The Michael Dunn Shooting–A Defense Attorney’s Tips for Humanizing Difficult Defendants

It is the burden of a criminal defense attorney to sometimes defend clients whose actions they find completely reprehensible. However, it is important to remember that the right to a fair trial for all people is fundamental in our legal system. Though it may be difficult to do so, it is vital to set aside personal views temporarily and look at each case through an objective lens to defend clients as well as possible. Humanizing defendants begins with refusing to judge them yourself.


Tragic Shooting in Jacksonville, Florida

Police offers arrested and charged 45-year-old Florida resident Michael Dunn with murder after he shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside of a gas station in Jacksonville. According to news sources, Davis and a few friends were sitting in a car and blasting loud music from the vehicle, which prompted a verbal altercation between Dunn and the occupants of Davis’ vehicle.

At one point, Dunn believed that the teens were reaching for weapons. He withdrew a gun from the glove compartment, firing several rounds into the teens’ car. Davis was struck several times and eventually succumbed to his wounds at a local hospital.

Defendants at a Disadvantage

Stories like the Michael Dunn shooting tend to spread like wildfire on television, radio, the Internet, and social media. This spread of information can sway public opinion against a defendant before he or she walks into a courtroom.

Humanizing Strategies that a Criminal Defense Practice May Implement

Thomas J. Farrell, author of Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques, recommends that defense attorneys use the following strategies for humanizing defendants and painting them in a sympathetic light at trial. This is particularly important when establishing violent crimes defenses where public opinion may be against defendants from the start.

1. Describe the situation leading up to the incident. If jurors understand how the incident unfolded, they may be able to sympathize with the defendant.

2. Mention personal aspects about the defendant’s life such as spouses and children, aspirations, volunteer work, etc.

3. Compile statements from the defendant’s loved ones and supporters. Juries, judges, and the prosecution are more apt to view the defendant as a good person if they hear about a defendant’s positive characteristics.

4. Form a broad portrait of the defendant’s life. In many cases, defendants are characterized by the one incident that brought them to court, which can make it difficult for juries to view the defendant as a relatable human being.

Accruing Jury Sympathy is Essential to a Strong Defense Case

It’s nearly impossible to form a solid defense case without appealing to the jury and even the judge and prosecution. To accomplish this, defense attorneys must be familiar with humanizing their clients in the courtroom.

Developing Skills to Improve Defense of Difficult Criminal Cases

Improve your advocacy, speed trial preparation, avoid pitfalls, and be ready for surprises with Thomas J. Farrell’s Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques. This book is loaded with proven angles of attack that will improve your effectiveness in all stages of your representation … from initial interview through sentencing. Mr. Farrell supports his strategies with pattern argument language, model questions, 130 forms, real-life examples, checklists, and 1,400 case citations. Here is a small slice of what he covers:


  • identifying weaknesses in the prosecution’s case
  • extracting concessions in pretrial motions and hearings
  • cross-examining government experts
  • defending specific crimes
  • mitigating the offense at sentencing
  • humanizing clients
  • and much more


For proven arguments, hundreds of forms, and effective tactics for criminal cases, purchase the latest edition of Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques by Thomas J. Farrell.