

However, unless a person is inside their castle (i.e., their home), they have a duty to retreat or attempt to retreat before using deadly force. There is no duty to retreat before using deadly force, if a person is inside their castle.

Stand-your-ground (SYG) statutes eliminate the duty to retreat or attempt to retreat before using deadly force outside the castle. In effect, a person takes their castle with them when they leave the home.

As I have said before, this is not a new concept. The western states eliminated the duty to retreat from their laws when they became states and joined the union.

Subjective belief versus Objective reality

Notice that the word “reasonable” is missing from the set of rules that I have provided. I intentionally omitted that word to illustrate as dramatically as I can that (1) a person’s perception of a threat and (2) their decision to use force in self-defense, including deadly force must be objectively reasonable.

In other words, would a reasonable person (i.e., the objective prong of the test) in their situation, knowing what they know about the aggressor (i.e., the subjective prong of the test) believe the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm?

If the answer to that question is “yes,” the use of deadly force is lawful.

If the answer to that question is “no,” the use of deadly force is unlawful.

The effect of Racism

Racism is not reasonable. A belief that all young black males are thugs or thug wannabees looking for an opportunity to become a thug is a racist belief, no matter who believes it.

It should be acknowledged for what it is; namely, an insane delusion.

When a defendant charged with murder or manslaughter and one or more jurors in that defendant’s case believe that the victim, for example a Trayvon Martin or a Jordan Davis, is a thug or thug wannabee looking for an opportunity to become a thug, no one should be surprised when that juror or those jurors vote “not guilty.”

After all, racists are unreasonable people who regard their prejudiced beliefs as reasonable. They are going to vote “not guilty” because they regard their beliefs as reasonable and they will not understand why other people disagree with them. Instead, they are likely to brand as racist everyone who disagrees with them.

Therefore, the problem with the SYG laws is not that they abolish the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, which has been the law out west since the western states joined the union, the problem is that racists are commandeering juries and imposing their racist beliefs to acquit racist defendants who unreasonably decided that it was necessary to use deadly force to prevent suffering imminent death or grievous bodily harm.

I have referred to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis for illustrative purposes in this analysis. In both cases, however, I believe the defendants intentionally killed their victims and knowingly asserted false claims of self-defense hoping to get away with murder.

Summary

1. SYG statutes require more than a subjective belief by the killer that death or grievous bodily harm is imminent and the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent it from happening .

2. The additional requirement that people are ignoring is that the belief must be reasonable. In other words, would a reasonable person in the same situation perceive the same danger and respond the same way.

3. The reasonableness requirement is supposed to prevent a paranoid or otherwise delusional person, such as a racist, from getting away with murder.

4. The problem in Florida and many other parts of the country, particularly in the South, is that too many white people think it’s reasonable to believe that all young black males are dangerous thugs or thug wannabees looking for an opportunity to become thugs.

Conclusion

Statutes abolishing the duty to retreat before resorting to the use of deadly force in self-defense or defense of another person, are being used by racists to legitimize the murders of young black males.

Since these statutes are being used to justify and, in effect, license and encourage race-based murders of young black males, they violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Therefore, the SYG statutes are unconstitutional as applied and must be stricken.

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Bullet trajectories and self-defense in the Michael Dunn case

July 28, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Good morning my friends:

An interesting issue occurred to me while I was reading through the discovery in the Dunn case. Which of the bullets struck Jordan Davis?

Crime scene investigators used wooden dowels as probes to line up the trajectories of the multiple shots into the Dodge Durango.

Medical examiners use metal rods to do the same thing with bullet wounds.

The use of wooden dowels or metal rods can provide useful information that assists in solving crimes as well as confirm or contradict a witness’s or a suspect’s description of a shooting.

According to the discovery in the Dunn case, he fired four shots into the Durango while seated in the driver’s seat of his vehicle and four more shots into the back end after the driver backed out and sped away.

Jordan Davis was seated in the back seat of the Durango on the passenger side, which was open. His position in the vehicle would have been next to the driver’s side of Dunn’s vehicle and a little behind Dunn. He was shot multiple times.

Questions:

1. Did the bullets that struck him pass through the vehicle?

2. If so, did the shots come from the side or from behind?

3. What were the angles?

4. From what direction and what angle was the fatal shot(s) fired.

I do not believe Dunn has a viable claim of self-defense, but this is crazy racist Florida and, therefore, it is impossible to predict what a jury might conclude.

Nevertheless, Dunn’s claim of self-defense would be weaker, if he fired the fatal shot(s) at a fleeing vehicle.

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Post trial immunity hearings are a terrible idea

March 11, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good morning:

I write today to clear up some remaining uncertainty regarding the timing for a motion for immunity and the immunity hearing.

The motion for immunity is similar to a motion to suppress evidence because, if the motion is granted, the case is over.

