The Song Remains the Same

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.

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68 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    Convicting him on the three counts of attempted murder but not the murder charge is a bit of a head-scratcher. Either he was shooting in self-defense or he wasn’t. Juries. What’re you gonna do?

    It seems like a largely academic point, given that the charges on which he was convicted are enough to put him away for life.Report

    • I can see a juror – and presumably, it’s only one juror we’re talking about here- saying that the only one he said scared him was Davis, so he didn’t have the right to shoot at the others.

      All I know is that this case ought to make people think “hmmm…..maybe telling people it’s ok to shoot to kill just because you say you were scared in a public place from which you could have easily driven away is a really bad idea.”. It won’t, of course.

      Even if this racist asshole had been convicted on the murder charge, there ought to be little doubt in peoples minds that the entire reason he killed Davis was because he believed that SYG meant that his fear (really, hatred) of young black men playing loud music provided justification to shoot to kill rather than walking away. Turns out, his belief was right. We should all be appalled. But plenty of people won’t be, because in their heart of hearts, they are just as scared of young black men as Dunn. And thus you get jurors finding that young black men playing loud music makes an old white man’s fear for his life “reasonable.”

      Even if it had turned out that Dunn was wrong in his belief that SYG gave him justification and he had been convicted, that would still not change the fact that the law’s very existence encouraged him. Just as it quite possibly encouraged Zimmerman even if he didn’t ultimately make an SYG defense. Having fewer killings, full stop, is a lot better than having more people in prison for more killings. And it’s definitely better than having more killings and fewer people in jail for those killings.

      Nothing will change, though. Apparently a lot of people think that being a little scared in a public place is totally a justification for shooting someone. Especially when that someone is a young black male.

      What it will take for change to happen is for someone to get acquitted of shooting a white guy. So maybe we’d all be better off if the guy in the theater shooting gets acquitted.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Turns out, his belief was right.

        He was convicted on like 70 years worth of charges. And it’s not like he was acquitted on the murder charge. It was a hung jury, and you yourself said that it was probably only one juror voting to acquit. Which means he can be retried, although depending on sentencing for the other charges it might be purely symbolic anyway. How does this translate to him being right about that?Report

      • Retrials are expensive. They probably will retry him in this case, but there’s lots of cases where a retrial wouldn’t happen. In terms of him getting convicted in the attempted murder cases, all that means he was wrong about was that he could just shoot indiscriminately. He seems to have been right enough that shooting a young black man because young black men are scary would be a viable justification thanks to SYG.

        Regardless, were it not for the fact that SYG was in his head from the moment he decided to pull the trigger, he’d have pleaded guilty awhile ago. Instead, he figured for sure SYG would get him off the hook. So he shot.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Brandon, Mark’s point is that having this guy in jail is a different issue than being exonerated of murder charges because SYG, and that his being convicted doesn’t constitute a justification for SYG. If anything, it demonstrates to others that you can kill someone for trivial reasons (well, trivial to me, but I might be in the minority here) and be found not guilty.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        He wasn’t exonerated, and SYG wasn’t part of his defense (or Zimmerman’s). Mark is only saying that knowledge of SYG emboldened him, and even that much is speculative.Report

      • Actually his lawyer did make an SYG defense here in his closing arguments by all accounts. He just didn’t make the argument in a pretrial motion for strategic reasons.

        And were it not for the attempted murder convictions the mistrial verdict would mean he would be a free man until he could be retried and convicted – and there’s never a guarantee that a retrial will occur (though its likely in a high profile case).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        He was exonerated on the murder charge, yes? So the jury concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to overcome reasonable doubt given the self-defense laws on the books in Florida. The statute defining “self defense” in Florida is already functionally a SYG law since the use of deadly force in self-defense is justified without a duty to retreat:

        However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:
        (1)?He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another …

        It’s the lack of a duty to retreat which makes this definition of justified self defense pretty much identical to people’s conception of a SYG law. As far as I can tell, the specific SYG statute in Florida extends Castle Doctrine and self-defense to include killing people who are about to commit felonies against other people’s persons or property.

