Earlier today, members of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, including K-9 units, arrested Dawson Johnson, 31, in North Lauderdale, Florida, for the alleged murder of his 79 year old neighbor, Samuel McWhorter. According to McWhorter’s family, Johnson has been known to them since he was a baby. In fact, McWhorter’s granddaughter, Shanile Quince-Wyche, said that she was friends with Johnson’s sisters and even changed his diapers as a baby. It is unknown whether or not Johnson has retained a criminal defense lawyer at this time.
While a motive for the alleged murder is presently unknown, McWhorter was supposedly found dead in a bloody crime scene located at his home. According to one of McWhorter’s daughters, Lenora McWhorter, the crime scene was “really brutal.” She also said, “Things have not come to light yet, but they will, and you’re going to be even more upset when you hear the rest of it.”
Because Johnson has been arrested for a life felony, he does not have an automatic right to bond. In cases like these, a motion must be made to a judge requesting a special hearing called an “Arthur Hearing.” During these hearings, a judge will examine evidence presented by the prosecution to determine if there are grounds to set a bond.
When making that determination, a judge must apply the highest evidentiary standard used in the criminal justice system. This standard is called “proof evident, presumption great.” While, this standard is more descriptive than it is definitive, it is definitely higher than the “reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal trials.
If the judge finds that proof of guilt is evident and the presumption of guilt is great, he or she then has the discretion to either set bond or deny bond. If the judge decides to set bond, he or she will consider the nature of the charges pending against the accused as well as any aggravating or mitigating circumstances present in the case.
The judge will also determine whether or not the defendant is a “flight risk.” When making that determination, a judge will consider a defendant’s ties to the community, such as how long he or she has lived in the county in question, whether they own property in the county in question, whether they have a job or family members in that county, and whether or not the defendant has ties to any other location. Explained simply, the greater the ties one has to the community, the less likely they are presumed to be a flight risk. The judge will also consider any prior history for failing to appear in court and any history of escape or eluding police.
Once the judge evaluates the likelihood that the defendant is a flight risk, he or she will then determine if the defendant poses a threat or danger to the community. This analysis will be based on the specific allegations present in the case at hand as well as any prior criminal history. Typically, those with violent backgrounds or those who pose a threat to the public or any specific person, are less likely to be considered safe enough for release. For instance, a person accused of a sexual offense may be considered a threat to their victim. This is especially a concern for judges when the matter concerns an allegation of domestic violence.
Naturally, the specifics of any given case will determine whether or not a particular defendant meets all of the criteria necessary for a judge to feel comfortable in regards to setting a bond. Sometimes, even if the judge agrees to set a bond, that bond may be set very high and an electronic monitor may be required as well.
However, if the judge determines that the prosecutor failed to establish that proof of guilt was evident and the presumption of guilt was great, then the defendant is must be released. In most cases, this does not happen.
Regardless, any person accused of a life felony would absolutely benefit by retaining an experienced criminal defense lawyer. When selecting a lawyer to handle an Arthur Hearing, experience counts. While there are plenty of lawyers who handle criminal cases, very few have the knowledge, experience, and creativity needed to be successful when defending someone accused of a life felony.
When it comes to Mr. Johnson’s case, more information will be required before a determination concerning bond can be made. However, if the case is as brutal as Ms. Whorter claims, it is unlikely that Johnson will be released any time soon.