Tag Archives: angela corey

The Michael Dunn Retrial is Underway

Michael Dunn mug shot

Michael Dunn mug shot

Dunn was previously convicted of several counts of attempted murder and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle. The first jury hung on the First Degree Murder count, and jury selection for the retrial has begun today. He is claiming justifiable use of force (self defense). His attorneys attempted to move the case due to the local publicity, but the judge declined to do so. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the final charge. He already faces a mandatory 60 years combined on the charges fro which he has been convicted, but not yet sentenced, which makes the cost of a retrial seem to be not very cost effective. Keep in mind the first trial cost nearly $100,ooo!

http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/22/us/florida-loud-music-trial/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

When Can Juveniles Be Tried as Adults in Florida?

Recently, Crimcourts covered the 9-month-old in Pakistan charged with attempted murder. That got me thinking about the rules in Florida, and how old someone has to be to be tried as an adult, as there have been some high-profile cases of young people being tried as adults. For certain serious offenses, there is no minimum age for children to be tried as adults in Florida. According to a juvenile sentencing report by the University of Texas, there are examples of 11-year-olds being charged as adults, and that theoretically a 7-year-old accused of murder could stand trial as an adult. For less serious offenses, children over age 16 can be charged as adults at the discretion of the prosecutor, even for misdemeanors if they have priors.

Christian Fernandez

Christian Fernandez

Florida was recently in the news for the case of Christian Fernandez, a 12-year-old charged as an adult in Jacksonville, who faced mandatory life in prison without parole if convicted at trial. Ultimately, Fernandez plead to a deal that allowed for him to be sentenced as a juvenile, and he will remain incarcerated until he turns 19. That’s the most recent of a history of aggressive prosecutions of juveniles.

Lionel Tate at 14

Lionel Tate at 14

Florida made news several years ago when Lionel Tate, who was also 12 at the time of his offense, lost at trial and was sentenced to life in prison. He was the youngest person in America to have been sentenced to life without parole, until his sentence was overturned on appeal. He then entered a plea deal that spared life in prison, and he ultimately violated his probation by committing a robbery. Tate’s case also garnered attention because he was convicted of felony murder, which means that he did not have to intend the death of the playmate he killed. It was a first degree felony murder because it occurred in the commission of child abuse, despite the fact that Tate was only 12, himself.

There has been a growing effort in Florida to amend the way juveniles are handled in relation to adult court. Currently, Florida prosecutors are given great power in that they have unquestioned discretion to “direct file”, that is to charge a juvenile in adult court. It most instances, the decision cannot be reviewed by a judge, or appealed. The Florida Times-Union did a fascinating examination of how prosecutors gained this power during a reactionary period 20 years ago when there were several high-profile attacks on tourists. This unfettered discretion could lead to abuses if State Attorneys use it unfairly.

The Florida Bar has a committee advocating for the Legal Needs of Children, who are pushing the recommendations from 12 years ago against the direct filing of juveniles. The committee has been advocating changes for years. The committee’s position was recently adopted by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors as an official legislative position of the Florida Bar. This isn’t a minority advocacy group, or even a Defense oriented group, this is the position of the Florida Bar as a whole.

State Attorney Angela Corey

State Attorney Angela Corey

Rob Mason, an assistant public defender in the 4th circuit, and director of that office’s juvenile division, says that the State does use their power to unfairly coerce pleas from juveniles in his circuit. Angela Corey, who has raised red flags around here before, is the State Attorney there, in the circuit including Jacksonville. Mason’s allegations about her practices seem to be borne out in the record. He says that about 80% of the direct commitments handled by his office are threatened with being charged as adults, which entices a quick plea to avoid potentially longer sentences for those juveniles. Moreover, the Florida Times-Union reports more than 1400 direct commitments over the last four years. In contrast, there were only 34 during the same period Miami’s district, in spite of having about twice as many juveniles as Jacksonville’s. Further, 29 percent of the direct commitments in Jacksonville stem from misdemeanor cases. Those kids are likely receiving harsher sentences as juveniles that comparable adult offenders. It was Angela Corey’s office that filed Christian Ferndandez’s case in adult court, before relenting.

