In George Zimmerman’s Trial, The Jury Sees the Interrogation for Themselves

Posted: July 3, 2013 in False Confessions
Tags: , , , , , ,

With the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Travon Martin now underway, we can see that most of what is happening in the trial is not that different from most other murder trials one could see on an average day in any Florida courthouse.

But this week, we have seen that there is one big difference.  In this case, the jury has the opportunity to know what Zimmerman said, from an actual recording of the actual police interrogation.  They can see the questions police asked, the answers Zimmerman gave, and his tone and demeanor when he gave the answers .  The jurors will know Zimmerman’s exact words, and whether he hesitated or seemed confident he gave an answer.  They will know all of this for themselves, without it being filtered through a police officer’s memory or note taking.  (In fact, we can all experience this first-hand evidence; use the link above to pull the interrogation up on YouTube.  You can also find a recording of Zimmerman’s re-enactment of the shooting for police. )

That’s the difference: in Florida, the usual case wouldn’t necessarily include a recording  of the interrogation, because Florida  does not require recording of interrogations.  Even in murder cases, state law does not mandate electronic recording of the interrogation process.   Twenty states require recording of interrogations in at least some cases under their laws, but Florida is not one of them.

I’m not taking a position here on what’s in the recordings, or whether the jury should believe Zimmerman or not.  What I am saying is that the jury can make up its own mind about what was said, under what conditions, and whether it represents the truth.  That’s what recording of interrogations does for the trial process: it improves the quality of evidence that the jury sees, and it means that bogus claims — whether they come from the defendant or from the police — have much less traction.

In  Zimmerman’s case, there are other recordings too, and the jury can see those as well.  But in most serious cases in Florida, the jury will have to rely on the imperfect recollections and notes of a detective who was involved in the interrogation.  And that’s just not good enough, with the stakes so high.

 

 

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Comments
  1. ​I am creating a website based on a few recent court cases in which social media posts, email transcripts, and IP addresses were the only methods used to convict the defendant. In one case, a man was charged with selling drugs online, arrested, his house was never searched, and the only evidence were conversations between the undercover officer, and the alleged defendant, who could have been anyone. I am going to need a LOT of these types of articles. They need to be persuasive, well researched, cited, and demonstrate how a post/email/or even IP address isn’t like a DNA sample. They could be generated by anyone. http://www.radiationcomputerstation.com

  2. Stephen K. Fudge says:

    With the tremendous reduction in price for digital video recording devices and digital memory to store the recordings there is no excuse for not recording all polilce interviews, at least those related to “serious” charges. Here in B.C, while there is no statutory requirement to do so, it has been standard police practice for years and most judges would be extremely cautious about giving any weight to a statement from an accused that was not at least audio recorded. Witness statement in serious cases are also routinely video recorded. This is particularly useful in domestic violence cases.

    • Hi Stephen — such an interesting take on this. You’re right, IMHO, that the technology has become so common, easy to use and cheap that those excuses for not recording simply don’t wash. I find it interesting that even without a requirement to do so, BC police do this as a matter of routine. I wish it was true everywhere in the US, but unfortunately it isn’t.

  3. Tim Dawson says:

    David—-quick comment, without any research: isn’t that “interrogation” a series of self serving statements, not an admission or confession, that would be inadmissible in PA? or was it a partial admission that the prosecution wanted to introduce? I am not following the case other than the evening and internet headlines. thanks

    • Hi Tim — This is a good question. I think your characterization of the interrogation is largely accurate. However, the prosecution does feel that, along with other inconsistent statements (also recorded) and etc., this is at the very least an admission to everything except the “in reasonable fear” element of self defense/SYG. Do you think it would fly in PA?

      • Tim Dawson says:

        After your article, I started following this trial. No, I do not think the statement would fly in PA, but in my experience, I usually draw the objection from the prosecution when I attempt on cross to introduce “self serving” statements by my clients. In this case, the prosecution made the decision to introduce the taped statements, so I don’t know what objection could or would be made. Interesting decision by the prosecution. It was fun to watch the clashes between the pathologist testifying about the autopsy and his opinions on time of death and length of suffering by Martin, and the defense attorney. In PA, we usually have to deal with Dr. Cyril Wecht who is extremely bright and will bury you if you aren’t careful.

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