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MC&A Newsletter
Volume XXIV  :: May 2012 

 

Mdiwin Charles

 

In The Spotlight

Trayvon Martin Case: Will Zimmerman's "Stand Your Ground" Claim Fall?

By now, MC&A readers are familiar with the Trayvon Martin case. George Zimmerman killed Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. Martin, a 17 year-old African American, was walking in a gated community and wore a hooded sweatshirt when 28 year-old Zimmerman, a member of the community's neighborhood watch, determined he looked suspicious. Zimmerman followed Martin and when a scuffle broke out between the two, Zimmerman pulled out his handgun and shot Martin.

The gated community where Martin was killed was called the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Martin was walking through the community on his way to his father's fiancé's home after stopping at a convenience store to buy Skittles candy and iced tea. Zimmerman observed Martin in the neighborhood and called 911, complaining of a "suspicious guy" in the neighborhood. Zimmerman then followed Martin in his vehicle until he eventually decided to leave the car and approach Martin on foot. It is unclear how the fight broke out after Zimmerman confronted the Martin, but we do know it ended with a young man's tragic death.

Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense because Martin attacked him. Zimmerman was not arrested and no charges were brought against him immediately following the shooting as a result of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law ("SYG"), which does not require a person to retreat from a the threat of bodily harm or death. SYG says "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 . . . to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." If Zimmerman reasonably believed use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury, then he is protected under SYG. There are some caveats, however, to SYG; it is not available to the person who is the initial provoker, unless that person withdraws from situation but the other person continues the use of force. But, the initial aggressor - here, Zimmerman - could use deadly force and stand his ground if he reasonably believed he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he had exhausted all other reasonable means to evade that danger.

After almost two months of public outcry and calls for his arrest, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder on April 11, 2012 and released on bail.

Information made publicly available by the prosecution under Florida's Sunshine Law shows photos of Zimmerman's injuries that he claims were inflicted during a fight with Martin. The photos show that Zimmerman had a broken nose, two black eyes and a large cut on the back of his head. Martin's autopsy report notes that he died from a gunshot wound to the left side of his chest, and the injury suggests that Zimmerman shot him at almost point-blank range. In addition to the gunshot wounds, the autopsy notes that Martin had a blood spot on his head, a bruised eye and some scarring on his hands, which suggests he was in a fight. Martin also had a chemical residue of marijuana in his system.

Despite information supporting some type of a fight between the two men, Zimmerman cannot avoid the fact he initiated the confrontation. He chose to follow Martin, get out of his car and approach Martin even though Martin was not committing any crime or causing any trouble. As investigator Christopher Serino stated to prosecutors, the fight between the two men could have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his car and waited for the police to arrive. Indeed, in the recording of Zimmerman's call to 911, Zimmerman says to the dispatcher, "this guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's just walking around." When the dispatcher asked if Zimmerman was following the person, he stated, "Yes." The dispatcher then told Zimmerman, "We don't need you to do that." Zimmerman clearly ignored the dispatcher's request.

In the coming weeks, Zimmerman will attempt to convince a judge during a hearing that he does in fact fall within the parameters of SYG. If the judge agrees, then the charges against Zimmerman will be dropped. However, if the judge does not find SYG applicable, Zimmerman will go to trial. He faces a sentence of life in prison if found guilty.

 

Sources: "What happened the night Trayvon Martin died," by Greg Botelho, May 18, 2012, CNN; "Evidence mixed for Zimmerman's self-defense claim," by Kyle Hightower, May 18, 2012, Associated Press; "Evidence in Trayvon Martin tells story of struggle before fatal shot," by Mark Strassmann, May 17, 2012, CBS News; "Trayvon's mom seeks scrutiny of self-defense laws," by Curt Anderson, May 11, 2012, Boston Globe; "Trayvon Martin Case: Does Zimmerman's Self Defense Claim Depend on Who Started the Fight?" by Dan Abrams, May 18, 2012, ABC News

 

President Obama Comes Out on Gay Marriage

handsAfter years of silence on the issue of gay marriage, President Obama announced his support for legalizing same-sex marriage on May 9, 2012. President Obama's endorsement came on the heels of Vice President Joe Biden's declaration of support for same-sex marriage. President Obama announced his view on the issue during an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News. "I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," said the President. This is the first time he has taken a stance on the issue; in 2010, his official position was simply that his opinion on gay marriage was "evolving."

