Thursday, April 19, 2018

Safety, location an issue if Zimmerman is granted bail

ORLANDO — After spending a week in a jail cell by himself, the neighborhood watch volunteer charged with murdering Trayvon Martin stands a good chance of being granted bail today, despite his second-degree murder charge.

But whether George Zimmerman would remain safe outside custody is a question that may complicate a bail hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, legal experts say.

Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara, has indicated he would ask that Zimmerman be allowed to leave the area if he is granted bail because of safety concerns.

"Normally, the conditions are that you stay local. I think that is going to be difficult," O'Mara said in an interview. "I think nobody would deny the fact that if George Zimmerman were walking down the street today, he would be at risk. That is a reality."

O'Mara has also said he would prefer that Zimmerman be released so he can assist in building a defense case.

The judge would have discretion to allow Zimmerman to live elsewhere along with a number of restrictions such as a curfew, regular reporting requirement and possibly an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, said Florida International University law professor Joelle Moreno.

O'Mara said he would ask for help from law enforcement. Kim Cannaday, a spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, said she couldn't comment on what security procedures will be in place for Zimmerman if he is released. The Sheriff's Office does have the ability to monitor defendants outside the county if a judge requests a GPS monitor to be used as a condition of release.

"I want him to be safe," O'Mara said. "I want him to get to his trial so that a judge or jury, or the prosecutor and I, can figure out a way to resolve this."

A spokeswoman for special prosecutor Angela Corey's office said she wouldn't comment on whether Corey would object to Zimmerman being released on bail.

There is only so much that law enforcement can do to help protect Zimmerman, though, if he is released from jail, said Michael Grieco, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor who is now in private practice.

"There is no mechanism in which a defendant is entitled to an around-the-clock detail," Grieco said. "The irony is that the only safe place for him, considering the current atmosphere surrounding the case, is protective custody within the jail system."

Jail inmates are separated from other inmates when there is a belief they could face threats. Zimmerman has been in protective custody since he entered the Seminole County jail more than a week ago.

Witnesses in cases involving violence or threats are frequently afforded protection, but police officers and prosecutors have no special responsibility to protect Zimmerman once he is out of jail, said Jennifer Zedalis, a University of Florida law professor and former public defender in Gainesville.

Even if Zimmerman is granted bail, his family may not be able to afford it, given that it generally can range from $10,000 to $100,000 for a second-degree murder charge. Zimmerman's parents are retired, and their house in Lake Mary is valued at just under $120,000, according to the Seminole County Property Appraiser.

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