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Live Coverage of the George Zimmerman Trial; Did Zimmerman Know the "Stand Your Ground" Law?

Aired July 3, 2013 - 10:00   ET


CAPTAIN ALEXIS CARTER, U.S. ARMY JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL PROSECUTOR: -- things under the circumstances. But there are certain things that, you know, through case law have been seen to give more weight.

DON WEST, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE LAWYER: Sure. The totality of the circumstances is you look at the sum total of the evidence, I take it, and also apply common sense?

CARTER: Right, right. A reasonable person's standard is what that is generally referred to.

WEST: In fact, interestingly, it's the reasonable person standard or the reasonable belief standard, which squarely is a part of self- defense?

CARTER: That, yes, you can say.

WEST: And we'll talk about that more in a minute, but the work that you are doing now.


WEST: Are you prosecuting or defending?

CARTER: Prosecuting.

WEST: Just prosecuting?

CARTER: Just prosecuting.

WEST: Do you have the opportunity to defend?

CARTER: No, I do not, not right now in this position that I am, but the way the jag corps is set up, it puts you in a certain position and throughout your career, you move on to different things. Before being a military prosecutor, I dealt with administrative law, federal regulation, interpreting of regulations, giving legal reviews, things of that nature. So as you progress, they move you on, almost like a little circuit.

WEST: So that would include defending at some point, perhaps?

CARTER: Possibly, if I chose it. You know, the army sometimes cares about what you want and then sometimes it's just the needs of the army. So wherever are you best suited, your skill set, wherever they need you is where they will put you.

WEST: Is this your career?

CARTER: I'd rather not comment on that right now.

WEST: Fair enough. Let's go back, though, a little bit to the class that you taught.


WEST: You commented that the course book that you used, first of all, you didn't write the book?

CARTER: No, I did not.

WEST: It was a book that was suggested or --

CARTER: Suggested. I think the previous professor used that book and when I spoke with the director of the Legal Department, they said, this is the book that we normally use, you know, take a look at it. It seemed pretty straight forward standard book that you would see in a criminal course.

WEST: But it was not Florida law?

CARTER: No, not specifically. I think they probably maybe referenced the majority of the minority estates, but I don't think they ever probably talked about Florida specifically in that book.

WEST: I was looking at the other exhibits.

CARTER: I have them.

WEST: Let me take a look.


WEST: So that the textbook that you used --


WEST: Was not specifically focused on Florida law as much as it was sort of a general discussion of a great many topics within this broad subject of criminal litigation and procedure?

CARTER: Yes, but then, you know, I try to supplement that with other materials and things of that nature, discussion to focus them on Florida distinction, because I felt it was important. You know, even with respect to other criminal procedures and things of that nature. I felt giving the students some sort of focus, concentration on that law was important. So I did that.

WEST: So, for example, in part of Exhibit 210, it's an excerpt from the book that says self-defense and I'll have you just take a look.

CARTER: Sure. Yes. WEST: This is a specific discussion of Florida's self-defense statutes or what has been characterized as stand your ground?

CARTER: Negative.

WEST: So that's true, it's not?

CARTER: Yes, that's true. It is not.

WEST: OK. So your discussions then that would be more focused on laws in Florida would have been in the classroom?


WEST: Not in the textbook?

CARTER: Correct.

WEST: OK. As a member of the Florida BAR, then you took the BAR exam and had to learn Florida law in addition to the more broad general principles?


WEST: So you had an understanding of Florida law as it relates to self-defense in specifically because of the Florida statutes?


WEST: A -- just for the jury's benefit, a statute is a law that has been passed by the legislature.

CARTER: And codified.

WEST: Codified. So when we say a statute, that's what's written in the law book?


WEST: So the law of self-defense is written in Chapter 776 Florida statutes?

CARTER: I'm not sure the chapter and verse, but if you say so, yes.

WEST: Do we have it just to take a look? This is not a trick question.

CARTER: No, no, no, that's fine.

WEST: We'll come back to that in a second.


WEST: But it's the idea is that the laws that are passed by the legislature and then usually signed by the governor and then become law are known as statutes and they're in the law books. CARTER: Yes.

