Zimmerman: Why No Amount of Lawyers, Guns and Money Will Save Him

September 27, 2012

The role of the lawyers during a criminal trial, whether prosecution or defense, is to present evidence through witness testimony via direct and cross examination, raise appropriate motions and objections at appropriate times, argue what facts have been proven or not proven to the jury, and argue to the judge which legal rules should be applied to resolve disputed issues that come up from time to time.

Lawyers are advocates, not witnesses. Juries are instructed in every criminal case that statements by lawyers are not evidence and may not be considered as evidence.

There are only two exceptions to this rule:

(1) By implication: When a lawyer asks a leading question and the witness agrees or disagrees, the jury may consider the answer as evidence that incorporates the lawyer’s statement in the question asked. As is true of any evidence admitted during trial, the jury gets to decide whether to believe or disbelieve the witness who agreed or disagreed with the statement and how much weight to give to the answer.

(2) By stipulation or agreement: When opposing counsel agree that the jury may consider a particular fact as undisputed. The stipulation then becomes part of the evidence the jury may consider.

Mark O’Mara will tell the jury during his opening statement that the evidence will show that Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense. During summation, he can argue what facts have been proven or disproven in support of his argument that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not kill Martin in self-defense. The jury may not consider anything he says as evidence and the same is true for anything the prosecutor says.

Zimmerman’s statements to police and various other witnesses before trial may or may not be admissible at trial according to the rules of evidence.

Subject to the Rule of Completion, the prosecution may introduce any statement he made under the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule. The Rule of Completeness permits the defense to clarify the meaning or intent of any statement offered by the prosecution by completing the statement.

For example, let’s assume a defendant said during a long custodial interrogation at the station house, “Sure I did it. I’ll admit it if it makes you happy and you let me go even though I would be lying if I said that.”

If the prosecution elicited the statement, “Sure I did it,” the defense would be permitted on cross examination to elicit the rest of the statement, “I’ll admit it if it makes you happy and you let me go even though I would be lying if I said that.” The purpose of the rule is to prevent the prosecutor from abusing the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule by introducing bits and pieces of statements that misrepresent what was said.

Statements admitted under the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule are defined as not hearsay by the rules of evidence. Hearsay, of course is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

The declarant is the person who made the statement and, but for the Admission by a Party Opponent Rule, a defendant’s statement would be inadmissible hearsay.

In fact, it is inadmissible hearsay, if the defense offers the defendant’s statement to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In the example above, the defendant’s statement comes in under the Rule of Completion because the prosecutor opened the door by using the admission rule to create a false impression that the defendant had confessed. If the prosecutor had not done that, the statement would be inadmissible hearsay, if the defense offered it to prove the defendant did not commit the crime.

The vast majority of Zimmerman’s statements to police and others before trial are inadmissible hearsay, if offered by the defense to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

I believe we can reasonably assume that the prosecution will not offer Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements during its case, so the jury will not have heard any evidence of self-defense when the prosecution rests its case.

Because of the hearsay rule, O’Mara cannot get any of Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements admitted to prove the truth of the matters asserted during the defense case, unless they would be admissible pursuant to one of the exceptions to the hearsay rule.

In another post, for example, I mentioned that Martin’s statements to Dee Dee expressing fear and describing what the creepy man was doing would be admissible to prove the truth of the matters he asserted because they are statements expressing an excited utterance and a present sense impression. Those are two exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Zimmerman’s exculpatory statements are not admissible pursuant to those exceptions because he had an opportunity and a motive to be deceptive after he killed Martin.

O’Mara probably will attempt to admit Zimmerman’s statements to the Physician’s Assistant at the family clinic where he sought treatment and permission to return to work. He will argue that Zimmerman’s statements are admissible as statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment, an exception to the hearsay rule.

Unfortunately for Zimmerman, his claim of self-defense was neither relevant nor necessary for medical diagnosis or treatment. Therefore, those statements are not admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule.

In fact, Zimmerman probably will not even get a self-defense instruction, unless he testifies, because there will not be sufficient evidence to support giving a self-defense instruction. O’Mara cannot create a sufficient evidentiary foundation to support instructing the jury on self-defense by what he says during his opening statement because his statements are not evidence.

Therefore, Zimmerman has to testify. If he testifies, the prosecution gets to cross examine him. That means the prosecutor can confront him with every statement he made before trial that is inconsistent with or in conflict with a statement he made on direct examination.

