An Open Letter to Prosecutor Angela Corey and the Legal Community

An Open Letter to Prosecutor Angela Corey and the Legal Community



We write this letter out of our deep commitment to racial equity, as well as to the principles of fairness upon which this country was built. The trial of the People of Florida v. Michael Dunn underscores the need for our legal system to understand and address racial bias. We are not all attorneys, so we will not offer a detailed legal analysis here. What we can offer, as veterans of racial equity efforts nationwide, is some reflection on the racial dimensions of the case and how they can be addressed constructively. We present these thoughts with a full sense of the difficulty of your work. There is no campaign attached to this letter, nor further action planned. We hope to spark a dialogue that can move our country forward on the highly charged topic of racism, especially as it plays out in our nation’s legal system.

THE ISSUE: Silence on Racial Bias

Something went wrong in efforts to seek justice for the death of Jordan Davis. While we applaud the conviction on charges of attempted murder, we are concerned about the jury’s failure to reach a verdict on the murder charge. That is not only disappointing – it is dangerous. It indicates that a portion of the jury believed the shooting that resulted in Jordan Davis’ death was justifiable, despite evidence to the contrary. While we fully understand the unpredictable nature of juries, we are convinced that this is a case in which implicit racial bias played a role.

We are heartened by your intention to retry Michael Dunn on the murder charge. Whether in the retrial of this defendant or in cases your office will try in the future, we urge you to replace your team’s current race-silent approach with a race-explicit strategy. Such a strategy requires educating your staff about how racial bias operates in the legal arena, developing methods to uncover it, and where appropriate, using a race-explicit approach.

We understand there is pressure to avoid explicit mention of race in courtrooms, with the possible exception of hate crimes cases. This is, frankly, no different from similar pressures in business, schools, hospitals and other arenas in which leaders have adopted a race-silent ethic. Yet we also know that most Americans do not want to be racist and are open to interventions that help them recognize when they may be interpreting facts or the law through the lens of implicit racial bias. Absent an explicit counter-strategy, these biases can and do affect any number of discretionary decisions that are made in our legal arena.

Twice now prosecution teams under your leadership have chosen not to clearly and unequivocally name racial bias as a factor in the killing of black teenagers: first, in the trial of George Zimmerman, and second, in the Dunn case. In the Dunn trial, your team chose not to point out that the defendant had an expectation that his request to turn down the music would be accommodated. When it wasn’t, his level of rage was exacerbated by the notion that a white man has authority over a young black man. A clear explanation to the jury of this phenomenon would have helped them assess the validity of the defendant’s claim that the perceived threat required deadly force as a response.

We all hold implicit racial biases. These biases affect judge and jury, many of whom would not claim or even be aware of having them. An article in the 2013 issue of the North Carolina Law Review defines implicit bias as unintentional bias arising from attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding, decision making, and behavior, without our even realizing it. Most Americans have implicit biases toward people of color, particularly toward blacks. Not because they seek to be harmful, but because implicit bias has “…its roots in negative, highly pervasive stereotypes about Blacks, which are perpetuated by our culture in subtle, highly effective ways.” Identifying and naming implicit racial bias as a factor in legal settings can be and is being done, but justice demands we do more.

(See PDF here.)

THE INTERVENTION: Confronting Racial Bias

We must name racial bias in all its forms throughout the legal system.

Rigorous research and common sense tell us that while “Lady Justice” may wear a blindfold, many lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants and jurors do not. We understand that each case requires its own set of decisions and strategies. Explicit racial analysis may not be appropriate in many situations. We do, however, urge you to build your team’s capacity to consider race straightforwardly where it has a rational bearing in explaining both what happened and why in a given case. Jurors, in particular, need education and guidance to recognize the many ways in which racial bias works, just as they need to be educated about forensic reports or medical evidence. However, ensuring more just outcomes within the legal system requires a commitment on behalf of all of its players – law students and professors, lawyers, witnesses, experts, judges and jurors – to name and acknowledge the role of racial bias. While there is work being done, there is much new ground to break. We hope that you will break it and that your peers in the legal profession will follow.

Rinku Sen, President & Executive Director, Race Forward, Publisher, Colorlines

This entry was posted in Current Events, Democracy, Gun Violence, Hate Crime, Justice for Jordan Davis, Justice for Trayvon Martin, News, Racial Profiling, Racism, Stand Your Ground Laws and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to An Open Letter to Prosecutor Angela Corey and the Legal Community

  1. What Does Angela Corey Have Against Marissa Alexander?

    State’s Attorney Angela Corey is having a very bad year.

    Her office has flubbed two high-profile murder trials and now the state’s attorney announced they aim to increase Alexander’s sentence to 60 years if they win a conviction at her second trial. In her original trial, Alexander was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but in the judge decided she should serve the three counts concurrently, meaning she would be in prison for only 20 years instead of 60 years.

    There are three high-profile cases in the state of Florida where a legal firearm was discharged by someone who later claimed self defense. Two of those cases, George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, who both shot and killed unarmed Black teens, resulted in acquittals on murder charges. The third is the case of Marissa Alexander, who is awaiting a retrial now with the new threat of 60 years hanging over her head.