The great power afforded to prosecutors in Florida is unnecessary. It would not be a great burden to use judicial review for the appropriateness of such decisions. The majority of state attorneys probably do not abuse the discretion, but the numbers suggest that even one can negatively affect thousands of children. Judicial review would put a check in the system to ward off abuses, and still allow prosecutors to push for adult prosecution where it was appropriate: not just whenever it is convenient or advantageous to coerce a plea deal. That’s why the Florida’s Bar’s Legislative committee will now advocate for such a change.

A Twist in the Marissa Alexander Case

I haven’t been able to cover the Marissa Alexander case much on this blog. For those unfamiliar, Ms. Alexander was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for Aggravated Assault for firing what she claimed was a warning shot in the vicinity of her estranged husband, as well as two of his children. It has drawn comparisons to the Zimmerman case, as self-defense was claimed. Factually, it differed because the testimony was that she went out to the garage to retrieve the gun, before returning and firing it. Her conviction was overturned on appeal for an error in the jury instruction.

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

A group of Jacksonville pastors are encouraging the State to reopen their original offer, which was for 3 years in prison. Ms. Alexander would not have to serve much more time, thanks to the credit for time she has already served. She had initially rejected the offer, choosing to go to trial on her justified use of force defense. This new push is interesting, as it differs from many outside pundits claiming that she should not have been charged at all. This middle ground suggests that she would be punished for resorting to gun play (which was not found to be justified by the jury at the first trial), but would allow for a much more reasonable punishment than the 20 years mandated by Florida’s 10-20-Life Law. Under recent legal developments, the court must impose each 20 year sentence consecutively, so if she is convicted again of three counts, the court will be obligated to sentence her to 60 years.

The Florida legislature is currently considering a “warning-shot” bill that would be an exception to 10-20-Life, but even if it passes, it may be too late for Alexander. Her trial is set for late July, and she is expected to again argue self-defense / justifiable use of force. The Florida Supreme Court may take up the issue to determine whether the legislature intended to mandate consecutive sentences.

This case is a better example of the unjust sentences that can occur with non-discretionary sentencing than it is an exemplar of Stand Your Ground. The judge found that Stand Your Ground did not apply due to the fact that she returned to the confrontation. Still, outside of prosecutor Angela Corey’s office, it would be hard to demonstrate that 60 years in prison, essentially a life sentence, would be just under the circumstances. Ms. Alexander was in an abusive relationship, had no prior criminal history, and nobody was physically harmed when she discharged the firearm. Ms. Corey’s office has chosen to proceed with the greatest level of charges, and if successful, will mandate 60 years, even if the judge does not want to do it, and regardless of any mitigating circumstances. For that reason, California has been reexamining its notorious three strikes law, in an attempt to prevent costly, unjust sentences.

No Verdict Yet for Michael Dunn

The jury is still out in the ‘loud music shooting’ case. They will continue to deliberate, starting today at 9:00 a.m. in addition to the 1st degree murder charge, there are several lesser offenses and attempted murder charges for the other boys in the truck. The first degree murder charge is probably a reach, any premeditation was minimal at best. If the prosecutor tries to oversell the case, they lose credibility on the lesser charges. That may help Dunn’s attorney on his self-defense claim. This is the same prosecutor that overcharged on the George Zimmerman.
Un fortunately, I wil be out of town this weekend, so I may not get to comment right away when the verdict comes in.

Michael Dunn’s Murder Trial is Under Way

Accused killer Michael Dunn mug shot

Accused killer Michael Dunn mug shot

After three days of jury selection, opening statements were today in the first degree murder trial of Michael Dunn. It’s being referred to as the Loud Music Murder, as Dunn’s complaint about loud music being played by the alleged victim, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, and his friends precipitated the congrontation. What happened next is up for debate, and how much proof the state can provide regarding the next moments will decide the case. The state says Dunn became incensed from the disagreement about the bass, and intentionally shot at the car with the young men. Dunn claims that he was afraid for his life, thought he saw a weapon, and was justified in firing to protect himself.