During its rebuttal case after the defense rests, the prosecution can introduce any evidence it has that rebuts evidence presented by the defense during its case. This would include presenting forensic or other evidence that rebuts something Zimmerman said and it also includes evidence of bad character, if the defense opened the door by presenting evidence of good character during its case.

In conclusion, Zimmerman is between the proverbial rock and a hard place because he is unlikely to get a self-defense instruction unless he testifies, but if he testifies, his credibility likely will be destroyed by all of his inconsistent and conflicting statements to police and others.

Damned if he testifies and damned if he does not, George Michael Zimmerman is in such a hell of a jam that no amount lawyers, guns and money will save him from a lengthy prison sentence.


Hearsay Rule (Part 4)

October 23, 2011

Welcome back, class.

First, here’s a clip showing the best opening statement that I have ever seen.

Before we review the remaining exceptions to the hearsay rule, I want to emphasize the difference between the present-sense-impression exception, which is a statement by the declarant reacting to an event as it happens or shortly thereafter, and the excited utterance exception, which is a statement reacting to an event while under the influence of the emotional response caused by the event. For example, let’s return to our cozy couple, Amy and Beauregard, lost as they are in each other’s eyes to the eternal frustration of the waiter and owner of the restaurant, who want to lock-up and go home. Let’s also move the dinner to a month after the accident.

Beauregard nudges the bill aside and reaches for Amy’s hands saying, “I’m so sorry, honey. Tears and mascara are strolling hand in hand down her lustrous apple cheeks and falling on the white linen tablecloth, staining it. “You liked Peter, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Even though he was my boss and kind of nerdy. I’ll never forget his screams. I never heard someone scream like that. It was awful, Beau.”

“How did it happen?”

“Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit him in the crosswalk and he bled to death right in front of me.” She sobbed and squeezed more tears from her baby blues.

Okay, is her statement admissible under the present-sense-impression exception?

No, because her statement describes an event that occurred a month earlier.

Is her statement admissible as an excited utterance?

Yes, because she was under the emotional influence of the event.

Note that this exception has been used to introduce the statements of sexual assault crime victims, particularly children under the age of 5, even though they were being questioned by adults, social workers, or police using leading questions, and even though the child never testified at the defendant’s trial. This is an especially difficult situation for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, not to mention the children and the defendants. Young children are particularly susceptible to forming false memories regarding incidents that never happened when authority figures question them with leading questions, e.g., “Is that when your daddy touched you in your private place?”

Now, beginning with the third exception, since we already have discussed the first two, let’s move on to the other hearsay exceptions in which the availability of the declarant is immaterial:

3. Statement about a then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition;

4. Statements to medical personnel for purposes of medical diagnosis (Yes, what you tell your doctor about a preexisting medical condition is admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule in a legal proceeding between you and your insurance company to determine whether coverage was properly denied);

5. Statements that were recorded to preserve recollection at a time when the declarant had knowledge of the event described, but has now forgotten (this exception happens more and more now, given how many years can pass between an incident and when a legal proceeding regarding that incident finally happens);

6. Records of regularly conducted business activity that were prepared as part of the business, as opposed to generated for purposes of litigation;

7. Absence of an entry in records kept in (6);

8. Public records and reports;

9. Records of vital statistics;

10. Absence of public record or entry;

11. Records of religious organizations;

12. Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates;

13. Family records;

14. Records of documents affecting an interest in property;

15. Statements in documents affecting an interest in property;

16. Statements in ancient documents;

17. Market reports and commercial publications;

18. Learned treatises;

19. Reputation concerning personal or family history;

20. Reputation concerning boundaries or general history;

21. Reputation as to character;

22. Judgment as to previous conviction; and

23. Judgment as to personal, family, or general history or boundaries.

There are an additional 5 exceptions to the hearsay rule when the declarant is unavailable to testify and be questioned about the statement:

1. Former testimony, if the party, or predecessor in legal interest, against whom the statement is being offered had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination;

2. Statement under belief of impending death concerning the cause of circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death (e.g., the so-called dying declaration);

3. Statement against interest (i.e., a statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. By the way, regarding the Troy Davis legal case: a statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement);

4. Statement of personal or family history; and

5. Forfeiture by wrongdoing (i.e., a statement offered against a party that has engaged in or acquiesced in wrongdoing that was intended to, and did, procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness).

Y’all can look up these rules on line for further information. Once again, the rules are FRE 801 defining hearsay, FRE 802 which says hearsay is not admissible except under these rules, FRE 803 which list 23 exceptions where hearsay is admissible regardless if the declarant is available to testify, and FRE 804, which lists 5 exceptions where hearsay is admissible, if the declarant is not available to testify.

