There are so many interesting issues arising out of the prosecution of George Zimmerman for the homicide of Trayvon Martin. But do the controversies and the senstive issues about race make it a bad candidate for a discussion in a PR course? Some of the issues that might be covered:
- In submitting the probable cause affidavit, is the prosecutor permitted to to omit facts inconvenient to, or even contradictory to, the theory the prosecutor is offering? Or is this an ex parte communication that requires the prosecutor to reveal facts reasonably necessary for the tribunal to made a fair decision? (I have discussed this issue before and Alan Dershowitz has been hammering it in the press, but I still don't know what the governing law says.)
- (Hypothetical) In preparing the probabe cause affidavit, may a prosecutor suggest to the person signing the affidavit that certain words be used or not used? How far may the prosecutor go in shaping that sworn testimony? In particular, there has been criticism of the claims that the 911 operator instructed Zimmerman not to follow Martin and that Zimmerman profiled Martin. How far can a prosecutor go in urging a witness to use those words?
- If the affidavit asserts facts for which the prosecutor has no reasonable evidentiary basis, may the prosecutor submit that affidavit? (Note that I'm focusing not on issues that the prosecutor believes are false, but rather unsupported facts.)
- What do the ethics rules say about the prosecutor's charging decision? Was the decision to charge the defendant with muder in the second degree ethical in this case?
- What do the ethics rules say about the identity of the prosecutor's client? Didn't the prosecutor's public statement get that wrong?
- Should the prosecutor have prayed with the lawyer for the deceased's parents?
- What are the ethical implications of defense counsel setting up a web page to support the defense? Could there be a loss of privilege or breach of confidentiality? Could the prosecutor argue that statements at the site can be admissions by the defendant?
- Did the first set of defense lawyers breach their duty of confidentiality when they publicly announced why they were withdrawing?
- (Hypothetical) Assume hypotheticaly that in private the defendant confesses racial bias to his defense lawyer. What are the ethical constraints, if any, about putting the defendant on the stand?