    Alexander fired a warning shot during a dispute with her estranged husband, Rico Gray, who she says threatened to kill her that day. Alexander was not permitted to use the Florida’s now infamous “Stand Your Ground” defense, and she was originally convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

    She was sentenced to 20 years in prison under a Florida mandatory minimum sentencing statute. The jury in her original trial deliberated for 12 minutes before coming back with a conviction, but, after an appeal, Alexander was granted a retrial because of flawed jury instructions.

    On the heels of the Michael Dunn verdict, which in many ways reopened the fresh wounds people of color felt after the Zimmerman acquittal, the reaction has been swift and passionate. It seems outside of the realm of what is fair and just to even consider charging Alexander with a crime that would lead to a lifetime behind bars. Even though Alexander’s warning shot didn’t hit anyone at all, to Assistant State’s Attorney Richard Mantei, this is simply Florida following sentencing laws. And the court that will hear Alexander’s retrial has ruled that if a defendant is convicted on multiple counts, then they must serve their sentences consecutively.

    But to Alexander’s supporters who have followed all of the high-profile cases prosecuted by Corey’s office that have made national news, Corey appears to have a vendetta against Alexander. While Corey’s office is arguing that they are following state precedent, it’s also true that prosecutors have a huge amount of discretion and power. If Corey wanted to, she could easily conclude that three years behind bars for defending yourself from your abuser is enough and send Alexander home after this ugly ordeal and grave injustice.

    • Ametia says:

      THIS: “While Corey’s office is arguing that they are following state precedent, it’s also true that prosecutors have a huge amount of discretion and power.”

      Corey needs to be called out repeatedly for this fuckery.

      • Liza says:

        Cosign. Marissa Alexander should not have been charged in the first place and this should never have gone to trial.

  2. Liza says:

    This letter speaks the truth and there is no argument that could be made to the contrary. However, Angela Corey and her team are not going to be the ones to break new ground. They lack everything they need to do so, and you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. George Zimmerman’s trial was a circus, an absolute debacle, something which should cause the entire legal community in the State of Florida to feel deeply ashamed.

    Dunn’s trial strategy came straight from the textbooks. The physical evidence corroborated by neutral witnesses and the testimony of the medical examiner told the story and proved that Dunn was a liar, making up a “self defense” story after he committed the crime. Prosecutors have the burden of proof that the defendant committed the crime, but they are not required to prove a motive. So, indeed, if the jury had been unbiased and race had not been involved, the conviction was almost guaranteed. Dunn sprayed an occupied vehicle with bullets and killed a 17 year old child. If the kids in the SUV had been white, the jury wouldn’t have given much thought to Dunn’s motive because the crime was so egregious. Dunn would simply be classified as a criminal who attempted a massacre and his peers would be other shooters like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza. My own conclusion is that Corey’s team probably thought they had strong enough evidence to convict Dunn without delving into the issue of race or even present a possible motive for the crime other than rage.

    But the two elephants in the room are that Dunn killed Jordan Davis because he was a black kid and the probability of having an unbiased jury in Duval County is close to zero. What this says to me is that better prosecutors than Angela Corey and her team are needed to take on these kinds of cases. All they have accomplished in Zimmerman’s trial and Dunn’s trial so far is to prove that they can’t convict a white man for murdering a black child even when the case is solid and the evidence is irrefutable. Does anyone think they can fix this? Or do they even want to?

    • Ametia says:

      This letter needs to be written and sent to Corey & Co ad nauseum. Put the entire state on notice, keep at it like a dog with a bone.

      • Liza says:

        Yeah, this isn’t going away and they need to know that.

        If we were picking the low hanging fruit, I would say that incompetence has to be right up there at least in the top three reasons why AC et al lost these cases. Bernie de la Rionda as lead prosecutor in the Zimmerman trial, the most important murder trial so far in the 21st century? He was one of their best? Seriously? We could go on and on.

        When you look at the players on AC’s team, the ones we’ve seen, they haven’t got the skills to prosecute a race killing for what it is. And they are lacking in jury selection skills as well, certainly in white on black criminal trials. They should acknowledge their weaknesses and bring in experts, perhaps from the ranks of those who prosecute hate crimes, and they need to do it before they try Dunn again.

        The three people on Dunn’s jury who would not vote to convict him of murder or manslaughter despite the irrefutable evidence probably could not be educated “to recognize the many ways in which racial bias works.” They are, most likely, too racist or too ignorant and the effort is wasted on them. That is why it is important for prosecutors to know how to keep them off juries. But that isn’t easy to do if the prosecutors don’t want a race killing to prosecuted as a race killing.

        I never imagined that the 21st century would be like this.

    • racerrodig says:

      A hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha !!!!

      Holy smokin’ arsels Martha, PhuckingFogenPhoole jumped the gun, so to speak once again.

      My hats off to decency on this one. Gotta love the way “Guest of Honor” has a sarcastic tone to it.

      “…we will not be allowing Mr. Zimmerman on property”

      Dumb shit can’t even go to a local gun show now……Gee, imagine that. So much for that quiet lifestyle he wanted on the interview a few weeks ago.

    • Ametia says:

      Wassamata, you, Neal ?! Afraid that fat FUCK is going to kill all the gun show attendees?

  3. Excellent!

    • Ametia says:

      We’re NOT going to let Angela Corey or the state of Florida bury their heads in the sand about the EFECTS OF RACISM in their justice system.

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