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Friday, July 26, 2013

Post Verdict Depression

  A second juror has exercised her right to speak out.  Standard Jury Instructions in Florida tell jurors they can talk with anyone they like or no one at all, it is their decision alone.  People within the court system come to understand the process over time, we are somewhat steeled against the frailties of a human system.  As we should all know, humans aren't perfect and, therefore, their systems aren't either.

  For this juror to ignore the truth of the outcome is somewhat revisionist.  First and foremost, George Zimmerman is not guilty of murder!  A jury of his peers, of whom she was one, has said he isn't.  He might be, could be, possibly is are all speculative assertions that have no place in a courtroom.  I always discuss that with a jury in closing arguments.  Each one of those positions equals "NOT GUILTY" in a legal sense.

  What this latest juror is experiencing is the regret that a young man died, another man ten years older killed him and in the eyes of the law as it stands in Florida, and most of the "common law" countries of the world, he is not guilty of a crime.  The verdict form in Florida ends with something along the lines of "so say we all" to verify that the verdict is unanimous.    Judges offer for either side to have the jury polled following the return of the verdict.  Judge Nelson did so in this trial.  This juror told the world it was her verdict.  Shame on any juror that returns a verdict that is not the truth. Innocent people can end up convicted and serving time and guilty people can go free.

  Now, if what the juror meant to say is that neither of the charges, murder in the second degree or manslaughter, were proven "beyond and to the exclusion of each and every reasonable doubt" then she was right.  This new and improved moral judgment, exclaimed to the world on national TV, is some manner of search for peace in her soul.  It also, in my opinion, crosses that biblical line of "judge not...!"  None of us were there with Messrs. Zimmerman and Martin!  None of us knows who the physical aggressor was!  The job of a juror in a criminal trial is not to make moral judgments but to serve as the "judge of the facts" and apply the law as given to them to those same facts.  Nothing more and nothing less!

  The question that comes to my mind is whether or not these people that are speaking out, the two jurors so far, are being compensated for telling their stories on these so called "news" shows?  If they are I think the networks and cable channels have an obligation to make that known so the viewing public can review their stories through the same "prism" the talking heads discussed on all the "post-game" Monday morning quarterbacking shows.  If they are telling their story as part of their feeling of an obligation to let the public know that is one thing.  If they are being paid then they are no better than the carnival hawkers of old and shame on them! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jury System Works

  Picked a jury on Monday in Jacksonville.  A simple battery, misdemeanor, no big deal.  Except it was a big deal!  Juan Martinez is a family man who is 25 years old, not native born and works in the produce business - picking in the fields and selling in the farmer's market in Jax.  Never been in trouble in his life, a life that is work from can't to can't.  That is can't see in the morning until you can't see at night.  He is living the American Dream making a home for his wife and two kids, seeing that the children are educated and he is up and at it before dawn seven days a week.

  While the jury was deliberating the Judge informed me he would be taken into custody, in all likelihood, if found guilty.  Nothing like a little pressure to add to the worries of waiting for a jury to come out with a verdict.

  The State had three witnesses, one a JSO officer and two females who had never met but frequented a motel bar on the westside of Jax.  I was unable to speak with jurors after the verdict but had to believe the character of the two ladies were the telling factor along with their ever changing and improving version of events.  Their stories crossed each other only in the geographical location and the identity of this terrible sex driven man who brutalized one of them.

  Two witnesses, a police officer who arrested Mr. Martinez, admissions of alcohol consumption, what more could prosecutors ask for in a case?  The answer itself was simple - truthful witnesses!

  The uproar over the Zimmerman verdict isn't being replicated here because there is no Al Sharpton or Benjamin Crump to thump their chests, ignore the facts and scream from the top of the bell tower how unjust the system is all in the pursuit of the "great green American."  You will rarely find a defense lawyer who says the system is unbiased or blind in its treatment of defendants.  But, what you will find is prosecutors who have witnesses that aren't truthful, or disrespectful, or rude or exhibiting a number of other behaviors that are offensive.  I believe such behavior benefited Mr. Martinez in that jurors did their job in evaluating the witnesses and found their credibility to be greatly lacking.  The fact they had each led lives of criminal activity was, I have to believe, certainly a contributing factor.  The fact they lied about some little things, either at the time of the incident or in court, had to be another.