It sounds like there are some inconsistencies in the witnesses’ different telling of events, which is a hurdle for the state to overcome. No weapon was ever found, which hurts the Defendant’s story. It should be noted that there would have been time for the young men to have disposed of a weapon, or that Dunn could have been afraid for his life if he thought there was a firearm. Still, without a gun, it will be hard for the defense to convince a jury that Dunn was justified in shooting the young man. Also, he drove several miles to his hotel, and never contacted police.

The story has gained national attention due to the similarities to the George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin case. As in Zimmerman’s defense, a white man shot and killed a young black man. It happened in the same region of Florida, and this case is being handled by prosecutor Angela Corey,

State Attorney Angela Corey

State Attorney Angela Corey

who oversaw the prosecution of Zimmerman. This is also a self-defense case, and no motion to dismiss has been filed under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. That’s the Stand Your Ground Motion that people often think of, though Zimmerman’s defense did not argue it, either. Dunn will be helped by the law, because another provision removed the ‘duty to retreat’ requirement. If Dunn was in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm, he is allowed to use deadly force. He does not have to try to get away under Florida law. It will be up to the jury to determine whether his stated fear was reasonable.

More details on the case can be found on our earlier post, or click the Michael Dunn tag for the full Crimcourts treatment.

The Zimmerman Prosecution Cost Almost $1,000,000

The estimation released yesterday by the Orlando Sun Sentinel puts the number at over $900,000, but that doesn’t include costs incurred by Special Prosecutor Angela’s Corey’s office. An advance to her office as already tallied $80,000. Nor does that number include pretrial costs, which must have been substantial. I anticipate the final tally of your tax dollars will come in north of a million dollars. Nor does this include money Zimmerman had to outlay in his defense, much of that raised by donations.

Aside

The National Review has taken a shot at Angela Corey. This opinion piece ran today online, detailing more of her past transgressions. The gall to call Harvard to try to get Alan Dershowitz fired is pretty spectacular. The fact that … Continue reading

Issues Mount for Angela Corey, the George Zimmerman Prosecutor

Angela Corey and assistant prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda

Angela Corey and assistant prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda

She’s being criticized all over for losing the prosecution of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, and problems continue to mount for prosecutor Angela Corey. We covered the news that she fired the whistleblower employee , Ben Kruibdos, who revealed that she was unlawfully suppressing evidence on this blog a few days ago when the news broke. As I predicted, a whistleblower lawsuit against Ms. Corey’s office has been announced by Mr. Kruibdos’ attorney. In a bit of delicious irony, the attorney Mr. Kruibdos has retained is himself a former employee of Ms. Corey, who resigned last year due to disagreements with the way she ran the office.

Mr. White was subpoenaed to testify at the hearing for sanctions, and it got pretty contentious when he was examined by prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda, his former boss at the SAO. So, basically Angela Corey’s State Attorney’s Office is kind of a shitshow. Defense attorney Don West was called to the stand during that hearing, alleging under oath that they had caught de la Rionda “hiding the information.” The judge reserved ruling on the discovery violations at that time, saying they would be better handled after the trial.

Now that the trial is concluded, the Defense team is pushing for the issue to be revisited. Mark O’Mara went so far as to tell Reuters, “This is not acceptable, and is not going to be tolerated in any case that I’m involved in.” He continued,  “They are a disgrace to my profession.” That’s the kind of harsh rhetoric that is more likely to come from his co-counsel on the case. Mr. O’Mara’s demeanor has consistently been more low-key, but the alleged violations have really riled him up. And rightly so, if the allegations are true, that the State Attorney’s office deliberately suppressed Brady information, that is a serious breach of the public trust and the right of the Defendant to a fair trial. It will be interesting to continue watching the fireworks.

Why Did the Jury Acquit George Zimmerman of Killing Trayvon Martin? #Zimmermantrial

Many people have expressed surprise, disappointment, and even shock for the jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman this past weekend. The jury found him not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin, and not guilty of the lesser included charge of manslaughter. This article is directed to address some of the issues that have been raised by people who cannot reconcile the verdict and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the case and the verdict. Please read through, and if there is a question that I don’t address, please respectfully share in the comments and I will try to address them as I am available.