WEST: And that then becomes the law of the particular state where the legislature is active?


WEST: And you are familiar, generally, again, I want to ask you the specific wording, but you are generally familiar with the law of self- defense in Florida?


WEST: You talked a moment ago, for example, how the stand your ground had evolved from the castle doctrine.


WEST: Stand your ground is sort of a nickname for the statute, the statute, itself, isn't titled stand your ground?

CARTER: No, I don't think any legislators would write that in such a way. It's a nickname.

WEST: So, the codification -- is the word codification, the codification of the castle doctrine became Florida's stand your ground law insofar as the use of self-defense?

CARTER: You can say that, yes.

WEST: The castle doctrine is the notion that if you are in your castle, in your home, and you are attacked, you have no duty to retreat, even if you can, you have no duty to retreat. You may meet the force with force to defend yourself?


WEST: Am I right generally on that?


WEST: And then my evolution of that doctrine into what's been generally characterized as stand your ground, what it did, basically, was allow someone to defend themselves outside their home if they are attacked?

CARTER: Correct.

WEST: Without the duty to retreat?

CARTER: Correct.

WEST: Before that, before that, if you weren't in your home and you were attacked, before you could use deadly force, you had to retreat if you could?


WEST: If you safely could? So, in other words, if there is an attack outside, you have to sort of assess the situation, decide --


JUDGE DEBRA NELSON: Let me hear the rest of the question, then you may approach.

WEST: Under the old law, with the duty to retreat, if you were inside your home and you were attacked, you would have to assess if situation and make a decision at that moment whether or not you could safely get away before resorting to force?


NELSON: You may approach.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Sunny Hostin, so now, on cross, the defense is asking about Florida stand your ground law. They're asking that question to a guy that teaches this and the prosecution is objecting. Why is that?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not quite sure why they're objecting at this point because I think that it's not really harmful to the prosecution. OK, they're at sidebar, so we don't know what their reasoning is.

But I suspect, perhaps, they are thinking that this is running pretty far afield of the direct examination and that it really isn't relevant, all these hypotheticals. But I don't think that it's harmful to the prosecution and so, you know, why object?

I mean, if this witness is shown to be someone that really does understand the law and understands stands your ground and taught it to George Zimmerman and George Zimmerman was such a great student that he got an A in the class.

I mean, I suspect the government can then argue, carol, well, you know, he certainly lied when he told Sean Hannity he had never heard stand your ground. He certainly knew enough police procedure to profile someone. So I'm not sure why they don't want to get into this.

COSTELLO: So from a defense perspective, Drew, why are they? Why do you think they're getting into this?

DREW FINDLING, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think what they're doing is normally you can't get into legal issues in front of the jury. That's something for the instructions at the end of the case, of course, you can argue the anticipated instructions. The witnesses can't comment on it.

Here, you put up the witness, you say as the prosecutor, you taught this course and you taught it uniquely to Florida law. At that point, it's not beyond the scope of direct examination. It's fair game to start lurk away at your theories using this witness. It's a little of the inherent risk.

COSTELLO: The defense attorneys want the jury to understand that George Zimmerman understood Florida's stand your ground law?

FINDLING: I think they wanted to do whether they wanted him to understand it or not, they want to educate the jury. At some point, they're going to argue, did he really have the time to remember his subject matter and his course curriculum. I think most logical people are going to say in a matter of seconds, you don't fall back on your class curriculum.

JASON JOHNSON, HLN CONTRIBUTOR: I completely disagree because my whole argument is it's not what George Zimmerman thought when he was getting out of the car with the bullet in the chamber. It's what he thought after this happened. He shoots Trayvon Martin. He has to have a story.

Drawing upon this experience and these courses, of course, he can come up with the story. I don't know why the defense thinks it's a good idea for man to say, yes, George Zimmerman had the skills to come up with a justifiable story.

COSTELLO: OK, well, the attorneys are still conferring with the judge. We'll take a quick break. We'll be back with more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: On the stand right now in that Sanford courtroom is one of George Zimmerman's professor at Seminole state. He is talking about how he taught George Zimmerman about Florida's stand your ground law. Cross examination is now taking place with Attorney Don West. Let's listen.