Hearings on potentially outcome-determinative motions, such as a motion to suppress evidence, are always held before trial because, if the moving party wins (i.e., the defendant), the case is dismissed and there is no trial. If the defendant loses, the case proceeds to trial, unless he pleads guilty.

For example, let us suppose that a police officer arrested a defendant without probable cause and discovered a rock of crack cocaine in a pocket in the defendant’s jacket during the search incident to the arrest. The defendant is charged with possession of cocaine and pleads not guilty at the arraignment.

The defendant moves to suppress the rock before trial on the ground that the arrest and subsequent search were unlawful because the officer arrested him without probable cause. But for the unlawful arrest, the rock would not have been discovered. Thus, the rock is a “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be suppressed pursuant to the exclusionary rule. That is, evidence seized unlawfully from a defendant by police cannot be used against the defendant at trial.

Without the cocaine, the prosecution would be unable to prove that the defendant possessed cocaine. Therefore, it would have to dismiss the case and the court would have to grant the motion.

An immunity hearing is similar. If the defendant prevails, the court must grant immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suit. Therefore, the outcome is similar to the motion to suppress. The prosecution cannot proceed and the court must dismiss the case.

While it is theoretically possible to merge a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence into a trial, there is little sense to do so because the issues and attorney strategies are different.

For example, the direct and cross examination of the arresting officer for purposes of the suppression motion will be focused on whether the officer had probable cause to arrest, whereas, the legality of the arrest and subsequent search is not an issue for purposes of the trial. It’s just something that happened and no longer relevant to the ultimate issue the jury must decide. That is, whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

I have provided the simplest example of a motion to suppress evidence. They can be far more complicated and last more than one day, such as might be the case when multiple locations are searched, some with search warrants and some without. It makes no sense to waste the juror’s time and risk confusing them with irrelevant evidence and issues.

In the federal and state courts in which I practiced, the courts set deadlines within which to file motions to suppress. Failure to comply with a deadline typically meant the motion was waived, unless you had a good reason for not filing the motion, such as newly discovered evidence that you did not know prior to the deadline.

Federal and state judges hate to summon people for jury duty for cases that can be potentially resolved by outcome-determinative motions prior to trial. They hate even more having to waste jury time with evidence that is irrelevant to the issues the jury must decide.

Although constitutional rights are at stake during hearings on motions to suppress evidence, the courts can and do hold that those rights are waived by failing to assert them in timely fashion.

Just as notice and an opportunity to be heard are important to due process of law, so too is finality. Legal issues that can be decided should be decided. I cannot think of a good reason not to decide the issue of immunity before trial and to deem it waived, if it is not.

I have already written about the potential for constitutional error requiring reversal of a conviction and remand for a new trial here and here, if an immunity hearing is merged into a trial and will not revisit that issue today.

However, I will comment regarding the idea that an immunity hearing could be conducted after trial.

If a jury returns a guilty verdict, the case is over. Since the defendant’s guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury necessarily must have decided that the prosecution proved absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The verdict precludes a finding that the defendant proved self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, the immunity motion must be denied.

If the jury acquits the defendant, however, either judge or jury could theoretically decide that the defendant had met his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he acted in self-defense.

The problem in this situation, however, is that the jury may have acquitted a defendant who did not testify or offer any evidence, which a defendant has a right to do.

Should he now be permitted to put on a case to prove that he acted in self-defense?

Does he have a right to have the jury decide that issue or must the judge decide the issue.

What happens if the defendant testifies and the judge or jury decides they do not believe the defendant and now want to find him guilty?

I do not see any easy answers to these questions.

There is no doubt that the legislature intended that the issue of immunity should be raised and decided before trial and I can think of no good reason to do otherwise.

If I were the judge, I would hold a hearing as soon as possible to consider whether the immunity hearing can be merged with the trial or considered after trial, and if after trial, whether the judge or the jury should decide whether to grant immunity.

These are extremely important issues that should be considered and resolved before trial to avoid a lot of grief later.

If no action is taken, we can only sit back and watch a slow-motion train wreck.

Finally, I want everyone to know that I firmly believe that the defense does not want to have an immunity hearing because they have no defense and the defendant would be crucified on cross examination exposing him to be the liar that he is. They obviously do not want to admit this, so they allowed the court to strike the hearing without formally and publicly waiving it. I doubt that we will hear more from the defense about this issue, since they want it to disappear.

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Nitty Gritty: Three Questions for Jury to Answer in Trayvon Martin Murder Case

December 31, 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Thankfully, 2012 will soon pass into the rearview mirror.

As we look forward to next year, I think today is a good day to review the three predominant questions that the jury will have to decide when the defendant charged with murdering Trayvon Martin goes to trial. I posted this comment last night.

Actually, O’Mara has conceded that SYG and the castle doctrine do not apply and the evidence will show that, as a matter of law, the defendant was the aggressor.

