As the case against George Zimmerman progresses, a lot of In Session and HLN social media followers want to know when they will see this case play out inside the courtroom. The case is still early in the procedural process, so it is difficult to say -- a lot could happen between now and when it goes to trial. Florida law and rules of procedure give us some idea, as do previous cases, so let’s take a look.
Zimmerman has a right to a speedy trial -- within 180 days from his April 11 arrest. Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, may decide to fast-track the case for trial, which means it could happen later this year.
In Florida, however, defense attorneys routinely waive the right to a speedy trial, which pushes it past the 180-day deadline. If O’Mara does waive the right to a speedy trial, he will probably do it in the next month or two. And that means the trial would likely be next year.
Prosecutors may give O’Mara the first round of “discovery,” police reports, autopsy report, photographs, and other items assembled as part of the investigation, as soon as next week. Releasing documents between sides is an ongoing process as new information becomes available, new reports are generated and attorneys take depositions of key witnesses.
O’Mara says it will be at least a few months before he decides whether to ask for a pre-trial hearing on Zimmerman’s potential entitlement to the “Stand Your Ground” immunity because he wants to make sure he has all the facts.
Once O’Mara files the stand your ground motion, a hearing will be scheduled. At that hearing, Zimmerman’s team has the burden of proving by “a preponderance of the evidence” that his use of deadly force was justified. Preponderance of the evidence basically means it’s more likely than not that Zimmerman was justified in using deadly force. This is very different from a trial where the burden is on the prosecutors to prove each element of an alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute provides very specific elements that Zimmerman must prove: that he was not engaged in unlawful activity, that he was attacked in a place he had a right to be and that he reasonably believed his life and safety were in danger. He cannot, however, be justified in using deadly force if he provoked the altercation, unless he was attacked with more force than he initiated.
It’s hard to imagine how Zimmerman could meet those criteria without testifying at the hearing. So, expect to hear from him if he requests, and is granted, a Stand Your Ground hearing.
If the judge believes Zimmerman was standing his ground, the case will be dismissed and he will have immunity from further prosecution. If Zimmerman loses the Stand Your Ground hearing, the case will proceed to trial. But there’s a potential next step that could delay a trial: Either side -- the prosecution or defense -- can appeal the judge’s decision. The appeals process could take weeks or months.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of moving parts in the process that could affect the timing of the trial. The next hearing in the case is Friday morning at 9 a.m. ET. You can watch it line on In Session on truTV.