CARTER: Say it again, ma'am.

NELSON: Whether or not your answers to these questions are based on your knowledge as an attorney in your practice or are they also something that you taught the class?

CARTER: The evolution of the castle doctrine?

NELSON: That's the question.

CARTER: Yes, that would be something that I hit on in the class.

NELSON: Then you may proceed. Objection overruled.

WEST: So what that means, basically, is that when you were at the castle doctrine, you were in your home, you were attacked, you don't have to worry about whether you can get away. You may meet force with force?

CARTER: Right.

WEST: Sort of a -- then what happened when the statutes changed, a few years ago, into this what's been known as stand your ground, basically, the castle doctrine of no duty to retreat was simply authorized in locations other than your own home?

CARTER: Right. I think what happened is the presumption changed. If you are attacked in your home, there is a presumption that you're in fear of your life. A lot of times attacks happen at night. You are scared. You are woken up by something. So there was a presumption that you were in fear of your life.

So that's how that came about and then it extended outside of the home, but there wasn't that same presumption. The same presumption doesn't exist outside of the home. It's the dwelling, residence, I think your vehicle, where that presumption is, but outside of the home, there wasn't that same sort of presumption. I hope that makes sense.

WEST: Well, I know you are taking this to school, so let me point out a couple of things. You are suggesting that when it occurs in certain locations, in addition is there no duty to retreat, but there is sort of a presumption that if it happens that you are, will be in fear for your life?

CARTER: So, yes, if you are in your home, that's, in your home, there is a great indicia that person had fear of death of grievous bodily harm.

WEST: OK, if you are in your home and you, I don't want to go too far away from why you are here testifying today, but I want to clarify, though, that part of self-defense is under any circumstance the reasonable belief that you have to act to avoid imminent great bodily harm?

CARTER: Yes, no questions to that.

NELSON: There is an objection.

CARTER: I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The objection is the framing of the question is counsel's version of the law.

NELSON: I'm going to sustain the objection and state to the jury at the end of the conclusion of the evidence of this case, this court will give you instructions on the law that you are to follow and apply to the facts as you find them. Your questioning needs to be to what he taught the class not a general discussion on what the law is.

WEST: Yes, ma'am. Thank you. So when you taught the class, what is the core concept of self-defense when you can use deadly force?

CARTER: When you have a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm and the term "reasonable" this obviously has two components, so there is a subjective component, meaning that I feel like I'm in fear. In my mind, I feel like I'm in fear of death of grievous bodily harm.

But when stuff hits the fan, you are judged by jurors and your accidents have to meet a reasonable standard objectively. So whether or not a reasonable person in your position would have felt the way you felt.

WEST: All right, so what you would explain then to anybody that was there that day would be that on the issue of the reasonable fear, it's both subjective and objective. The subjective part is crawling inside the person's head to see what they were thinking and would it be reasonable to them that they would fear for their life?

CARTER: Right. That's why the totality of the circumstances are important. For example, if you approached me right now in broad daylight, whatever the case is, I probably wouldn't have that much fear. But, you know, the lights are out, I don't know what's happening. I feel someone grab me. Those are circumstances you need to consider in whether or not someone had a reasonable apprehension of fear.

WEST: So the first part then is trying to understand as best you can from the totality of the circumstances whether that person was in fear in their own mind? Did they think that serious bodily harm was about to happen?

CARTER: Right.

WEST: And then you are saying, then there is a bit of a shift and then in order to see if that's reasonable, then the trier of fact, if you will, the jury then looks at this idea, does it make sense that somebody in that person's situation with all of the circumstances would fear that they were facing imminent great bodily harm.

CARTER: That is correct.

WEST: Nowhere in the discussion of self-defense is it required that the person being attacked actually be injured? It's really the issue of what they think is going to happen not what's actually happened? Is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to object again.

NELSON: The court will instruct the jury on what the law is at the end of the case. It's the law that you are to apply to the facts as you find them. Your discussion today is limited to what you have taught in the course.

CARTER: Yes, I understand.

WEST: Mr. Carter, the presumption is that any question that I ask you today is either to clarify an answer that you have given to explain the legal concept or connect it directly with the way you would explain these things to your students? CARTER: Right. As I understand that.