As the aggressor, the defendant can use deadly force in self-defense only if,

(a) Trayvon responded to his aggression by using more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself;

(b) He reasonably perceived that Trayvon’s use of such force created an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury; and

(c) He attempted to end the confrontation and withdraw before he used deadly force.

O’Mara announced at a press conference that he will argue that the defendant could not withdraw before using deadly force because the defendant was lying on his back unable to withdraw with Trayvon straddling him raining down blows MMA style and slamming his head into the concrete sidewalk.

Those are the basic three questions that the jury will have to decide.

The Court will instruct the jury to presume the answer to all 3 questions is “Yes,” and the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the answer is “No.”

Keep in mind that, as a practical matter, the defendant will have to testify and that means he will be cross examined, thoroughly.

Malisha was the only person to attempt an answer and this is what she said:

Professor, thanks for the clarity.

The three questions. I love them. I always love “three questions.”

(a) Did Trayvon respond to Fogen’s aggression by using more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself?

I think the answer “NO” is easy to prove because in fact Fogen killed Trayvon. Thus, Fogen’s aggression against Trayvon was, by definition, potentially lethal from the get-go. Thus, also by definition, deadly force was authorized.

(b) Did Fogen reasonably perceive that Trayvon’s use of such force created an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to himself, to Fogen?

I think the answer “NO” is also easy to prove because injuries that Fogen sustained were nowhere near life-threatening. If he was beaten at all, he was beaten in such a way as to do no serious damage. A fender bender would have hurt him more than the encounter with Trayvon Martin hurt him, even if both scratches on his head AND a minor injury to his nose were all attributable to contact with Trayvon Martin.

(c) Did Fogen attempt to end the confrontation and withdraw before he used deadly force?

Fogen has not even claimed that he did so. Even as he narrated his non-credible self-defense story, he claims that he told the neighbor to help him “restrain” Trayvon Martin, but he never told Trayvon Martin that he wanted to stop fighting. Nor did he tell Trayvon Martin, at any point (according to his own narrative) that he had a gun and would shoot unless Trayvon Martin stopped hurting him. Remember, even as he narrated that he “spread out [Trayvon’s] hands,” he still claimed that Trayvon was continuing to struggle and curse. And at no time before or after firing his one shot did Fogen say, “I’m leaving now; I’m going back to my schtruck now; I’ll leave you alone now,” or even, “The police are coming so stop fighting now and we’ll wait for them.”

Now it is your turn. What are your thoughts?

How do you think the defendant will do on cross examination?

I also will start an open thread for those who wish to discuss other matters.

Many thanks and many blessings to all of you for participating and making this blog a great and safe place to discuss the case.

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

Fred


Zimmerman: Representing Him and the Inevitable Question: My God, What Have I Become?

October 22, 2012

Brown posted this comment Sunday night at 8:31 pm:

“Correct, but what I was trying to convey was that DeeDee might not understand that he would of been justified. Let’s just say that yes TM told DeeDee that he might have to turn around and face this dude and fight him because he felt threaten. DeeDee as a young teen who doesn’t know anything about SYG, might not understand that TM would of been in the right. If you look through her eyes, she only sees TM a kid who doesn’t fight had to fight against a grown white man. Do you see how it might put her in a position of thinking that if she were to say something like that, her thought process might be, OH boy if I say that TM would be in the wrong. She doesn’t understand that the law was on his side as soon as GZ followed him.”

Although Brown’s comment is about Dee Dee, her comment also is applicable to what clients say to their attorneys. For example, I have previously stated that the Fifth Commandment mandates that lawyers should not assume that their clients tell them the truth.

Brown’s comment pinpoints one of the reasons why clients will lie to their lawyers. For example, because the client might not realize that he has a valid self-defense claim in a murder case where there were no eyewitnesses (or he fears that no one will believe him if he tells the truth), the client might tell the lawyer that he was at a family BBQ when the death occurred. This is a false alibi defense that he also might have provided to the police.

Now let us assume that you are the lawyer and your reliable investigator, Paul Drake, has interviewed everyone who was present at the family BBQ and no one recalls your client being there until a couple of hours after the victim was killed. In other words, your client had plenty of time to kill the victim and get to the BBQ before the witnesses saw him.

You decide to confront your client. Lawyers often refer to these confrontations as a “come-to-Jesus moment.”

After telling your client that his alibi defense is not going to work, he tells you what really happened. You realize that he is describing a situation that constitutes self-defense under the SYG law in your jurisdiction.

Let us say this happens mid-trial after the prosecution rests its case and now it’s time for the defense to go forward.

Now what do you do?

In Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157 (1986), the SCOTUS considered a similar fact situation. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant to assistance of counsel is not violated when an attorney refuses to cooperate with the defendant in presenting perjured testimony at his trial.

