Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments February 19th in Tsarnaev case

February 12, 2015

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments next Thursday, February 19th, to consider Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s request to move his death penalty trial out of Boston. United States District Court Judge George A. O’Toole has denied three defense motions to move the trial and that prompted the defense to go to the appellate court. Meanwhile, jury selection will continue.

The New York Times reports,

In making their requests to move the trial, defense lawyers had cited the attitudes of prospective jurors. They said that of the 1,373 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires, 68 percent said they already believed Mr. Tsarnaev was guilty and 69 percent had said they had a personal connection to the case.

They also cited the outpouring of emotion in Boston on Jan. 28 when a man shoveled off the marathon finish line in the midst of a blizzard. The Boston Athletic Association, which oversees the marathon, issued a statement saying that the act “proves that — in Boston — everyone owns the marathon.”

The defense seized on this as evidence of bias. “Such remarkable and enduring displays of public solidarity in the wake of the Marathon bombings are laudable,” the defense wrote. “But jurors drawn from the community where ‘everyone owns the Marathon’ cannot be dispassionate and impartial.”

Judge O’Toole and the lawyers have individually questioned 173 potential jurors so far in an attempt to create a pool of 60 – 70 potential jurors who have been passed for cause by both sides (i.e., people who claim that they can put aside what they know about the case and any opinions they may have formed about Tsarnaev’s guilt and impartially decide the case solely on the basis of the evidence introduced in court and the jury instructions). Judge O’Toole wants a pool that large before the lawyers exercise their peremptory challenges. Unlike challenges for cause that must be supported by a reason why the potential juror cannot be fair and impartial, peremptory challenges do not require a reason. Each side has 20 peremptory challenges, plus 3 for the 6 alternates. If both sides exercise their full complement of peremptory challenges, 46 potential jurors could be disqualified. To be on the safe side, the pool should consist of 64 potential jurors. They are not there yet, despite a month of jury selection and that demonstrates how tainted the potential jurors are by the extensive pretrial publicity and their feelings about the case.

In addition, a large percentage of the potential jurors would either automatically impose the death penalty if Tsarnaev is convicted or automatically refuse to impose it because they are opposed to it. Only people who can agree to balance evidence in aggravation against evidence in mitigation can serve on the jury. This is called the death qualification process.

I do not believe it’s possible to select a fair and impartial death qualified jury in Boston and I would grant the defense motion for a change of venue, if I were the judge. Judge O’Toole disagrees. Now a three-judge panel will decide whether to keep it in Boston or move it to another location.


Judge Healey denies Michael Dunn’s motion for change of venue

September 11, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2013

Good afternoon:

Judge Healey denied Michael Dunn’s motion for a change of venue this morning saying he wants to start jury selection as scheduled on September 22nd and see how it goes.

He will grant the motion if they can’t select a fair and impartial jury. If that happens, he probably will bus in jurors from a nearby county and restart jury selection.

Needless to say, judges prefer having the jurors travel to the courthouse compared to the courthouse traveling to the jurors.

He granted the defense motion to prohibit the prosecution and witnesses from referring to Jordan Davis as the “victim,” but he denied the defense motion to prohibit the prosecution from introducing photos of Dunn’s writings on the wall of his cell.

This latter ruling is an important win for the prosecution because Dunn’s writings show he is a racist.

The denial of the motion for a change of venue as premature has become a standard response and reflects a wait-and-see approach that most judges favor.

The ruling that prohibits referring to Jordan Davis as the “victim” is a legally sound decision because the word implies that his death was unjustified thereby eroding the presumption that Dunn is innocent in that the killing was a justifiable use of deadly force in self-defense.

This problem can be cured by referring to him as the “deceased,” eliminating this issue as a potential basis for a successful appeal, if Dunn were convicted. This is why the judge’s decision is a smart strategic ruling.


Let’s play the who-said-this game

October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Good morning:

Time to play the who-said-this game.

A game the whole family can play

Just read the quote and guess who said it.

First clue: The man is white and in jail.

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.

Second clue: The man denies being a racist.

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.’

Third clue: This man is really amazed and irked to discover that the media does not call him a hero.

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.’

Fourth clue: This man wants a change of venue because the media has not called him a hero.

