The issues in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate came further into focus today as defense lawyer Matt Gonzalez asked the jurors questions that reflect some of what the defense will be arguing.
He started the second day of jury selection by telling the prospective jurors that Zarate’s mental health will not be a key part of the defense. On the other hand, he said, “it’s anticipated that you will see a lengthy interview with the police. You may decide that there were mental-health issues.”
The interview took place late at night, and at times Zarate fell asleep. He was rambling and not always coherent. Some of the things he said to the officers were clearly wrong.
Yet his statements will be a key part of the prosecution case, and the questions by Gonzalez were a signal to jurors that there is room to be skeptical about the interrogation.
“If you see someone walking, and they are limping, even if you don’t have medical evidence, you can infer that they are injured,” he said.
He raised the language issue, which came up in pre-trial motions, when the defense argued that the police mangled Zarate’s Miranda warning. “If you were having a conversation with someone and they didn’t understand what you were saying, what inference might you draw?” he asked.
And he quoted one prospective juror’s comments from the jury-pool questionnaire: “Some people with mental illness might not understand what an officer is saying.”
It’s not clear what evidentiary issues might come up, but Gonzalez hinted that there may be challenges to what the prosecution presents. “If someone said they were never in this courtroom, but their fingerprint is in the room, which would you favor?” he asked a potential juror. “You might think the witness is lying, or just uncertain.”
There’s no doubt from the early questioning that both sides know the credibility of police officers involved in the case will be a major issue. Gonzalez asked the jurors repeatedly if they could consider the testimony of a police officer with the same perspective that they would give to the testimony of anyone else.
“If it’s demonstrated that the officer did things that are improper, or said things that are not truthful,” a juror might have to call into question their work, he said.
Then we heard about guns.
One of the key issues is whether the gun that killed Kate Steine — stolen from the car of a federal agent by someone other than Zarate — could have discharged by accident.
Gonzalez noted that there are 112 guns for every 100 people in the United States, and asked, “if we have that many guns, is it possible that some of them get into the wrong hands?”
He noted that there are 25,000 car burglaries every year in San Francisco — one of which, of course, involved the gun that killed Steinle — and asked “could someone come across a gun that they didn’t expect to be there?”
The defense is going to argue that Zarate stumbled on the gun on the waterfront, and that it went off by accident. The Sig Sauer weapon has a hair trigger, and no safety.
Gonzalez noted that there’s a difference between visiting someone’s house and smashing a plate on the floor — and bumping into a table and knocking a plate to the floor by mistake.
“If the shooting was by accident, and the judge told you that’s not a crime, would you be able to follow the judge’s instruction?” he asked a prospective juror.
Diana Garcia, the prosecution lawyer, objected, saying that Gonzalez has mischaracterized the law. But Judge Samuel Feng allowed the defense to continue.
There was a long discussion about the jurors’ positions on the need for laws that mandate guns be secured if they are left in cars — an indication that the federal agent who left his loaded gun in his car might be in part responsible for the death of Steinle.
Gonzalez ended his questioning by reminding the jurors that due process rights apply to everyone, even if they aren’t citizens.
Numerous prospective jurors were dismissed today, both by the judge and by the prosecution and defense. Both sides get to reject 20 jurors. The process will continue tomorrow.