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Zimmerman's criminal defense team claims prosecutorial misconduct

There is more fallout this week from the stunning revelation earlier this month that Trayvon Martin's girlfriend had been caught in at least one lie material to the prosecution's case. Claiming that the prosecution knew of the lie several months before revealing it to the defense or the judge, George Zimmerman's criminal defense team has asked the judge to fine and sanction the two assistant state attorneys trying the case.

As we discussed in our March 7 post, Martin's girlfriend is a key witness in the case largely because she claimed to have been on the phone with Martin just as the confrontation with Zimmerman began. She had told investigators that she was in the hospital that evening and Martin had called to check in. It was later revealed that the woman was not, in fact in the hospital at the time. Apparently, she also told investigators that she was 16 at the time of the 17-year-old Martin's death, when she was in fact 18.

Both the U.S. and Florida constitutions require prosecutors to turn over all of their evidence to the defense before trial. This is a matter of fundamental due process. Under our system of laws, the accused should never be surprised into a conviction but should have every chance to fairly counter the charges, and that means knowing what evidence will be presented against him or her by prosecutors.

Moreover, the state can't hold back any evidence that could help the defendant, even if prosecutors don't intend to introduce it at trial. If prosecutors or police are found to have knowingly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense, that constitutes very strong evidence that the trial was not fair, and appellate courts take the issue very seriously.

Zimmerman's attorneys allege that prosecutors first learned last August that Martin's girlfriend had lied about being in the hospital the night of Martin's death, and that they knew last March that she had lied about her age. Nevertheless, prosecutors did not reveal those facts to the defense until this month, despite having told the judge last October that they had turned over all of their files.

It was evident pretty quickly that the prosecutors had misled the judge at the October hearing, Zimmerman's criminal defense team says. Despite having told the court they had already turned over all of the files, they apparently discovered and forwarded 45 more FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports two weeks later.

The defense team also learned recently that Martin's mother was with the girlfriend when she was interviewed by police. Having a victim in the room during police testimony, the defense argues, would naturally be expected to influence her testimony. It "places the legitimacy and veracity of the entire statement at issue," one of Zimmerman's attorneys wrote.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "O'Mara: Fine prosecutors for hiding witness lies," Rene Stutzman, March 25, 2013

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