You are correct, if you chose Michael Dunn. He is charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis to death in the parking lot of a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida. Dunn emptied the clip of his 9 millimeter semiautomatic handgun while squeezing off shots at point blank range into an SUV parked next to him because Jordan Davis disrespected his authority as an older white guy by refusing to turn down the music and calling him names. Davis and his three friends were unarmed.

Michael Dunn is stupid because he shot and killed a kid for playing loud music that he did not like and disobeying his order to turn it down. He is also stupid because he does not realize he is a racist and he mailed these statements from jail to relatives and friends not realizing that jailers read mail. Predictably, the statements were published. Now, he wants a change of venue to a place with like-minded people who will give him the keys to the city and throw him a ticker tape parade down main street instead of throwing him in jail.

Someplace like Sanford, Florida in Seminole County.

The best thing Dunn’s lawyer could do right now is to threaten to kill him with his bare hands if he doesn’t shut up.

Quotes obtained from Atlanta Black Star

This is our 735th post


Zimmerman: Motion for a Change of Venue

September 20, 2012

The Sixth Amendment, which is applicable to state criminal proceedings through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

The Impartial Jury Clause is at issue in the Zimmerman case because of:

(1) The tsunami of outrage nationwide in reaction to State’s Attorney for Seminole County, Norm Wolfinger’s decision not to charge Zimmerman with a crime for killing Trayvon Martin;

(2) Governor Scott’s decision to replace Wolfinger with State’s Attorney Angela Corey;

(3) Wolfinger’s decision to retire;

(4) Angela Corey’s decision to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder;

(5) The firing of Chief Bill Lee of the Sanford Police Department for his handling of the investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death;

(6) The release of much of the evidence in the case to the public before trial; and

(7) the conduct and various miscues of Zimmerman, Mark O’Mara, and Zimmerman’s friend Mark Osterman, who have attempted to try the case in the media to generate sympathy and financial support for Zimmerman’s defense effort.

What we now have is an extraordinary mess in which it seems that everyone in the country, never mind Seminole County, has a strong opinion about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

The question is whether it is possible for Zimmerman to get a fair trial by an impartial jury in Seminole County or anywhere else in Florida and, if not, whether and to what extent should Zimmerman’s conduct by publicizing his case, including going on the Sean Hannity Show and pouring gasoline on the fire by proclaiming that he had no regrets for killing the unarmed teen because it all happened according to “God’s Plan,” should play a role in deciding what should be done about the mess.

Before anyone attempts to answer my two questions, please consider something that I know to be true from personal experience. I have represented clients in high visibility cases where it seemed impossible that any sentient being in the state did not have a strong opinion about the guilt or innocence of my client and in each case we were able to select a jury of twelve people, plus alternates, who claimed to know very little about the case and not to have formed an opinion about the guilt or innocence of my client. That happened in the Casey Anthony case and I predict it will happen in the Zimmerman case too.

The point is there are many people who have no interest in the crime news and never read, watch or listen to it.

There are two potential solutions.

One is for the Court to grant a defense motion for a change of venue, which will likely be forthcoming soon, and follow the procedure used in the Anthony case. Pick the jury in an adjoining county, sequester them for the trial, and try the case in the Seminole County Circuit Court.

The second solution is to wait and see what happens during jury selection. Have all the prospective jurors fill out a questionnaire that asks them to write down what they’ve read, heard or seen about the case and state whether they have formed an opinion about Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence. Then you bring them in and question them individually until you are able to seat a six-person jury, plus alternates.

I favor a mixture of both options.

The Court and both parties have a common interest in doing what they can to assure a fair trial by an impartial jury. They should join together to hire a polling firm and have them design a questionnaire or series of questionnaires to poll citizens in Seminole and Orange County as well the larger urban communities in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville. Have them tabulate the results and chart any changes over time.

The results of the poll should provide a statistically valid estimate of the probability that Zimmerman can receive a fair trial from an impartial jury in any of those communities.

Without a poll, the Court would not have a sufficient basis to make a decision.

We know from experience that jurors hate being sequestered and their rising anger can affect how they decide the case in unpredictable ways. It’s also extremely expensive. Therefore, sequestration should be avoided, if at all possible.

If the Court is going to allow the jurors to go home, home cannot be somewhere on the far side of the Moon. The poll should help select the proper venue and the best solution might involve trying the case in a distant venue rather than transporting and sequestering the jury in Sanford.

For all of these reasons, I recommend using a poll to select the venue, non-sequestration of the jury, and the use of questionnaires with individual voir dire to select the jury.


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