Did Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law Hang Michael Dunn's Jury?

WOFLWOFLLast night Michael Dunn, the middle-aged software developer who got into a deadly argument over loud music at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in 2012, was convicted of attempted murder charges for firing a gun at an SUV in which four teenagers were sitting. The jury deadlocked on a murder charge related to the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, the passenger Dunn killed. According to The New York Times, the case was "the latest courtroom test for Florida's expansive self-defense statutes, including the so-called Stand Your Ground provision." But did the outcome of the trial actually hinge on any special feature of Florida's law, or is this another case, like the George Zimmerman trial last summer, where critics of the statute perceive a connection that does not really exist?

Without knowing what the holdout juror or jurors was/were thinking, it is impossible to say for sure. The right to "stand your ground" when attacked in a public place did not figure prominently in the trial, but Dunn's lawyer, Cory Strolla, did mention it during his closing argument, saying, "His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force." As in the Zimmerman case, the jury instruction concerning justifiable homicide mentioned that right, and it is more plausible in this case that it made a difference, since Dunn arguably could have driven away even if, as he claimed, Davis menaced him with a shotgun. (By contrast, Zimmerman's account of the fight that ended in Trayvon Martin's death, which was supported by substantial evidence and seems to have been accepted by the jury, precluded the possibility of retreat, since Zimmerman claimed Martin knocked him to the ground and was on top of him, smacking his head against the concrete.) Then again, even states that impose a duty to retreat make an exception when it cannot be done safely, and driving away from a gunman who has just threatened to kill you (per Dunn's account) would be pretty risky.

About that alleged gun: Police never found it, although Strolla argued that Davis' friends had time to ditch it and could have retrieved it later, before a thorough search of the area was conducted. The fact that Strolla said the purported weapon might have been a "lead pipe" or a "stick" did not inspire confidence in Dunn's story, which was further undermined by the testimony of Strolla's girlfriend, who was with him immediately after the shooting and during the following day. She said he never mentioned a shotgun to her.

Under Florida's self-defense law, the Times claims, Dunn "needed only to be convinced that he saw a shotgun, whether or not one was present." That is not quite right. Dunn had to reasonably believe Davis was threatening him with a shotgun. If his perceptions were colored by irrational preconceptions concerning the violent propensities of surly black teenagers listening to "thug music" (as seems plausible), his belief, even if sincere, was not reasonable. (Contrary to what the New York Times editorial board seems to think, the reasonable-belief standard is not unique to Florida or limited to states that recognize a right to stand your ground in public places.) In any case, the fact that Dunn fled the scene and did not call the police, who located him the next day via the license plate number seen by a witness, strongly suggests he did not really believe the shooting was justified. Furthermore, the fact that Dunn continued to fire on the SUV as it pulled away is consistent with the prosecution's theory that he acted out of anger rather than fear.

Given the fishy elements of Dunn's story and behavior, it may seem surprising that the jurors, who had the options of second-degree murder and manslaughter as well as first-degree murder, could not agree that his use of deadly force against Davis was not justified. But the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn was not acting in self-defense, and if one juror believed it did not meet that test, that would have been enough to block a verdict. The holdout would not have to be convinced that Dunn was telling the truth; he would merely have to think that believing Dunn was reasonable. The absence of a duty to retreat might have made a difference in that judgment, but it is not at all clear that it did.

Prosecutors plan to try Dunn again on the murder charge. Already he faces at least 20 years in prison under Florida's "10-20-life" rules for crimes involving guns, and he could receive a sentence as long as 75 years (a life sentence, effectively) if the judge decides that the terms for the various counts should be served consecutively. Dunn is scheduled to be sentenced the week of March 24. 

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  • Mike M.||

    The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates brings the stupid.

    As a commenter accurately noted earlier today, the fact that the left is acting as though Dunn was acquitted is yet more evidence of how mentally deranged they've become.

  • Rich||

    Spare us the invocations of "black-on-black crime." I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought insane.

    OK ....

  • Mike M.||

    Not only is Coates a loon, he's also a fucking coward to boot. Commenting is standard on stories in the Atlantic, but they have been disabled for his drivel.

  • Acosmist||

    He has a habit of banning people who comment in an insufficiently laudatory manner on his posts. The problem is, the ban extends to all Atlantic articles. So he'll actively fuck over their readers over his shitfits.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Spare us the invocations of "black-on-black crime." I will not respect the lie.


    First, who the fuck is "us"? Tahitian Noni Coates have multiple residents inside of that echo chamber known as his mind?

