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The Zimmerman Trial: The Prosecutor's Opening Statement

As the Zimmerman trial began today, the prosecutor, in Florida known as an Assistant State Attorney, used explicit language quoting the defendant, George Zimmerman, in his opening statement. It was amazing to me that so many media commentators and anchors reacted with surprise and focused much of their comments on the fact that the prosecutor used such language in a courtroom. In reality, in trials – especially criminal trials – it is routine and commonplace for such statements to come in. This is not for “shock value”, but simply because they will be admitted as evidence in the trial before the jury. The jury will hear all of the admissible evidence, including autopsy photos, ballistics experts, as well as recordings and live testimony of witnesses.

I would like to comment on something else with regard to the prosecutor’s opening statement, specifically regarding the repeated references to Mr. Zimmerman’s “semi-automatic” weapon/handgun. Now, that was for “shock value”. Of course, it is undisputed that George Zimmerman used a semi-automatic pistol to shoot Trayvon Martin. However, for those not familiar with or knowledgeable about handguns, the use of the words “semi-automatic weapon” sounds particularly evil. In reality, a semi-automatic pistol is essentially the same thing a as a revolver – which doesn’t sound as bad. The difference is simply in the mechanics of the handguns themselves.

A revolver has a cylinder, in which the bullets are placed. Each time the trigger is pulled, a bullet is fired and the cylinder turns (or revolves), so that the next bullet is ready to be fired. A semi-automatic weapon does not have a cylinder , but, instead, has a magazine. A magazine is a metal case, in which bullets are held vertically and are pushed up by a spring each time the trigger is squeezed. A semi-automatic weapon is no more deadly or dangerous than a simple revolver.

Subtleties are important in life, in relationships, and in trials. Innuendos and trigger words can make a difference in a case and in the jury’s deliberations.

It is incumbent upon the criminal defense attorney to immediately point out to the jury that these tactics are being employed, so that jurors may hear the evidence being presented without the prosecutor’s “spin” on it. In addition, such explanations by defense counsel enhance the credibility of the defense attorney. The defense lawyer’s credibility is critically important throughout the trial and in closing arguments. Ideally, the jury will not only like the defense lawyer, but will believe in his or her honesty and integrity.

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