How could this happen? Was this jury out of their mind? The state did not have a great case. Keep in mind that the previous prosecutor’s office reviewed the case, and decided not to file charges on it because they did not think there was enough proof to go forward. The early media version of the story was very one-sided, but as more information came out about the case, it was far from clear whether there was criminal liability. Most attorneys who paid attention to the case were not surprised by the verdict, nor were regular readers of this blog.

How can Zimmerman not be guilty when Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman had a gun? The legal equation does turn on whether one party was armed or not. The legal question is whether the Defendant had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. Early media reports about the case pointed out that Martin was shopping for Skittles before the incident; they failed to give important details about the incident. A fight took place, and Zimmerman has several injuries that suggest he was on the losing end of the fight. He had a broken nose and lacerations on the back of his head. That’s the basis for the legal defense of justifiable use of force.

What kind of crazy laws do they have in Florida? What wacky ramifications from the Stand Your Ground caused this? All the talk about Stand Your Ground really clouded the case. While it was discussed early on as a possible defense strategy, the defense did not proceed on a Stand Your Ground immunity theory. The Stand Your Ground law played a role, particularly in the jury instructions that were given. It removed the duty to retreat from the instructions, but did not change the standard for justifiable use of force. On an side note, sometimes the Stand Your Ground law is a good thing. But, it’s important to note that this was not a case of Zimmerman “standing his ground?”

But Zimmerman got out of his car and followed Martin? Didn’t that action lead to Martin’s death? While it was poor judgment for Zimmerman to get out of his car to follow Martin, that action was not criminal. Zimmerman lived in that neighborhood, and has as much right to walk around in that neighborhood as Martin did. There was an intervening act that lead to the death, and the state did not have any evidence that Zimmerman started the fight. In fact, one of the jurors spoke to CNN yesterday, and said that she believed Martin attacked Zimmerman and threw the first punch. But the equation doesn’t stop there. The legal question was whether Zimmerman had a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. It is not legally relevant whether Zimmerman followed the neighborhood watch regulations, especially if he was attacked.

Martin was unarmed, how could it be justifiable to kill him? The fight that precipitated the shooting got significantly more severe. Evidence suggested that Martin threw multiple punches, breaking Zimmerman’s nose. The State tried to argue that Zimmerman was getting the best of Martin at one point, but the evidence did not support that. The evidence indicates that Martin got on top of Zimmerman and continued to beat him. Zimmerman’s story to that effect was supported by an independent eye-witness in the neighborhood, John Good, who came outside prior to calling 911. Zimmerman’s head was split open in multiple places, which supported his claim that Martin bashed his head against the paved sidewalk multiple times. The forensic evidence proved that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when the shot was fired. The juror indicated they were convinced it was Zimmerman screaming for help on the 911 recordings. There was ample evidence to demonstrate that Zimmerman was afraid for his life when he fired the shot.

People are saying that Zimmerman was a racist/vigilante/criminal, shouldn’t that count? There was no evidence to support the allegations of Zimmerman being racist, in spite of what Nancy Grace thinks. Zimmerman had made other calls to 911, which the state produced into evidence, but those calls did not make him sound overzealous. In fact, it proved that he may have had reason to be concerned, as his neighbors had been the victims of multiple break-ins in recent months. He had been arrested once before, but those charges were dropped after Zimmerman entered a diversion program. Zimmerman does not have a criminal conviction, or he would not have had a legal permit to carry the firearm. Prior records are generally not permitted to be introduced in criminal trials as Defendants are presumed innocent; we don’t want prosecutors to make their cases on character assassination. The tables were actually turned in this case, as Martin’s character issues were largely shielded from the jury. Great efforts were made to have the cased proved, or not proved, on the facts.

