A few weeks ago in Jacksonville, Michael Dunn shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis in a gas station lot. The shooting was preceded by an argument over loud noise that was being played in the vehicle that Mr. Davis was in with three friends. Reports indicate Mr. Dunn fired 8 rounds into the vehicle, resulting in Mr. Davis’ death. Dunn initially left the scene, but called to turn himself in the next day. He was charged with murder for Mr. Davis, and three counts of attempted murder for the other teens in the car. Mr. Dunn is white, and Mr. Davis was black.
Recently, the State Attorney’s Office announced that they had sought and received an indictment upping the primary charge to First Degree Murder. Apparently, they do not intend to seek the death penalty, but First Degree Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. In Florida, life means life: there is no possibility for parole if convicted. The case is being handled by the 4th Circuit SAO, which is the office of State Attorney Angela Corey, whose aggressive prosecutorial style this blog has previously discussed. To charge First Degree murder, the State must be able to prove there was premeditation or that there was another specific aggravator. Based on the facts that have been discussed in the media so far, the State is likely proceeding on a premeditation theory. The premeditation does not mean “advance-planned” as we often think, but the case certainly sounds like a heat of the moment act as opposed to one of premeditation.
Attorneys for Mr. Dunn have claimed that their client acted in self-defense. He apparently gave a statement to law enforcement that while he was arguing with Mr. Davis, he was threatened and thought he saw a shotgun being pointed in his direction before shooting. No weapon has been located in the vehicle, but there are reports the teen’s vehicle initially left the scene before returning. Mr. Dunn’s first attorney tried to distance his client from the Trayvon Martin situation, but his new attorney, Cory Strolla, has acknowledged that they may try to use Stand Your Ground in his defense. They better, because Mr. Dunn will need to show that he had a reasonable belief that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm for his actions to be justified. There are certainly differences between the cases, but they both come back to the simple question of justification. And that justification does not require a showing of actual danger, merely that a reasonable person in their shoes would have felt the danger.
Thanks to Dan for the heads up on this case. #standyourground