Reporter's Notebook: Why are Martin's parents allowed in courtroom?

Day 8 of George Zimmerman trial

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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Orlando criminal defense attorney Amir Ladan was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1998 and began his legal career as an Assistant State Attorney in the Ninth Judicial Circuit (Orange and Osceola Counties). 

Ladan answers the question: Why are Trayvon Martin's parents allowed in the courtroom?

Trials are complicated.  The rules that lawyers are required to follow are no different in murder trials than they are in a misdemeanor trespassing case.  The procedures are also the same in all cases, although this case and other high-profile cases require even greater scrutiny and protective steps to be taken to ensure a fair trial. 

There are a myriad of rules and procedures that must be followed to ensure the litigants a fair trial.  One of the many long-standing rules used in both criminal and civil cases is the Rule of Sequestration.  Generally speaking, the rule requires that any witness who may be called upon to testify remain outside the courtroom until they are called in to testify. 

Known by trial lawyers simply as "the rule," the Rule of Sequestration is designed to eliminate the possibility that a witness could overhear the testimony of another witness and subsequently alter their testimony to either conform and corroborate that earlier testimony or to refute the earlier testimony.  In short, it's designed to prevent people from changing their testimony based on what another witness may have said.  

Florida Statute §90.616 provides as follows:

(1) At the request of a party the court shall order, or upon its own motion the court may order, witnesses excluded from a proceeding so that they cannot hear the testimony of other witnesses except as provided in subsection (2).

(2) A witness may not be excluded if the witness is: (a) A party who is a natural person; (b) In a civil case, an officer or employee of a party that is not a natural person. The party's attorney shall designate the officer or employee who shall be the party's representative; (c) A person whose presence is shown by the party's attorney to be essential to the presentation of the party's cause; (d) In a criminal case, the victim of the crime, the victim's next of kin, the parent or guardian of a minor child victim, or a lawful representative of such person, unless, upon motion, the court determines such person's presence to be prejudicial.

Florida Statutes permit the victim of a crime or in a case involving death, the victim's next of kin, to remain in the courtroom during the entirety of the trial.  Therefore, Trayvon Martin's parents have the legal right to remain in the courtroom throughout the trial process, even though they may be called as witnesses during the case, whereas George Zimmerman's family cannot.  

The Florida Constitution also provides an explanation for the difference in the treatment of the families in this case: 


Rights of Accused and of Victims

(b)?Victims of crime or their lawful representatives, including the next of kin of homicide victims, are entitled to the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings, to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.

Ultimately, Trayvon Martin's parents are not witnesses to the crime in this case and will likely be called to testify to his age and perhaps whether either one can identify the voice on the 911 call as his voice.  While the issue of voice recognition is significant in this case, it does not outweigh the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the victim's next of kin to be present throughout all crucial stages of the criminal proceedings, including the trial itself.

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