The President's timing of his statement is impeccable given his upcoming run for re-election. It is unclear, however, how and if his view on gay marriage will affect voter decisions. A new Gallup poll published on May 14, 2012, indicated that voters who will most likely support his stance are young voters and women - voters with whom Obama already carries a lead over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Overall, approximately 50% of Americans support the legalization of gay marriage, according to the poll.

How Obama will fare with the rest of voters is still unknown. While the country is nearly evenly split on the issue, the poll revealed that few voters place same sex marriage at the top of their list of important issues. That means Obama's opinion may have no effect on voters come election time.

 

Sources: "Obama's Switch on Same-Sex Marriage Stirs Skepticism," by Peter Baker and Dalia Sussman, May 14, 2012, The NY Times; "President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage aligns with young voters and women, poll shows," by Callum Borchers, May 14, 2012, The Boston Globe; "Obama endorses gay marriage, says same-sex couples should have right to wed," by Peter Wallsten and Scott Wilson, May 9, 2012, The Washington Post

 

Balfour Trial: The Nightmare Ends for Singer/Actress Jennifer Hudson

williamBalfourOn May 11, 2012, a Chicago jury convicted William Balfour of three counts of first-degree murder. Balfour was the ex brother-in-law of singer and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Balfour was on trial for the 2008 murders of Hudson's mother, brother and 7 year-old nephew.

Balfour, 31, was convicted on a total of seven charges brought against him. In addition to the three murder charges, he was convicted of home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary and possession of a stolen vehicle. The prosecution hypothesized that Balfour, a former Chicago gang member, killed the family members in a jealous rage when he learned that his ex-wife, Julia Hudson, was dating another man.

The prosecution faced a tough challenge in convincing the jury to convict Balfour. There were no surviving witnesses to testify to the October 24, 2008 murders, nor were there any fingerprints linking Balfour to the killings. Instead, the prosecution built its case entirely on circumstantial evidence. Over the course of 11 days, the prosecution presented 83 witnesses, including Jennifer Hudson.

In contrast, Balfour's defense took a mere 30 minutes to present, calling only two witnesses to testify. They argued that some other unknown person killed the family in relation to alleged crack-cocaine dealing by Jason Hudson, Jennifer Hudson's brother. The defense had no evidence to back their theory. The jury took three days to deliberate. Three jurors were still not convinced of Balfour's guilt up to one hour before returning their verdict. In interviews with reporters after the deliberations, the jurors stated that the key piece of evidence in coming to a decision was a cell phone record showing that Balfour was in the Hudson's neighborhood when the killings occurred. The jurors assured reporters that Jennifer Hudson's celebrity did not in any way influence their decision.

Hudson did not speak with reporters after the verdict, but she and her sister released a statement later that evening. "It is our prayer that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance someday." They also thanked the prosecutors, police and witnesses at trial.

Balfour now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

 

Sources: "William Balfour Guilty on Three Counts in Jennifer Hudson Family Murder Trial," By Michael Tarm, May 11, 2012, The Huffington Post; "Jennifer Hudson Family Murder Trial: Juror says panel 'took its time' in reaching guilty verdict," by Crimesider Staff, May 14, 2012, www.cbsnews.com

 

John Edwards' Baby Mama Drama in Jury Deliberations

On May 18, 2012, jurors in North Carolina began deliberations in the corruption case against former presidential candidate John Edwards. The case centers on Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, which resulted in the birth of Edwards' 4 year-old daughter. Edwards is charged with six felony counts of spending nearly $1 million in unreported campaign contributions to cover up the affair. Specifically, he faces conviction of one count of conspiracy, four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions, and one count of making false statements. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1.5 million.