    Second, accuse the FBI of lying. According to their stats (Table 6) of the 2,648 black people murdered in 2012, 2,412 were murdered BY ANOTHER BLACK PERSON.

    Third, you are insane, Tahitian Noni. Just sit still and wait for the men with butterfly nets.

  • SugarFree||

    A black kid killing another black kid isn't useful to him, so therefore is must be another lie from The Man.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Case in point

    A mischievous prank turned deadly on Saturday after a 15-year-old girl was allegedly shot dead by an irate Arkansas homeowner who is now facing first-degree murder charges.

    Adrian Broadway was allegedly hit in the head by Willie Noble, 48, after the teenage girl and five other friends covered Noble's car with leaves, eggs and mayonnaise just before 1am on Saturday morning.

    It was the second prank Broadway and her friends had played on Noble that evening - causing him to burst out of his home in Little Rock firing his gun at the car containing the teen and her friends.

    What you got for this one, Ta-Nehisi?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    It's not clear to me how the jury can find Dunn guilty on attempted murder, but not on the actual murder. Are they somehow under the impression that Jordan Davis is actually still alive?

    It suggests to me that the jury wasn't actually ruling based on any of the particular charges, but rather to add up charges to get what they thought was an appropriate jail term, regardless of whether any of the particular crimes going into that sum make sense or not.

  • SugarFree||

    Where you been? I thought STEVE SMITH had finally caught up with you.

    Anyway, the attempted murder charges were for the other passengers of the SUV. If the jury thought that the Davis murder was an act of self-defense, but that firing at the fleeing teens was not a reasonable act of self-defense, the verdicts make sense.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Also, I think the murder charge required proof of premeditation.

  • SugarFree||

    They offered Murder 2 and manslaughter as well, so there was at least one juror was convinced that the Davis killing was self-defense all the way down.

    The "He had a shotgun" story looks to be made up. The girlfriend testified that Dunn never mentioned Davis having a weapon of any type before being arrested.

    It seems like a pretty simple case until race and SYG start getting thrown around.

  • ||

    Not necessarily. The jury must be unanimous on the charges, so if 10 vote 1st degree murder and 2 vote murder 2, you got a hung jury even if it is agreed that Dunn was not acting in self-defense.

  • SugarFree||

    True. I'm not sure why M1 was even offered (other than the cynical reasons.)

  • ||

    Premeditation can occur in a matter of seconds, so I can see the attempted first degree murder charges sticking when he fired at the moving vehicle after a pause.

    The issue is when did he kill the victim? Was in it in the initial burst of gun fire? Because if that were the case I couldn't convict him of first degree murder.

  • Mike M.||

    Angela Corey is simply a bad prosecutor. She keeps overcharging guys on charges that are difficult, if not impossible, to prove. Second degree murder probably would have been a slam dunk on this guy Dunn, but first degree murder is always a difficult proposition, even with a lot of evidence.

    A good prosecutor should explain to all the professional race hustling pimps that the law isn't about getting vengeance, it's about facts, evidence, and what you can actually prove. Instead she keeps on knuckling under to those clowns, and she ends up looking like she doesn't know what she's doing.

  • Kevin47||

    She knows what she's doing. She's trying to elevate her profile in advance of a party affiliation switch and run for higher office.

  • PapayaSF||

    ^This. He got into an argument with a stranger at a gas station. Hard to prove premeditation there. Clearly the over-charging is political, as it was with Zimmerman. Murder 1 makes the race activists happy, because it's the most serious charge. If they convict, great! A victory for social justice.

    But if they lose, even better! "More proof of racial injustice! Call our trusted media mouthpieces! Alert the tear-squeezers! Unleash the donation requests! Let's have an angry demonstration! We must end the scourge of white-on-black crime, which greatly upsets us (although we're not too upset with black-on-black or black-on-white crime)!"

  • Calidissident||

    I don't know how he got off on the second degree murder charge (which they could have convicted him off). Hopefully he gets convicted in the retrial, or at the very least, is put away for life on the attempted murder charges. There is zero evidence to suggest that his (supposed) belief that Davis had a shotgun was reasonable.

  • ||

    It was first degree murder, not second.

  • Capt. Rimmer||

    If the jury thought that the Davis murder was an act of self-defense, but that firing at the fleeing teens was not a reasonable act of self-defense, the verdicts make sense.

    If you buy self defense then you buy the story about the backseat passenger threatening Dunn's life and brandishing a shotgun.

