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The Corner

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Some Notes on the Martin Case



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Two quick things.

One, regarding the allegation of the Left that the release of information about Trayvon Martin’s character amounts to “blaming the victim,” here’s Florida’s law about when character evidence is admissible in court:

(1) CHARACTER EVIDENCE GENERALLY.—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:

. . .

(b) Character of victim.—

1. Except as provided in [a statute regarding sexual battery], 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; or

2. Evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the victim was the aggressor. 

Basically, Zimmerman’s lawyer will be able to talk about Martin’s character, the prosecution will be able to rebut any arguments made, and the prosecution will be able to present evidence of Martin’s peacefulness if the charge is homicide and Zimmerman claims Martin was the aggressor.

Also, given how much racial tension the incident has stoked, some might be curious about the race of the involved Sanford police personnel. The chief, who temporarily resigned, is white, as is the lead investigator on the case. The first officer in charge of the scene, Anthony Raimondo, has an Italian name and was involved in an alleged cover-up of a previous incident (in which the son of a police lieutenant punched a homeless black man). An officer who filed a report in the case has a Hispanic name, Ricardo Ayala. I’ve been able to verify visually that two other officers mentioned in the reports are white; the others have last names of McCoy, Smith, Mead, and Wagner.

UPDATE: A Twitter commenter alerts me to the following section of the Florida evidence rules:

(2) OTHER CRIMES, WRONGS, OR ACTS.—

(a) Similar fact evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is admissible when relevant to prove a material fact in issue, including, but not limited to, proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident, but it is inadmissible when the evidence is relevant solely to prove bad character or propensity.

Here’s how a Florida law firm’s site summarizes the relevant distinctions:

 

A Defendant can . . . introduce evidence regarding a relevant trait of the victim (with some exceptions) and the prosecutor can rebut that evidence.6 Evidence of victim’s character can be proven by both reputation evidence and by specific instances of conduct.7

The prosecution is permitted to offer evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident,8 because it is probative of a material issue and is not directed at bad character or propensity.9 While this evidence may prove bad character, it cannot be offered solely for this purpose.10 This evidence is subject to several conditions including a time sensitive notice to the defense, a requirement for the proof to be clear and convincing and is subject to a Fla. Stat. §90.403 analysis.

A Defendant can offer specific acts of conduct of the victim to show the reasonableness of Defendant’s actions in a self-defense case, but it cannot be offered to show bad character, as it is not really character evidence at all. These specific acts are offered to show reasonableness of Defendant’s apprehension.

Editor’s note: This piece has been amended since its original posting.



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