  Just like Rachel Jeantel in her Zimmerman trial testimony, the behavior of a witness is a factor.  Maybe a factor of great weight!  Had Ms. Jeantel behaved on the stand as she has on the TV shows where Piers Morgan and Nancy Grace pandered to her like the long lost savior of humanity the verdict may have been different.  Her story may have held water like a bucket rather than a sieve had she shown respect for the system and, more importantly, herself and her deceased friend.

  No, I don't expect Mr. Martinez to be the focus of marches, attacks on legislation or sit-ins at the governor's office.  But, I do wake to another day where my faith in the jury system has been bolstered anew by six honest citizens doing their constitutional duties and protecting individual rights against the government.  God has truly blessed America!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Response to Verdict

     It has been roughly twelve hours since the verdict in the State of Florida vs. Zimmerman was returned.  The response has been amazing!  People across the country are weighing in without any concern for the truth as it has now become known.

     There was "never, ever," to quote Mark O'Mara, a case of second degree murder against GZ!  Simple, cold and hard truth that the facts weren't there for the State's run at GZ.  Thank God for the Mark O'Maras and Don Wests of the world, along with all the behind the scene lawyers, clerks and paralegals that were doing the yeoman's work that kept them afloat for all these weeks.

     A jury of competent citizens, GZ's peers if you will, found the evidence presented by the State to be inadequate in the end.  There was no proof that GZ did anything illegal or that would have legally prevented his claim of self-defense.  Both he and Trayvon Martin were legally allowed to be where they were.  GZ did what a responsible person would do, he called law enforcement.  What was not permissible was the use of any violence, one toward the other, that escalated to the point of necessity for self-defense.  The commentators ignore the facts that there were other possibilities for TM - 9-1-1, knock on a neighbors door, shouting for help before a confrontation occurred - that he chose not to avail himself of.  It was a fatal mistake that will impact the community, the families and our nation as a whole.

     GZ will never spend another day without this weighing upon his conscience.  Prosecutor McDreamy was right, the blood of TM will always be on GZ's hands.  I don't believe anyone who has taken another person's life ever forgets!  Look at the soldiers, law enforcement officers and others who are put in a position of taking a life.  They all carry that burden for ever!   GZ will be no different and I hope it doesn't result in a downward personal spiral that others will use to justify their attacks on him.

     All of these public figures making claims of disgust, shock and stupefication at the result are false prophets of false claims perpetrated by lawyers on a mission to capture the brass ring of millions in fees.  Benjamin Crump could not wait for the system to perform its duties!  No, he had to try and drive the bus.  Crump used PR spin an attack on the reputation of others to attempt to crawl up the ladder of financial returns for his own benefit.  Where is the ill will of Singleton, Serino or Lee in all of this?  What about the 18th Circuit SAO?  Did they stand to derive a benefit from allowing this death to go unprosecuted?  The answer to those questions is a resounding NO!  Crump on the other hand is looking for a payday that justified, in his mind, skewing the process and stirring the pot of racial hatred and tension to increase the likelihood of return.

     This is not the simple story of a young man going to the store for skittles and a soda.  It is the story of a young man who was new to a neighborhood and not recognized by a member of that community.  Is that profiling?  I don't know but for the sake of argument lets just assume it is.  From there what happened?  The million dollar question that a jury resolved last night, after what was obviously a well considered and long discussed decision, is that it was a reasonable belief that self-defense was necessary!  The evidence of injuries to GZ and his version of the events, somewhat bolstered by the testimony of Rachel Jeantel, tell a story much different than that being related by the people who have been misled by the Crumps in this tragic story.

     All of the attempts to skew the process were for naught.  Yes, they cost GZ, his family and Seminole County a year and a half of problems, worry and concern.  But the end result was the long established common law claim of self-defense was again upheld under facts peculiar to this case.  Claims of racial prejudice herein are baseless unless we are going to say every interaction between people of different ethnic backgrounds, no matter the result, are racially based!  I say that is balderdash pure and simple , nothing more and nothing less.

     There will always be people who utilize whatever technique is available to further their causes.  That does not make it right!  Whether they are haters or profiteers they are wrong and when they cause strife in society for their own ends they are even worse.  There is no room in a free, mature society for these people to walk around without responsibility and blame for their actions.  They need to be held accountable, just as GZ was.  He weathered the tests he was subjected to, I hardly think Crump et al could do the same.

