For the past month, demonstrators around the country, including, civil rights activists, politicians and celebrities have chanted "Justice for Trayvon" and "No justice, no peace." Over 2.2 million people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for the state of Florida to charge George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Most people emotionally and intellectually engaged in this tragedy, anxiously await the decision as to the whether Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott, will bring this matter before the grand jury on April 10, 2012. Corey, the state attorney in the Duval, Clay and Nassau counties in Florida, told the Miami Herald, "I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this. I foresee us being able to make a decision and move on it on our own." However, as the clock continues to tick closer towards April 10, and reports swirl that two district attorneys, appointed by Corey, have interviewed Trayvon Martin's girlfriend within the last couple of days, it looks more likely that the grand jury will make the ultimate recommendation as to whether or not to indict George Zimmerman. Still, most people calling for an indictment, do not understand the role of a grand jury, nor the grand jury indictment process in Florida.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17 year-old African-American Florida teen, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic male, whom the Sanford police department repeatedly referred to as "white" in the relevant police reports, has claimed self-defense. He was not arrested, nor charged in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin due to Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law. The Florida law declares:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
In Florida, a prosecutor may bring charges on behalf of the State without the assistance or permission of a grand jury, unless she intends to charge the accused with a capital offense, whereby, the death penalty may be requested. It is unlikely that the State would look to charge Zimmerman with a capital offense, like first degree murder. Therefore, the grand jury's involvement is most likely due to the complexity of this matter. In Florida, grand juries are utilized for controversial cases, or when there is alleged wrong-doing by a public official or the police. The grand jury's primary role will be to vote on a set of proposed charges -- known as an "indictment" to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to justify an indictment against George Zimmerman.
In Florida, a grand jury must consist of between 15 and 21 people. Grand jurors are normally appointed for five to six months of intermittent service. In order for the grand jury to indict Zimmerman, 12 jurors must concur to do so. The standard by which the grand jury is to decide whether the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to indict the accused, is by a determination of whether there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, and that Zimmerman committed the crime. This standard is in contrast to the trial jury's strict standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In essence, the grand jury initiates a criminal prosecution, whereas, a trial jury, very often, concludes a criminal prosecution by delivering a verdict. The grand jury's decision will come when they have thoroughly reviewed the evidence, conducted their own investigation into the facts and voted. This process can take a day, a week or longer. Consequently, the fate of George Zimmerman will most probably not be determined on April 10. Whether or not an indictment is returned, the grand jury may issue reports recording their findings and insight to their decision.
The grand jury proceeding is the prosecutor's tool because, essentially, she is the only official present. The presiding judge rarely participates and only does so to resolve legal issues which may arise.The accused, in this case, Zimmerman, is not permitted to present evidence in his defense or cross-examine witnesses. If Zimmerman is subpoenaed to testify, his testimony cannot be used against him at trial. The one-sided nature of the grand jury process gave rise to the New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler's famous quote, "you can indict a ham sandwich." The prosecutor, Corey, will present her case to the grand jury by questioning the witnesses she has subpoenaed and presenting other evidence relevant to the alleged offense. The grand jurors may also question witnesses; request additional evidence, or even ask that more witnesses be brought before them.
The grand jury session, deliberations, and voting are confidential. Angela Corey may announce, in general terms, that the grand jury inquiry involves the death of Trayvon Martin. However, an announcement giving greater detail is not permitted. Reporters are free to observe the coming and going of witnesses into the grand jury room, but Florida statutes expressly prohibit grand jurors, state attorneys and all other court personnel from discussing with anyone the testimony of a witness or other evidence presented to the grand jury. However, the United States Supreme Court, declared that the Florida statute could not limit a grand jury witness from discussing with reporters their testimony, especially once the grand jury proceeding has concluded. Often leaks occur and the media will report information provided by sources close to the grand jury, the accused and the court documents.
The Trayvon Martin killing has galvanized the entire country and April 10, 2012 appears to be a pivotal day for Trayvon Martin's family, George Zimmerman and the millions of people looking for answers. President Obama stated, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," underscoring how the issue affected him on a personal level. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
Trayvon Martin supporters are using social media to encourage people to wear a hoodie on April 10 as a sign of solidarity and to send a message to the Seminole County grand jurors. Hoodies 4 Trayvon, Justice for Trayon Martin representatives and many other supporters are planning to continue the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon by descending on Seminole County on April 10, 2012. As in other cases brought before it, this grand jury has a very serious task at hand; however, this time, the whole country is watching and waiting.
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