Florida Court of Appeal again orders trial judge to release evidence to public in Michael Dunn case
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Storm clouds brewing in the Michael Dunn case.
Yesterday, the 1st District Court of Appeal in Florida ordered Judge Russell Healey to comply with its earlier order to release discovery to the public and to hold a hearing no later than Wednesday of next week to do it.
On December 19th, I wrote about the earlier order.
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.
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.
However, as I also mentioned,
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.
Therefore, there was no good reason for Judge Healey to have created an exception to the Sunshine Law, which requires the simultaneous release of the discovery to the public when it is released to the defense. Expressed another way, the proper publication of the letters pursuant to the law could not serve as a justification to create a new 30-day-review rule.
The news media appealed Judge Healey’s order creating the new exception to the law and the appellate court said, Nyet! Thou shalt follow the law.
Nothing happened, however, so the news media returned to the appellate court and asked it to spank the naughty judge, which it did.
The Florida attorney general’s office, which represents Angela Corey’s office on appeals, has asked to continue the hearing to Friday.
Meanwhile, Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, wants a continuance. He claims he needs more time to get ready for trial. Angela Corey objects to the continuance.
I doubt Judge Healey will grant the continuance because the defense has had more than one year to get ready and it has waited too long to ask for more time. The trial, which is scheduled to start two weeks from Monday, will be a big event. The Florida Times-Union @ Jacksonville.com explains:
The delays mean further burdens on others awaiting some resolution.
Lucia McBath, who lives near Atlanta and is the mother of Jordan Davis, has rented a house in Jacksonville for all of February in anticipation of the trial. Attorney John Phillips, who represents McBath and Jordan’s father, Ron Davis, said they would have no comment on Friday’s events.
Police and media also are well into preparations for a trial that is expected to attract nationwide attention. An area near the courthouse will be set up as a media city, and police will be issuing daily credentials to attend. Courthouse personnel have said they will restrict where the media can conduct interviews.
Dunn will be the first high-profile trial at the new Duval County Courthouse. Unless plea deals are made, he will quickly be followed by Marissa Alexander and Donald James Smith, both also expected to generate national attention.
We certainly will be paying attention.