Unfortunately, media talking heads and other pundits have ignored the simple, underlying problem with the State Attorney’s Office strategy in the Michael Dunn case – they overcharged the case. For people that operate in the Florida criminal justice system every day, this shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone. It is common knowledge that some Assistant State Attorney’s often over charge cases hoping people will simply plea out to lesser charges. While many Assistant State Attorneys would never overcharge a criminal defendant, it has unfortunately become a matter of course for many, who simply assume cases will plea out quickly. This isn’t intended to be a slight or insult against Assistant State Attorneys; it is simply my observation of the current state of affairs in the Florida criminal justice. Back to the matter of Dunn, the charge of first degree murder against Michael Dunn raises a couple legal and factual issues.
First, while Angela Corey and her colleagues are quick to explain over and over that premeditation can occur in the blink of an eye, normal people simply don’t think like that. They are legally correct, but factually and logically incorrect. Jurors think of premeditation involving planning and true deliberation, not split second decisions, like apparently occurred in the Dunn case. Movies and television shows include people “premeditating” by following victims, taking pictures of them, studying their movements, planning their attack, picking out weapons and escape routes, etc. People simply do not believe premeditation can happen in the absolute bling of an eye. Even the Florida Standard Jury Instructions require “reflection by the Defendant” as part of the premeditation. Here, the State Attorney’s Office essentially tried to show the premeditation occurred quickly during the argument between Dunn and the victim. Again, I do not believe this is what jurors anticipate.
Secondly, jurors are confused when culpability varies among similarly situated victims. While I did not watch the entire trial, it is clear based on the verdict that the Jury believed an attempted second degree murder certainly occurred based on the convictions on attempted second degree murder. Here, the jury undoubtedly had to wonder why the attack on one passenger was to be premeditated, while the attack on the other three was not. Again, this obviously raises many issues with Michael Dunn’s alleged state of mind.
So while first degree murder requires premeditation, which we discussed certainly creates unnecessarily high challenges for the State Attorney’s Office, second degree murder has a far lower standard. It provides three requirements that must be satisfied the requirements of second degree murder. In the Dunn case, I believe the State could have presented evidence that would have satisfied the three requirements. As way of background, the Florida Jury Instructions provide for:
An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that:
- a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and
- is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent, and
- is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.
Again, the State could have likely easily met their burden based on the number of shots, the circumstances of the arguments; the Defendant’s own statements during and concerning the incident and his jail house letters, etc. Most importantly, second degree murder does not require any degree of premeditation. Here, the State could have argued more effectively that Dunn was totally incorrect as to his claim of self-defense and that he lacked premeditation. Aside from plea negotiations, I do not understand why they proceeded forward with first degree murder, when they simply could have amended to second degree murder and likely been far more successful at trial. Based on the convictions on attempted second degree murder, it is clear that the Jury would have almost certainly provided a conviction for second degree murder as to Mr. Davis. From a sentencing standpoint, the four convictions would have essentially amounted to a life sentence, especially given Dunn’s age.
Unfortunately, this shooting has left a young man dead and another mark on Florida and its criminal justice system. The simple fact is that Dunn was overcharged and that fact alone resulted in the State Attorney’s Office’s failure to get a conviction of Michael Dunn. I did not have an opportunity to watch the entire trial, but based on the Jury’s verdicts as to the other counts, it is clear they would have convicted Michael Dunn of second degree murder, not first degree murder. Thanks for taking the time to check out our blog, we appreciate you reading our Tampa criminal defense attorney blog. Have a good day.