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Berger, the SCOTUS said:

Page 475 U. S. 160

I
A

Whiteside was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury verdict which was affirmed by the Iowa courts. The killing took place on February 8, 1977, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Whiteside and two others went to one Calvin Love’s apartment late that night, seeking marihuana. Love was in bed when Whiteside and his companions arrived; an argument between Whiteside and Love over the marihuana ensued. At one point, Love directed his girlfriend to get his “piece,” and at another point got up, then returned to his bed. According to Whiteside’s testimony, Love then started to reach under his pillow and moved toward Whiteside. Whiteside stabbed Love in the chest, inflicting a fatal wound.

Whiteside was charged with murder, and when counsel was appointed, he objected to the lawyer initially appointed, claiming that he felt uncomfortable with a lawyer who had formerly been a prosecutor. Gary L. Robinson was then appointed, and immediately began an investigation. Whiteside gave him a statement that he had stabbed Love as the latter “was pulling a pistol from underneath the pillow on the bed.” Upon questioning by Robinson, however, Whiteside indicated that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was convinced that Love had a gun. No pistol was found on the premises; shortly after the police search following the stabbing, which had revealed no weapon, the victim’s family had removed all of the victim’s possessions from the apartment. Robinson interviewed Whiteside’s companions who were present during the stabbing, and none had seen a gun during the incident. Robinson advised Whiteside that the existence of a gun was not necessary to establish the claim of self-defense, and that only a reasonable belief that the victim had a gun nearby was necessary, even though no gun was actually present.
Until shortly before trial, Whiteside consistently stated to Robinson that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was

Page 475 U. S. 161

convinced that Love had a gun in his hand. About a week before trial, during preparation for direct examination, Whiteside for the first time told Robinson and his associate Donna Paulsen that he had seen something “metallic” in Love’s hand. When asked about this, Whiteside responded:

“[I]n Howard Cook’s case, there was a gun. If I don’t say I saw a gun, I’m dead.”

Robinson told Whiteside that such testimony would be perjury, and repeated that it was not necessary to prove that a gun was available, but only that Whiteside reasonably believed that he was in danger. On Whiteside’s insisting that he would testify that he saw “something metallic,” Robinson told him, according to Robinson’s testimony:

“[W]e could not allow him to [testify falsely], because that would be perjury, and, as officers of the court, we would be suborning perjury if we allowed him to do it; . . . I advised him that, if he did do that, it would be my duty to advise the Court of what he was doing, and that I felt he was committing perjury; also, that I probably would be allowed to attempt to impeach that particular testimony.”
App. to Pet. for Cert. A-85. Robinson also indicated he would seek to withdraw from the representation if Whiteside insisted on committing perjury. [Footnote 2]

Whiteside testified in his own defense at trial, and stated that he “knew” that Love had a gun, and that he believed Love was reaching for a gun, and he had acted swiftly in self-defense. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had not

Page 475 U. S. 162

actually seen a gun in Love’s hand. Robinson presented evidence that Love had been seen with a sawed-off shotgun on other occasions, that the police search of the apartment may have been careless, and that the victim’s family had removed everything from the apartment shortly after the crime. Robinson presented this evidence to show a basis for Whiteside’s asserted fear that Love had a gun.

The jury returned a verdict of second-degree murder, and Whiteside moved for a new trial, claiming that he had been deprived of a fair trial by Robinson’s admonitions not to state that he saw a gun or “something metallic.” The trial court held a hearing, heard testimony by Whiteside and Robinson, and denied the motion. The trial court made specific findings that the facts were as related by Robinson.
The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed respondent’s conviction. State v. Whiteside, 272 N.W.2d 468 (1978). That court held that the right to have counsel present all appropriate defenses does not extend to using perjury, and that an attorney’s duty to a client does not extend to assisting a client in committing perjury. Relying on DR 7-102(A)(4) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, which expressly prohibits an attorney from using perjured testimony, and Iowa Code § 721.2 (now Iowa Code § 720.3 (1985)), which criminalizes subornation of perjury, the Iowa court concluded that not only were Robinson’s actions permissible, but were required. The court commended “both Mr. Robinson and Ms. Paulsen for the high ethical manner in which this matter was handled.”