Again, the states apply substantially the same rules in state courts and they follow the same numbering system, which makes it easy to find the corresponding state rule and compare the two.

Finally, never forget that a statement by a declarant that is NOT offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement is NOT hearsay!

Cross posted at my website and at the Smirking Chimp.


Who Says? Hear Says! Exceptions, That Is

October 23, 2011

Philosophical thought for the day: A rule is not a rule without exceptions, and there are no exceptions, damnit!

Good afternoon class.

Welcome to Hearsay 103.

There are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that one might almost say the exceptions have swallowed the rule. I will discuss several of them in some detail and merely list the others because they do not come up all that often and they are not difficult to understand. For future reference, you can find them listed in rules 803 and 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are cited as FRE 803 and FRE 804. By the way, most of the states have adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence with minor changes and they use the same numbering system. Most of the minor changes are due to a state modifying the federal rule in order to retain the rule or a favored part of the rule that the state used to follow. For your information, the rules of evidence were promulgated by the various supreme courts pursuant to their rule making authority under the state constitutions. For the most part, judges and lawyers in all state and federal courts play with the same set of evidentiary rules and that is a good thing.

As I pointed out in our first class regarding the hearsay rule, the rule is designed to exclude unreliable evidence. Why bother? you might ask. The answer is that all of the rules are designed to filter the evidence that jurors get to hear so that they will not place undue emphasis or reliance on evidence that has little weight or importance. Put another way, judges and lawyers do not trust jurors, so they want to censor what they get to consider. The hearsay rule is a good example.

Recall our example in the first class involving the hapless Peter Piper who will never get to pick his fabled peck of pickled peppers due to Igor Ivarson’s storming rampage through the red light slamming Mr. Piper’s immortal soul through the uprights of heaven leaving his fractured mortal coil bereft and alone in a puddle of blood in the crosswalk of life. Ah, yes. T’was a pity, indeed.

So, we had B, let’s give him a name and call him Beauregard, shall we? Okay, and let’s also give A a name and call her Amanda. So, Beauregard is on the witness stand and the prosecutor asks him,

“What if anything did Amanda say to you at dinner about something that happened at the intersection?”

But for the hearsay objection by defense counsel that any reasonably conscious and sentient judge would have sustained because the answer is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, Amanda would have answered,

“Igor Ivarson ran right through the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

You see, judges and lawyers fear that, if jurors heard the answer, they might place undue emphasis on the un-cross-examined statement of a witness who never actually testified. How can they reasonably and reliably assess Amanda’s credibility by listening to Beauregard drone on about dinner with Amanda?

Enough said.

Now, let’s tweak our fact pattern so that we remove Amanda and Beauregard from their cozy repast at their intimate restaurant and place them together at the intersection with Beauregard talking to his wife on his cell phone while staring at the sky when Igor Ivarson hits the unfortunate Peter Piper. He does not see the accident, but Amanda does. She utters a scream and says, “Oh my God. Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

Flash forward to trial again with Beauregard on the stand and the prosecutor now asks,

“When you were standing on the corner of the intersection talking on your cell phone, what, if anything, did you hear Amanda say?”

Assume you are defense counsel and you stand up and say, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay.”

What happens?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens.

The judge says: “Objection overruled. You may close your mouth and sit down, counsel.”

Saying, “But Judge. Professor Masoninblue says that’s hearsay because its offered to prove the truth of the matter and besides, we all know that we don’t trust juries, right Judge?” will not help you.

Welcome to the first two and likely most often used exceptions to the hearsay rule: Present Sense Impression and Excited Utterance.

FRE 803(1) defines a Present Sense Impression as follows:

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event, or condition, or immediately thereafter.

FRE 803(2) defines an Excited Utterance as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.

Amanda’s statement is admissible hearsay under both the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Why make an exception for these two types of statements and not the statement during the conversation at dinner?

Because the declarant, Amanda, was “describing or explaining an event or condition while [she] was perceiving the event”, and she was “under the stress of excitement caused by the event.” Her statement was an immediate reaction to the accident. She did not have an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and possibly change or even forget her statement. For that reason, her statement is regarded as sufficiently accurate and reliable to be admitted into evidence, even if she does not testify and is not subject to cross examination.

In fact the availability of the declarant to testify at a hearing or trial is immaterial to all of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule that are listed in FRE 803.