        I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about wrt the specifics of the verdict, tho. Do you think the guy should have been convicted of murder, or not? According to Florida law, it seems like the jury got it right.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Dunn’s lawyer said this during his closing statement:

        “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.”

        Which his honor did. So did the judge in the Trayvon Martin trial. Every killing in Florida is an SYG case.Report

      • zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        A question about closing statements;

        Do they have to meet the legal/procedural standards of evidence and testimony during the trial, or can they have more ’emotional’ content, not so hinged to law? What are the standards here? Can the opposing attorney object to something said in closing, a judge order jurors to disregard something said in closing?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        “Your brother’s a world-class dumbass, so I hesitate to analyze what goes on in his head.” – Raylan Givens, Justified

        @mark-thompson – I have to agree with @brandon-berg that you are doing a lot of speculating about what kind of legal theories and strategies and racial animus were going through the mind of the kind of dumbass who would impulsively shoot up a car of kids over some loud music.

        This could just as easily have been a road rage incident in any other non-SYG state in the union.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Actually, I’m more concerned about what when through the (for lack of a better word) minds of the dumbasses who don’t know a murder when they’re shown uncontroverted evidence of it. “Jury of your peers” indeed.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mike, You might find this article interesting. It’s about the North Carolina SYG law and deals with some of the issues around what constitutes “reasonable belief” and the like, as well as efforts by CCers to have the suit thrown out (that is, to leave the meaning of “reasonable belief” undefined).Report

      • @zic The easiest answer to that is that you have to adhere to the evidence that was actually presented, and opposing counsel absolutely can and often will object to items in closing statements. In extreme cases, it’s possible to say something so wrong that the judge immediately declares a mistrial.

        I’ll also add here that if the jury was in fact also given the ability to convict on manslaughter or second degree murder, and didn’t, then it becomes almost inconceivable that the reason for the hung jury was anything other than the SYG defense.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Actually his lawyer did make an SYG defense here in his closing arguments by all accounts.

        Ah, sorry about that, and thanks for the correction. I was going off the article linked in the OP, which said he did not invoke SYG in his defense.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I think it’s key here that the news media & gun control groups are the ones incorrectly telling everyone that SYG means you can shoot people because you are afraid. I’ll also point out that the police are often given a pass for shooting when they thought they saw a weapon & because they were afraid. Double standards are always bad policy.

        I have not seen anything from the NRA or any other pro-gun group that informs or implies that SYG is open license to escalate a situation or to shoot without a clear danger to life. Everything I see from that side of the aisle is pretty clear that it only relieves the duty to retreat when faced with danger & that the gun owner is still 100% responsible if they escalate the situation.

        Given the facts I’ve seen, Dunn was wrong, much more clearly so than Zimmerman. I’m surprised the jury was so unsure.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        It would seem a clear general definition of “Reasonable Belief” is pretty key. If this is missing from the FL code, then that is a problem less of SYG & more of the definitions.

        But again, if a police officer can have a “reasonable belief” that he is in danger from a guy reaching for a wallet or cell phone in the dark, then so can a citizen.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        But again, if a police officer can have a “reasonable belief” that he is in danger from a guy reaching for a wallet or cell phone in the dark, then so can a citizen

        This is an excellent point; in fact, a police officer should be held to a higher standard, since they’re presumably better trained as to what a weapon looks like and how fast/effectively it can be deployed against them.

        If we let them slide on this stuff (and we do, all the time), we’ve got no hope of convicting the average untrained citizen.

        semi-OT, but did you see this?:

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Them the NRA sees the Jordan Davis shooting as a clearly unprovoked attack and is horrified that SYG was used to defend it? If so, they’re being awfully quiet about that.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I read Balko, I can’t not see such things.


      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        From US Concealed CarryReport

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        MRS, thanks, but the point of that piece is that SYG is a good thing that in some cases doesn’t go far enough.

        Obviously, if you provoked the confrontation, or if at some point you came to be seen as the aggressor, or in some other way were found to have violated the standards of deadly force, then Stand Your Ground may not even be applicable

        But it might.

