Is George Zimmerman Trying A Homer Simpson Strategy?

The accused, pre-donuts.

The accused, pre-donuts.

Based on his appearance at today’s preliminary hearings for his murder trial, George Zimmerman has packed on a few pounds since he was arrested and charged with second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Might this be an intentional strategy dictated by his lawyer? If so, it would be reminiscent of the memorable episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer decided to give himself the benefit of the Americans With Disabilities Act by eating himself into muu-muus. But would it be ethical?

The theory, I presume, is that the less threatening and mobile Zimmerman looks, the more plausible it will seem to the jury that he was not the aggressor in his fatal tussle with Martin, who, we heard today, the defense will try to portray as a violence-prone thug. This kind of maneuver exploits a structural defect in the jury system, aggravated by the now ridiculously extended justice process. Jurors can only think of a defendant and sometimes a victim as they look in the courtroom, when it is what they were like when the alleged crime occurred that matters. Years ago in the District of Columbia, a wily attorney defending a child molester who swore that his 13-year old victim had credibly presented herself as 18 managed to delay the trial for three years. It was enough time for the victim to get morphed by puberty hard, and she appeared on the stand not as the thin, immature child she was when she was sexually assaulted, but as an obviously sexually-mature young woman speaking in a attractively husky voice, whom one courtroom reporter described as looking at least 25. Her attacker was acquitted. This is considered excellent lawyering. (The prosecutor, who allowed the girl to wear a tight, low-cut dress and full make-up, was, in contrast, an idiot.)

Looking at Zimmerman today, I wondered why his attorney didn’t also have him wear wire-rim glasses. As I’ve written about before, that also helps: juries are less likely to convict those accused of violent crimes when they look like they could be characters on “Big Bang Theory.” Yet the consensus in the legal profession is that if a lawyer thinks altering his or her client’s appearance will help get an acquittal, it is not only ethical to do it, it is unethical not to do it. The reasoning is that juries are going to place disproportionate weight on irrelevancies like appearances and demeanor no matter how illogical it is—“She just doesn’t look like a child molester”…is there any doubt that Kaitlyn Hunt is counting on that thought coursing through her jury’s heads?—so the defense’s choice is to either have bias working for it or against it. I agree with this, but I don’t like it.

Some will say that Zimmerman’s lawyers are justified in stretching the boundaries of ethics in their defense, because Zimmerman shouldn’t be on trial anyway.  Famed law professor and criminal defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a critic of the prosecution from the beginning, recently wrote that the evidence now clearly supported Zimmerman’s self-defense claim, and suggested that only political considerations stood in the way of releasing Zimmerman. I think he’s probably correct, but even if he is, an unjust prosecution doesn’t give the defense more margin to use unethical tactics. Deciding to fatten up Zimmerman for his trial would be just as ethical for his lawyer if Zimmerman was hunting down Martin out of racial hatred as it would be if Zimmerman were innocent. The lawyer’s duty is to put on the most vigorous defense permitted by the law, and the Homer Simpson strategy is a legitimate and ethical option.

27 thoughts on “Is George Zimmerman Trying A Homer Simpson Strategy?

  1. Think you’re giving Zimmerman far too much credit. If you look at his pics over time his weight zigs and zags like Oprah’s. Right now it’s Zoftig.

    Lack of employment and lack of any activities have more to do with his current physique, imo.

    As far as the actual case, Zimmerman is a victim of political backlash with a 2nd degree murder charge and the $1M bail amount.

    The Sanford Police department mucked things up by not charging him initially. The circumstances were not a clear cut case of self defense or SYG. He should have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, or something, and let the judicial process take its course.

    Now we have a 3 ring circus that has wasted untold amounts of taxpayer money, with many more $$$ to be spent, and Nancy Grace and other toxic media clowns polluting my bandwidth.

      • When one person shoots another person dead on neutral property, a thorough investigation should have been conducted…

        The police department took dictation from Zimmerman and made their final determination of self defense almost immediately. Because of their unethical behavior, we have to endure all this racial tinging, and expense.

