Past Practices, Irrelevant

I am usually a strong advocate of our judicial system. Having been a part of that system for the better part of my life I have (mostly) felt that the system has worked. The Sixth Amendment speaks to the need for a fair trial and it assures those accused certain requirements that the state must meet. The system is not perfect, since those implementing the system are flawed, but the pendulum has always swung farther towards assuring impartiality (the blindfold on Lady Justice speaks to this) and the rights of the accused, the rule of law demands it. But in just 2 weeks the George Zimmerman trial (dead man walking) will commence , he does not stand a chance.

A judge in Sanford, Fla., ruled Tuesday against George Zimmerman’s defense team on several key issues in preparation for his trial on charges of second-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012.

In a two-hour hearing at the Seminole County Courthouse, Circuit Judge Debra Nelson ruled that defense attorneys will not be able to mention Trayvon’s past marijuana use, his suspension from school, or his alleged participation in fights in their opening statements.

The rulings came after Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team recently posted online photos and text messages from Trayvon’s cellphone. The texts included several about being a fighter, smoking marijuana, and being ordered to move out of his home by his mother. The photos included a picture of what appeared to be a .40 caliber handgun.

Obviously I don’t agree with this ruling, here’s why. The rule of law and precedent makes clear that the state can not use instances of prior criminal acts as evidence of the crime at hand, independent collaborating evidence must show that the defendant committed this specific crime. This is as it should be. But Travon Martin is not on trial (as the family lawyers keep telling us), George Zimmerman is and evidence of past incidents of violence and fighting on Travon’s part is relevant. A fight broke out between the two men, one of them is dead and the other is on trial for his life. Zimmerman’s basic defense was that he was not the instigator but was attacked, he should be afforded the opportunity to expose prior Martin behavior as bolstering his (Zimmerman’s) version of the story.

All the other stuff, the marijuana use, his suspensions from school, even his home life, these are not relevant since they do not speak to the crime at hand nor ads any clarity to events. And if we had independent witnesses that saw the whole thing unfold then I would say that we don’t need the weight of prior violence to consider. We would know what happened here, but we don’t. We have one man’s version of the story, he should be allowed to present any circumstantial evidence he wants to bolster or add weight to that defense. The jury can determine the probity.

There will be no happy outcome to this trial. If he is acquitted, riots and destruction will ensue. If he is convicted, whether by strong evidence or a jury intimidated by events, then the judge will be forced to come down hard on him, probably beyond what is deserved.

I will hope for a fair trial and calm heads to prevail………………..what are the odds?

Comments are closed.

  1. Thrill

    For the first time since Zimmerman was charged, I now don’t believe he has any chance for a fair trial. There was no reason to suppress Martin’s drug use and violent behavior given that it spoke directly to strengthening Zimmerman’s not guilty plea. This is definitely dependent on only one outcome.

    Disaster for the defense.

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  2. Seattle Outcast

    He’ll win on appeal to a court that hasn’t already decided he’s guilty because he killed a black kid, and is therefore a member of the KKK.

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  3. Aussiesmurf

    Downvote away, but I completely agree with this decision. Why on earth are past actions of the victim relevant?

    If I had been mugged, would it be relevant that I had smoked grass in the past?
    If I was raped, would it be relevant if I’d slept with 50 people in the past?

    In a murder trial, who cares as to whether the (alleged) victim had done xx in the past? Who cares? He could have been a child rapist out on parole but it doesn’t matter in terms of his right, you know, NOT TO BE KILLED. Is the defence going to allege that Martin was under the influence of drugs on the night?

    Its pretty transparent attempt by the defence to say that Martin was the ‘sort of kid’ who would be up to shenanigans in an attempt to get a nod and a wink from the jury regarding the accused’s shooting of an unarmed child.

    Hot! Thumb up 6

  4. InsipiD

    In a murder trial, who cares as to whether the (alleged) victim had done xx in the past? Who cares? He could have been a child rapist out on parole but it doesn’t matter in terms of his right, you know, NOT TO BE KILLED.

    Because his past behavior is probably a good indicator as to whether he was likely to be trying to violate Zimmerman’s “right not to be killed.”

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  5. mrblume

    I am usually a strong advocate of our judicial system. Having been a part of that system for the better part of my life I have (mostly) felt that the system has worked.

    Very funny.

    Oh, of course *this* case is an outrage, where it’s our political partisan duty to care enough to take a side. I’m sure the best criminal justice system in the world functions just perfectly the rest of the time when no one is looking.

    Hey, is Mr. Zimmermann 12 yet? We could try him as an adult.

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  6. Xetrov

    In a murder trial, who cares as to whether the (alleged) victim had done xx in the past? Who cares?