        Also, it makes the irrelevant point that “Zimmerman never made a claim under their Stand Your Ground law”. SYG was in the jury instructions, just as it was for the Davis shooting.Report

      • greginak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist I’m not sure that link shows entirely what you think. It certainly points out correctly that “reasonable” can often be hard to define, but that problem effects any law, not just SYG. Also that the law is still being understood and put in practice is an issue. But he quotes a gun owner he over hears saying that SYG is a license to shoot which is exactly the problem opponents of the law claim. It’s hard for some of us to grasp the “danger” he sees in retreating. Getting away from the danger, to me, seems like a really prudent move. However he is positing running the hell away as somehow more dangerous. If an attacker is chasing you, well then you are in real danger and retreat isn’t an option, but then again that is self-defense.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        But it might.

        In point of fact, Florida Statute 776.041 says that you can, under certain conditions, use deadly force in self defense even if you were the initial aggressor.

        This predates SYG. The web site allows you to view earlier versions of the law, going back to 1997, and it’s still there.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        The law you’ve linked includes the duty to retreat, if possible, before using deadly force. SYG removes that.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Go up a level and read the whole section on justifiable use of force. There’s a duty to attempt to end the conflict if you initiated it. There are certain conditions that have to be met before you’re exempted from the duty to retreat.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        That seems to be an issue for the judges, since they provide the jury instructions. If the judges are not clear on how the law works, and the media is not clear, why is anyone expecting normal people to have a clue? Still, it was never used in the pre-trial phase, which is where SYG is relevant.


        If you’ve never been in a violent conflict, I can understand why you would fail to grasp how dangerous retreat is. However, there is a reason retreat is a tactic so carefully used in the military, & it is not because of hurt pride & ego. Once you begin a retreat, your ability to defend yourself crumbles. In an orderly retreat, part of your forces stand & defend while the other part retreats, which prevents the enemy from casually shooting your forces in the back as they run. In a rout, it’s every man for themselves.

        Now, let’s take the case of a person accosted on a lonely street. It may be possible at some point to turn tail & run (retreat), but is it wise? Unless you are an Olympic sprinter in an area with lots of cover &/or concealment, the answer is no. Once you present your back to your assailant, you risk a blow or shot to the back you have no hope of blocking, dodging, or bracing for.

        In short, a safe retreat once a person is the target of an aggressor is often very difficult to pull off, if not impossible. The fact that some districts encode it into law is asking them to expose themselves to great harm for little good. Prior to becoming the target, however, “retreat”, or rather, “evasion” is much more reasonable, and tactically wise (get out & get help, or at least get into a more defensible position).

        What we need is not a “Duty to Retreat”, but rather a “Duty to De-escalate”, or at least an obligation to not escalate.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        That seems to be an issue for the judges, since they provide the jury instructions. If the judges are not clear on how the law works, and the media is not clear, why is anyone expecting normal people to have a clue? Still, it was never used in the pre-trial phase, which is where SYG is relevant.

        I don’t think that’s correct. There is a specific (optional) pre-trial phase that’s an SYG hearing. If the defense wins, the defendant cannot face either criminal charges or a civil suit for the incident. There are presumably disadvantages to having and losing it, because neither Zimmerman nor Dunn requested one. Regardless of that, SYG is still an available defense during the main trial, and moreover it still affects the defendant’s ability to use deadly force legally. Even if there’s no SYG hearing and SYG is never mentioned during testimony, the defense can still bring it up during closing arguments (as Dunn’s attorney did), because it’s the law.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        That is quite a stretch to say that if SYG is never employed in pre-trial, & never mentioned during the opening or testimony phases, and is just mentioned during closing & in jury instructions (along with I am certain other tidbits, like what constitutes justifiable & reasonable), that the SYG law itself is obviously the reason the jury hung on homicide.

        A serious stretch, like bad TV kind of stretch. Occam is banging his head against the wall in frustration with you kind of stretch.