B

Whiteside then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. In that petition, Whiteside alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel and of his right to present a defense by Robinson’s refusal to allow him to testify as he had proposed. The District Court denied the writ. Accepting the state trial court’s factual finding that

Page 475 U. S. 163

Whiteside’s intended testimony would have been perjurious, it concluded that there could be no grounds for habeas relief, since there is no constitutional right to present a perjured defense.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and directed that the writ of habeas corpus be granted. Whiteside v. Scurr, 744 F.2d 1323 (1984). The Court of Appeals accepted the findings of the trial judge, affirmed by the Iowa Supreme Court, that trial counsel believed with good cause that Whiteside would testify falsely, and acknowledged that, under Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222 (1971), a criminal defendant’s privilege to testify in his own behalf does not include a right to commit perjury. Nevertheless, the court reasoned that an intent to commit perjury, communicated to counsel, does not alter a defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel, and that Robinson’s admonition to Whiteside that he would inform the court of Whiteside’s perjury constituted a threat to violate the attorney’s duty to preserve client confidences. [Footnote 3] According to the Court of Appeals, this threatened violation of client confidences breached the standards of effective representation set down in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984). The court also concluded that Strickland’s prejudice requirement was satisfied by an implication of prejudice from the conflict between Robinson’s duty of loyalty to his client and his ethical duties. A petition for rehearing en banc was denied, with Judges Gibson, Ross, Fagg, and Bowman dissenting. Whiteside v. Scurr, 750 F.2d 713 (1984). We granted certiorari, 471 U.S. 1014 (1985), and we reverse.

I believe The SCOTUS decision in Nix v. Whiteside can be distinguished from the facts in my hypothetical because of the lack of certainty that the client intended to commit perjury.

This distinction is important as it helps to define the boundary between a lawyer’s duty to provide effective assistance of counsel to his client and his ethical and legal obligation not to assist the client to commit perjury to beat the charge.

Criminal defense attorneys routinely navigate close, but not too close, to the land of perjury.

Many times they do not want to know the truth and you should take that into account when you hear Mark O’Mara or any other criminal defense attorney speak about a case.

This is why I say that a criminal defense attorney should never judge his client. That responsibility is assigned to judges and juries.

But sometimes, you cannot help it and therein lies the rub as well as the doubt and the inevitable question:.

My God, what have I become?


Zimmerman: Dee Dee’s Testimony Regarding Trayvon Martin’s Fear of Zimmerman is Admissible

September 12, 2012

Dennis recently asked the following question in a comment to my post recommending the appointment of a special master to screen discovery.

You asked:

“I have a question for you if you don’t mind. Is the witness/testimony from DeeDee considered “hearsay” and what are the laws regarding “hearsay” evidence in Florida? The jurors of the Peterson case said that type of evidence was critical to their conviction, and if Drew’s Law didn’t exist he would have walked free.”

My Answer:

“Most of the relevant things Trayvon said to DeeDee should be admissible under the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule because he was describing an emotionally distressing event to her while under the influence of the event. The rest should come in as non-hearsay since it will not be offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Instead, it will be offered to show his state of mind or some other factor. Should not be too difficult for a good trial lawyer to navigate through the hearsay rule in that situation.”

Dee Dee is a potentially devastating witness for the prosecution because she was listening to Trayvon’s narrative description of Zimmerman’s menacing behavior and his own fearful reaction to it. She also puts the lie to Zimmerman’s skipping psycho-gangsta who materializes out of the darkness and attempts to kill Zimmerman with his bare hands while uttering dated B-movie dialog.

I do not believe her testimony is necessary to prove Zimmerman’s guilt because the forensics and his own conflicting and inconsistent stories should be sufficient to accomplish that. Nevertheless, she adds something important. She humanizes him and she serves as his voice from beyond the grave. Because of this, Zimmerman’s mad dog supporters have assassinated her character with extraordinary relish.

I am sure most of you have read some of their accusations, if not all of them, and shaken your heads in disgust at their tactics. I did and ever since they attempted to drown my voice in a tsunami of lies, I have assumed everything they say about everyone who is not a Zimmerman supporter is a lie. I have been ignoring them and will continue to ignore them because they are a cancer on this case. Therefore, as with the Zimmerman principle, I assume everything they said about Dee Dee is or anyone else in this case is a lie, unless it is corroborated by independent credible evidence.

At first glance, the hearsay rule would appear to exclude everything Trayvon said to Dee Dee. However, there are three reasons why it does not.

(1) A statement by Trayvon to Dee Dee is not hearsay unless it is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

For example, if Trayvon said, I ran away from the creepy man following me. the statement would be hearsay, if offered to prove that he ran away from the creepy man following him, but it would not be hearsay, if it were offered to prove Trayvon was afraid of Zimmerman. See Rule 801(c).

(2) Even if a statement is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, for example that he ran away from the creepy man following him, it’s admissible pursuant to the present-sense-impression exception to the hearsay rule since it’s “a statement describing or explaining an event or condition while the declarant [Trayvon] was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately thereafter.” See Rule 803(1).

(3) That statement and others like it also would be admissible to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement pursuant to the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule since it’s “a statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant [Trayvon] was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.” See Rule Rule 803(2).

FYI: Trayvon’s statements to Dee Dee would not be admissible pursuant to Rule 804(2) as statements made under belief of impending death unless he believed his “death was imminent.” I do not doubt he believed that at some point but probably not until after he dropped the phone.

