Justice Opinion

My thoughts about the justice stories that are hitting the headlines -- with a focus on stories about race, guns, and self-defense. Find out where I stand.

Justice Outreach

This is the platform for our justice advocacy efforts, currently focused on the Talking Race Project, The Hurt Words Project, and Juvenile Outreach. Find out what we’re up to.

Justice Education

I frequently conduct CLEs and seminars for Bar Associations, Criminal Defense Associations, the National Trial Lawyers, and law schools. Find out what I’m talking about.

TalkingRace at UNF's Distinguished Voices Lecture Series

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

talking race stackedBecause of my involvement in the Zimmerman case, I have found myself near the epicenter of the national conversation about race and justice. I’ve decided to use the opportunity to draw upon my long career as a criminal defense attorney to help illustrate how systemic bias affects our criminal justice system, and to propose some ideas about how we can fix it.

I’m proud to be a part of the University of North Florida’s Distinguished Voices Lecture Series, and this Thursday, October 2nd, I’ll be talking about Race and Justice. I would love you you to attend. Some free tickets are still available, and you can reserve your seat on the UNF website.

In the second half of my presentation, I’ll be joined by Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, the sociologist who has joined us to conduct the TalkingRace Project. For the project, we’re asking people from all walks of life four simple questions: When were you born? Where were you raised? How do you self-identify with race? And what is your first memory where racism affected your life? The answers we get are very revealing, and our aim is to compile the stories we collect into a body of research that can give us a better picture of the state of race relations in America today.

Dunn jury faces new challenge this time without attempted murder as an option

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

During testimony in the Dunn case on Friday, State Attorney Angela Corey asked Shawn Atkins to demonstrate the shooting position he says Michael Dunn took when he fired at the retreating red Durango immediately after the shooting of Jordan Davis. Atkins took a knee and held an imaginary gun with both hands. It was a pose indicating a deliberate shooting. Those final shots struck the Durango, but injured no one.

During his testimony in the first trial, Michael Dunn explained that final burst by comparing it to “covering fire.” He wanted to make sure no one in the vehicle would shoot back at him. The first jury didn’t buy it, and this second jury probably wouldn’t either, if they were asked to consider it. But they will still ask themselves, why did Dunn continued to fire? Was it out of fear? Or was it out of anger? If they find anger, they may associate that anger with the first shots, making it easier to render a guilty verdict.

My Involvment in the Gerald Strebendt Self-Defense Shooting Case

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I’ve recently become involved in a self-defense shooting case in Eugene, Oregon. It’s the case of Gerald Strebendt, a former Marine sniper and retired professional mixed martial artist. I can’t really talk about the details because there’s a trial order in place that operates as a limited gag order for the parties involved, and it also seals several court documents from public viewing.

While I cannot comment substantively, I can point you to some documents that have already been made part of the public record. Specifically, I’d like to draw your attention to a written declaration from the accused that is part of the public file. In it, Gerald Strebendt makes the following statements:

“. . .I take exception to the Government’s claim in their Response that somehow it has my best interests at heart in keeping my legal team muzzled and certain pleadings secret.”

“I believe the Government has a profound conflict of interest in wanting to imprison me pretrial without a hearing and without bail. . .”

“I also personally object to any secret hearings, hearings by affidavit, and secret pleadings not made available to the public.”

“I will trust in my attorneys and the public to hold the government accountable and do not request the Government hold itself accountable behind closed doors.”

“I realize that since there have been no public hearings so far in this case, outside my arraignment, I have not met either the judge or the prosecuting attorney in this case and look forward to doing so in open court.”

Because I am bound by the trial order, I will err on the side of caution and only speak generally about my thoughts regarding the open courtroom as part of the American criminal justice system.

Our criminal justice system operates on an “innocent unless proven guilty” standard, and we make extraordinary accommodations to preserve due process. It’s a cornerstone to our concept of liberty, and it’s part of what makes the American criminal justice system the best in the world. Gag orders are typically put in place to protect the citizen’s right to a fair trial from the potentially damaging effect trial publicity can create. They should be designed to protect the defendant.

Gag orders are also an extreme measure, and judges only issue gag orders in extraordinary circumstances. The reason they’re so extraordinary is because they effectively override the right to free speech, the very first Amendment to our Constitution.

Restrictions imposed by unnecessary gag orders have the effect of denying a citizen the opportunity to counter erroneous information, and denying him the right to utilize forums, such as the Internet and social media, to assist in the preparation of a defense. Such restrictions even limit an accused’s right to seek financial assistance in his defense.

Dunn Trial: Angela Corey's team faces a much stronger defense this time

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

The first time Michael Dunn stood trial for the shooting of Jordan Davis, Dunn’s lawyer, Cory Strolla, mounted a scattered, shotgun approach to the defense and it came across, at times, disorganized. A defense attorney runs the risk of desensitizing a jury to what’s important if every point is argued. It’s better to acknowledge that which is either easily provable, or not particularly relevant to the defense, that you want them to focus on. Dunn’s new legal team, led by veteran trial attorney Waffa Hanania, demonstrated a much more focused and coordinated approach.

This much is clear: State Attorney Angela Corey’s team faces a much stronger defense. If the state cannot significantly improve their argument or offer some compelling new testimony, then it seems unlikely they’ll fare any better than they did last time.