        Let’s look at a simpler explanation. The talking heads at news outlets in FL & elsewhere REALLY don’t like SYG, and to date have spilled a lot of ink maligning it, and few have made a serious effort to clearly explain the law to the public without surrounding such with considerable hyperbole about how it’s a license to kill when you are afraid, when it most emphatically is not. There is nothing in SYG or any of the surrounding law that says that, and has @brandon-berg has pointed out, FL has the requisite clear definitions needed to make that clear.

        Let’s also look at how often Corey’s office has pushed to convict on the most serious charges it can dream up, rather than what it can prove. I know they included Murder 2 & Manslaughter, but someone here as already suggested that in FL, just giving a jury the option of a lesser offense is somehow not sufficient to allow them to convict on it (can anyone explain that?).

        I don’t know why Dunn dodged the murder charge, I would have voted to convict him, but I am unwilling to find fault in a law that was merely mentioned at the end when there are better explanations available.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I was pushing back against your “the pre-trial phase, which is where SYG is relevant.” That’s way too dismissive. It’s relevant throughout the proceedings, all the way to the verdict.

        I don’t know why the jury hung, nor does anyone except the jurors. Your notion that they couldn’t agree on a level is also speculative, and seems unlikely to me. (“OK. since we can’t agree on 1st or 2nd, let’s compromise and let him walk. All in favor?”)

        Actually, the piece you link makes an interesting point that I’ve seen made elsewhere. Dunn fired 10 shots, 7 when the other vehicle was parked, and 3 as it fled. The attempted murder charge is based entirely on the latter. So far, he’s gotten a pass on the first 7.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        Something I read over at LegalInsurrection suggested that since Dunn somehow managed to get Self-Defense on the table (given what I know about the case, that seems a pretty good trick*), the state failed to dis-prove the SD claim to at least one juror, which is why they hung.

        Again, here too SYG does not come into play. The SD claim is separate from SYG since it involves a claim of brandishing (Dunn says he saw Davis pull out a shotgun). Even if the Duty to Retreat was still there, Dunn could claim there was no reasonable way to retreat at that point & thus he was justified. I’m just at a loss as to how Dunn was able to get a judge to entertain a SD claim at all.

        *Given that Dunn packed up & left the scene without ever calling the police & allowing them a chance to look for the gun in question immediately after the shooting, and he had to be later arrested once the police ID’d him. Maybe FL law is funny here, but it seems to me that making such a claim days later would do a solid job of gutting that defense.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Not sure which article at Legal Insurrection you mean. If it’s the one that contains

        In the Zimmerman trial, the evidence was overwhelming that Martin was on top of Zimmerman punching Mixed Martial Arts style as Zimmerman was pinned on his back on the ground with his head being bashed into concrete at the time the single shot was fired.

        I wouldn’t believe a word it says.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        This article specifically (it took me a bit to find it again).

        Here is the relevant portion:

        Dunn’s Claim of Self-Defense Remains a Factor in Murder Charge

        Dunn had claimed self-defense as justification for his use of force, based upon Florida statutes §776.012, §776.013, §782.02, amongst others, and as captured in Florida jury instruction 3.6(f) Justifiable use of deadly force.

        Once Dunn had met his burden of production in getting self-defense submitted to the jury–which he managed to do only by taking the stand to testify on his own behalf–the State carried the burden of disproving self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

        Apparently at least one juror believed that the State had not met this burden with respect to the first count, the murder charge for the shooting death of Jordan Davis. This will remain an issue if the State elects to re-try Dunn on that charge.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        And yes Mike, I know you strongly disagree with the Zimmerman case. I’m not hashing that one out any more.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Thanks for finding that. It does make you wonder how Dunn met the burden for self-defense with no evidence to back up his story.

        But the other isn’t a question of our disagreeing. No evidence points to “punching Mixed Martial Arts style”, much less “overwhelming” amounts of it. And “his head being bashed into concrete” fits badly with the medical examiner’s testimony that Zimmerman’s injuries were insignificant. It’s just inflammatory bullshit.Report

      • Stepped away from the intertubes for a few days; looks like I’ve got a lot to respond to here.

