Posts Tagged ‘Martin-Zimmerman case’

“We know only one category as prosecutors, and that is a ‘V.’…It’s ‘V,’ for victim”.

Monroe Freedman lines up Angela Corey’s press conference — in which she spoke of “our precious victims,” talked of having prayed with the Martin family, and suggested that her investigators had established “the facts” and “the truth” regarding the guilt of George Zimmerman — against the code of ethics. Earlier on the prosecution affidavit here [expanded and retitled 8:30 a.m. Apr. 16].

Martin/Zimmerman: the Murder Two rap

Dan Markel at Prawfsblawg is wondering whether second-degree murder amounts to overcharging the case given the state of the evidence and the prosecutor’s affidavit: “I have no special insight into [prosecutor Angela] Corey’s evidence files but I sure hope she knows more than we do. Otherwise, a murder charge seems like a terrific injustice.”

Relatedly, Tom Maguire at Just One Minute explains his reasons for doubting that Corey has developed breakthrough evidence in the investigation so far. David French and Andrew McCarthy at NRO take sharply different views of how well the prosecution affidavit supports its charge.

And Ken at Popehat isn’t impressed at all by the prosecution’s handiwork so far: “The affidavit is argumentative, it’s conclusory, and it lacks attribution. … This is not the worst affidavit I’ve ever seen — but it’s damn close, and the decision to proceed based on it in such a high-profile case is stunning. … There’s no way that a judge reading this affidavit can make an intelligent or informed decision about the sufficiency of the evidence — even for the low hurdle of probable cause.”

More: Jeralyn Merritt on the affidavit’s unsupported assertions [via Balko] And via Steele, Legal Ethics Forum: George Conk “sensed trouble when Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced she would not convene a grand jury, skipping the first means of testing one’s evidence and demonstrating recognition of the citizenry’s right to [gauge] the conduct of prosecutors.” “Zimmerman should not be charged, nor sitting in a county detention, based on this document; yet there he is.” [Empty Wheel] Yet more: Radley Balko on the unchecked charging power of prosecutor [HuffPo]

Misleading audio clips and media transparency

In one of the standout instances of media misconduct during the run-up to the recent furor, NBC repeatedly aired, on “Today” and other shows, audio footage misleadingly edited so as to advance the proposition that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin because of his race [Erik Wemple, Washington Post] While announcing that it had fired the unnamed producer it considered responsible, NBC was less than forthcoming about other details of the scandal, which — as Mickey Kaus points out — may have had a lot to do with its lawyers’ concerns about minimizing a possible defamation payout: “Like other tort laws, libel laws are in practice the enemy of transparency.”

Some have recalled the scandal in which “Dateline NBC” aired footage of supposedly exploding GM cars that in fact had been rigged with incendiary devices. But I’m actually more put in mind of a less celebrated media disgrace from the same era, the Texaco Tapes pseudo-scandal, in which (as I recount here) the New York Times and other outlets avidly promoted systematic misreadings of audiotapes in a hotly disputed racial-bias case, and failed to engage in adequate (or, really, any) soul-searching when the misreadings came to be exposed. In the Martin/Zimmerman case the questionable audio readings included the “two-shot” account influentially advanced by the New York Times when the case first broke nationally, and the supposed racial slur which dominated coverage for a couple of days before being (if the prosecutor’s affidavit is any indication) discreetly laid to rest.

More: Speaking of the New York Times, you have to wonder whether that paper has some sort of stylebook rule requiring it to keep misreporting what Stand Your Ground laws do [Jacob Sullum, more, earlier] And Tom Maguire notes that the paper’s latest editorial appear to be backing off its earlier assertions that the Zimmerman case will hinge on the state’s curtailing of the old “duty to retreat”: “The duty to retreat evidently extends to Times editors.” He also wonders whether, on the much-discussed question of whether Zimmerman flouted the advice of a 911 operator, the NYT editorialists read their own paper. Yet more: Maguire collects the media myths.

I have a new post at Cato rounding up many of my recent writings and broadcast appearances on the subject, under the title, “Why Is Press Coverage of the Martin/Zimmerman Case So Bad?”

Lawyers who “continue to make irresponsible statements to the media”

When two lawyers who initially represented George Zimmerman bailed out at a much criticized press conference, a Martin family lawyer reacted as follows:

Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Martin’s family, said these lawyers “continue to make irresponsible statements to the media.” In a statement obtained by NBC News she said, “Not only have they spoken recklessly about racial issues, enflaming passions and reinforcing stereotypes,” now they’ve thrown “their own client, George Zimmerman, under the bus by [alluding] to his possible flight from justice.”

Yes, it would be nice if attorneys involved with the case refrained from making irresponsible statements to the media, speaking recklessly about racial issues and inflaming passions. It should be noted that this is the same attorney Natalie Jackson who, with colleague Benjamin Crump, promoted the “cold blood” or “two shots” account of the case that was influentially picked up by the New York Times’s Lizette Alvarez on March 17 and then by much of the rest of the press:

On the recordings, one shot, an apparent warning or miss, is heard, followed by a voice begging or pleading, and a cry. A second shot is then heard, and the pleading stops.

“It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood,” said Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family lawyers.

Soon thereafter, the Orlando Sentinel found that only one bullet had been fired from Zimmerman’s gun. While indirectly acknowledging the problems with the audio — put more bluntly, the first “shot” was imaginary — the Times has appended no correction regarding the “two shots” account, though it has corrected an unrelated error in the Lizette Alvarez story.

