We have a new filing in the trial of George Zimmerman with his counsel demanding to use pictures and text messages from Trayvon Martin’s cell phone. The question will become one of relevance as well as prejudice as Zimmerman’s legal team tries to show that Martin had a violent or criminal disposition.
Some of these pictures in my view can be kept out of the trial. However, the defense has a legitimate right to evidence showing a prior disposition — just as the prosecution has that right. What is striking is that the prosecution wants to introduce a host of pre-statements and actions to paint Zimmerman as a racist or violent individual. However, they oppose such evidence related to Martin. Zimmerman’s defense is that Martin attack him and he wants to show that Martin had problems before that night, including his mother demanding that he leave the house and live with his father.
Here is the standard:
90.403 Exclusion on grounds of prejudice or confusion.–Relevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. This section shall not be construed to mean that evidence of the existence of available third-party benefits is inadmissible.
The images come from Martin’s Huawei phone including what may be a self-picture of Martin holding a Smith and Wesson handgun. However, while it appears taken by the person holding the cellphone, there is no proof it is Martin unless the defense has found contemporary witnesses. Other photos show the gun and potted marijuana plants. The defense also wants to introduce evidence that Martin was suspended for fighting from school. This includes texts from November 2011 in which he says that his mother has kicked him out of the house after “da police caught me outta skool.” His friend responds “So you just turning into a lil hoodlum.” Martin responds “Naw, I’m a gangsta.” In other messages, Martin discusses guns like one that asks “U wanna share a .380 w/ (blacked out).”
I do believe that Zimmerman is entitled to introduce prior conduct evidence as is the prosecution. It cannot be one sided. The question is where to draw the line in such pictures and text messages. I do not see how the gun picture can be admitted absent proof that it is Martin holding the gun. Clearly there is a strong argument that it is him since it is his cellphone, but that remains speculative. It does seem to me that the playing field has to be level on the prior conduct evidence. The prosecution can argue that it has a closer nexus to introduce prior conduct related to Zimmerman’s anti-crime views and activities. However, it will also be asking to introduce other evidence.
These are always tough calls for the courts. Clearly both of the characters of these individuals are on trial given the theories of the prosecution and the defense. Young boys often joke of guns and crime and such messages can be misleading. Yet, the defense is claiming that these statements match his conduct on that night. The court could allow the evidence on both sides in and allow opposing counsel to make these points. However, there remains the prejudicial impact on the jury. I would expect that this evidence would be highly influential on some members of the jury.
Where do you think the line should be drawn?