        So…. @brandon-berg and @mad-rocket-scientist : the thing is, that while the “reasonable person” standard has a long history in the law and is indeed included in just about any SYG or self-defense statute of which I’m aware, it’s ultimately something that’s in the eyes of the jurors, who are inevitably going to insert themselves as the prototypical “reasonable person.” What’s more, anyone who knows the law (and – I’ve said this before – to their credit, few groups are more knowledgeable about the law than those others might call “gun nuts”), presumably including Dunn, is going to insert themselves into the definition of “reasonable” in evaluating a threat.

        It just takes one juror to get a mistrial. And there are no shortage of white folks (and even some non-whites) who have trouble checking their lizard brain and begin with the assumption that young black teens hanging out in a group and acting loudly are a potential threat; I know plenty of such people who are open about that assumption, and even more who aren’t. If the question becomes “did Dunn reasonably believe that Davis pulled a shotgun” rather than “did Davis pull a shotgun,” which it does in self-defense cases including but not limited to SYG cases, then anyone who has trouble checking their lizard brain will decide that this is indeed a reasonable fear, even if they may couch it in terms of “groups of loud teens” in general to avoid sounding like a racist.

        And while the statute that Brandon cites denies the right to claim self-defense to those who “initially provoke()” the violence, “provocation” is to my knowledge generally something that means “throws the first punch” rather than “was first to act like an asshole.”

        Something else that’s getting ignored here- the SYG law eliminates the duty to retreat before using deadly force not only to save one’s own life, but also to prevent anything that one reasonably believes constitutes an “imminent forcible felony.” In other words, Dunn didn’t need to think that Davis was going to actually about to shoot him; he could have just believed that Davis was about to rob him or commit any “forcible felony,” which includes any felony that involves the threat of violence. Thus, as long as he had a “right to be” in the public place, he was allowed to use deadly force without any duty to retreat under SYG not only to protect his life or the lives of others but also if he had a “reasonable belief” that Davis was going to commit just about ANY act of violence. That’s an extraordinarily low bar.

        But what’s more, so far as I can tell, Dunn’s claim is only that he saw Davis possessing a shotgun – not that Davis actually pointed the shotgun at him – and that Davis supposedly said (presumably in response to something Dunn himself suggested) “Yeah – I’m going to fucking kill you.” Dunn claims that at that point he went into his glove box, grabbed his pistol, and then opened fire. He also claims that after the teens turned the radio down, he heard one of the teens in the back say to Davis “you should kill him” or words to that effect.

        Now, let’s say that Dunn’s claims are entirely true – that someone in the car actually said that, and that he actually believed that he saw a shotgun in the car but that the gun was never actually pointed at him. First, we have the fact that he somehow had time to get into his glove compartment, pull the gun out, and aim it – but not the time to just leave, as the duty to retreat would have compelled him to at least attempt. Second, to take that situation as an imminent threat, rather than a situation where teenagers were just joking around about someone who they viewed as kind of a jerk, requires, I think, a lot of lizard brain assumptions. What’s more, Dunn’s own letters from jail make extraordinarily clear that those were indeed his assumptions (which, again, are a lot more common than we’d care to acknowledge). And, last but not least, let’s be honest – it’s highly unlikely that the teens actually said what Dunn claims they said, even if he really believes they said it; but again, if you’ve got a certain mindset, it becomes really easy for him to just think that’s what he heard even if it’s not what was actually said. And it becomes very easy to create reasonable doubt in a single juror’s mind as to whether this was indeed said and was indeed a real threat – you just need to find a single one with the same mindset, and there’s no shortage of such folks.

        I also have a very difficult time believing that the cause of the mistrial was that one or more jurors were unwilling to compromise on first degree and others unwilling to compromise on second degree or manslaughter – there’s a reason that second degree and manslaughter are “lesser included offenses”: it’s essentially impossible to prove first degree without also proving second degree or manslaughter. Maybe I’m wrong, but this just seems very unlikely to me.