You’re not trying to say race wasn’t a factor? No, race is obviously a factor, but it is one of many. For instance, there was an allegation that race was a factor in the initial confrontation. However, there was not evidence to support racial profiling. Ironically, Martin made what could be considered a racist comment, calling Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker” before the confrontation, according to Martin’s friend. Is it possible the jury was influenced by race? Of course that’s a concern, but there isn’t evidence to show that race was the reason for the verdict. The jury was made up of 6 women, 5 white, and one a minority. Zimmerman is part hispanic, and identifies as such.  They did not acquit Zimmerman because Martin was a young black man. There was ample evidence presented that Zimmerman was being beaten, and that he has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman’s injuries were not severe, how does that justify shooting someone? This is one of the contentions the prosecutors cited for filing the case after they lost. However, the legal standard is not whether someone had been seriously injured. Rather, the test for justifiable use of force is whether there is a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. The fear must not only be reasonable, it must be imminent, you can’t use force against someone for future harm. The reason the law is written this way, as it was passed down from the common law, is that the use of force is justified to prevent death or serious bodily harm. You don’t have to wait to be mortally wounded to defend yourself, that would be too late. Evidence presented at trial indicated that after knocking Zimmerman down and breaking his nose, Martin slammed his head down so hard that it split open. In order for his injuries to have occurred, Zimmerman’s head must have been slammed against a very hard surface, such as the sidewalk. In the words of Zimmerman’s attorney, Martin armed himself with what he had available, the pavement. If such circumstances were true, a reasonable person would probably feel they were in danger of death or serious bodily injury*. The State did not prove otherwise, and the jury certainly had ample evidence to support a not guilty finding on the law. The juror who spoke yesterday indicated that rereading of the law is what ultimately convinced them to acquit.

Does this mean that a young black man can be shot anywhere? No, very much not. It was only the substantial evidence, both testimonial and forensic, that demonstrated that Martin was beating Zimmerman when Zimmerman fired the shot. While not an element of this case, there was ample evidence to suggest that Martin was the aggressor; that he committed a crime in attacking Zimmerman. Many people are trying to make this case a referendum on race in this country, but the facts suggest otherwise, and Martin was not the wholly innocent party that some have suggested. I doubt many of those pundits followed the case very closely, rather they made up their minds when the movement for Zimmerman’s arrest began. The facts shown in court are favorable to the verdict. This case is certainly a tragedy, and it is a shame that a young man was killed. The conversation on race in this country should continue, and we should keep the families of both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in our prayers.

Is this one of those cases where there was important evidence that the jury didn’t hear. No, it is not. In fact, the jury got a pretty full picture of the evidence in this case. There was no statement by the Defendant that got suppressed, rather the contrary. Zimmerman gave about a half dozen statements and they were played for the jury. The physical evidence did not contradict his statements. The lead investigator found him to be credible. That testimony came in, but was later stricken. There was evidence that the jury didn’t hear that would have been beneficial to his defense. Zimmerman passed a lie detector test the day after the shooting. The jury didn’t see the pictures or text messages that showed Martin had used drugs or was proficient at fighting, and they did not hear that he had been suspended from school or had other legal troubles. This was not a hide the ball case, this was a very informed jury who found him not guilty.

Not guilty isn’t the same thing as innocent. We shouldn’t put too much faith in this jury verdict. This case is different from a lot of cases in that Zimmerman relied on an affirmative defense. That means the burden was actually on the Defense to prove to the jury that he was justified. There was no doubt as to the ID of the shooter, and Zimmerman never denied doing it. He always maintained that he did it in self-defense. The evidence corroborated Zimmerman’s version of the events. The evidence at trial convinced a jury that he was justified. I have seen people compare this verdict to the O.J. Simpson verdict. Frankly, the cases couldn’t have been more different.

Is he going to face federal charges from DOJ? The department of justice has an open investigation into the matter. The Federal Government can only file charges if the crime involved a violation of someone’s civil rights; it’s basically targeted toward hate crimes. It will be difficult for the Feds to prove there was a hate crime when the state could not prove there was a crime by Zimmerman. That doesn’t mean that he cannot be tried, it is an exception to double jeopardy for the Feds to charge him again even after the State tried him. It would be unlikely for them to press charges, because he was acquitted, but politics could drive the decision. The decision of state prosecutors to file was politically motivated, not motivated by facts. Angela Corey said nearly as much in her post-trial comments. As the case progressed, and more facts came out that supported Zimmerman’s defense, I was more and more surprised that the State had chosen to file charges in the first place. The Feds could still file charges if they feel it is appropriate.

