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
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