Boom, Pop, Zing! As quickly as it started, the fireworks show that is the George Zimmerman case will now seemingly lay in the weeds until the next interesting pretrial motion is filed or this case goes to trial. Early sunday morning, George Zimmerman was released from the Seminole County jail after having posted bail and being fitted with a GPS monitoring device. Today, Zimmerman’s attorney filed a written plea of not guilty, thereby eliminating the need for Zimmerman to appear in court once again on May 8. Nearly every criminal attorney retained privately, files a standard set of pleadings including a notice of appearance, written plea of not guilty, demand for discovery (evidence the State intends to use against the accused), request for a charging document, and a waiver of client appearance. In essence, by filing a written plea of not guilty, Zimmerman through his counsel has indicated to the court that he understands the charges against him, does not wish to hear a formal reading of such charges, and wishes to enter a not guilty plea to the allegations. So what happens now and when will we see Zimmerman in court again?
From this point most of the work on this case will be done behind closed doors, but for news breaking that some event has happened. What we’ll see now is Zimmerman’s legal team demand evidence the State intends to use against Zimmerman and in turn receive the same. The evidence received is called discovery and generally consists of police reports, witness reports, any scientific evidence obtained, any video or audio recordings, a list of witnesses, amongst other things. Were I handling this case, immediately upon receiving this information I would call any lay witnesses listed to see what they know, go to the scene of the incident (would have gone prior to receiving discovery as well) and hire a private investigative team to interview people in the neighborhood in addition to those that knew Trayvon Martin. In addition to this, pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07, I would file a public records request to obtain any additional evidence with respect to the police investigation, any discipline of any officer involved, or any reprimand for insufficient work performance. This is a little used and valuable tool to catch the state sleeping and to potentially catch a witness fudging a bit on their testimony or observations. The goal is to obtain as much information as possible informally so to be as prepared as possible when depositions are set. Once as much information is gathered as possible using informal channels, I would use any helpful information during depositions of witnesses so as to better box in the testimony of each State friendly witness.
As this case progresses there will be intermittent court hearings called pretrial conferences, disposition dates, or whatever other term of art a jurisdiction uses. In essence, these dates are nothing more than a Court’s way to monitor the progress of the case and will allow the presiding judge to maintain a schedule thereby ensuring both parties are making their best effort to move the case along. Unfortunately for those taking a real interest in this case, it is unlikely George Zimmerman will appear at these hearings. Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.180(a)(3) requires the Defendant to be present for all pretrial conference, unless that defendant waives his appearance. Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.220(p)(1) requires the Defendant to be present at pretrial conferences unless such presence is waived in writing. Further, pursuant toWalters v. State, 905 So.2d 974, 977 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005 ) unless the trial court finds good cause for requiring a Defendant to be present at a pretrial conference, “the trial court does not possess the discretion to deny a defendant the ability to waive his appearance at pre-trial proceedings.” No doubt, because of the relative simplicity of a pretrial conference, the court in the Zimmerman case will not have an issue with Zimmerman’s presence being waived, should he want to waive.
The long and short of the Zimmerman case is that we will likely have to wait for a while before news of substance is reported from the courtroom. This is the nature of the criminal process whether the case is a simple ordinance violation or a high profile case the likes of State v. Zimmerman. It’s a hurry up and wait process that will clip along uneventfully until trial where again we’ll interested in the outcome of George Zimmerman. Who knows what’s in store out of Court with the demonstrators and supporters of both sides, but for now, we wait for the Court to do its job.