The usual manner lawyers and trial courts follow in deciding whether reasonably foreseeable and important statements will be admissible at trial, such as Dee Dee’s testimony regarding what Trayvon said to her during their phone conversations, is to bring them up via a defense motion in limine (i.e., at the beginning) before trial to exclude them. Both sides would brief the issue and argue it at a hearing outside the presence of the jury and the judge would decide whether to grant or deny the motion.

For the reasons I have stated, I believe the judge will permit the prosecution to present Trayvon’s statements to Dee Dee describing Zimmerman stalking him. Those statements will be admissible at the immunity hearing and the jury trial in support of the prosecution’s claim that Zimmerman was the aggressor.

In Mixon v. State 59 So.2d 38 (Fla. 1952), for example, as our own Boar_d_Laze mentioned, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for second degree murder where there was evidence that the defendant armed himself, pursued the victim, and shot him. The court stated:

“The appellant and the man he later admitted killing had an altercation while the appellant was sitting in his jeep, the other man standing at the side of the vehicle. The appellant drove to his home nearby where he procured a revolver, while his adversary continued along the highway, afoot. The appellant, accompanied by his wife and their young daughter, then drove in the same direction until he overtook his former antagonist when both stopped. … Were we convinced that the final encounter was of such nature that the issue of self defense was properly introduced and the appellant’s blame should therefore be judged by the amount of force he used in resisting his victim, we think the testimony would have been admissible. But the facts believed by the jury point too strongly to a deliberate pursuit by appellant, after the original difficulty had ended and the parties had separated. The law is quite clear that one may not provoke a difficulty and having done so act under the necessity produced by the difficulty, then kill his adversary and justify the homicide under the plea of self defense. (emphasis supplied)”

I expect the prosecution will argue that it does not matter who threw the first punch because Zimmerman provoked the confrontation by pursuing Martin in a menacing manner after dark in the rain in a vehicle and then on foot without ever identifying himself. Martin had a right to defend himself against that aggression and, if he ever hit Zimmerman, he did so lawfully. Zimmerman, of course, was not justified in using deadly force.

As I have said many times, I believe George Zimmerman will be found guilty of murder in the second degree.


Did George Zimmerman Have a Reasonable Suspicion that Trayvon Martin Intended to Commit a Crime?

August 25, 2012

I believe it may be useful to compare what a police officer may have been able to do to Trayvon Martin, if he had seen him walking in the rain.

A police officer could not have stopped Trayvon Martin and temporarily detained him to determine his identity and investigate what he was doing in the neighborhood, unless he had a reasonable suspicion that Trayvon had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.

Whenever you see the word “reasonable,” as part of a legal test or rule, you should immediately realize that the test or rule is objective, not subjective.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that George Zimmerman actually believed Trayvon Martin was, as he put it, “up to no good.” In other words, he had a subjective hunch that Trayvon was casing the neighborhood looking for a house to burglarize or someone’s property to steal.

A subjective hunch is not a reasonable suspicion unless there were sufficient articulable facts and circumstances such that a reasonable person in George Zimmerman’s situation would have suspected Trayvon intended to burglarize someone’s home or steal someone’s property.

We know the answer to that question is “No,” because Chris Serino told him that. Based on what George Zimmerman claimed to have seen, he did not have a reasonable basis to stop and detain Trayvon Martin.

Regardless what the Zimmerman supporters say, this is an undisputed fact and conclusion of law.

Serino was right. Walking through the neighborhood looking around at houses and hanging out in the covered mailbox area while it was raining does not suggest criminal activity of any kind is about to happen.

Serino also told him that his hoodie notwithstanding, Martin was not dressed in gang attire because he was wearing tan chinos and white tennis shoes.

Therefore, a police officer would have violated Trayvon’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy, if he had stopped and detained him for a few minutes to check his identification and ask him what he was doing in the neighborhood.

Police also have a community caretaker responsibility, however, that does not necessarily involve preventing criminal activity. If an officer saw a front door open, for example, she could walk up to the open door and look inside or call out to see if anyone is home.

If she saw Trayvon walking in the rain looking around at houses, she could approach him and ask him if he needed any assistance. That type of contact does not constitute a stop because the person contacted is free to leave at any time. The protections of the Fourth Amendment do not apply to those types of contacts.

George Zimmerman passed up two opportunities to do the same thing, but declined to do so.

By the way, if you should ever find yourself in an ambiguous situation after being contacted by a police officer, just ask the officer politely if you are free to go.

If the answer is “No,” the protections of the Fourth Amendment apply to you. You can be temporarily detained long enough for the police officer to determine your identity and confirm or reject his suspicion. If the officer determines that there is probable cause to arrest, he may arrest you and take you to jail. If not, he must release you.

At any time, you may assert your 4th Amendment right to refuse to consent to a search, your 5th Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, and your 6th Amendment right to counsel. If you decide to assert any or all of these rights, do so politely.