I see that we are at 1000 words, so we have reached the end of today’s class and we’ll have to continue our study of the exceptions to the hearsay rule tomorrow.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.


What The Hell Is Hearsay?

October 23, 2011

I will start with an example.

A witnesses an accident and later tells B that Igor Ivarson ran a red light and hit Peter Piper in a crosswalk, killing him.

Flash forward to a trial. Igor Ivarson is charged with negligent homicide and the prosecutor calls B to the stand and asks him the following question after establishing that B had dinner with A several hours after the accident:

What, if anything, did A say to you about the accident?

If you are representing Igor and you do not stand up and say in a commanding voice, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay”, a hole should open up in the floor beneath your chair disappearing you forever into the Great Beyond From Which There Is No Return. This is an exceedingly grim place not unlike Hell.

B’s answer would be hearsay because he would be repeating what A told him and his answer would be offered to prove that Igor ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in a crosswalk. That is one of the fundamental questions of fact that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in Igor’s trial.

Igor’s right to confront his accusers via cross examination would be violated if A’s statement comes in because Igor’s lawyer cannot cross examine A since A is not on the witness stand. Equally important, A was not under oath when A made the statement and the jury cannot evaluate A’s credibility, if A is not present, questioned, and cross examined.

For purposes of the following definition:

A is the declarant or person who made the statement.

B is the witness in court repeating the declarant’s statement.

(Keep in mind that a statement can be oral or written and also includes non-verbal conduct, if such conduct was intended as an assertion. An example of conduct intended as an assertion would be nodding your head to indicate agreement in response to a question, like “Do you want to eat pizza tonight?”)

Okay, here’s the definition:

“Hearsay” is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. See Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 801(c).

Since A did not make the statement while testifying at the trial or hearing, (he made it out of court before the trial), and A’s statement was offered to prove what the statement asserted, A’s statement is hearsay.

Simple, right?

Okay, what if A’s statement were offered for some other purpose? For example, let’s say it was offered to establish when A first knew about the accident. If that were the case, and that was a relevant issue, A’s statement would not be hearsay since it was offered for a purpose other than establishing the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

This is a critical distinction that eludes oodles of judges and lawyers, not to mention law students. Don’t you make the same mistake.

By the way, sometimes judges will admit A’s statement, subject to a limiting oral instruction telling the jury that they may only consider A’s statement for the limited purpose of deciding when A first knew about the accident and for no other purpose.

Yah, sure. You betcha.

As if the members of the jury will ever remember that limiting instruction during their deliberations. Sheesh!

Now that you think you know what statements are hearsay, guess what?Some statements that fit the definition of hearsay are defined as not-hearsay.

Think of them as Jokers in a deck of cards.

What are these Jokers?

Hint: Not the football coach at the University of Kentucky.

FRE 801(d) identifies two types of non-hearsay statements:

(1) Prior statements by a witness, and

(2) Admissions by a party opponent.

A prior statement of a declarant who testifies at a trial or hearing is not hearsay if the witness is subject to cross examination about the prior statement and the statement is (A) inconsistent with the declarant’s testimony and was given under oath subject to the penalty of perjury at a trial, hearing, or other proceeding, or in a deposition, or (B) consistent with the declarant’s testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive, or (C) one of identification of a person made after perceiving the person.

An admission by a party opponent is a statement by a party to a lawsuit that is offered by the party’s opponent. Note that only the opponent can offer the seemingly hearsay statement; the party who made the statement cannot offer it. For example, if Igor Ivarson confessed that he ran a red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk, his statement is admissible as an admission by a party opponent, even though it is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

Can the defendant offer his own statement for another purpose, in other words, to prove something other than the truth of the matter asserted in the statement?

Yes, for example, to prove that the person to whom he made the statement acted in reliance on that statement, if that is an issue in the case. I will provide a detailed example of this situation in my next post as this is exactly what happened in Crane-Station’s case.

Suppose Igor Ivarson told the police that he was not driving the vehicle that struck Peter Piper. Would his exculpatory statement be admissible to prove that he was not driving the vehicle?

Not unless the prosecutor, who is the party opponent, offered it and no prosecutor is that stupid. At least they are not supposed to be.

There is only one exception to this rule and that is based on a defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. If the statement is the only exculpatory evidence available, he cannot be prevented from offering his statement by this rule.

Finally, a statement by a coconspirator in furtherance of a conspiracy is admissible against the coconspirator and other members of the conspiracy.

NEXT: Exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Any questions?

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.

And because Dakine always says he can, I will too:


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