The legal team representing George Zimmerman in the high-profile Trayvon Martin case opted to waive his right to an immunity hearing under Florida’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground Law.’
Under Florida’s SYG statute, an individual who invokes the self-defense law that allows one to use deadly force against an attacker if one reasonably believes his or her life is in danger is entitled to a pre-trial hearing before a judge.
At the SYG hearing, a judge can drop the criminal charges and grant immunity from civil prosecution if the defense attorney provides clear and convincing evidence that the his or her client acted in self-defense.
The decision to forgo the SYG hearing and put the case before a jury was deliberate and something that Zimmerman’s lead attorney, Mark O’Mara, had been planning since early March.
“We decided to focus on the idea that George wants to have a jury of his peers decide his case,” O’Mara told reporters last month, according to the Associated Press. “And it’s going to be, I think, a more accepted result for everyone who has to accept the result — that he gets an acquittal at trial, more so than an immunity hearing given by a judge.”
On Tuesday, before Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson it was made official. Zimmerman told the judge he would not request a bench mini-trial.
However, that does not mean that O’Mara is prohibited from invoking SYG during the trial itself as a way to exonerate Zimmerman, who faces second-degree murder chargers for fatally shooting 17-year-old Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, in February of 2012.
Legal experts have argued that it makes strategic sense for Zimmerman’s defense to waive the SYG immunity hearing.
“If you’re not 100 percent sure you’re going to win the ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing, you just end up telling the state what your defense is and you’ve got nothing with which to surprise the state at trial,” University of Florida law professor Bob Dekle told the Christian Science Monitor. “What you want to do at trial is catch the state with their britches down.”
Yet, attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Martin family, interpreted the situation differently.
“We believe the defense’s decision to waive a pre-trial hearing and to merge the Stand Your Ground Hearing into the trial is to prevent putting George Zimmerman on the stand and to preclude the public and the potential jury pool from previewing the many inconsistencies in George Zimmerman’s story,” Crump said.
Crump added that the decision “vindicates the many thousands of protesters who demanded George Zimmerman be arrested for the killing of Trayvon Martin. After all, to have a felony criminal trial an arrest must first be made.”
In court, there were some fireworks between prosecutors and Zimmerman’s defense over witness 8, who was believed to be Martin’s girlfriend and the last person he spoke to before he was killed. The defense asked the judge to sanction the prosecution for not immediately communicating that witness 8 lied about her whereabouts during the funeral.
In the end, the Judge ruled the following, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel:
•That Zimmerman would get a copy of a $1 million-plus settlement Trayvon’s parents received in a wrongful-death claim against Zimmerman’s homeowners association. The public will have to make do with an edited version.
•And that she will decide after the trial whether prosecutors should have to cough up several thousand dollars that defense attorneys say they’re due because of time they wasted trying to track down information the state did not disclose.
The trail is scheduled to begin on June 10 and is expected to last four-to-six weeks, half of which will be spent selecting a jury. In the end, it appears O’Mara is supremely confident that his case is one of simple self-defense.
“Trayvon Martin was not profiled because he was black,” said O’Mara. “George Zimmerman is not a racist. … What happened that night is that George Zimmerman did nothing wrong, that he was attacked by Trayvon Martin.”