Michael Dunn, a 47-year old software engineer from Brevard County, was convicted of 4 of 5 counts this past weekend related to firing his gun into a moving SUV. The SUV contained 4 teenagers, one of whom was killed in the gunfire. The jury hung on the count of first-degree murder related to the teenager who was killed.
Dunn claimed self-defense. He alleged that he got into a verbal dispute about the volume of the music coming from the SUV he was parked beside at a gas station. When the argument escalated, Dunn claimed that he saw what he thought was the barrel of a shotgun, so he withdrew his concealed handgun and fired 10 rounds into the SUV. Several of those rounds were fired as the SUV was speeding away.
The jury could not reach a decision on count one. Since the crime was first-degree murder, there was a jury panel of 12. Normally, unless it’s a felony punishable by death (this was not a death penalty case but by law, a first-degree murder conviction is punishable by death) Florida juries have 6 members.
Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey, who also prosecuted George Zimmerman, charged Dunn with first-degree murder for the death of the young victim, 17 year-old Jordan Davis.
First-degree murder requires premeditation. Legally, this planning and deliberation of a killing can occur in just seconds. However, given the facts, I believe that the charge was prosecutorial overkill and that second-degree murder would have been more appropriate since the state need not prove premeditation.
In that situation, there would have been a jury of 6, not twelve. Easier to convince 6 than 12.
I think that either the jury was unable to compromise between first and second-degree murder or there was a question of whether self-defense against Jordan Davis - not the three other young men in the car - was justified.
One notable point for the defense - police waited several days before searching the area for a gun. It was possible (and remember, the state must prove their case beyond all reasonable possibilities) that a gun was tossed from the SUV as it sped away.
However, the jury did feel that there was no legal justification in firing multiple rounds into the SUV as it sped away. Therefore, the jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder with a firearm and one count of throwing a deadly missile (shooting into a car).
Each count of attempted second with a firearm is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. There is a 20 year mandatory minimum under 10-20-Life for discharging a firearm during the course of a felony. The judge cannot stack minimum mandatory sentences so Dunn will only get one mandatory 20 year sentence followed by whatever time the judge wants to give him. Legally, the judge can sentence Dunn consecutively but without sentencing him to consecutive mandatory minimums.
Under Florida law, an attempted second-degree murder charge without the use of a firearm carries a maximum of 15 years. Under the Florida statute that reclassifies offenses due to the possession or use of a firearm, Dunn is facing 30 years per attempted second-degree murder conviction with the imposition of a 20 year mandatory minimum (day-for-day time, no gain time applied).
If sentenced consecutively, Dunn faces a maximum of 105 years in prison. 30 years for each attempted murder count followed by 15 years for the throwing a deadly missile count.
The judge cannot legally stack the mandatory minimums but he cannot sentence Dunn to less than 20 years. So Dunn’s permissible sentencing range is 20-105 years.
Keep in mind that Dunn is 47. Prison conditions take years off of your life. It is possible that a 30-45 year sentence is tantamount to life in prison for him.
If he gets a long enough sentence, the State Attorney’s Office may choose not to retry him on the count of first-degree murder that resulted in a mistrial.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients in Miami-Dade County and Broward County, Florida.