Florida v. Zamora

Trial Transcript, Case No. 77-2566 (1977)

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Florida v. Zamora

Florida Circuit Court
Trial Transcript, Case No. 77-2566 (1977)


[Editor’s Note: The casebook excerpt presents the exchange between the parties, as Zamora’s attorney sought the inclusion of expert testimony on his new defense of involuntary subliminal television intoxication.] Ronney Albert Zamora (defendant) was a 15-year-old who shot his 82-year-old neighbor while burglarizing her home. Zamora was charged and tried for murder in the first degree. At trial, Zamora entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity based on the new defense of involuntary subliminal television intoxication. Essentially, Zamora’s attorney, Ellis Rubin, asserted that Zamora was addicted to television. Rubin argued that Zamora was sociopathic and could not stop himself from doing wrong because he had seen thousands of murders on television and that his conduct was a reflex. Rubin wanted to have witnesses testify as experts regarding empirical studies on the link between seeing violence on television and subsequent violent conduct. Rubin argued that without this testimony, a jury would not be able to comprehend the impact that television had on Zamora. Rubin insisted that studies demonstrated that sociopathic children were more affected by television violence than other people. Rubin’s theory was that while viewing violent content, a viewer did not recognize that desensitization to violence was occurring, such that the viewer was becoming involuntarily desensitized. Rubin likened the resulting intoxication to that of alcohol intoxication, for which courts had allowed experts to testify regarding alcohol’s effects on a loss of control. Rubin asserted that his expert, Dr. Margaret Thomas, would testify that television affected those watching it and that television had affected Zamora. Rubin acknowledged that Thomas had not interviewed Zamora. Prosecutor Thomas Headley stated the state’s position that Thomas’s testimony would not be relevant or material. Headley also asserted that Rubin’s example regarding alcohol was inapplicable. With alcohol, a machine could read how much alcohol was present in a person’s blood, and perhaps a physician could testify regarding what biological impact that level of alcohol would have on a person because alcohol affected people in the same manner. That was not the case with television. Judge H. Paul Baker stressed to Rubin the rule that if scientific evidence was grounded on scientific experiments, it was critical that the scientific community recognized the reliability of such experiments and their results. Alternatively, Judge Baker stressed that the demonstration of scientific evidence needed to have passed from the experimentation and lack-of-certainty phase to reasonable demonstrability. Rubin made a proffer of Thomas’s testimony, with each attorney and the judge questioning her. With the M’Naghten rule in mind, Judge Baker asked Thomas whether she was prepared to testify that based on the facts in the case of viewing eight to 10 hours of television daily, she could indicate within a reasonable psychological certainty that a certain amount of television viewing for a certain type of child could create a mental state in which the child lost the knowledge of right from wrong and could not recognize the nature and ramifications of his conduct. Thomas’s response, that such excessive viewing was one important factor in how people developed an understanding of right and wrong, was not sufficient. Judge Baker asked whether Thomas had read any scientific journals that demonstrated a link or whether she had been able to conclusively link the viewing of a specific television show or the amount of violence viewed on television with a murder or any crime. When Thomas indicated that the answer was no because the crimes were always subsequent, Judge Baker excluded Thomas’s testimony.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning ()

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