Defense Requests to Withdraw from Parkland Case

June 9, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Although we have already covered the beginning struggles with the search for a jury in the upcoming trial against Nikolas Cruz, there have been more issues arising within the last week. The trial is not deciding Cruz’s innocence—the defendant has already pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people at the Florida high school in 2018.

What is being decided in the upcoming case is whether Cruz will be sentenced to the death penalty, or if he will receive life in prison instead. To find out about the issues the trial has already faced with searching for a jury, you can read our blog here.

The newest issue arose with a combination of a defense lawyer being out on COVID-19 quarantine and the Uvalde shooting that took place in Texas several weeks ago. We will cover the details, along with what it means for a criminal defendant to be guaranteed a fair trial.

Judge vs. Defense

Defense attorney Casey Secor—one of the several defense attorneys working for Cruz’s trial—is currently out sick and in quarantine. Due to his absence, lead defense attorney Melisa McNeil requested that the court refrained from asking potential jurors their stance on the hardships of being on the jury until Secor returned.

Secor is a specialist in death penalty cases, which makes him an important player in the selection of the jury. McNeil insisted that Secor’s appearance in the courtroom was crucial, considering he was hired specifically to assist with the jury selection process.

The state did not object, however, Judge Elizabeth Scherer was clearly frustrated with the request. After she said the jury selection would continue either way, McNeil filed a motion to ask Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer to withdraw from the case.

Scherer declined the motion and called it “legally insufficient.” Legal analyst David Bogenschutz explained, “A motion to disqualify a judge is directed toward the feeling of a litigant as to the impartiality of his/her judge. Even a showing of prejudice against the party’s attorney can serve as a reasonable ground for disqualification.”  

McNeil continued to say that to move forward without a death penalty specialist would deny Cruz of a fair trial. She pushed that she was not comfortable moving forward without Secor, in which Judge Scherer plainly said, “Well, you’re going to have to.”

Judge Scherer carried on with the following response:

“Your client has the right to have a competent lawyer. Your client does not have the right to have every lawyer—five—there’s nothing. There’s no case law that says four or five lawyers have to be present at all times.”

McNeil’s response was for the defense to move to withdraw from the case. “Judge, at this time the defense would move to withdraw from the case of the state of Florida vs. Nikolas Cruz,” McNeil answered. “Right now, if I do not comply with the court’s order and do not protect Mr. Cruz’s constitutional rights to due process, I now have to consider whether or not my liberty is going to be at jeopardy.”

Scherer said she “respectfully” declined the motion to withdraw. The courtroom took a recess, and Prosecutor Carolyn McCann asked if they could resume questioning potential jurors on the following day.

You can view the motions filed by the defense team here.

Uvalde Shooting – Temporary Hold Motion

The recent mass shooting that took place at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas may also have an impact on the Parkland trial. After 19 children were murdered by a gunman on campus, the nation is dealing with yet another horrific reality of gun violence against small kids.

Cruz’s defense team has filed a motion to place a temporary hold on the jury selection due to the Uvalde shooting. The defense team claims that there is now a new wave of emotion surrounding the most recent shooting, and has “opened old wounds in Broward County.” With that being said, the defense team believes Cruz may not receive a fair trial if the jury has the media displaying information regarding the newest school shooting.

NPR’s Greg Allen stated these are just the latest examples of turmoil in the series of delays that have been plaguing the case. Even still it is uncertain when the jury will finally be selected to go through with the trial.

What is a Fair Trial?

When discussing the term “fair trial” it is easy to assume that it means to ensure that justice will prevail. What about ensuring a fair trial for a criminal defendant? To fully understand what a fair trial includes, it’s important to review the concepts that make a trial fair.

Under the Sixth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, the safeguards for a fair trial include the following rights:

  • The right to an impartial jury;
  • The right to due process of law;
  • The right to confront/call witnesses; and
  • The right to legal counsel

In the event that any of the above rights have been violated, it must be determined whether the trial was unfair. If so, this can result in the reversal of a verdict or the granting of a new trial.

The right of an impartial jury was established through tradition and case law and has evolved over time. The importance of having an impartial jury comes from the need that there be no prejudice or bias against the defendant. In the case of the ongoing Parkland case, Cruz’s defense team filed the motion to place a temporary hold on the jury selection due to the most recent school shooting in Texas.

The connection between the media and the judicial system can play a role in whether a jury is impartial or not. The ongoing coverage of the Uvalde shooting could potentially create a bias in Cruz’s trial among the selected jury.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

While not all cases receive as much virality as the case against Cruz, defense is still necessary for all individuals who are charged with a criminal offense. It is imperative that all defendants are guaranteed a fair trial, and a strong defense attorney will ensure it stays that way throughout the entire process.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, prioritize reaching out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. At Pumphrey Law Firm, Don Pumphrey and our team make it their mission to provide top-quality legal advice to all of our clients. We understand the importance of strategizing a strong defense for each case and will work tirelessly to ensure your freedom. For a free consultation, call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.

Written by Karissa Key

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