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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