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Media granted access to evidence in FL gas station teen murder case

Media granted access to evidence in FL gas station teen murder case

Not as much media attention as Trayvon-Zimmerman case, but wait for it.

Earlier today Circuit Judge Russell Healey denied a defense motion to limit media access to discovery evidence in the trial of Michael Dunn.

Michael Dunn is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old high school student. (We previously covered this case here: Next Florida self-defense trial: Loud music, teens in a car and a shooting.)

(The judge’s ruling can be read in full at the bottom of this post.)

Access to the discovery materials has been an ongoing, and sometimes poorly defined, battle between the State prosecutors, defense counsel, and local media. The matter has already resulted in two trips to the trial court’s “bosses,” Florida 1st District Court of Appeals, which has repeatedly overturned the trial court’s efforts to deny access to the media.

Perhaps the strangest event in this argument over discovery occurred on November 7. A pre-trial hearing was scheduled for that day specifically to address the media-access-to-discovery issue, with the media having been admitted as a party to the matter by Judge Healey.

Nevertheless, the State prosecutors, defense counsel, and Judge held a pre-hearing hearing in the absence of the media in which they collectively agreed upon the best arguments to deny the media discovery access. When the media arrived on time to the hearing, the cards had already been stacked against them.

The 1st DCA was not amused, as noted in the blog post linked above.

Dunn’s defense counsel, Cory Strolla had asked that the discovery not be shared with the media for fear it would bias the jury pool against her client–it is believed that he made potentially inflammatory remarks in many of his calls, as he is known to have done in letters that have already been released.

State prosecutors had sided with the defense. One reason may have been the time and cost associated with reviewing the extensive audio recordings. Another reason is likely State Prosecutor Andrea Corey’s public stated view that the public should not be provided with any information about a case before it goes to trial, as reported in many news outlets, including this Washington Post piece:  Florida district attorney isn’t a fan of a free press, an informed public, or reading.

Now that the judge has overruled the defense motion to deny the media access to the discovery–much of which involves a many tens of hours of recorded jailhouse telephone calls–it remains to be seen how provision of the discovery materials will be executed.

State prosecutors estimate that will take them as long as 10 weeks to review the calls and redact private names, addresses, and other private information. They had previously informed the media that they would be responsible for the approximately $6,000 such an effort would cost, and the media has indicated it was unwilling to pay such a fee.

Separately, Dunn’s attorneys are also asking for a delay in the start of the trial.  A ruling on that request has not yet been made.

Here is the order denying the defendant’s motion to withhold the discovery evidence from the media:

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.


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Honestly, I think the media should pay for the redaction. They stand to profit from the documents while the state (and people’s tax dollars) only stands to lose from it.

Legal folks help me out…doesn’t it also place any liability for redaction failures that the media prints without vetting on the state itself?

MouseTheLuckyDog | January 24, 2014 at 6:37 pm


So damn glad that I left the State of Fl., for these here mountain’s.

IMHO, there are two areas of Fl. that are reasonably OK. Extreme Western Panhandle and The Keys, just don’t overdo the Margaritas. OH and do NOT test the laws..

Trouble for me is, you have to drive through the sinkhole parts, to get to The Keys. No, I do not fly, my arms tire quickly.

Give ’em hell Branca..

If Dunn has counsel, why didn’t they tell him that everything he says on a jailhouse phone is recorded and can be used against him?

Surely not all his calls are likely to be used as evidence, though. Why would the prosecution have to turn them over in discovery if they aren’t going to use them (assuming they aren’t exculpatory)? And if those aren’t part of discovery, why would media be able to have access?

I’m having trouble getting excited about this – maybe I’m missing something.

Defense thinks that statements in defendant’s recorded phone conversations might hurt him when the press flogs it around the Court of Public Opinion. Prosecution, perhaps oddly, agrees. The Court initially honored their requests to keep the material from the press at this point in the proceedings.

That strikes me as an appropriate way to handle the situation, given that the defendant is Not Guilty until proven otherwise.

Yes? No?

    Florida has very strong public records laws, giving the media leverage to deny the preferences of both defense and prosecutors.

    Hence the conflict amongst them.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Phillep Harding | January 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

He’d do well to get rid of that facial expression. He looks the sort to fly off the handle.