WEST: I'm not going outside the scope of that.

CARTER: Understood.

WEST: So what you just explained is how you would explain this self- defense concept works in Florida.

CARTER: Right. And it's fluid. You know, the law as it applies isn't static. Like I said, any change in a certain fact can waive differently in terms of whether someone acted reasonable and, you know, to illustrate that, I would put up examples on the projector.

I would have YouTube videos and pause it frame by frame, OK, what's happening now? You know, what is this person justified in doing? What are they not justified in doing. So you can see that, you know, things can change in a matter of moments.

WEST: An encounter that doesn't appear to be deadly can turn deadly pretty quickly, in your mind?

CARTER: Yes, yes.

WEST: On the issue of injury itself, though, when you talk about that with the class and your understanding of the law is that the focus is what's going on in the person's mind not whether they have actually been injured? It's the fear of the injury, is it not?

CARTER: It's imminent injury or, excuse me, imminent fear. So the fact alone that there isn't an injury doesn't necessarily mean that the person did not have a reasonable apprehension of fear. The fact that there weren't injuries have a tendency to show or support that that person had a reasonable apprehension of fear, but the fact that there wasn't an injury doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't reasonable apprehension of fear.

WEST: You don't have to wait until you are almost dead before you can defend yourself?

CARTER: No, I was advised, you probably don't do that.

WEST: And I take it when you are under attack, you never really know where that moment will be?

CARTER: No, unfortunately, you don't. And then that's not even something from our, that's something that I think a lot of the students grasp, you know, I think we all, they have all probably had situations where, you know, a tussle maybe became more than a tussle, so things can change.


COSTELLO: All right, we are going to step away from testimony and take a break. We'll be back with more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: OK. Back inside the Sanford courtroom now, on the stand, one of George Zimmerman's professor, he is still being cross-examined by the Defense Attorney Don West, they are talking about the definition of self-defense. Let's listen.


WEST: You weren't going to stop?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly, continuing and the specificity.

NELSON: Sustained.

WEST: Without the specific details that I'm talking about, that's what you are talking about in a sense that it really doesn't matter that the focus of the self-defense is at the point that the force is used. And it's only really a relatively minor consideration to what actually started it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. Again, to counsel posing things.

NELSON: If you will rephrase your question because you begin it with the former hypothetical that the court sustains. So if you will rephrase your question, please.

WEST: I will. I will try, thank you. When you are talking about what you call the imperfect self-defense, what you are really talking about is when are you involved in a situation with somebody, even if you start it, but the tables get turned. All of a sudden you are the one being attacked with far more force than you used? That's the scenario I'm talking about.

CARTER: All right, repeat that what you are asking. So, basically in a sense if someone initially feel that they were being threatened and they countered that threat with the force that was disproportionate to the force that was directed towards them. Yes, that would be imperfect self-defense claim or imperfect self-defense scenario.

WEST: Even under that scenario, the person that may have started it with some lower level of force and the table lumped on them. There is a great level of force, a disproportionate level of force. They have the right to defend themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. Again, continuing number one the same hypothetical is too specific.

NELSON: I overrule that one the answer was given.

WEST: I didn't hear the answer. We'll be right back. You agree?


WEST: May I have just a moment?

COSTELLO: All right, I'm going to throw this question to Sunny Hostin. OK, so this witness, he is a prosecution witness, right, supposed to be on the stand testifying that George Zimmerman took his criminal litigation class.

In that class, they learned about Florida's stand your ground law, a little about self defense. George Zimmerman got an A in the class. On cross, the defense attorney started getting into exactly what the definition of self-defense is.

And again, he's seemingly turning into a great witness for the defense. Let's listen again, sorry, Sunny.

RICHARD MANTEI, PROSECUTOR: You are talking about the self-defense law? The idea of planning it -- yes, your honor? The idea of planning it when you have provoked the action, did that enter into the discussion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection, your honor. Maybe heard it at the bench?



COSTELLO: OK. So the attorneys are approaching the bench now. Sunny, I hope you heard my previous question. So what's up with this?