        Like I always say, there’s always time to perform the job correctly the second time.

        • Huh? They did an investigation before arresting him, which was proper. Thanks to all the political pressure, journalistic malpractice and race-baiting, the investigation was compromised.

        • You first stated:

          “When one person shoots another person dead on neutral property, a thorough investigation should have been conducted…

          The police department took dictation from Zimmerman and made their final determination of self defense almost immediately. Because of their unethical behavior, we have to endure all this racial tinging, and expense.”

          They investigated it to see if he broke any laws and decided he hadn’t so they didn’t charge him.

          “He should have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, or something, and let the judicial process take its course.”

          On what grounds? You only charge someone if you believe they committed THAT crime, you cannot over charge in hope that you can plea it down to what you want.

          Also Its not the role of the judicial process to determine if someone should be charged then tried. Its responsibility is determine innocence or guilt. That’s all

          • They didn’t conduct an investigation worthy of a competent police department. They didn’t question any witnesses other than Zimmerman. They took his word for it. There was enough uncertainty that some charge was merited… Now that we have the political backlash he was overcharged and over bailed.

            I live in Florida and these SYG cases come up all the time. Very rarely do they get dispositioned in the callous manner conducted by the Sanford Police Department.. And now we all have to pay the price of their unethical behavior.

            • What witnesses? There was him and the dead kid. They didn’t have probably cause to hold him, and if you charge prematurely, it causes problems…amd is unjust to boot. I don’t know that they weren’t intending to investigate further—were they? Do you know? I don’t. The family’s intervention caused a presumption of guilt. Releasing him was correct, investigating further was necessary. Saying they should have charged him with “something” in the absence of probable cause smacks of too much “Law and Order.” That’s unethical.

  2. I find your writing in this post confusing. The question to be answered is. “But would it be ethical?”.
    Then there is a lot of writing that gives me the impression that you don’t find it ethical. And then there is your last sentence, your concluding sentence which states, “The lawyer’s duty is to put on the most vigorous defense permitted by the law, and the Homer Simpson strategy is a legitimate and ethical option.”.

    • I apologize. My intention was to communicate the fact that under the Professional Rules of Conduct, the ethics rules governing lawyers, it is explicitly ethical. So its ethical within that specialized realm—legal ethics. I said I don’t like it. I don’t. I don’t because its intent is to play to biases and stereotypes, and deceive the jury. In most other settings, I’d say that is explicitly UNethical. Hence my discomfort. In the end, however, the duty of the defense lawyer trumps ordinary ethics.

      I bet that doesn’t help you a bit.

        • It’s only a dilemma if you don’t buy into the role of a defense attorney, which is not to get his client off, but to make the prosecution prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

          • I wish you could remind all the talking head defense attorneys who advertise themselves by appearing on cable of the proper role of a defense attorney. For the most part, they strike this casual observer as little more than money-grubbing slimeballs who’ll do or say anything and slander anyone to get their clients off on charges brought by vile and odious law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

          • This is (again) confusing to me.

            As I understand it, you give two possible roles for a defense attorney: (a) to get his client off and (b) to make the prosecution prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
            According to you the (real) role of a defense attorney is option b.
            So far, so good.
            Now, according to (my interpretation of) your sentence, if I don’t buy into the role of a defense attorney, it means, if I don’t buy into option b but instead buy into option a there would be a dilemma.
            That I find strange. If I buy into option a, the role of a defense attorney is to get his client off, there is no ethical dilemma for me; all is fair game.
            If, on the other hand, I buy into option b, the role of a defense attorney is to make the prosecution prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then tactics like stalling a prosecution for 3 years, add some weight, wear glasses, wear child clothes, etc feels like rather unethical to me; there would be some dilemma’s for me.

