Dakota Fields, the deceased
Yesterday the State Attorney’s Office released the surveillance video from the Waffle House shooting in Fort Myers a few months ago. The video clearly shows Dakota Fields rush the door to attack Jehrardd Williams, who was standing inside with a firearm. Fields died in his friend’s vehicle after an accident as they were trying to get him to the hospital.
The legal issue at the case, which is a clear instance of self-defense, was the level of force justified. Mr. Williams used deadly force to defend himself, but there was no indication that Fields, or his friends, were armed. Does the Stand Your Ground law permit someone to used deadly force (discharge of a firearm is always deadly force in Florida), against someone who is unarmed? It can. It’s a case by case basis: deadly force is permissible if a person reasonably believes they are in danger of imminent death or great bodily harm. [emphasis mine] The State decided that in this case, it could not prove otherwise beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.
Local reporter Stacey Deffenbaugh asked me Thursday, after the manslaughter verdict in a another stand your ground case, how many stand your ground trials had occurred since the law passed in 2005. There’s no way of knowing for sure, as not all cases are murders. Further a lot of the cases not only don’t go to trial, but do not get filed on because the prosecutors recognize the difficulty of proof.
Also, don’t start fights at Waffle House.
Here’s the Waffle House story and footage at the News-Press.
This goliath grouper decided to go after a spear fisher’s catch, and didn’t care that the diver from Winter Park, FL, wasn’t about to give it up. I’m sharing it, because it reminds me of a case we covered here on Crimcourts, where a Lee County man was charged with illegally harvesting a sandbar shark. The man claimed self-defense, that the shark came at him over the fish he has speared. FWC officers said they found the diver, Steven Moriconi, cutting the shark open when they appraoched. Moroconi countered that he was helping the shark by releasing babies in its belly. Mr. Moriconi was ultimately found guilty of unlawful harvest of the shark, but this video illustrates how an aggressive fish, especially one with more teeth, could cause a diver to be afraid of death or serious bodily injury.
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
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.
Posted in 10-20-Life, Criminal Law, Florida, Stand Your Ground
Tagged #standyourground, angela corey, jacksonville, jordan davis, michael dunn, murder, stand your ground, trial
This burglar called 911 on himself when his failed attempt at a break-in ended in his being held at gunpoint by the homeowners. My favorite part of the story is that the wife of the gun-carrying homeowner also called 911, and told them to hurry over because she was afraid her husband was going to shoot the intruder.
I want to stress that these homeowners would not have had the right to shoot this guy at this point, even if he tried to flee in his vehicle. Especially if he tried to flee in his vehicle. Self-defense laws, even broadly worded ones like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law and the castle doctrine are limited to situations where there is a present threat of major harm. Once the threat has passed, the use of force is no longer legal. The law does not want people who are leaving the premises to be shot. Also, don’t break into people’s houses, obviously. #thingsnottodo
George Zimmerman has sued NBC for defamation, going back to the story they did where they selectively edited the recording of the 911 call. NBC cut out when the dispatcher asked what race was the young man who Mr. Zimmerman was subscribing. In doing so, it made it look like he volunteered the race himself, right after saying the individual was up to no good. It gave a clear impression of racism that played into one of the major issues of the case. NBC previously published a correction and apology, saying the edit was an error. I am skeptical of their claim of an error. #standyourground
Photo of George Zimmerman taken at the scene
This week George Zimmerman’s defense team released a graphic photograph of Mr. Zimmerman from the night he shot Trayvon Martin. I’m skipping all the mentions of “alleged” as the Zimmerman team has conceded that he shot and killed Mr. Martin. The question is whether or not the killing was justified. The photo is not new, it was contained in the discovery that was provided to the defense team months ago, but this is the first time the image has been released in full, bloody color.
The earlier disclosure had been just a black and white copy, which does not reflect the severity Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries. Fox News prepared a handy side-by-side comparison. The color image shows a significant amount of blood coming from Mr. Zimmerman’s nose. The nose itself appears extremely swollen and discolored. There are also other markings on his face consistent with injury. You really cannot identify these details in the black and white photograph without referring to the color picture.
These injuries are significant. When Mr. Zimmerman’s self-defense claim was first being discussed in the media, reports that his nose were broken were met with skepticism. This photograph bolsters that claim, which in turn bolsters his credibility regarding his version of events. This picture cannot tell us exactly how the confrontation went down, but is suggests injuries that are consistent with Mr. Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. They bolster his argument that he was in fear for his life or great bodily harm.
Something else that’s troubling about the photo’s release is the timing. While the photo was initially released months ago, the Defense indicates they only recently received the digital, color copy of the image. They have complained about the State’s reluctance in cooperating with their discovery requests, and this picture was only released as past of the State’s 9th supplemental discovery disclosure. The delay gives the impression that the State is either playing games with discovery, or deliberately obfuscating the discovery process. Either possibility is quite troubling.
Florida has very broad rules and a very open discovery process. The system is designed so that everything gets out on the table well in advance, so that both sides are able to prepare for trial. There is no valid reason to hold back the digital copy of a photograph. Further, this image is potentially exculpatory for the Defendant. As such it is Brady material: exculpatory information that the State is required to disclose immediately. It is a major violation to withhold Brady material.