        It seems even less likely that SYG played no role in his decision to open fire – as I said, it’s difficult to conceive of him not being well-versed on the law, and his letters certainly indicate that he think simply perceiving the actions of black people as threatening is sufficient justification for shooting to kill. But regardless, SYG’s very intention in eliminating the duty to retreat was to permit people to use deadly force in more situations – it thus can reasonably said to have at minimum contributed to emboldening Dunn in this particular situation.

        Last but not least, while I understand @mad-rocket-scientist’s concerns about the practicality of retreating in any given situation, the problem is that the duty to retreat serves an important function: by complying with the duty to retreat, or at least attempting to, a defendant is showing that their belief in the existence of the threat wasn’t just subjectively reasonable, but more than that, the threat was quite probably real. It’s an important safeguard – people may “reasonably” feel threatened in any number of situations that are not, in fact, threatening. Indeed, the subset of “actual” threats compared to the set of “reasonably perceived” threats is almost certainly quite small. The duty to retreat amounts to the most basic and fundamental possible obligation that a defendant make a minimal attempt to confirm that the threat is real before taking the irreversible step of killing someone. It’s a check against our lizard brains. When all that is needed to evade responsibility for killing someone is a reasonable doubt that the defendant may have had a “reasonable belief” that a threat existed, then we place an unbelievable amount of value on the subjective impressions of the only person who survived the encounter. While the “castle doctrine” is imperfect, there’s a similar logic at play as exists in the retreat requirement in other situations – in effect, if someone is intruding in your house and you’ve got a reasonable belief that they’re up to know good, the odds are fairly decent that your reasonable belief is correct. In other words, that you’re in your own home is equivalent to the first step of investigating whether the reasonably perceived threat is an actual threat.Report

  2. Morat20 says:

    His lawyer claims Dunn was “in shock, disbelieving” at the verdict. (Or words to that effect, I’m paraphrasing).

    That’s a man who thought he had the right to shoot up a car full of black kids, and if Florida has taught us anything — he’s not an isolated fellow.

    And they still couldn’t get him for murder, which is the kicker. If he’d JUST shot Davis, the man might have gotten off scott-free — or served a handful of years, max, for gunning down an unarmed teenager for the crime of playing music too loud.

    I’m going to state this again: ANY law wherein a man can walk up to a car, argue with the occupant, then pull out a gun and shoot the driver dead and not get convicted or murder? [i]Bad law[/i].

    I’m iffy on castle doctrine, but in public? [i]Duty to retreat[/i] needs to be inserted back into the frickin’ law.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Morat20 says:

      I just noticed that you said that it was his lawyer who said he was in shock. What is his lawyer supposed to say? “Yeah, he’s totally guilty, and his defense was pretty obviously BS, so we pretty much saw this coming?”Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Again, note:

        None of the facts were in dispute. Dunn instigated the argument entirely, Dunn not only shot first, everyone else was still in the car, and Dunn was the only one with a weapon. The only fact in dispute is his claim he thought the driver might be armed. Might be. (And entirely incorrect, unless the dead and injured disposed of a gun so thoroughly that Florida’s finest couldn’t find it).

        And still he didn’t get convicted of murder.

        And, to add, at the time he thought it was a good idea to pull out a gun and shoot it into a car full of people. So no, I’m not thinking his lawyer is being disingenuous. The man approached a car full of people, hectored them about how loud their music was, went and got his gun, and came back and shot them all.

        That’s a man who is either clearly insane, or thinks there’s a good chance that action won’t have serious consequences.

        It’s not like he was drunk, or he’d been punched or otherwise had his judgement impaired. There’s not even a laughable claim of self-defense here — just his claim he felt ‘threatened’.

        And if that’s a justification for shooting people, we — as a society — are thoroughly screwed. Because you know what scared people do — even if their fears are thoroughly baseless? They often buy and carry guns. You know, to protect themselves from what they fear.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        “It’s not like he was drunk”

        Honestly, reading between the lines of the story, I kind of assumed he WAS drunk -just left a wedding, stopped to buy wine, (blasted up a car full of teens), made a series of further irrational and self-incriminating decisions rather than calling police, drank rum and coke and had ‘stomach problems’ for four hours before ‘napping’ (passing out?).