Tom Maguire at Just One Minute has been all over media misreporting of the Martin/Zimmerman case, including the two-shots account. He points out that a large number of memes unfavorable to Zimmerman, and which turned out to need revision or correction in later coverage, originated with the Martin family’s lawyers, particularly Benjamin Crump. That would include Zimmerman’s allegedly huge weight advantage over Martin, the supposed “racial slur” that dominated coverage for a few days, and the negligence of the Sanford police department in still (“unbelievably,” says Emily Bazelon) not having interviewed Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, who allegedly “heard him get pushed” over a cellphone (when in fact the family’s lawyers had instructed her not to cooperate). Related here (on civil suit against homeowners’ association).

I would not place any bets that with Zimmerman’s original lawyers out of the case we will now be spared irresponsible or racially inflammatory lawyering.

Zimmerman in custody, charged with second degree murder

Coverage everywhere.

Of the continuing efforts in many quarters to demonize “Stand Your Ground” law, despite mounting indications that it will not make the difference in determining George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence at trial (on which see my Cato colleague Tim Lynch’s writing here and here, as well as mine), Ann Althouse asks: “Why inject an inapplicable, controversial issue? To inflame passions? To skew judgment? To take any opportunity/nonopportunity to push your pet issue?”

The thing is, “Stand Your Ground” hadn’t really been a pet issue one way or the other for many of those who now harp on it. I think the better answer is: because many people yearn for ways to blame their ideological opponents when something awful happens. It’s much more satisfying to do that than to wind up wasting one’s blame on some individual or local police department for actions or decisions that might not even turn out to be motivated by ideology.

Consider, for example, the efforts to set up the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council as somehow the ultimate villain in the Martin shooting. Left-wing groups, assisted by labor union and trial lawyer interests, had been pursuing a campaign against ALEC for months before the Martin case, in hopes of making the group radioactive among generally liberal donors like the Gates Family Foundation and the Coca-Cola Co. Nothing had worked — until the synthetic Stand Your Ground furor finally afforded an opening.

A further note on justifiable-homicide stats

I observed yesterday that the numbers on rising “justifiable homicide” rates

represent not a rise in the rate at which some group is getting killed — as mentioned, homicide rates per capita in Florida are down from 2005, not up, and violent crime rates in the state are sharply down — but rather successful assertions of self-defense, in other words, a shift from one category of homicide to another.

From Clayton Cramer’s Blog, this clarification of the point:

As I pointed out in my book Firing Back, the UCR justifiable homicide numbers are based on initial police reports, and are not corrected as subsequent police investigation, district attorney investigation, grand jury deliberations, or trial cause revision of criminal charges to justifiable or excusable homicide.

If so, then both the “before” and the “after” numbers may be capturing only cases of justification successfully asserted at the initial police stage, and missing some cases in which defendants have successfully asserted justifiability at a later stage. Cramer also speculates further:

What we may be seeing here is not that justifiable homicides are actually increasing (although they may be), but that many killings that were initially considered crimes, but were later corrected to justifiable or excusable homicide, are now being declared justifiable much earlier in the process.

More at Shall Not Be Questioned, which takes the view that “CD [Castle Doctrine] and SYG don’t honestly change much, and in most states, is just adjusting the statutes to match what juries will routinely decide in most of these cases.”

Washington Post keeps missing point on Stand Your Ground

I’ve got a new opinion piece up at the Daily Caller correcting some of the Washington Post’s persistent misconceptions about self-defense law, on both its editorial and reporting sides. Sample:

… how [Post reporters] Fisher and Eggen do stack their lead anecdote. Their opening paragraphs tell of a youth who innocently “knocked at the wrong door” and was greeted by an irate homeowner who, seemingly without reason or provocation, blasted him in the chest, only to be set free by the police, since in Florida, the victim’s father sorrowfully avers, it seems “the shooter’s word is the law.”

Pretty horrifying, right? It takes 17 paragraphs of unrelated matter before the first scraps of the other side of the story emerge: it was 4 a.m. and the youth, bipolar and “blitzed” on alcohol that night, was ignoring repeated pleas to leave a property with a young mother and baby inside; the husband/shooter (whom the Post never managed to reach for his side of the story) told police that he had asked his wife to call 911, which hadn’t shown up; that he had warned the intruder many times, and fired only after being “lurched” at; he was then arrested, “but Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia concluded that his actions were ‘justified.’”

You can read the whole thing here.

Also, correspondent Lee Pacchia interviewed me at Bloomberg Law about the law’s application to the Trayvon Martin case in a 9 minute+ segment posted today. More commentary from my Cato Institute colleague Tim Lynch at Jurist. Earlier here.

Podcast on “Stand Your Ground” laws

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, I correct some of the flagrant misconceptions that keep circulating about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and in particular discuss why the law makes no difference at all (under current evidence) in assessing George Zimmerman’s legal guilt or innocence in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Earlier/background here. And Eugene Volokh has a great post here on the nature of the supposed “duty to retreat,” which I mention in the podcast, with more here.

April 6 roundup

  • “Help, I left my kids to wait in the car for less than five minutes, now I’m on trial for child endangerment” [Skenazy] “N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Outlawing Kids Under 8 Waiting in Cars” [same]
  • “Greek court dismisses charges against German magazine for denigrating national symbol” [AP]
  • Pre-clearance for financial innovation, as with drugs and the FDA? Bad idea [Mark Calabria/Cato, The Economist, Thom Lambert]
  • NYT, Reuters misreport effect of Stand Your Ground laws [Jacob Sullum, Robert VerBruggen/NRO, earlier here, etc.]
  • “Attorney advises against talking to Baltimore Sun in email mistakenly sent to Baltimore Sun” [Andrew Beaujon, Poynter]
  • Ken at Popehat knows how to pick his enemies [first, second, third posts, Philly Law Blog]
  • “Now Can We Start Talking About the Real Foxconn?” [Tim Culpan, Bloomberg]