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April 9, 2012

What should we make of Florida special prosecutor's decision to forego a grand jury in the Martin-Zimmerman case?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CNN report, which is headlined "Prosecutor won't use grand jury in Trayvon Martin shooting case." Here are the basics:

Special prosecutor Angela Corey has decided against using a grand jury in the case involving the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, her office said Monday. "The decision should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case," the office said in a statement.

The grand jury, set to convene Tuesday, was "previously scheduled by the former prosecutor," the statement said.  Corey said the investigation into the case continues. The state attorney has maintained that a grand jury is not needed to file possible criminal charges against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed the teen February 26.

"We were anticipating that there would be no grand jury, because the family has always been hopeful that there would just simply be an arrest," said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family. "We believed, from day one, that they had enough evidence to arrest the killer of Trayvon Martin and now, as the evidence has continued to unfold, we think there has been a plethora of evidence to simply effect probable cause to do an arrest -- not for a conviction, but for an arrest."

"We want a very public trial so the evidence can come out and show people that the justice system works for everybody," he said. He told CNN that the victim's mother, Sybrina Fulton, "said that she's prayerful" Zimmerman will be arrested.

The Justice Department said the grand jury decision does not affect any federal role. "The department's parallel investigation remains ongoing," Justice spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said....

Prosecutors are trying to unravel what happened the night Martin was killed. Witnesses and attorneys for both sides have offered conflicting accounts. Two prosecutors are working to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Zimmerman, 28. Zimmerman's attorney, Hal Uhrig, texted his reaction to CNN's Martin Savidge: "Not surprised. Don't know what her decision will be. Courageous move on her part."

Corey said previously that she had never used a grand jury to decide on charges in a justifiable homicide case. "We do a thorough investigation. We make that decision ourselves," she said.

Sunny Hostin, legal analyst for CNN sister network HLN, said she was not surprised by Corey's decision. "As a former prosecutor, I typically made my own charging decisions," she said. "... Many, many seasoned prosecutors use their judgment and make charging decisions, don't necessarily punt the ball to lay people, to a grand jury." Corey's decision was "the smart thing to do," she said. "... Now Angela Corey is letting everyone know that this is her case. This is her decision."

Because I have never been a prosecutor, I am disinclined to speculate as to what this decision could mean concerning special prosecutor Angela Corey's thinking concerning the case.  But, because I have long been a fan of lay involvement in all aspects of the criminal justice system, I am inclined to be disappointed that there is not going to be a proceeding which would at this stage enable a group of "non-experts" to review the evidence and provide a lay opinion as to whether there is probably cause to charge George Zimmerman with any criminal offense.  That said, given how fraught this case has become with emotion and (excessive?) media attention, perhaps Corey sensibly feared that any work by a grand jury proceeding might end up distorting rather and clarifying perspective in this high-profile case. 

April 9, 2012 at 03:39 PM | Permalink

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I'm leaning toward the fact that charges will be filed. The reason is that if she did NOT want to file charges, and felt the evidence was lacking, she would have let it go to Grand Jury who would have most probably not filed charges. In this way, she could use the "Well, I thought there was something but wanted to see how the jury felt" opinion. Now, if no charges are filed, it may be looked at like she's playing politics (she's heavily right-wing from what I gather).

On the other hand, she may realize that there is nothing that can be put in front of a jury that she can prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt, but wants the furor to subside while she takes the next few weeks to investigate further. The joker in this scenario is the US DOJ approach; will Fast and Furious himself want to interject his resources into the mix more than rhetoric? We shall see.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Apr 9, 2012 4:09:42 PM

"But, because I have long been a fan of lay involvement in all aspects of the criminal justice system,"

Whatever medication you're on Doug, it's having a nasty side effect. A Grand Jury is about the worst example I can think of if one seeks "lay" involvement in the justice system (and since when did lawyers become priests).

Posted by: justmeagain | Apr 9, 2012 5:05:50 PM

I assume this is a typo but who knows in this context: "probably cause."

Posted by: Joe | Apr 9, 2012 6:37:30 PM

She is not using the grand jury because she is afraid the grand jury will come back with 1st degree murder. She can't take that chance because of who George Zimmerman is. George Zimmerman's father is Robert Zimmerman a retired Supreme court Judge from Virginia. R. Zimmerman's Virginia Officials including the mayor is advised and represented by Attorney's Baker Donelson and so is President Barrack Obama according to overwhelming information on the web. It is learned that this same law firm is connected to the Mutual Liberty Insurance Co. which is written as the carrier of the Insurance Bond for the Sanford Co. Police Dept. Chief. The family would be able to sue the police department with no problems if this special Prosecutor would do the right thing and arrest Zimmerman on 1st degree murder, but these doors are being shut. With this information in question, it makes it easier to see why the Special Prosecutor, and the White House may have a financial interest in this case that could damage several internal comrades if Zimmerman is arrested on 1st degree

Posted by: Elder Lee Harris, Sr. | Apr 9, 2012 11:14:28 PM

Since grand juries almost invariably seem to go where prosecutors lead them, what real difference does it make if one gets involved in this case?

And c'mon. First-degree murder? I only know what I've read in the paper, but if there's been indications this was a premeditated killing I completely missed them.

Zimmerman has been successfully portrayed in the media as an armed, racist troublemaker with an itchy trigger finger. But a cold-blooded killer? Seems like a stretch...even for a right-wing prosecutor presumably skilled at juicing facts, pandering to the mob and going for the jugular.

Posted by: John K | Apr 10, 2012 6:55:13 AM

What is so upsetting about this case is that, at the end of the day, Trayvon Martin was being followed by an armed man, and he apparently wasn't doing anything. Even assuming that Zimmerman's story is accurate, Martin was put in a situation not of his own making and wound up dead.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 10, 2012 9:02:01 AM

Elder Harris --

And here I thought conspiracy theories were getting a bad name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2012 9:07:18 AM

John K --

I largely agree with you, except for your last sentence.

Surprise!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2012 9:10:22 AM

Agreed!

Posted by: Company IT Support | Apr 10, 2012 9:18:24 AM

Given all the publicity, it would take a lot of work to screen a grand jury. Most people have heard of the case, but how do you know who could truly listen and who wants to be on the jury to help drive a specific outcome. I think it's smart to avoid the distraction and keep focusing on the investigation (assuming the investigation is actually to uncover facts and not a pre-determined outcome they are trying to justify).

Posted by: Paul | Apr 10, 2012 12:24:04 PM

The real story here is that a change of venue is no longer a sufficient remedy for excessive "trending" news. The pressure is so prevalent that even lawmakers sworn to uphold the Constitution pass laws based on the presumption of guilt before the accused is found guilty. It can't get any worse than that from a constitutional prospective.

Posted by: George | Apr 10, 2012 1:28:52 PM

Or perspective.

Posted by: George | Apr 10, 2012 1:39:01 PM

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