Appellate court reverses trial judge in Jordan Davis case
Cross-posted at Frederick Leatherman Law Blog
I have an important development to report in the Michael Dunn case. As most of you know, he is charged with shooting Jordan Davis, 17, to death in the parking lot outside a convenience store in Jacksonville following an argument over loud music.
Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee reversed Judge Russell Healey’s order that prohibited the release of evidence to the public for a period of 30 days after the prosecution discloses it to the defense. The Court held that Judge Healey’s order violated Florida’s Sunshine Law that requires the prosecution to immediately release the evidence to the public after it releases it to the defense.
Judge Healey issued the order after he experienced a Yikes! moment while watching a local television news report about racist letters that Dunn had written in jail.
I wrote about the letters on October 27th in Let’s play the who-said-this game.
Judge Healey was concerned about the possible impact the letters might have on jury selection and Dunn’s right to a fair and impartial jury. He decided to impose the 30-day delay to give him an opportunity to preview the discovery and decide whether to release it.
Here’s a sample of what he was concerned about.
The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots, when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.
I’m really not prejudiced against race, but I have no use for certain cultures. This gangster-rap, ghetto talking thug ‘culture’ that certain segments of society flock to is intolerable. They espouse violence and disrespect towards women. The black community here in [deleted] is in an uproar against me — the three other thugs that were in the car are telling stories to cover up their true ‘colors.’
I am amazed at what is going on with the way the media has been covering this case. Their have been several other shootings here in [deleted], yet they are all either black-on-black or black-on-white, and none of them have garnered any attention from the media. I guess it’s news when someone dares to not to be a victim, but they are twisting it around sand saying I was the ‘bad guy.’
Y’all get the idea.
Judge Healey’s dilemma was how can we seat a fair and impartial jury now that everyone knows that Michael Dunn, a middle aged white guy, is an unrepentant racist who dares “to not be a victim” of four unarmed black teenagers sitting in a parked SUV with the music turned up. That he’s predisposed to “kill these (expletive) idiots” would appear to lessen the prosecution’s burden to prove premeditation to convict Dunn of murder one or to prove Dunn acted with a depraved mind indifferent to human life to convict him of murder two.
Hence, the Yikes moment.
The problem is the jury will get to see them since the letters are relevant and admissible pursuant to Evidence Rule 404(b) to prove Dunn’s intent when he pulled the trigger and that he did not shoot due to a mistake he made about the situation or accidentally shoot at the teenagers. The letters also are admissible under Evidence Rule 801(d)(2) as admissions by a party opponent.
Also, recall that in the Zimmerman case, prosecution and defense agreed to withhold certain evidence from the public, such as witness names and phone logs subject to an earlier order entered by Judge Lester, pursuant to exceptions in the Sunshine Law. The letters do not fit within any of the exceptions.
But the decision drew objections from The Florida Times-Union, First Coast News and WJXT TV-4, who appealed Healey’s ruling after the judge refused to rescind it.
The prosecution and defense will still have the right to ask Healey to issue a protective order that would keep specific discovery from the public. If that happens, an evidentiary hearing must be held to determine if the information should be protected, the appeals court said.
Attorney George Gabel, who represents the Times-Union and First Coast News, said that’s the way it should be.
‘It’s a procedure that’s fair to the defendant and is also fair to the public,’ he said.
The irony is that the letters may actually have the reverse effect because many white people in Florida, who fiercely deny they are racist, agree with everything Dunn said. They say blacks are the real racists because they have the temerity to complain about being ordered to sit in the back of the bus. They believe that any black male teenager ipso facto is a thug who should be killed to prevent him from becoming an even worse thug.
Oh, and that God-awful rap music. Lordie! Hide the women and the children.
Like the Zimmerman trial that resulted in an unjust acquittal, excluding people from the jury who share Dunn’s loud and proud racist beliefs is key to getting a fair and impartial trial and a just result.
The four teenage boys were unarmed and minding their own business listening to amped-up music when Dunn pulled in and parked next to them on the passenger side of the SUV. When Davis disobeyed Dunn’s order to turn it down, Dunn pulled out his pistola and started shooting and continued shooting as the driver backed out in a panic and sped away. He even got out of his car and fired at the back end of the fleeing vehicle.
Two of the bullets struck and killed Davis, who was sitting in the back seat on the passenger side just a few feet away from Dunn. Fortunately, no one else was injured.
Dunn claims he saw a gun and fired in self-defense.
The driver stopped the SUV a short distance away from the convenience store in a nearby parking lot to check on Davis, who was already unconscious.
The police arrived within minutes. The three teenagers denied having a weapon. Police searched them, the vehicle and the area but did not find a weapon.
Jury selection is scheduled to start February 3rd.