So did the prosecutors drop the ball on this case? Some pundits have criticized the State for trial miscues that may have hurt their case. This case was not lost by the trial skills on either side. Rather, the facts did not support a conviction, and even a perfectly presented case would have trouble meeting the burden of proof when so many facts were not in their favor. Mr. Zimmerman did have excellent representation, and Mark O’Mara in particular did a great job of presenting a complicated defense case. I may do a later post detailing some of the errors the State committed in trying the case. And we will definitely follow the case to see if sanctions end up being levied against the State for their discovery violations.

Can Martin’s family sue? They can sue, but it is still difficult case. As I said above, this wasn’t a reasonable doubt- type acquittal. In this case, the Defense actually proved an affirmative defense, which will also be a defense to a civil suit. If the family sues, and they lose, they will be liable for the attorney fees for defending the case, thanks to the Stand Your Ground law. I hope they are well advised of their risks before they file suit.

This summary is my opinion, gleaned from my legal training and following the case as much as possible. I encourage you to review our previous coverage of the #Zimmermantrial as we have done quite a bit about the case. Crimcourts will continue to follow the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial as it progresses in the weeks ahead.

*Zimmerman also claimed that Martin told him he was going to die, covered his mouth at one point, and reached for his gun. If true, Martin was in the process of an attempted murder. This evidence was unrebutted, as Martin was killed. However, there was ample evidence to support the use of reasonable force even you discount the statements of Zimmerman that cannot be verified.

George Zimmerman’s Prosecutor, Angela Corey, Fired the Whistleblower Tech

State Attorney Angela Corey

State Attorney Angela Corey

The progress of the case against George Zimmerman was particularly contentious. Defense attorneys frequently complained of questionable tactics by the State in their preparation of the case. Their complaints were realized to be justified when it was revealed that the prosecutors’s office, headed by Angela Corey, had additional digital information that had been recovered from Trayvon Martin’s phone which they had not turned over. That information is known as Brady information, basically any information that might help the defense, and it is mandatory that the prosecutors disclose such information. The Defense team had explicitly requested the information from Mr. Martin’s phone, and had been informed that there wasn’t any more.

The reason that the information came to light was thanks to a whistleblower: Corey’s IT Director Ben Kruidbos. It came to the attention of Mr. Kruibdos that the information he had found, including numerous pictures and text messages, were not part of the packet that had been disclosed to the Defense. According to Mr. Kruibdos, he attempted to go through the proper channels within his office, including informing ASA Bernie de la Rionda, who handled prosecution case. Kruibdos was called to testify, and it became clear that Ms. Corey’s office deliberately withheld discovery information, was in violation of Brady, and did so to the detriment of the Defendant. The court indicated that sanctions could be possible after the trial. Mr. Kruibdos received notice that Ms. Corey had terminated him last week.

Mr. Kruibdos, who is not an attorney, felt ethically obligated to do something after he found out about the subterfuge. He was also afraid of his own liability for his role and his knowledge of the Brady material. He hired an attorney and his attorney turned the information over to Zimmerman’s defense team. Fortunately, the harm was revealed in time, and it did not prevent the Defense from successfully defending Mr. Zimmerman, who was exonerated this past weekend by the jury. Even if you disagree with the verdict, the Defense should not be prevented from putting on their case do to subversion by the prosecutor’s office. If the State has to violate someone’s rights to convict them, you have to question their motives.

This has looked like a political prosecution decision from the time the Governor brought in Ms. Corey to handle the case. Her statements since the trial have done nothing to dispel that concern. To summarize: 1. Angela Corey’s office withheld Brady material in a murder case, 2. One of her employees noticed the issue, and tried to go through channels to resolve it, 3. His complaints were ignored, and he felt legally obligated to disclose the information, 4. Angela Corey fired him, 5. The State lost the case, in spite of the subterfuge, 6. Now Corey’s office is going to get sued for wrongful termination by a whistleblower, and cost her taxpayers thousands of dollars. Of course, it’s not her money. It’s one more questionable, expensive decision by this elected official.

I will have more thoughts on Zimmerman being exonerated, but wanted to get this out since it was breaking today.