     Keep TM's family, along with GZ's, in your prayers!  They each need closure and an opportunity to move on.   Stand up and be counted in making this case be the start of an improvement in our society and let the race baiters, haters and profiteers drown in their own bile.  The beauty of America is we can be better and we should each try daily to make that happen.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Zimmerman Trial

     Having followed this incident since a day or two after the actual encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin I have read so much information and heard so many talking heads discuss the facts that I feel I could recite the events verbatim.  However, my thoughts here are from afar and not fully informed since all my information has come from the media sources that everyone else has also had access to during this seventeen to eighteen months.

     Evidently that portion of Seminole County had trouble with property crimes and it had caused enough of a concern that a Neighborhood Watch program had to be initiated.  That in itself is not to be treated lightly because citizens and professionals in law enforcement had to come together to make that happen.  Next GZ is part of the "watch" program and the neighborhood is comparatively compact so anyone living there should be fairly familiar with the premises and those who frequent them.

     That theory, right or wrong, means someone who has just arrived in the neighborhood and is not known to the other residents will stand out.  A young man of any color or creed walking around alone, after dark in the rain, would reasonably be out of place to a regular resident when he hasn't resided there for any significant length of time.  Nothing about the circumstances up to this point is out of sync with rational thought to me.

     Even though GZ wasn't "on duty" as a "watch" person he was out and about and saw something out of the ordinary.  Think about what we are told on the news almost daily - report anything that seems suspicious to you.  GZ did just that!  But, he went further and followed the unknown young man, going as far as getting out of his car to continue following.  Sensible?  Probably not!  Illegal?  Absolutely not!

     From that point forward no one knows what happened between the two.  We have the testimony of the young lady, Rachel Jeantel, who was on the phone with TM and her one side of the events from down in south Florida.  Unlike the jury, we also know about pictures on TM's phone, some messages he sent, his school status, prior behavior and the presence of marijuana in his system.  They do not paint a picture of a young man that is exemplary by anyone's standards.  Neither do they paint a picture of a gangster, a criminal or a person of such a violent nature that one would have trembled in his presence.

     We do have Ms. Jeantel's version of the sound of someone being struck which somewhat coincides with GZ's version.  She also told us TM was close to his father's then current residence.  Why he did not go inside and report the incident to his father is a great unknown.  Why didn't he hang up from Ms. Jeantel and call 911 if he was experiencing the greatest fear of any child - a stranger following him home - is another.  You can draw a number of conclusions from those failures to act in what I would believe to have been a rational manner.  None of the conclusions I would draw from that would support the idea that TM was a "frightened child" attempting to flee a pursuer.  During my career I have represented too many young men of his age group that are all "ten feet tall and bulletproof!"  Youth has a certain lack of ability to rationally perceive circumstances that crosses all socioeconomic strata.  Personally, I hate dealing with teenagers because of their inability to understand that actions have consequences and the shock they express at learning that lesson.

     At this point in time nothing had yet been done by anyone that was illegal.  Even if there were an exchange of words between the two there was nothing outside of the law as it is known to me.  Something changed quickly though and erupted in a way that no one in their circle of families and friends will ever forget.

     From the evidence as we know it there was no physical evidence of hitting TM.  No black eyes, broken noses, cut head.  The only injury I have heard referenced is the bullet hole that led to his death.   GZ, on the other hand, had a broken nose, blackened and swollen eyes, cuts to the back of his head, wet jacket and grass or other debris on his back.  Logic indicates, from those facts alone, that TM was the physical aggressor.  Whatever went before, right or wrong, is indicative of no criminal behavior by GZ.

     The legal question that then is left is whether or not his fears leading to his use of a firearm were reasonable.  No other issues are of true import, no matter what Crump et al have to opine.  No matter what the SAO argues about blood on GZ's hands.  Those are emotional presentations that are inappropriate in the legal arena.

     An overriding issue that has weighed upon my mind since learning it is why TM's father, who was residing in the neighborhood where he died, never heard any of the commotion - gunshot, police, fire and rescue, people talking and moving about in the seemingly compact neighborhood.  Finally, why did he wait until the next day to report his minor son missing?  I don't consider that to be a rational act of a parent!