    Because the defense of Zimmerman rests 100% on the supposition that what he did was self defense. Cataloguing Martin as a pot smoking “fighter” (which he was in his own words) instead of the saint that was portrayed by the media for months (which he now clearly wasn’t) is paramount to that defense.

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  7. richtaylor365 *

    If I had been mugged, would it be relevant that I had smoked grass in the past?
    If I was raped, would it be relevant if I’d slept with 50 people in the past?

    Your examples are not valid because at no time were you the instigator, the true mover of events. Zimmerman’s whole defense (Ya know, the guy on trial, the guy that the Sixth Amendment was written for, the guy that deserves the most robust/probing defense possible because he is the one with the most to lose) rests on the simple fact that Martin attacked him and he was defending himself. Past history of Martin wrt to similar conduct speaks directly to the heart of Zimmerman’s version of the events.

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  8. Hal_10000

    There was a lot of discussion about this last night. The upshot is that the judge has made the correct decision … modulo. The reason you don’t introduce evidence like that is because it has a danger of being prejudicial. The jury has to decide this case based on what happened that night, not based on what Trayvon may or may not have been doing earlier that day or earlier that month. Trayvon is not the one on trial.

    HOWEVER, by introducing it this way — and the way the judge worded the decision — this evidence CAN be brought back in if the prosecution tries to make out that Trayvon was a great kid and it would never be in his character to confront someone. If the prosecution goes that route, it opens the door for the defense to bring all that evidence in to counter that claim. In other words, you can still use the evidence to rebut prosecution points if it is relevant. But you can’t just run out there and say, “Trayvon smoked pot” because that’s not relevant and is prejudicial. And pot doesn’t make people violent.

    To take the rape analogy used above, you can’t introduce evidence of promiscuity by the victim randomly. But in states that don’t have rape shield laws, you can introduce the evidence if the prosecution is saying something like, “well she’d never have sex with a guy she just met” and you have evidence of previous one-night stands. This became important in the Marv Albert case because the victim was saying she didn’t like rought sex and Virginia’s rape shield law prevent Albert’s attorneys from bringing in ex-boyfriends to say she did (although I still think Albert was likely guilty).

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  9. Mook

    But you can’t just run out there and say, “Trayvon smoked pot” because that’s not relevant and is prejudicial. And pot doesn’t make people violent.

    Can the defense use autopsy results to prove that drugs were in his system at the time, if that was the case? And was it marijuana only, or was it laced with PCP or.. ?? Autopsy results would tell us that relevant information. And it is definitely relevant.

    If revealing that drugs in his system is considered prejudicial in this case, then revealing the blood alcohol content of a driver who caused an accident is similarly prejudicial.

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  10. Hal_10000

    If revealing that drugs in his system is considered prejudicial in this case, then revealing the blood alcohol content of a driver who caused an accident is similarly prejudicial.

    Not really. One is evidence against a victim; the other against a defendant. If Trayvon had drugs in his system, that would be relevant. Autopsy results will have to be introduced anyway to establish cause of death, I should think.

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  11. AlexInCT

    He’ll win on appeal to a court that hasn’t already decided he’s guilty because he killed a black kid, and is therefore a member of the KKK.

    I think you are misguied when you believe the courts motivation is that they think Zimmerman is racist. I am pretty sure they know he is not. Even more importantly, they know it was self defense. But the court is going to sacrifice Zimmerman so they can avoid the race riots that they fear will follow if the law wins out in this case and he is let go.

    Dispicable isn’t even the right word for the shit we are living through in the new racialist America of the Obama era…

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  12. CM

    Even more importantly, they know it was self defense. But the court is going to sacrifice Zimmerman

    Case closed. Why waste money on a trial?

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  13. zinger

    I think it was the correct decision. Not just because of what Hal has pointed out above (all of which is correct), but you have to remember that in FL, self-defense is NOT an affirmative defense. In other words, Zimmerman does NOT need to prove, to any definable standard, that he was acting in self-defense. He just needs to assert that he was. From there, it becomes the STATE’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was NOT acting in self-defense.

    Thus, Zimmerman does NOT need to show self-defense, the prosecution needs to show that it was NOT in self-defense. Frankly, the only evidence I have seen that would in any way support the state’s case would HAVE to come from Martin’s girlfriend who was on the phone with him as events were unfolding. But considering her credibility is suspect, since she was caught committing perjury about where she was during Trayvon’s funeral, I doubt the state even calls her.

    IMO, this is pretty much a slam dunk for the defense.

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  14. hist_ed

    Yeah, I think Zimmerman get off. Remember the standard is reasonable doubt. His injuries alone are probably enough.

    I agree with the ruling and I think HAL has it right. Actions by one side can open things up for the other side to use. My only question is whether or not the defense will want Zimmerman on the stand. I bet not.

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