Zimmerman’s Criminal Attorneys Argue Martin Was Violent

Jacksonville criminal lawyers and attorneys all over the state have been following the Trayvon Martin shooting.  This is mainly due to the fact that Florida’s stand your ground law was thrown into the middle of a national controversy.  Read Florida Self-Defense Case with a Firearm Results in Protest Over Florida Shooting and Florida Self Defense Law Stands Its Ground a Year After Trayvon Martin’s Shooting for more information about the Zimmerman case.

George Zimmerman shot Martin on February 26, 2012.  Martin was not armed.  The case rest upon whether or not Zimmerman acted properly under Florida’s self defense laws.  When Florida criminal attorneys are arguing self defense, they can bring in evidence to show that the victim was the original aggressor.  Florida criminal lawyers are not aloud to bring in character evidence, unless there is an exception to the rule.  When it comes to a self defense case where the defendant is claiming that the victim was the violent one, evidence to show that the victim is a violent person is admissible.  The Florida law that states this is Section 90.404(1)(b).  This law states:

“Evidence of a person’s character or a trait of character is inadmissible to prove action in conformity with it on a particular occasion, except….evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the victim of the crime offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the trait.”

It appears that Zimmerman’s attorneys are trying to take that route.  They want to place Martin’s character at issue.  Action News of Jacksonville reported:

“Attorneys for George Zimmerman have released another round of evidence that include multiple photos and texts from Trayvon Martin’s cellphone, as well as school records and videos.  Zimmerman has maintained he shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin in self-defense as the teen was attacking him near his Sanford home. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges.  Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, could use in Zimmerman’s defense several videos that were extracted from Martin’s cellphone, as well as several videos from the Miami Dade Schools Police Department and Martin’s school records.”

In self defense cases, Florida attorneys will only be able to bring in character evidence of the victim if it is relevant to show that the victim had a propensity for violence.  The videos and pictures that Zimmerman’s defense lawyers want to use must show that Martin was a violent person.  This would make it more likely that he was being violent on the night that he was shot.  Thereby making it more likely that Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense.  However, specific act evidence is not permissible.

Action News listed the evidence that the defense released stating:

“The photos are in sharp contrast to the ones of Martin that were released soon after his shooting death.  One of the photos shows Martin blowing smoke and others show what appear to be a marijuana plant.  There are also photos of someone holding a Glock handgun, but it’s unclear if the hand in the image is Martin’s.  There are also dozens of text messages the defense said it could present as evidence in Zimmerman’s trial.  One of the text messages retrieved from Martin’s cellphone shows a message he sent to someone saying his mother had kicked him out of the house because police caught him out of school. Martin also said a teacher accused him of hitting someone during a fight in school…. Other evidence includes multiple emails and a video that was posted to Martin’s YouTube channel.”

As a Jacksonville criminal attorney, the only thing that I see that is relevant is the text message that states, “Martin also said a teacher accused him of hitting someone during a fight in school.”  This would go towards violence.  It appears that the defense wants to enter the evidence showing that Martin smoked marijuana.  Even if Martin had a Jacksonville possession of marijuana conviction, I do not think that would be relevant as to Martin’s propensity for violence.  The prosecution has asked the judge to not permit evidence of Martin’s prior drug use.  O’Mara is asking the “judge to deny prosecutors’ request that the teen’s marijuana use be off limits. He filed a motion Monday claiming that Martin likely was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death in February 2012.  Attorney Don West said that could be relevant to a jury evaluating Martin’s actions the night he was shot.”  Does marijuana use makes someone more violent?  I would need to see a connection, such as a witness that will testify that Martin was violent when he smoked marijuana.  There must also be evidence to show that Martin was likely under the influence of marijuana at the time he was shot.  The autopsy may have noted this.

At the end of the day, I think that this type of evidence would be excluded based on the evidence code for character evidence which I quoted above.  It is not reputation evidence and Zimmerman did not know about the specific acts.  Here is a Florida case that helps explain it:

“A defendant’s testimony that he or she knew about specific acts of violence committed by the victim is relevant to show, as asserted here, the reasonableness of the defendant’s apprehension to support a self-defense claim. §§ 90.404(1)(b)(1), .405(2), Fla.Stat. (1985). E.g., Palm v. State, 135 Fla. 258, 184 So. 881 (1938); Sanchez v. State, 445 So.2d 1 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984); Smith v. State, 410 So.2d 579 (Fla. 4th DCA), review denied, 419 So.2d 1200 (Fla.1982); Williams v. State, 252 So.2d 243 (Fla. 4th DCA), cert. denied, 255 So.2d 682 (Fla.1971). Testimony that other people knew of specific acts of violence committed by the victim is not relevant because it sheds no light on the defendant’s state of mind; it shows only that the victim had a propensity for violence. See Taylor v. State, 513 So.2d 1371 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987). Although reputation evidence may be valid for that purpose, ‘specific act’ evidence is not. § 90.405, Fla.Stat.; see, e.g., Smith, 410 So.2d at 580–81. However, ‘specific act’ testimony of third parties may be admissible as corroborative evidence if it is first shown that the defendant knew about the very same acts of violence. Such corroborative evidence should be admitted cautiously in light of the need to limit evidence of specific acts because, inter alia, a jury may tend to give the evidence too much weight, or it may sidetrack the jury’s focus. See generally C. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 405.3 (2d ed. 1984). ” State v. Smith, 573 So. 2d 306, 318 (Fla. 1990)

Comments are closed.