George Zimmerman: Trial Tentatively Scheduled for June

There's a lot of buzz yesterday about the new judge in the George Zimmerman case scheduling his trial in June. I doubt it will happen that fast. Even in non-high profile cases, delays to two to three years are not uncommon.

James Wonder was charged in 2008 with shooting a polygrapher for the U.S. Border Patrol during a road rage incident. Weeks after the shooting, prosecutors asked the grand jury to indict on first degree murder. The grand jury returned an indictment on manslaughter. His stand your ground hearing was just scheduled a few weeks ago for the end of October. The hearing is expected to take 8 to 10 days with 35 to 40 witnesses being called. (One of the issues recently decided: The state objected to the defense introducing Wonder's 3 hour post-arrest interview at the stand your ground hearing.)

Trevor Dooley, a retired bus driver, shot and killed a younger man who was playing basketball in 2010. His stand your ground hearing was in May, 2012. He lost, and trial was set for September. But Dooley is appealing the denial of his stand your ground motion, so the trial date was vacated. [More...]

Remember Quentin Wyche, the college football player who lost his stand your ground hearing in February? He was arrested in March, 2010, and it took 2 years to have his stand your ground hearing. His trial was finally set for next month. Last week, unbeknownst to his lawyer, Wyche wrote a letter to the court administrator criticizing Judge Hirsch for denying his stand your ground motion. Two days ago, Judge Hirsch recused himself from the case. Even though Wyche says he wants the November trial date, the new judge may well delay it. (Wyche's lawyer was perplexed by the letter. Judge Hirsch denied the motion saying the evidence was in "equipoise" and that a at trial, Wyche could re-raise his arguments without the jury knowing the judge had denied his motion. From his ruling:

If, at a pretrial hearing, a defendant meets his burden and establishes his claim of immunity by a preponderance of the evidence, any charge as to which the immunity applies would of course be dismissed. If, however, the court finds that the defendant has not met his burden, the court's ruling has no preclusive effect....

Such a defendant would still be free at trial to plead his claim of immunity to the jury. At trial the burden of proof is exclusively on the prosecution to establish the guilt of the defendant beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt.

To earn an acquittal, the defendant need do no more than show reasonable doubt - a quantum of evidence considerably less than a preponderance. And any attempt to bar a defendant from asserting a lawful defense based on the trial court's ruling that the defendant had not sufficientlv established that defense at a pretrial hearing would no doubt run afoul of the defendant's constitutional entitlement to a fair jury trial, see U.S. Const. amend VI; Art. I Sec16, Fla. Const.

The Trayvon Martin shooting was in February, 2012. June, 2013 is probably rushing things. There are many outstanding discovery issues and serious issues about withholding of evidence. The state is obligated to timely turn over discovery. It doesn't get to turn over what it feels like, when it feels like, and then sit back until the defense complains things are missing. This isn't a game of "Oh, you want that too?"

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    High Profile (none / 0) (#1)
    by nomatter0nevermind on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 12:32:20 AM EST
    Does the case being high profile tend to delay it or speed it up?

    I recall the O.J. Simpson case going to trial fairly quickly, although the trial itself was long.

    it depends a lot on (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:24:39 AM EST
    whether the defendant is in custody. In OJ's case, because he was in jail, the defense pushed for a speedy trial. As Greta wrote:

    The DA pushed for a fast arrest of OJ, and OJ promptly demanded a speedy trial and the prosecution was forced to start trial and the team was far from ready.   As a consequence, the trial team spent much of the trial investigating their case (and putting it together) when they should have been focused on actually trying the case.

    It was a smart move by OJ's lawyers, and fairly unprecedented in a murder case, so I don't think it's a good benchmark. It was the exception, not the rule.


    OJ Case (none / 0) (#5)
    by RickyJim on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 08:33:53 AM EST
    I remember reading a long time ago, in a book devoted to the case (Bugliosi?), a comment to the effect that, 'The prosecution could have easily got a continuance but arrogantly decided to go to trail'.  Do many jurisdictions spell out exactly what "Speedy trial" means?

    The prosecutor isn't entitled to (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:38:07 PM EST
    a continuance. Only if defendant agrees. U

    What Other Options Besides Immediate Trial? (none / 0) (#11)
    by RickyJim on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:50:59 PM EST
    I seem to remember that Marcia Clark thought Simpson might "pull a Polanski" and thus wanted him arrested right away.  Why didn't they try to have him locked up for not turning himself in (bronco chase) and use the time he was in jail to prepare their case?  Could they withdraw the charges temporarily and arrest him again later instead of going to trial?