Be advised that operating a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. If you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI and asked to take a breathalyzer, your refusal will result in a suspension of your license, regardless if you are subsequently acquitted of DUI. You can always insist on a blood test.

Probable cause is reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed a crime. As such, it is more than reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has committed a crime.

I believe it’s now clear that George Zimmerman assumed Trayvon Martin was a criminal looking for a house to burglarize or some property to steal and he hunted him down with the intent of detaining him in order to prevent him from getting away. He was so determined to do that that he intentionally and willfully disregarded the Neighborhood Watch rules and the NEN dispatcher’s admonition.

Acting as a private citizen, he had no authority or right to touch Trayvon, let alone restrain him.

Now that we have reviewed and understand the SYG law, we realize that Trayvon had the right to stand his ground and use reasonably necessary force to defend himself.

I am not satisfied that he used any force to defend himself, but if he did, he had a right to do so.

Since George Zimmerman was the aggressor, he had no right to use any force, let alone deadly force to defend himself.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Trayvon Martin used excessive and deadly force to defend against George Zimmerman’s initial use of force, George Zimmerman would have been required to attempt to withdraw from the confrontation and offer to quit fighting before he could lawfully use deadly force to defend himself.

George Zimmerman never claimed that he did and there is no evidence that he did.

Therefore, George Zimmerman did not act in self-defense. He committed an imminently dangerous act with a depraved mind indifferent to human life and that is the definition of murder in the second degree.


Will George Zimmerman Testify?

August 18, 2012

Many of you have asked questions regarding whether George Zimmerman must testify at the immunity hearing or at trial. Others, particularly Zimmerman supporters, have expressed an opinion that he can prevail without having to testify because he already said everything that needs to be said to the police.

The quick answer is he is not legally required to testify, but he cannot possibly win unless he does testify. How else does he get his self-defense claim into evidence?

Yet, at the same time, he probably cannot win because of his many conflicting statements.

First, every defendant in a criminal case has a 5th Amendment right to refuse to testify and, if they decide not to testify, the jury will be instructed that it cannot assume anything regarding why the defendant chose not to testify.

The reason for this rule is that a defendant may decide not to testify for any number of possible reasons and it would be unfair to allow the jury to speculate as to the “real” reason. In addition, a defendant cannot be punished for exercising a constitutional right.

Second, every defendant has a right to testify, if he decides to do so. The decision to testify or not to testify is his and his alone. The defendant’s lawyer can recommend for or against testifying, but it’s up to the defendant to make that decision.

Third, if the defendant testifies, he can be cross examined regarding everything he said and the Court will grant a prosecutor wide latitude to cross examine.

Therefore, George Zimmerman gets to decide whether he will testify at the immunity hearing and the trial.

Next, let’s take a look at all of his statements to date and group them into two categories: statements to police officials during custodial interrogations and statements to other people.

Statements to police officials during custodial interrogations are admissible at trial,

(1) if he was advised of his 5th Amendment right to remain silent and his 6th Amendment right to contact an attorney and have him present during the interrogation; and

(2) he voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently decided to waive or give up those rights and answer questions.

This is the foundational requirement that the prosecution must satisfy to introduce a defendant’s custodial statement into evidence. It is based on Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). I have reviewed the discovery and believe all of his custodial statements satisfy the Miranda Rule and are admissible subject to the hearsay rule.

Statements to others, including the Sean Hannity interview, have no foundational argument like Miranda and are admissible, subject to the hearsay rule.

Now we get down to the difficult part of the analysis, which is understanding the hearsay rule.

Let us begin with a definition. Evidence Rule 801(c) defines hearsay as follows:

“Hearsay” is a statement, other than one made by the declarant (i.e., the person who made the statement) while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

For example, if Blue Shenanigans were to testify that George Zimmerman (i.e., the declarant) told her he knew Trayvon Martin was dead before the police arrived at the scene, and the prosecution offered it during its case in chief to prove that he knew Trayvon Martin was dead before the police arrived at the scene (i.e., the matter asserted in the statement), the statement would be hearsay.

Right?

Nope, because even though it meets the definition of hearsay, the rules of evidence carve out a huge exception to the rule that’s called an Admission by a Party Opponent. See Rule 801(d)(2). This rule specifically defines admissions by a party opponent as non-hearsay.

This is the way it works. George Zimmerman is a party to this case because he is the defendant. The party opponent is the State of Florida, which is represented by the Angela Corey and her team of prosecutors.

Pursuant to this rule they can introduce into evidence any statement by Zimmerman that they choose, including his custodial statements to the police, assuming they satisfy the Miranda rule, which they apparently do.

Notice that they are not required to introduce any of his statements and the defense has no say in which statements they introduce and which statements they leave out.

This means that all of the exculpatory statements he made to support his claim of self-defense are inadmissible hearsay, unless the prosecution decides to offer one or more of them as an admission by a party opponent.