Although Edwards' affair was at the center of the trial, it was not the actual issue presented to the jury. In fact, Edwards' attorneys did not deny that the affair happened. They even agreed that the former North Carolina Senator and Presidential hopeful's moral compass was askew - Edwards was having the affair while his now deceased wife, Elizabeth, was battling cancer. However, morals aside, his attorneys argued that he did not break campaign finance laws.

According to the Federal Election Campaign Act, the most money an individual can contribute to a candidate for the 2008 primary election was $2,300. It also prohibits presidential candidates from accepting financial contributions from individuals that exceed that amount. The $2,300 limit applies to anything of value given to the candidate for the purpose of influencing the presidential election. In addition, the Act requires candidates to provide financial disclosure reports detailing campaign contributions.

The contributions in question amount to approximately $1 million, with $725,000 from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon and $400,000 from Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who served as Edwards' campaign finance chairman at the time. Edwards' aide, Andrew Young, used a large portion of Mellon's contributions to finance his family's $1.6 million home in North Carolina, but the remainder of the funds was used to cover up Edwards' affair with Hunter. Young testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity, and in his testimony, he claimed that Edwards instructed Young to solicit donations from individuals in excess of the $2,300 limit.

Evidence presented at trial showed that in 2008, Baron was paying Hunter $9,000 a month in cash for living expenses. The prosecution argued that the money was being taken from campaign finances to keep Hunter quiet and out of the public eye so as not to tarnish Edwards' reputation during his campaign.

The defense agreed that Hunter was being paid to keep quiet, but that the only people Edwards was trying to hide her from was his family. According to Edwards' attorneys, the former senator did not know what the contributions were intended for and had no idea that taking them was against the law. To be guilty, Edwards had to knowingly and willfully violate the Election Law. Edwards' attorneys argued that it was Young who used Edwards' name to solicit and use Mellon's contributions for personal use, unbeknownst to Edwards. Certainly Edwards is guilty of poor moral decisions, but, argued his attorneys, there is a "difference between a wrong and a crime . . . between a sin and a felony."

 

Sources: "No verdict reached in Edwards trial," by Allen Reed and the Associated Press, May 19, 2012, The Boston Globe; "Closing arguments made in Edwards trial," by Michael Biesecker, May 17, 2012, The Washington Times; "John Edwards Jurors Make Little Progress in Three Days of Deliberations," by James Hill, Beth Loyd and Russell Goldman, May 22, 2012, ABC News; "Closing arguments in John Edwards trial," by David Zucchino, May 18, 2012, The LA Times

MC&A is firmly committed to our valued clientele.  We provide services in the areas of litigation, criminal law, and general corporate and business law.

For more information about how we can be of service to you, call us at 212.551.3617 or send an email to info@charleslawfirm.com.

Midwin Charles & Associates LLC
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MC&A is a law firm offering services in criminal defense and civil and commercial litigation.

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Midwin Charles was profiled by
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Midwin Charles was a panelist at The Haitian Roundtable's Speaker Series:  The Art of Reinvention Your Career on May 14, 2012 in New York.  Other Panelists included:

 

Fabrice Armand

 

President, Fabrice J. Armand Group     

 

          

Faride Precil
Manager, Education Programs, National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC)

       

Mona Scott-Young  
Founder/CEO of Monami Entertainment

 

Brian Simon
Director, Government Affairs, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

 

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Midwin Charles receives 2012 Entrepreneurship Award from Black Street Online Magazine!  Other awardees included New York State Senator Kevin Parker, CEO & Founder of Black Girls Rock Beverly Bond and President of 100 Black Men of Long Island Phil Andrews.  For more info, go to www.blackstreetonline.com
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