Why Are People Angry That Race Was Not Mentioned During Deliberations in Dunn’s Trial?
Recently, two of the jurors in the case of Michael Dunn have interviewed with CNN. Both were asked if race was mentioned during deliberations. Both answered “no.” Then, panels discussing the interviews voiced their disagreement with the jury not discussing race during deliberations. Some online sources have also criticized those jurors. Even Jordan Davis’ father said he could not see how it didn’t come up since Dunn’s girlfriend gave credible testimony that he used the words “thug music.”
In the case of Michael Dunn, like in all other cases, the presiding judge instructs the jury to only consider testimony and evidence presented at trial. The judge also tells the jury the charges. The issue in Dunn’s case is whether he killed Jordan Davis in self-defense. Michael Dunn was not charged with a hate-crime.
When a juror or juries go beyond the evidence presented at trial, it is juror misconduct. Defendants have the right to a jury that considers only the evidence presented at trial, or it is a constitutional error. Defendants then have right to appeal conviction and the higher court then decides whether the constitutional error substantially affected or influenced the jury’s verdict.
In Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 472-73, 85 S.Ct. 546, 13 L.Ed.2d 424 (1965), the Court held,
“In the constitutional sense, trial by jury in a criminal case necessarily implies at the very least that the evidence developed against a defendant shall come from the witness stand in a public courtroom where there is full judicial protection of the defendant’s right of confrontation, of cross-examination, and of counsel.”
Had the prosecution questioned Dunn about his racial opinions or beliefs, the subject of race could have been discussed by the jury during deliberations. However, that subject was not raised at trial and therefore, could not be raised during deliberations. Our courts have held that prejudicial comments during jury deliberations violate defendant’s constitutional rights because the defendant is not present to confront and cross-examine.
In United States ex rel. Owen v. McMann, 435 F.2d 813 (2d Cir.1970), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 906, 91 S.Ct. 1373, 28 L.Ed.2d 646 (1971), the Second Circuit, Judge Friendly explained that while jurors can take into account their own wisdom, experience, and common sense, “in doing so [they] must not bring extra facts into the jury room…. To the greatest extent possible all factual [material] must pass through the judicial sieve, where the fundamental guarantees of procedural law protect the rights of those accused of crime.”
Do I believe that Michael Dunn’s actions were motivated by his racial bigotry? Yes. However, the State did not charge him with a hate crime. At trial, he was not questioned about his racial beliefs. The jury was not instructed to consider race when determining whether Dunn was guilty for killing Jordan Davis. Had the jury discussed race during deliberations, it would have been issues not testified to during trial. Dunn would not be able to question his accusers.
It is unfair to jurors to criticize them for following the court’s instructions and frankly, I am tired of television reporters placing jurors in that position and the public feeding off it.
21-year old Juror #8 articulated something profound that agrees with the spirit of equal justice for all. She said to her, it was not about race but about justice.
Juror #8 is not ignorant — she voted guilty of 2nd degree murder, and guilty of 2nd degree attempted murder 3 times. Why are people degrading her?
When members of juries understand the facts and evidence while putting their own biases aside, and reach verdicts by applying facts and evidence to the law as it is given to them in jury instructions, then the race of defendants and victims should never be an issue.