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    The Key Self-Defense Trials Coming in Summer 2014

    The Key Self-Defense Trials Coming in Summer 2014

    Summer 2014 promises a veritable tsunami of self-defense cases, including Walker, Wafer, Alexander, and Dunn

    Yesterday I promised an update on the key self-defense trials coming our way over the course of this summer, and so here I am to keep that promise.

    Before I get into that, however, I’d like to share a couple of items that have been brought to my attention in the last 24 hours.

    “Law of Self Defense” Ranked #1 by Amazon in Sports Shooting Category

    “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” has been ranked by as it’s #1 seller in the Sports Shooting category.

    Law of Self Defense #1 in Amazon Sport Shooting Category

    Now, I’m not sure how self-defense has much to do with sports shooting, but you take the #1’s where you find them. Two critical keys to achieving this #1 status have certainly been the Twitter campaign launched against me by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the uproarious kerfuffle generated by the antics of CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin. So, before proceeding to substantive matters, I’d like to thank @CSGV, @SunnyHostin, and the UC Berkeley School of Law–I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

    CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin has Wikipedia Page Updated to Reflect Reality

    Last night somebody brought to my attention that the Wikipedia page for CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin had been updated to reflect her losing debate performance as well as her welshing on our wager. I feel obliged to note that I had nothing whatever to do with this entry, but also that it is entirely factually correct.

    Sunny Hostin Wiki with debate welch

    OK, now onto the self-defense cases coming up in 2014.

    MAY 21: Joseph Walker Trial Still On Track to Start May 21

    Joseph Walker is the NJ police officer who got caught up in a road rage incident while traveling through Maryland and shot and killed Joseph Harvey, Jr.  The main legal issue appears to be one of Maryland’s vigorously imposed duty to retreat, given that the facts suggest a safe avenue of retreat existed.  This duty, however, strictly speaking applies in cases of self-defense but not necessarily to cases of defense of others.  Because Walker was accompanied by his wife and children, it seems likely he will assert a defense-of-others defense and thereby seek to side-step the otherwise damning duty to retreat.

    Joseph Walker, NJ LEO on trial for murder of Joseph Harvey

    Joseph Walker, NJ LEO on trial for murder of Joseph Harvey

    Walker had previously filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, based on allegations that the prosecution had acted improperly in their presentation of evidence to the Grand Jury.  This motion was denied on April 23 by Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs, as reported by the Capital Gazette. Wachs noted that the prosecution’s presentation of the case to the Grand Jury was misleading, but did not warrant dismissing the indictment.

    Walker’s trial is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, May 21.

    JUNE 2: Theodore Wafer Receives a New Trial Judge Just Weeks Before Trial Beings

    Wafer is the Detroit man who was awoken from his sleep around 2 o’clock in the morning by a very drunk–three times the legal limit for driving–Renisha McBride who was banging on his front door some hours after abandoning the car she crashed.  He armed himself with a short-barreled, pistol-grip shotgun, opened his front door, and then under uncertain circumstances–and it is on these that the case will hinge–shot McBride dead on his front porch.  Wafer’s trial is scheduled to start on June 2, as reported by Reuters and other news agencies.

    Theodore Wafer, on trial for murder of Renisha McBride

    Theodore Wafer, on trial for murder of Renisha McBride

    In recent weeks defense counsel for Wafer have been arguing that the assigned judge, Qiana Lillard, should recuse herself from the case because of the appearance of possible bias.  Lillard had previously been an assistant prosecutor herself, and one of the prosecutors trying the Wafer case had contributed to her campaign to become judge, and also sold fundraising tickets on Lillard’s behalf.

    Lillard herself had refused to step down, according to CBS reporting, but the defense appealed to the appellate courts and they have ordered that a new judge be assigned.

    Wafer’s trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, June 2.

    JULY 21: Marissa Alexander To Receive a Do-Over on Claim of Self-Defense Immunity

    Alexander is the woman who, in the course of a loud argument with her husband, left the scene of the argument, retrieved a pistol from the garage, returned to the scene of the argument, and fired a bullet past his head, and that of his two minor children.  The bullet penetrated the wall behind them, entered the next room, and buried itself in that room’s ceiling.