Needless to say, the prosecution is not going to do him any favors and introduce any of his exculpatory statements and, since the defense cannot introduce them, the judge will not be able to consider them during the immunity hearing and the jury will never get to hear them at the trial.

But that’s not fair, you say.

That complaint happens in every courtroom across America every day, but it’s the law.

This is why, as a practical matter, George Zimmerman must take the stand and testify.

Can he refer to his exculpatory statements while he is testifying?

No, because they are hearsay.

What happens after he finishes telling his side of the story by answering his lawyer’s questions on direct examination?

The prosecutor who cross examines him will confront him with every statement he made to a police official or to any other witness it knows about that is inconsistent with or contradicts a statement he made while testifying on direct examination.

Given the number of times he has made improbable, inconsistent and contradictory statements, the cross examination could last several days.

I know this because I have done it to witnesses many times.

Cross examination by confronting witnesses with their prior inconsistent statements is one of the most effective and powerful tools a trial lawyer has to utterly destroy a witness.

The key to cross examining George Zimmerman will be not to beat him up so bad that the jury begins to feel sorry for him.

This is why it is so vitally important for suspects to keep their mouths shut when they are questioned by police. They cannot help themselves because their exculpatory statements will be inadmissible hearsay at trial. They can only hurt themselves by saying something that the prosecution uses to damage their case pursuant to the admission-by-a-party-opponent rule.


Zimmerman: Did the Defense Change Strategy?

August 17, 2012

Up until Mr. O’Mara’s press conference on Monday afternoon, the defense had been claiming that George Zimmerman was not following Trayvon Martin.

Instead, he was coincidentally running in the same direction looking for a street name and an address to provide to the dispatcher so that he could relay it to the officer en route.

Unfortunately for the defense, however, Zimmerman jogged right on past the front doors and garage doors of several townhouses directly in front of him and slightly to his right on Twin Trees Lane. Yes, the addresses were in plain view.

When the dispatcher picked up on his heavy breathing and asked him if he were following Martin, he answered, “Yes.”

The dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that,” and Zimmerman responded, “Okay.” Nevertheless, he continued to breathe hard as though he continued running for another 15 seconds or so.

He told the police he went past the open space between the two rows of townhouses, where he had seen Martin disappear, to the next street over. That street is Retreat View Circle, but as it fortuitously turned out, he did not have to find a street sign to discover that because he recognized it as the street he lives on.

Will wonders never cease.

He told the police he looked around but could not find any addresses to give the dispatcher, so he decided to retrace his steps intent on returning to his truck.

There is no shortage of addresses that would have been visible there although none of them were close to where he had last seen Martin.

As he approached the T intersection where the N/S sidewalk between the two rows of townhouses intersects the cut-through sidewalk between Twin Trees Lane and Retreat View Circle, he told the dispatcher to tell the officer en route to call him when he reached the neighborhood. Then he terminated the call.

He said Martin materialized suddenly out of the gloom standing on the N/S sidewalk a few feet south of the intersection and asked him if he had a problem.

When he said, “No,” and reached for his phone to call 911, Martin said, “Now you do,” and punched him in the nose stunning him and knocking him to the ground.

He said Martin then jumped on top of him and straddled him as he was lying on his back and began repeatedly slamming the back of his head into the concrete sidewalk. As he was about to lose consciousness, he grabbed his gun and shot Martin in the chest killing him.

Aside from the absurd claim that he was searching for a street name and an address to provide the officer en route — there are only three streets and he had lived in the neighborhood for three years and patrolled it for several months — there is a major timing problem and Martin’s body was found approximately 40 feet south of the T intersection..

Approximately two minutes went by before he encountered Martin.

Where was he and what was he doing?

I believe he lied to the police when he told them he did not follow Martin and when he claimed Martin assaulted him at the T intersection.

I believe the evidence at trial will show beyond any doubt that he was hunting Martin with the intent of restraining him until the officer arrived.

At the press conference on Monday, Mark O’Mara conceded that this is not a stand-your-ground case. He said it is a traditional self-defense case. He still intends to seek a dismissal of the murder charge at an immunity hearing, but he will not be arguing that Zimmerman had a right to stand his ground.

Sounds to me that the defense has decided to jettison Zimmerman’s claim that he did not follow Martin and did not stray south of the T intersection.

But if he admits to hunting Martin, isn’t the jury likely to conclude that he was hunting with the intent of physically restraining Martin?

Recall how he so indelicately expressed his frustration earlier during the call with the dispatcher,

“These assholes, they always get away.”

Did he not intend to make certain that Martin was one “asshole” who was not going to get away?

My question for y’all is, assuming I am right, will this decision help or hurt the defense?

Specifically, can giving up the obvious lie and apologizing for it, transform Zimmerman into a credible witness, or just make matters worse?


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