Whether or not George Zimmerman will take the stand during his trial can be answered with three simple words: Not a chance. However, that doesn't mean the jury won't hear from him. In fact, they already have.
During the State's case in chief they have presented Zimmerman's statements multiple times. Generally, this would be the portion of the trial where one might find a defense attorney feverishly and fictitiously scribbling notes or taking gulps of water from his glass as he relentlessly attempts to avoid eye contact with the jury. The prosecution's presentation of the Defendant's statements are suppose to be incriminating and damaging. The prosecution's goal is to show incriminating admissions by the defendant, inconsistencies by the defendant and a general aim to portray the Defendant in a poor light to the jury. The prosecution has failed catastrophically in this regard. All of Zimmerman's statements have consistently supported Zimmerman's theory of Self Defense and all the witnesses have supported the logic and truthfulness of his statements.
Every defendant has the absolute right to remain silent. This is thanks to Fifth Amendment's right against self incrimination. No defendant can be forced to talk to the police or take the stand during trial. Likewise, all juries are instructed that, should the defendant opt to remain silent, they MUST not hold that decision against him. That said, there are times a defendant has little choice but to face the jury and speak on his own behalf. Often there is no witness or better witness other than the defendant himself to explain to a jury exactly what occurred that caused him to use force against the alleged victim. Fortunately, for Zimmerman, the state has presented witness after witness and statement after statement to support Zimmerman's theory of self defense. There is little to no reason at all for Zimmerman to take the stand.
While the Defense often needs the Defendant to take the stand in order to extract certain testimony, let us take a look at what the jury has already heard without Zimmerman saying a single word:
The state used Detective Serino to admit Zimmerman's statements. Through Zimmerman's own voice captured on video and statements he made to Serino, the jury heard how Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman. They heard how Trayvon was slamming Zimmerman's head into the concrete. They heard that Zimmerman was the voice screaming for help. They heard how Zimmerman was surprised no one came to his aide as a result of his cries. They heard that when Zimmerman was confronted with the notion the incident was caught on video, he exclaimed "thank god!" They heard a complete and total story of self defense. What's more, they heard that lead detective in the case believed Zimmerman to be telling the truth (ultimately the Judge ordered Serino's opinion about Zimmerman's truthfulness be disregarded by the Jury, but that's one bell which is hard to un-ring)
Further, Serino testified that he was working with all rankings of law enforcement, including the state attorney's office, to gather evidence. He went on to agree that he ultimately had "no physical evidence, witnesses, officers, no one fact anywhere" to contradict Zimmerman's story of self defense. Serino continued to testify that while he was under outside pressure to move the case forward, the "evidence fit into a self defense theory." The jury heard that Zimmerman remained fully cooperative over the course of weeks and multiple interviews and that ultimately there was "nothing major inconsistent." Essentially, the prosecution was so battered by Serino, that if this was football game, this would be the moment where the crowd starts to believe the game is over and walks out.
Officer singleton equally supported Zimmerman's claim of self defense. In fact, when Zimmerman expressed concerns over taking Trayvon's life, Singleton went on to say that if what Zimmerman was saying was true, there is nothing that says "you can't save your own life." What singleton never testified to, is any evidence to suggest Zimmerman was lying.
Mr. Good provided the most favorable defense evidence possible. Mr. Good testified he observed Trayvon on top of Zimmerman striking him MMA style. It's important to note how effective the use of the term "MMA" is. It allows for the jury to understand and characterize the strikes being thrown upon Zimmerman as purposeful and brutal as opposed to harmless and random swings. Zimmerman was being injured (and as Detective Serino graciously pointed out for the defense, injury is all Zimmerman needs to show as injuries need not actually be life threatening in order to employ self defense).
A funny thing happened on a way to a verdict, the prosecution called Mr. Osterman, Zimmerman's best friend. For the most part he simply confirmed Zimmerman's story of self defense with very minor inconsistencies. The inconsistency focused on by the state was whether or not Trayvon reached for Zimmerman's firearm. While this is in fact an inconsistency, the thing the Jury is likely to take from this witness is that, in the midst of chaos, regardless of whether or not Trayvon reached for Zimmerman's firearm, he was clearly was on top of Zimmerman and.... Zimmerman keeps good company (Mr. Osterman is a federal law enforcement officer).
As previously mentioned, a Defendant has the absolute right to remain silent. He also has the right for an attorney to speak on his behalf. This interview was a fundamental failure of both of those. The single most damaging statement that Zimmerman made was done so during this interview. He explained that he had never heard of Stand Your Ground law before. The state pounced on that by calling Zimmerman's former professor to testify that he was in fact taught extensively about the law and Zimmerman was a bright student. This unequivocally gives reason to question Zimmerman's credibility. However, aside from that one issue, the interview was largely another opportunity to repeat his version of the facts and belief he was acting in self defense. There was also a major point gained for the defense in this interview (again without Zimmerman having to say a word on the stand); the jury was able to view a slimmer and smaller Zimmerman.
Clearly, the evidence presented to the jury thus far has been exceptionally favorable to Zimmerman's theory of self defense. Without having to say a word he has said it all. If Zimmerman were to take the stand there would exists only a few potential benefits the defense could hope to gain. Perhaps he could clarify what he knew or did not know about Stand Your Ground law or clarify in what position he left Trayvon's body. However, essentially all of Zimmerman's story has already been told and the jury has heard him scream the proverbial cry, "I didn't do it!"
Most importantly, Zimmerman's statements were presented to the jury without exposure to cross examination. Should he take that stand, rest assured, that will change drastically. The prosecution will spend multiple hours painstakingly prodding him for inconsistencies. Additionally, essentially every witness thus far has liked Zimmerman and testified to his good nature. This is all the jury has to go on. If Zimmerman takes the stand, he risks spoiling the juries opinion of him. Some people just don't make good witnesses.
Ultimately whether or not Zimmerman testifies will be in his hands. The Defendant's right to testify at his own trial is firm. Regardless of his lawyers desire or opinion, the Defendant makes the final determination to testify or waive that right. To be certain that Zimmerman's decision to testify is free and without influence, the Judge will specifically address and question Zimmerman on his decision. That said, it would be hard to imagine he doesn't heed the advice of his attorneys and remain silent. Putting Zimmerman on the stand would be tantamount to putting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the game when the Packers are up 64-0 in the fourth quarter. Yes there is a chance he scores a few more unneeded points, but mostly all he would be doing is risking debilitating injury.
Written by Orlando criminal defense attorney Lyle B. Mazin