    Marissa Alexander prepares for 2nd self-defense immunity hearing

    Marissa Alexander prepares for 2nd self-defense immunity hearing

    She refused a plea offer of 3 years (perhaps because she did not wish to be separated from her just born baby), and was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault at trial. Florida’s “10-20-Life” law imposed upon her a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years (three counts, each 20 years, run concurrently).

    Alexander appropriately won a re-trial because the trial judge’s instructions on self-defense were improperly stated.  Since her first trial, however, Flroida case law has found that sentences under “10-20-Life” must be run consecutively, not concurrently.  As a result, Alexander now faces up to 60 years in prison on the three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm if she is convicted again–which seems likely given the evidence in the case.

    She had previously received a self-defense immunity hearing under Florida’s 76.032–“Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force”–and been denied. To win immunity under this provision the defendant must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they acted in lawful self-defense.  This is a vastly greater degree of proof than is required to win self-defense at trial, where the defendant need raise merely a reasonable doubt that they may have acted in lawful self-defense.  Regardless, Alexander failed on this earlier motion.

    Now she is to receive a second shot at the apple, with a new self-defense immunity hearing to be held on May 16, as reported by MSNBC and other sources.  Given the facts of the case it seems impossible that she would be able to bring to court a preponderance of the evidence of self-defense–any narrative of self-defense seems scant, at best, under the facts of this case.

    If her motion for self-defense immunity is denied, as seems likely, her re-trial is scheduled to being on Monday, July 21.

    ???: Michael Dunn Re-Trial Date of May 5 Delayed Indefinitely

    Those who have followed along will recall that Michael Dunn fired several salvos of bullets into the red SUV carrying teenager Jordan Davis and several of his friends.  The jury convicted Dunn of attempted murder for the latter salvos of shots, but hung on the charge of murder for the initial salvo that mortally wounded Davis.

    Michael Dunn awaiting re-trial on charges of murder of Jordan Davis

    Michael Dunn awaiting re-trial on charges of murder of Jordan Davis

    Dunn has a Florida constitutional right to a re-trial within 90 days of his hung verdict, and had been scheduled to begin that re-trial on May 5.  This past week, however, his legal counsel (different counsel than the first trial) waived his right to a speedy trial and requested–and was granted–more time to prepare their case, according to news reports including that of First Coast News.  No specific new date for the re-trial has yet been set.  That said, there is no doubt that he WILL be re-tried, and in my professional opinion convicted of murder.  (But THAT said, recent observation of Florida prosecutors leads me to hedge that bet considerably.)

    OK, folks, that’s all I have today.  I plan to live-tweet each of those trials as they occur, and of course to report on them in real-time right here at Legal Insurrection.

    –-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.


    Donations tax deductible
    to the full extent allowed by law.


    What about the New Orleans trial of the white guy who shot a teenaged black burglar inside his back fence?

    lol, Sunny just now edited her Wiki page and took out the part about the bet. She’s is obviously very thin-skinned.

      Olinser in reply to rspung. | April 28, 2014 at 11:05 pm

      LOL it was her!!!

      02:33, 29 April 2014‎ Sunnyhostin (talk | contribs)‎ . . (4,607 bytes) (-1,024)‎ . . (undo) (Tag: Mobile edit)

        Wow – it happened just an hour and a half ago since it is now midnight EST and GMT is 0400 hours.

          tom swift in reply to gad-fly. | April 29, 2014 at 7:43 am

          At 7:34 AM EST it’s back in. The page says This page was last modified on 29 April 2014 at 07:44., so whatever time WP uses, it ain’t EST.

          This line seems to be wrong, though –

          Branca provided Hostin a link to the 9-1-1 recording affirming that Zimmerman was in fact not told to stay in his vehicle.

          As I recall, it wasn’t a 911 call, although the press consistently referred to it as such.

          “Edit History” shows 11:38, 29 April 2014‎ Brickmack (talk | contribs)‎ . . (5,631 bytes) (+1,024)‎ . . (Undid revision 606315997 by Sunnyhostin (talk)) (undo)

          But it should be updated, rather than simply un-revised. The fact that she’s trying to whitewash the story should be part of that story.

      MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to rspung. | April 29, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Some user tried it again. The user account was Notconvincedatall, a user who no longer exists, probably creatred for the edit then discarded. So the dead can not only vote, they can edit wikipedia pages.

      It should be noted that the changes were rolled back again.

      Each time they have been rolled back it’s some long time wikipediaer.

      I sent them a little note yesterday night, explaining that someone using an account with her name deleted some negative stuff off her page. So they may be watching out.

    Just so you know somebody using “Sunnyhostin” edited her wiki.

    ManekiNeko | April 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    There is also the Reeves case. Movie theater shooting in FL where popcorn and some other object may have been thrown. Bail was denied.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to ManekiNeko. | April 29, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      I think this one is going to go badly for the old man. Yes, he was a retired cop, but I just don’t see how you convince a jury that it is reasonable to shoot someone for just tossing something at you, unless it was a brick or something like that.

      Frankly from what I have read, I just can’t see this one as a good shoot, now that is being said before we have any real evidence at this point and before the trial is started.

      I think this one will go about like the Dunn case. He will get the self defense instruction, but he will have to testify himself to get that instruction.

      I also have to wonder if his advanced age might have contributed to his decision to shoot and may have an affect on the trial. I would try to a “insanity” plea based on his age, something like Dementia.

      But, like I said its all conjecture at this point. I don’t think being denied bail is a good sign.

        MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to Gremlin1974. | April 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm

        I think there are some big pluses for Reeves.
        1) He will have a PBA lawyer.
        2) The jury will see cop buddies coming in to support him every day.
        3) This happened during previews. If the theatre is like every theatre I’ve been in, some lights were on, but the main lights were off. So how was Reeves to know it was not a brick?

        OK. I looked up the story. One blurb I found
        “In a surveillance video of the theater played in court Friday, a shiny object appears to hit Reeves and fall to the ground. Then a hand grabs Reeves’ popcorn and flings it at him. Reeves then raises his right hand, fires and leans back in his seat.”

        So he threw two things not just one.

        Ok. I went on youtube to see if I could find the surveillance video. Woa. First what kind of theatre owners are these guys? I expect the video itself to be bad, but only the lower right corner? If you are not going get enough cameras to cover the whole place, don’t get any. Looking at the video it’s a definite not guilty. I don’t see how the judge denied bail.

        First, when it happened Reeves was sitting. If the seats in the theatre are like most. There are arm rests. So Reeves has no other way to move but get up, and he can’t get up because Coulsen is getting in his face. Literally a sitting old geezer.

        Coulsen throws something shiny. The defense claimed it was his cell phone. My first instinct, is something metallic like a lighter, but it would be much bigger. Maybe a cigarette case. But none carries those anymore. It’s probably a cell phone. The screen would explain the shininess.

        Then Coulsen reaches over and grabs the popcorn and throws it.
        At the same time, Reeves draws and shoots.

        I would say that in the same situation I would be hard pressed to not draw and shoot.

    Eric Friday | May 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    One correction on the Alexander case I think may be important in the re-trial. Did she leave the scene and come back. Remember Florida’s strong Castle Doctrine. The State has repeatedly spun the narrative that Alexander left the house for the garage then returned to the house to fire the shot. Under well established Florida precedent, an attached garage or carport, is the house. Therefore what she did was leave one room of her house for another, then returned to the original room.

      I’m not sure why anything to do with the Castle Doctrine would be particularly relevant, Eric, but I’m certainly open to argument.

      In any case, it’s never been a point of mine that she “left the Castle and came back”. As far as I’m concerned an attached garage is part of the “Castle.”

      To me the relevant point is that she achieved a point of safety–he did not pursue her into the garage, nor was there anything but Alexander’s much delayed and self-serving evidence that he ever presented a physical threat at all–she then retrieved a firearm, she then returned to the place of conflict and fired a bullet past his head, while he stood with his two minor children.

      I suppose a good defense lawyer can spin that convincingly, but I’d have to see it to believe it.


      –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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