The criminal justice system in Florida has certainly dominated the news in recent years. First, the George Zimmerman trial sparked outrage. Then, the case of Marissa Alexander renewed outrage at Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Now, the Sunshine State has made the news again because of the “loud music” case.
The case involved a confrontation at a gas station that soon turned deadly. In 2012, Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida next to a Dodge Durango. The Durango had five teenagers inside and was playing loud music that Dunn said was “rap crap.”
Dunn asked the teens to turn down the music, and what followed depends on which side of the story you hear. During his trial, Dunn claimed that one of the teens, Jordan Davis, threatened him. He also claimed to have seen the barrel of a gun sticking out of the window. Feeling in danger, Dunn fired at the SUV—ten shots in total. He ended up killing Davis.
Prosecutors argued that Dunn didn’t fear for his life; instead, he lost control over music he didn’t like. Their claim is supported by the fact that police didn’t find a weapon in the car: they found only a basketball, basketball shoes, cups, and a camera tripod.
However, Dunn’s lawyers maintained that the teenagers could have had a weapon during the confrontation, later ditching it around the gas station, and that, regardless of the actual presence of a weapon, Dunn felt threatened.
Dunn was charged with three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. After about 30 hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict for the three counts of attempted second-degree murder. On the first-degree murder charge, there was a hung jury—meaning that the jury could not come to a decision.
This case was clearly a difficult one for both sides to try.
It is certainly plausible that Dunn felt threatened. However, because the police did not find a weapon, this weakens Dunn’s claim in the eyes of the jury. Moreover, Dunn left the scene and drove 40 miles away to a bed and breakfast, where he walked his dog and ordered a pizza. It may be that, because of his actions following the shooting, the jury did not believe his story as a frightened man who was trying to prevent an attack.
For the prosecution, however, it seems that charging Dunn with a count of first-degree murder was an overreach. First-degree murder is also known as “premeditated” murder, which requires thought or planning. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, is not planned and is often referred to as a crime of passion.
The jury’s unwillingness to convict Dunn of first-degree murder may indicate that they believed that he acted without thinking, even if they didn’t believe that he had any reason to fear for his life.
Even without a conviction on the first-degree murder charge, Dunn faces a lengthy prison sentence: 20 years, at minimum, for each attempted murder charge. This is, essentially, a life sentence.