     The tragedy is that young men the age of TM are prosecuted routinely for adult crimes.  Our society has seen an increase in this kind of activity both by the young men and by the justice system and has turned a blind eye to the development.  It needs to stop, from both sides!

     I cannot predict the verdict and will not pretend to have a crystal ball that gives me an advantage over non-lawyers.  There were six people in the jury box.  My prayers are with them!  I pray for justice every day and will continue to do so until I no longer have the ability for rational thought.

Criminal Trial as Sport

Criminal trial as Sport

     It is 0830 Saturday July 13, 2013.  That is important because it is 30 minutes before the jury in the Zimmerman trial returns to the courthouse in Sanford.  This could be a day that becomes historic in the modern annals of America.  I want to write before the verdict is returned because it is important to me that there be no perception that a verdict had any impact on my thoughts and positions regarding this matter.  At some time, I am sure, I will feel the necessity to record my ideas on what and why the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident occurred and escalated to this position of importance.

     Many years ago our system of government was established with an eye to keeping a judiciary, and therefore the judicial system, separate from the other influences that government was subject to on a daily basis.  Those brilliant thinkers could have never foreseen the impact of the modern media because it has gone well beyond the pamphleteers of their day.  We suffer immediate and continuous inundation on every topic known to humanity while they often waited weeks, or even months, for news of the latest developments.

     I spoke with a lawyer who I hold in high esteem, and who was part of the defense team that represented Casey Anthony, in court the other day.  She was then, and now, not one to be drawn to the cameras like a moth to the flame of a candle and played the most important part in the acquittal of Ms. Anthony because she was the brains behind the jury selection and was responsible for the punishment portion of the case should it have come to that.  Anyway, she opined that she didn't think it proper for lawyers to be commenting on trials in which they play no role.  That is a position we share and I have offered many times.  Her co-counsel though do not share her ethical approach to what lawyers are supposed to do.  The exposure, or face time as they call it, on national television shows is more important than the oath we all took to be members of the bar.

     The lawyers I mention first because without them the television networks would be without any "color commentators" ala Harry Caray, Vin Sculley or Brent Musberger.  But, TV executives are just as culpable for this modern phenomenon, and, like the nattering nabobs, all in the quest for the almighty green American dollars.  This has led to a bastardization of the process we call "criminal justice."  The spin doctors are in control and if you don't believe it look back to the beginnings of this matter.  I was aware of this incident from the first time it made the news in central Florida because my daughter was a student there, and probably unbeknownst to her, scoured the websites for the events surrounding her community just to assure myself of her relative safety.  As a parent, a holder of a concealed weapons permit and a criminal defense lawyer I had a great deal of interest in this matter and the first time she mentioned it to me over the phone I had been fighting the urge to form my opinions and maintain an open mind.

     The local officials were proceeding with the investigation in a professional and workmanlike manner that did not meet the needs of a society that feeds on immediacy.  That caused alarms to go off for people who had no working knowledge of the criminal justice system and they decided they would go about directing the path this case should follow to meet their own desires.  The pictures of Trayvon Martin went from the 17 y.o. young man to a 13, 14 or 15 year old kid.  Information about his disappointing behaviors became as scarce as hen's teeth and the opposite became the case for George Zimmerman.  The national news media leaped on board like it was the last life boat leaving the Titanic.  The victim of this conscious decision to "direct" justice wasn't just Zimmerman it was our system and society as a whole.

     Never having had to suffer through trying a TV case I have never been subject to the pressures of satisfying the public with my brilliance and cute sayings that make headlines.  However, when the prosecution, knowing the cameras are rolling, refers to the poor 17 y.o. child like they have never prosecuted teens even younger for crimes more heinous it makes you retch.  This is the same office that prosecuted a 12 y.o as an adult and was proud of it!  Maybe that was truly a pursuit of justice but, if so, their presentation in this TV trial is a perversion of that same pursuit.  Television effects many things in different ways - some positive some not!

     There needs to be a revisiting of courtroom procedures and processes for trials that end up a modern day Roman Circus.  Criminal trials should not be entertainment and they should not be commented on by lawyers with no skin in the game other than their TV exposure and whatever paycheck they get for their efforts.