Whether there was intentional discovery violations or not, it gives the appearance of impropriety. It would be a shame to think the prosecutor would be playing games in the discovery process of one of the most discussed cases in the country, especially when they evidence is consistent with the very real possibility that Mr. Zimmerman is innocent of criminal activity. I have previously criticized the prosecutor appointed on this case, Angela Corey, for the aggressive prosecutorial approach that contributed to a brutal murder conviction being overturned just a few weeks ago. Allegations of misconduct could call into question any conviction she may acheive in this case as well, though more and more evidence has become public that suggest her decision to prosecute the case, and to charge second degree murder instead of manslaughter is questionable.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the surge in cases dealing with justifiable homicides invoking self-defense, Governor Rick Scott created a special ‘Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection’ panel. The panel, often referred to as the Task Force, specifically to review Florida Statutes Chapter 776, which includes the self-defense laws and the codification of the “Stand Your Ground” principle. The task force has completed their review, and a draft of their report is now available online. This is not to be confused with the Florida Stand Your Ground Task Force, which was independently created to report to the Governor’s task force.
The report is a vote of confidence for the law, with only one recommendation to the legislature to review the definition of “criminal prosecution”, merely for clarification purposes. As opponents have pointed out, it’s no surprise the task force approved of the law, as they were appointed by Governor Scott, and writers of the law were among the panel members. However, as a defense attorney, I’m glad for the approval. I have seen first hand how the law has helped people who were defending themselves from attackers. It’s an important tool that discourages a rush to judgment, and the Peterson format that allows an immunity hearing can avoid the expense of a trial, or from putting an innocent person through a trial.
Keep in mind, the principle of the Castle Doctrine – that you have a right to defend your home – is a centuries-old principle that is codified in one section of Stand Your Ground, as is the principle of self-defense. This statute is designed to ensure the legal rights of those who have the necessity to defend themselves or others with force when appropriate. The courts are the function to determine when force is appropriate. there will be unpopular outcomes on both sides, but the law does not create any new rights.
Finally, one other thing that stood out, was a recommendation from the panel that went afield of Chapter 776. The panel recommended that the legislature review the 10-20-Life law, due to unintended consequences and disproportionate use of the law. They recommend restoration of some sentencing flexibility to the courts. I have previously been critical of harsh minimum mandatory sentences that take discretion away from the courts. I am encouraged that this panel specifically raised the issue, in light of recent cases that highlight examples of harsh sentences that fail to account for extenuating circumstances. Hopefully some of the legislators who were involved or who read this report will consider that when they go back to Tallahassee. #standyourground
Panel report: http://senatorchrissmith.com/standyourground/finalreport.pdf
other task force report: http://senatorchrissmith.com/standyourground/finalreport.pdf
Jury selection continues to crawl along in the Robert Dunn, Bobbie Noonan Day Care 1st Degree murder case. According to the State Attorney’s Office, they have 29 potential jurors form the first two weeks of selection, and are hoping to get a panel of 60 for the next phase. Clearly the publicity in the case is making it difficult to get an impartial jury. However, it’s better to spend the extra time during jury selection to make sure to get it right, so the trial doesn’t have to be retried, as the Gateway Murders trial (Fred Cooper) a couple of years ago.
“Zumba prostitute” Alexis Wright
Several more names have been released in the Zumba prostitution case (Alexis Wright). That’s about 40 names at this point… most of them in that little town. By scale- this is bigger than the Elliot Spitzer case in New York.
And finally, Crimcourts has our fingers crossed for everyone in the path of Hurricane Sandy. We have an exclusive update from our own correspondent in NYC (my Mom). Even this morning the streets are deserted. Rain started at 11 am and has gotten worse, all the stores are closed. Mom is staying near Grand Central Station, and it’s a ghost town. Everyone on the east coast stay safe! (Especially you, Mom!)
UPDATE: George Zimmerman news: the judge has denied a gag order request: the new Judge, Debra Nelson, ruled the State had failed to show prejudice. This is the second time it has been denied. Additionally, the judge limited the State’s request for medical records. Trayvon Martin’s family attorney has been vociferously complaining, but ironically, the outspokenness and public presence the Martin family has presented in the media with their side of the story gives further justification for Zimmerman’s defense team giving updates. #standyourground
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida Cases, George Zimmerman, Uncategorized
Tagged #standyourground, george zimmerman, hurricane sandy, Jury, jury selection, martin, murder, prostitution, robert dunn, stand your ground, trayvon martin, trial, zimmerman, zumba
George Zimmerman’s murder case for shooting unarmed teen Trayvon Martin is tentatively set for trial next June (2013). That’s a reasonable time frame for such a complicated case. Zimmerman’s attorneys reiterated that they plan to file for an immunity motion on self-defense (stand your ground), and anticipate that should happen around April or May. Florida’s stand your ground law provides immunity from prosecution to those who are acting in self-defense. If Zimmerman is successful, the case will be dismissed without having to go to trial. The hearing will essentially be a mini-trial, as the judge will have to make a factual determination. The Defendant has the burden of proof at such a motion, unlike at trial where the burden falls on the prosecution.
Stand your ground motions can be time and money savers, as it is generally much less taxing to put on a limited motion than an entire trial. This motion will likely involve several days of testimony, so it certainly won’t be cheap, but a jury trial, with selection and additional evidence to be presented, will likely take several weeks. Additionally, if Mr. Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, he shouldn’t have to face a trial. The judge will determine if the facts demonstrate that he was acting lawfully. Prosecutors don’t like arguing these motions: they could have their case dismissed. However, it’s more efficient to resolve these issues in pretrial, and if they can’t convince a judge that they have a solid case, we shouldn’t be wasting our time on expensive trials. I’m sure I’ll have more to say when the motion is heard. #georgezimmerman
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida, George Zimmerman, Stand Your Ground
Tagged #standyourground, george zimmerman, immunity, martin, stand your ground, trayvon martin, trial, zimmerman
Details on the defense website here. They are specifically asking for all documentation and records pertaining to the investigation of the police for how they handled the investigation. It could provide more fodder for trial when they point out that other law enforcement agencies felt the police mishandled parts of the investigation, if there were such findings. If not, no harm done.