Look, whether he's convicted or acquitted, George Zimmerman is morally responsible for Trayvon Martin's death. On a personal level, I'm not on Zimmerman's side here because guys like him, wannabe heroes who carry guns and think they can take on bad guys themselves (and are apparently eager to see bad guys), scare the living daylights out of me. I don't want the George Zimmermans of the world patrolling my neighborhood because I don't want people to get shot. It's undeniable that if Zimmerman hadn't been out there patrolling, Martin wouldn't have gotten shot. Also, I've been in Martin's shoes of walking home after dark and realizing someone is following you. It is terrifying and from my view even if the person being followed initiated conversation, the follower is the aggressor.
So there's my disclosure before I rant about something that happened in the Zimmerman trial today. The defense put on a forensic expert who testified that Martin's gunshot was consistent with Martin having been on top of Zimmerman. It was good testimony from the defense, especially if you think it's important for the self-defense claim who had the upper hand in the struggle at the moment of the gunshot.
What did the prosecution do to try to discredit this expert on cross? The prosecutor asked the expert how much money he was getting paid. Suggesting this professional with all his credentials was biased toward the people who paid him. That he would risk his career, his license, his freedom even (perjury is a crime, after all), to collect a fat check from George Zimmerman. 'Cause that makes sense.
This line of questioning happens in pretty much every trial whenever the defense has the unmitigated gall to put on an expert who doesn't work for a state crime lab. It is offensive, infuriating, disingenuous. It is also (infuriatingly) entirely effective with jurors.
It's too late in the day for me to write a long, scholarly discussion on this topic. (It's one of a couple of topics I'm kicking around for a law review article.) So instead let me just state how awful this line of questioning is, how utterly unfair it is that prosecutors are allowed to suggest defense experts are biased paid liars while their experts are all altruistic saints who just speak truth for no compensation.
The state has crime labs and medical examiners at the ready, experts who are all on salary and thus don't submit hourly bills for their time on each case. Somehow, people seem to think this makes the coroner who did the autopsy or the DNA analyst from the crime lab qualitatively different from the experts employed in private practice the defense has to go to. Since we get hourly bills, the argument goes, our experts are lying money whores.
Ugh. The whole thing makes me angry. Shame on prosecutors for putting the idea out there. Shame on courts for validating it as a legitimate point. And shame on juries for falling for it.
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