            • The only way to make sure the prosecution proves the criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt is to green light complete zeal by the defense attorney. The attorney should not pull punches. Those two alternatives are not either-or options….the first is subsumed by the second. If the prosecution’s case is so weak that the simple bias that people feel that “nerds” aren’t likely to be cop killers is sufficient to cause a not guilty verdict, then the lawyer’s use of that device was appropriate and in the interests of justice.

              Defendants are supposed to begin with the benefit of the doubt in the jury system—to be presumed innocent. In fact, they are presumed guilty, and for logical reasons. They are on trial. They have been in jail. They were arrested and charged. The vast majority of people who are arrested and charged and are facing prison did something very wrong. A lawyer defending such a person has to work hard to make it a level playing field. It is incompetent lawyering to let one’s homeless client appear in court “looking like a criminal.” Thus it is also reasonable for him to look the part of an innocent man, eliminating and overcoming the jury’s natural assumption of guilt.

              There is no such thing as a neutral-looking defendant. You need to coach the defendant in how to appear in court—not to show burst of anger, not to glower, not to smile inappropriately. Is that deceptive? It’s not the client’s natural demeanor, but then, innocent people may react badly under stress.

              Virtually anything is allowed that isn’t outright deception (you couldn’t pad George to make him look fat) because the system doesn’t want the lawyer pulling punches and restraining zeal. I think that’s probably wise and fair, but the there is an aspect of deception in it, and that still troubles me.

  3. I’m not sure this is intentional. No two photos of the guy have looked remotely alike in the year-plus duration of the case.

  4. Jack, I do think that there’s no way to know for certain the reason for Zimmerman’s weight gain. It could very well by a defense ploy. However, other commentors have come up with plausible reasons, as well. I don’t think we should assume.

    On the other hand, you bring up interesting questions regarding the ethics of how a litigant in court is presented. I would never question a defendant’s right to present himself in the best possible light, even if it means putting on a shirt and tie previously uncharacteristic of him. However, you are correct in that, for better or for worse, a litigant’s choice of appearance can sway a jury. What responsibility does an attorney have to present the truth of the person when it comes to appearance?

    In the aforementioned case of the sexual abuse victim, the justice system was misused to give the victim time to mature enough that the defendant’s story became plausible. Juries, for better or for worse, rely on what they see with their own eyes. Though the victim shouldn’t have had to carefully consider what she wore to court, the sad fact of the matter is that, in this society, she should have.

    The equally sad case of Valessa Robinson, a teenage terror who helped murder her mother when she was 15-years old, illustrates this point all too well. When she went to trial at age 17, her defense team, under the pretext of having clothes appropriate for court, exchanged her black clothes and equally-colored attitude for the garb of an 11-year old school girl that only lacked pigtails and a big lollipop to bring the image to its ridiculous extreme.

    While Valessa is scheduled to be released as early as next year, her accomplices, the boyfriend she couldn’t live without, is on Death Row, while the other is serving a longer sentence.

  5. Do you think there are varying degrees of image-alteration that may or may not be ethical?

    Defendant #1 does what you suspect Zimmerman of doing, and allows himself to pudge up and wears “friendly” clothes to appear unthreatening.

    Defendand #2 grows a full head of hair to cover the swastika tattoo on his usually-shaved head when charged with a racially-based crime.

    Is Defendant 2 trying to cover up something actually material to the case, that would help to establish the kind of person he is? Or is it still ethical for a defense team to hide something like that?

    • That case was litigated a couple of years ago. A judge ruled that the state had to pay to import a Hollywood make-up artist to hide the the “Heil Hitler” and swastika tattoos a women accused of hate crimes had put on her own face while in prison.

      The lawyer can make a client more innocent or sympathetic looking. It is unethical to hamper identification beyond superficial changes. An unconvicted suspect still has the right to shave a moustache or grow one, or wear whatever clothes he wants. Having a defendant limp up to the stand with a crutch would be unethical.

      • Hm, interesting- thanks. I thought I’d pulled that idea out of thin air but I”m betting it was just lurking in my subconscious.

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