Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A PROSECUTOR'S DUTY

My phone rang off the hook this afternoon with calls from various media representatives seeking my comments on the recent developments in the Trayvon Martin case. Although trial lawyers are seldom at a loss for words, one question that I was asked left me almost speechless. How did I feel about the indictment? Although I am not a Vulcan, I try to banish my feelings when approaching a murder case. Prosecutors  learn to suppress their feelings when evaluating a case. Emotion clouds judgment, and judgment should be crystal clear when making decisions in matters of life and death.

I can, however, express my feelings about how State Attorney Angela Corey has performed her duties so far. Governor Scott threw her a political hot potato when he assigned her to this case, and she has managed it with grace and dignity. Listening to her at the press conference this afternoon, it was clear that she has scrupulously adhered to the ethical and professional requirements of the office of prosecutor. Having known her as a colleague for over a quarter of a century, I expected no less from her.

I did not see the entire conference, but from what I saw she handled the sniping, confrontational questions of some of the media representatives extremely well. She said what had to be said and refused to divulge information which was better left unsaid, and she maintained her composure in the face of questions that seemed to be designed to ignite controversy.

One question which particularly irritated me was the oft-repeated "Why did the investigation take so long?" The short answer is, it didn't. Not arresting Zimmerman on the night of the shooting was probably the best thing that happened for the building of a case against him. Had he been arrested that evening, the prosecution would have been scrambling to hastily put together the case ahead of certain very short procedural deadlines set out in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. With Zimmerman unarrested, the only deadline which the prosecution had to work against was the statute of limitations--and there is no statute of limitations for second degree murder. The prosecution had an opportunity to move slowly and deliberately and put together the best possible case before making an arrest.

In my 29 years and 10 months as a prosecutor, I never had a homicide case suffer because the defendant wasn't immediately arrested, but I had several crash and burn because the defendant was arrested too soon.

Angela Corey has done an excellent job so far, and I expect that she will continue to do an excellent job.