    And under that set of facts there's nothing unreasonable about unloading a gun on the backseat passenger whether the vehicle is moving or stationary. Nothing is stopping the backseat passenger from shooting Dunn as the driver re-positioned the vehicle to flee the battle.

    You can't buy self-defense and accept the idea that acting in self-defense became attempted murder just because the driver moved the vehicle.

  • SugarFree||

    I didn't day they were smart, just that this may be what they were thinking.

  • Capt. Rimmer||

    I agree with you.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    That defense doesn't work if there's a duty to retreat. There's no way you can claim it was impossible to safely retreat from a shooter inside a fleeing vehicle.

    Another reason I think Stand Your Ground laws are a bad idea. Claims of self-defense are prone to abuse by guilty defendants, so we shouldn't be making them applicable to more situations than absolutely necessary.

  • juris imprudent||

    And yet juries seem to be able sort it all out.

  • Christophe||

    Juries aren't TOP MEN, silly.

    That's why Tulpa doesn't want to rely on their judgment.

  • Juice||

    I thought charging him with 1st degree murder instead of 2nd degree murder (which it was) is what hung the jury.

  • juris imprudent||

    You may have had 11 for 2nd degree and one holdout for 1st - we don't know.

  • IceTrey||

    "But the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn was not acting in self-defense, and if one juror believed it did not meet that test, that would have been enough to block a verdict."

    Or they hung on which charge, manslaughter, 2nd degree or 1st degree it was.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I blame it ALL on Zimmerman, and the cops who were NOT Johnny-on-the-spot, ON to him...
    The OTHER part of the truth (Martin threw away the sword and the pistol by his side, before he died, and the cops never found it, bumbling fools that they were), but here is the REAL truth:
    Martin went a fartin’,
    And he did ride,
    With a sword and a pistol
    By his side,
    Lookin’ for a “creepy ass cracker”
    To help him eat his skittles,
    So when he couldn’t find his spittoon,
    He spit instead in his shittooon,
    And shit instead in his spittoon,
    While the cow jumped over the moon,
    And the dish snorted coke with a spoon,
    And we’ll all know the truth real soon!

  • Dave Krueger||

    The problem is that he said he saw a shotgun and none was found. That was his first mistake. His second was not being a cop.

    He should have claimed he thought the guy had a pistol. That way his story would have been corroborated if the cops found a cellphone. Cops use that excuse all the time. 'Cause cell phones and guns look the same, you know. And how convenient that almost everyone has one...

  • juris imprudent||

    Gotta disagree - his first mistake was not being blessed by the state with a magic shield. Then whether there was a shotgun or not would be immaterial.

  • RishJoMo||

    Those Florida Kangaroo Courts crack me up man.

    www.RealAnon.tk

  • JeremyR||

    Something similar (kinda) just happened in Little Rock

    http://www.thv11.com/news/arti.....-teen-dead

    Only instead of music, they played a prank on him. And of course, the shooter is black....

  • Paul.||

    And of course, the shooter is black....

    Shhh...shhhh..... we're trying to build a narrative here.

  • bassjoe||

    I read this article and the NY Times article it linked to.

    The verdict to me ONLY makes sense if the dead teenager was shot and killed before the SUV drove away. I feel like that's very relevant, yet it's not mentioned in either of the articles. I would think it'll be possible to tell through proper forensics.

  • Copernicus||

    Ironic thing:

    If this case was a Po-Po who pulled up and told the kids to turn off the music. And the kids failed to do so, there would be even more dead kids with no prosecution and maybe even a commendation. Something about Authoritah.

  • PapayaSF||

    irrational preconceptions concerning the violent propensities of surly black teenagers listening to "thug" music

    Oh yeah, totally irrational! No correlations there! Nope. The entire idea is too silly to contemplate. Any rational person knows that demeanor, age, race, and musical taste have absolute nothing to do with violence propensities. The logic is clear: not all surly black teenagers listening to "thug" music are violent, therefore, any surly black teenagers listening to "thug" music are not more likely to be violent compared to anybody else. For example, a carload of happy Jewish retirees listening to chamber music would be just as likely to be violent. Q.E.D.

    Therefore, only a racist could possibly think they were in increased danger in the presence of surly black teenagers listening to "thug" music! Got it? ONLY A RACIST!

    (This is not a defense of Dunn, who as far as I can tell deserves prison. It's an attack on the absurd use of the word "irrational." I am losing my ability to tolerate that sort of reflexive PC genuflecting.)

  • dinkster||

    A lot of hub bub over a guy who is effectively going to prison for the rest of his life.

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