Jennifer Mee, 19, was arrested for and charged with first degree murder in St. Petersburg, Florida this week. For those that do not remember, Jennifer Mee was recently in the national news media as the “hiccup girl.” She was given this nickname due to her unreal (and never ending) hiccup problem. After five weeks of constant hiccups, the condition finally went away, but the nickname “hiccup girl” still remains.
Regardless, insofar as her murder charges are concerned, Jennifer Mee is accused of luring the victim, Shannon Griffin, 22, to a home across the street from Mee’s house where Griffin was robbed by other people. According to Sgt. T.A. Skinner of the St. Petersburg Police Department, Griffin fought back and was shot several times in the process. Griffin ultimately died from the gunshot wounds.
Given the nature of the charges, Jennifer Mee is being held without bond.
In order to get a bond on her case, Mee will have to file a motion for an “Arthur Hearing.” These types of hearings have been discussed on this blog before. In an bond hearing of this type, a defendant is usually represented by a criminal defense lawyer, although it is unknown whether Mee has retained a private criminal defense attorney or not.
Anyway, in these bond hearings, the prosecutor has the burden of establishing that proof of the crime is evident and the presumption of guilt is great. On paper, this is supposed to be the highest legal standard in our criminal justice system, even more so than reasonable doubt. In reality, when a judge presides over an Arthur Hearing, he or she is first deciding whether or not the defendant is really guilty. Unless the judge has any real doubts, most judges simply rubber stamp the prosecutor’s arguments… unfortunately.
Secondly, the judge is considering whether or not the defendant is a danger to the community or a flight risk. Being a danger to the community takes precedence over flight risk, but both are important factors that must be addressed by a criminal defense lawyer. For instance, does the defendant have a criminal history for past crimes?
In Jennifer Mee’s case, the judge will likely find that the prosecutor meets the burden, but will then hopefully set a reasonable bond.
Regardless, Jennifer Mee had better hire the best criminal defense lawyer she can find, because she is looking at the possibility of the death penalty for felony murder, even though she didn’t pull the trigger.
In felony murder cases, participants to a murder are just as liable as if they pulled the trigger. The best example of this type of case is a bank robbery. If you drove the get away car, you are still responsible as if you had been inside the bank.
According to news reports, Jennifer Mee and the others are said to have admitted to their involvement. Whether this is true or not is yet to be seen. More importantly, Mee’s criminal defense attorney will need to analyze her case to determine if her supposed confession is admissible in court.
For instance, was she coerced? Was she threatened? Did the police advise her of her right to remain silent and her right to counsel before she was questioned in custody?
If the confession wasn’t taken properly by police detectives, it may not be admissible.
Without a confession, the entire case may fall apart as all the defendants points the finger at each other. If this were to happen, prosecutors would need to rely on forensic evidence to prove their case. For instance, by admitting fingerprint evidence from the murder weapon, prosecutors may be able to prove who the trigger person was.
Once her confession is analyzed, Jeniffer Mee’s criminal defense lawyer will need to determine how the police came to identify her as a suspect. What led them to her? Did she call police on her own?
How do we know Mee lured Shannon Griffin to the home for the purpose of robbing him? What did Griffin have that was so valuable? How did Mee and Griffin know each other?
I am sure most of these questions have answers, but before we can determine what really happened in this case, all of the evidence must be analyzed by a criminal defense attorney. Police presumptions cannot be trusted nor can they be relied upon. Much of criminal defense work is based on uncovering sloppy police work and bringing it to light.
Should this case go to sentencing, Jennifer Mee’s best argument lies in her young age. I also wonder if the hiccup problem is indicative of another health problem. If I was representing her in this case, I would insist that she obtain a thorough psychological evaluation. The existence of a psychological condition that requires treatment may form the basis of a lighter sentence that includes psychiatric help. However, it must be emphasized that this case concerns the alleged brutal murder of an innocent person… odds are, if Mee is sentenced, she will be serving a very heavy prison sentence for her involvement in this case.
At the end of the day, Jennifer Mee needs an experienced criminal defense lawyer who knows how to analyze the facts of her case and determine of she has any factual or legal defenses. The best criminal defense lawyers are not only good in trial, but also understand how to do a criminal appeal. Understanding criminal appeals is important because the record used on appeal is made in the trial court. When a criminal defense lawyer does not understand how to make a good record for a possible criminal appeal down the road, he or she does a tremendous disservice to their client.
At every step of this case, Mee’s criminal defense attorney will need to be mindful of the issues that exist in her case so that any appellate issues are preserved for later review by the appellate courts. A criminal defense lawyer who understands appeals knows how to research a case and present new legal issues to the trial court that may form a new kind of defense. The worst thing a criminal defense attorney can do is just assume the case can’t be won.
In my opinion, the best criminal defense lawyer for Jennifer Mee would be someone who knows how to autopsy a criminal case, who knows how to take a criminal case to trial, and who knows how to lay the ground work for a successful appeal, if one should be necessary.