The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman – and Our System of Justice
Published to: 000115, 000116, A Small Town Lawyer's Perspective, Bridgeport, Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer, West Virginia Lawyer - Tips and Techniques
on July 18, 2013 10:42 pm
A Facebook Friend took to task “Trial by Jury” following the George Zimmerman trial. I was tempted to do the same thing following the O.J. Simpson and Kacie Anthony trials. In those cases, neither victim had broken the defendant’s nose or pounded their attacker’s head into the pavement. They were utterly fault free, but their murderers walked free.
O.J. nearly severed his wife’s head from her shoulders and butchered to death her friend. Another jury, in the civil trial in Ohio, awarded the victims’ families $30,000,000.00.
Since then, the Ohio legislature has passed severe limits on such verdicts, so the result today would be closer to $30,000. Until his subsequent arrest and conviction, O.J. spent a lot of his time avoiding the collection attempts. It was the only punishment the victims could inflict.
Kacie Anthony killed her beautiful infant daughter and stuffed her bloody decomposing, body into the trunk of her car. The jury could not quite figure out how she did it, and thus had “reasonable doubt”.
Lest you think that the system always releases the guilty, “The Innocence Project”, http://www.innocenceproject.org/ , lists 310 exonerations on its home page, cases of formerly guilty defendants being exonerated and released because of DNA evidence. Here were over 300 innocent people that “the system” convicted.
And, it happened in more than one of my cases. The most memorable involved a client with a history of a drinking problem. He was accused of breaking into the home of an elderly woman, beating her, and robbing her. Because it had the potential for life in prison, the Circuit Court appointed a co-counsel.
Our investigation led us into “the projects” in South Charleston. Talk about two nervous young lawyers, walking from apartment to apartment, under the watchful eyes of the suspicious residents.
We found a woman, aunt to a former co-worker of my client. Perry Mason was on the silent t.v. in her living room.
Her nephew had admitted to her that he robbed and beat a woman in Upshur County. Why he was stupid enough to tell her, I do not know. Can’t even remember how we found her. Sadly, there was no such thing as DNA testing back then.
My client explained to us that he had taken this fellow to the woman’s house, while they were visiting my client’s parents in Southern Upshur County, and our client voiced his speculation to his guest that she “stuffed bundles of money under her mattress”. The assailant turned over that mattress.
The evil co-worker later came back and committed the dirty deed in the very car our client had been observed in a few days earlier, but all the facts, my client’s presence in the area, an eye-witness account by the victim, witnesses who saw my client’s car, all pointed to my client, whose life was, essentially, over.
In case you do not know, “eye-witness testimony” has been established to be some of the weakest evidence a jury can hear. The defense bar has established that with the help of the scientific community, such as Johns Hopkins. And don’t get me going on “false repressed memory syndrome” which also was debunked by Johns Hopkins’ behavioral health center.
We got a handwritten statement from the witness and took it to the prosecutor, Alex Ross, the Friday before the trial. It was agonizing to share this juicy evidence with them, which we did not have to because it was rebuttal. But, the risk was too great, and we bet on the integrity of Alex Ross and the investigating officer, David Harris, who later lost his life in the line of duty.
Alex and Officer Harris drove to Charleston over the week-end and interviewed her. She must have been credible because on Monday morning, right before jury selection, the State moved to dismiss “without prejudice”. The charges were never revived.
But for that witness, who showed courage in answering our questions, I think the jury would have convicted our client. We had the privilege of telling our client that he was walking free, which he did that day! Court appointed defense work has no thrill greater than that.
A heavy smoker and drinker, our client John died 15 years or so later, but he died a free man.
Our system is imperfect. I seem to recall that during the dark ages accused persons were dropped into water. If they floated, they were innocent; if they sank and died, they were guilty.
In another ancient culture, even an accidental death allowed a family member of the decedent to kill the offender.
Our right to trial by jury is currently under attack. My FB friend J.W. articulated his disgust with the system in an excellent post on FB. He accurately perceived that a defendant with a good lawyer is more likely to get off. He spoke from the perspective of a man who has served on several juries, and he feels they are unreliable.
I hope he reads this, because no jury he was on should have been able to render an unjust verdict. He had veto power! Juries must be unanimous. That’s a tough standard.
We all hear the stories of defendants lined up, waiting for a hearing, only to meet their harried public defender moments before their hearing. Such defendants usually accept the certainly of a generous plea offer, and sure conviction by the State, over months of uncertainty waiting for trial, and risks such as those George Zimmerman had to take. The State lets the bad ones off with less then they deserve in order to save money and have a sure conviction.
I am amazed how selective the political zealots are in their respect for the U.S. Constitution. The gun rights advocates seem to think the 2nd Amendment was carved into Moses’ tablets by Yahweh himself, but they almost sneer at the rights of the criminal defendant, especially the poor, and ones of a different background from themselves.
The right to counsel had a seminal case: Gideon vs. Wainwright. This is a case where an indigent defendant asked for a lawyer, was denied, fought his case well, self-represented, but lost. The U.S. Supreme Court Ruled he was entitled to a court appointed lawyer, at the State’s expense, because he was facing a possible jail sentence. The story is chronicled in the famous little book, Gideon’s Trumpet. I recommend it.
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia , and the url:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_v._Wainwright ; and here is the reference to Gideon’s Trumpet:
Our U.S. Supreme Court just issued an important opinion which drew little attention from the Media. It affirmed big businesses’ ability to deny the right to trial by jury to injured consumers, binding them to ultra-expensive and ponderous mandatory arbitration which is described in tiny language buried in our credit card agreements.
Here is a quotation from ReedSmith.com:
On June 20, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 5-to-3 margin, that a group of merchants was bound by an arbitration agreement that prohibits them from bringing class action claims against American Express, even if the cost of arbitrating antitrust claims on an individual basis is prohibitive. American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, No. 12–133 (June 20, 2013) (“American Express“). The Court, in an opinion penned by Justice Scalia, concluded that nothing in the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) allows courts to invalidate a contractual waiver of class arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.
The average consumer should be VERY concerned, but is not. Fox won’t cover it, but neither will NBC or CNN. We are all so concerned with “jobs”, the economy, and our special interests that the right of the individual is considered to be “disposable”.
I have written an article on the death penalty. It is: http://hunterlawfirm.net/?p=379 . You probably think you can guess my views on same. You cannot.
I also had dear family members be the victim of violence, and threatened gun violence, and I have been threatened myself. So, I have thought carefully about the subject.
This post was written by Burton Hunter