    The low speed chase occurred (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 03:05:50 PM EST
    b/4 the court had jurisdiction over Simpson. His attorneys arr. for him to turn himself in but he didn't.

    Is the Stand Your Ground hearing (none / 0) (#3)
    by ruffian on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 08:16:13 AM EST
    considered part of the trial then? I suppose so since I didn't see it addressed in the article. Will look again. Could they have that in the June time frame and maybe they would not have to go to trial at all?

    Never mind - your link is a better article (none / 0) (#4)
    by ruffian on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 08:18:03 AM EST
    than the first one I read! SYG hearing may be in April or May.

    Did Judge Hirsch make a mistake? (none / 0) (#6)
    by RickyJim on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 08:37:49 AM EST
    "Such a defendant would still be free at trial to plead his claim of immunity to the jury".

    I think he meant self defense, not immunity.  AFAIK, a jury can't give anyone immunity from future civil action.

    I think he's right (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 02:29:27 PM EST
    There are two different statutes, self-defense and stand your ground. See here.

    See my answer here. He can argue both. For example, he can make a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the state's case on the grounds he is immune from prosecution under the Stand Your Ground law, in that he acted in self defense. Or he can just argue the state hasn't proved he didn't act in self-defense.

    Reagan v. Mallory, 429 Fed. Appx. 918, 920-921 (11th Cir. Fla. 2011):

    By defining "criminal prosecution" to include the arrest, detention, charging, or prosecution of the defendant, the statute allows for an immunity determination at any stage of the proceeding. Created to eliminate the need to retreat under specified circumstances, the statute authorized the immunity determination to be made by law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries. In enacting the statute, however, the legislature did not restrict the time frame for determining immunity, but rather provided a time continuum stretching across the entire criminal process."

    Florida allows immunity to be raised and decided at a pre-trial hearing, but I think it can also be raised at trial, as does Judge Hirsch.

    In the criminal case, he can argue he's not guilty because he committed no crime under Florida's stand your ground law, which provides immunity for his actions.  He can also raise self-defense, which is an affirmative defense rather than an immunity statute.

    I think it's just terminology, the point is he can still argue at trial he's not guilty because his actions did not violate the law or amount to a crime at trial, and the fact that a judge ruled he failed to meet his burden before trial can't be used against him at trial.


    Yes, I remember that discussion (none / 0) (#13)
    by RickyJim on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 03:14:18 PM EST
    in early July that you had with cbolt.  Please correct me but I am left with the impression that unlike what a judge can do at a SYG hearing, a jury can't grant immunity from later civil action.  The kind of "immunity" it grants means acquittal from the current criminal charges.  I was left confused whether it makes any difference whether the defense says it is asking for immunity or acquittal on grounds of self defense.

    civil immunity is not the topic (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 05:04:06 PM EST
    this is about the criminal case. As I've responded to you many times, I'm discussing the criminal case, not potential future civil cases. Please stick to the criminal case here.

    SPAM (none / 0) (#16)
    by nomatter0nevermind on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 11:17:33 PM EST
    Yeah, I agree (none / 0) (#7)
    by bmaz on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:34:01 PM EST
    Especially if a comprehensive Dennis hearing is not starting until sometime in late April or May, it is nearly impossible to see a trial commencing on June 10. In fact, it is impossible. If the Dennis/SYG motion is successful, there is no trial; if not, then there will be an appeal. So, a June 10 trial date is fool's gold.

    Can the APC be Challenged Before Trial? (none / 0) (#8)
    by RickyJim on Thu Oct 18, 2012 at 01:50:03 PM EST
    I am wondering if the defense here has an option that, as soon as they have completed the discovery of the prosecution case, they can request that the judge drop the charges on the grounds that the Affidavit of Probable Cause and evidence the prosecution has is inadequate to justify making the charges.

    If so.... (none / 0) (#17)
    by bmaz on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 03:57:09 AM EST
    ...not that I have seen in Florida law.  To my mind and experience, the inability for a "preliminary hearing" type of due process probable cause hearing/determination in a prison eligible felony case where the state has consciously and affirmatively acted to avoid the grand jury forum is, seriously, unconscionable.

    Apparently that meets minimal "due process" requirements under Florida law and, arguably, such is not contradicted by SCOTUS, but, still, that is total horse manure from where I come from.