        They didn’t apprehend him until many hours after the fact, by which time he could have sobered up.

        Any lawyers want to opine whether admitting “I was drunk” would have improved or worsened his charge/conviction odds situation? I can see that going either way – if he admits he was drunk, then he wouldn’t be in his right mind for premeditation/murder one; OTOH it undermines his self-defense claim credibility if he says he saw a gun, but it was in the hands of a pink elephant. Plus they could slap drunk driving charges on him in addition to all else.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        FWIW, this was in fact totally racial.

        From “thug music” to a “car full of thugs” to this excellent quote from Dunn himself: “This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs,” he wrote. “This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these … idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior…. The more time I am exposed to these people, the more prejudiced against them I become.”

        Somehow, I suspect Dunn might not have pulled the trigger if it’d been 4 white kids in a car, no matter what music they were blasting.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Morat20 says:

      @morat20 @mark-thompson

      I’m iffy on castle doctrine, but in public? [i]Duty to retreat[/i] needs to be inserted back into the frickin’ law.

      Disagree. The duty to retreat allows far too much Monday Morning Quaterbacking by police & DAs against situations that are far too hectic & stressful. Such laws are too often employed to go after a defender for not making use of an avenue of retreat they may not have known about, or not had the presence of mind to consider. Let’s not open up more avenues for overzealous DAs to victimize innocent people.

      In WA, we have no duty to retreat. What we do have a rather clear definitions of what constitutes a threat that can be met with deadly force. It’s a rare thing where we have a problem with gun owners getting it wrong, and rarer still that juries do.Report

  3. zic says:

    I found a comprehensive history of Stand Your Ground defenses in the Tampa Bay Times.

    There are a surprising number of white male victims. There are dismissed cases against black and hispanic males, and guilty verdicts for white males.Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      And I really recommend reviewing this site before bringing race into this; if anything, I have the impression that we’re viewing SYG through a lens of the high rate of gun-death against young black men (many, police shootings), and that this has distorted our view of the actual applications of SYG.

      That said, I’m in no way dismissing the laws; shooting someone because you’re afraid vs. actually being threatened matters, and when you are afraid, it can be very, very difficult to tell the difference. The laws a problematic.

      But spending some time looking at the actual cases leads me to believe that we’re not talking about the real issues with the law when we only see them a license to have open season on a specific group of people; and the the two cases that have brought this to national attention are distorting the conversation we should be having.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to zic says:

        I have the impression that we’re viewing SYG through a lens of the high rate of gun-death against young black men (many, police shootings)

        To clear up a misconception some may have, the high rate at which black men are killed has very little to do with white people. The vast majority of black homicide victims are killed by other black people.

        Take a look at this paper from the Urban Institue. Of the civilian homicides between 2005-2010 for which offender race data were available, only 8% of black homicide victims were killed by white* offenders. Of those homicides, 11% were considered to be justified, or less than 1% of the total.

        Police shootings were about 400 per year during that period, or 2400 for the six-year period. I don’t think race data are available for those, but if we assume that those are all white-on-black, that would mean that about 16% of black homicide victims are killed by police or white* civilians, if we ignore the roughly 1/3 of homicides for which offender data aren’t available. If we extrapolate from the homicides for which data are available, that lowers it to around 14-15%, and then to 13% or so when we account for the fact that police sometimes shoot people of other races.

        Of course, the thing about police shootings is that many of them—most, probably—really are justified. We hear about the controversial cases, as we should, but clearly justified police shootings don’t get the same kind of media attention. I would be shocked if anywhere near half of police shootings were reasonably contestable, but let’s say half, which gets us down to 11% or so.

        I think I’ve made pretty generous assumptions here, which gives an upper bound of 11% of black homicide victims being killed by whites, excluding truly justifiable cases.

        Meanwhile, black-on-white homicides outnumber white-on-black homicides more than 2:1.

        Obviously, murder is never okay. Black-on-black murder isn’t less bad than any other racial combination, and innocent black people don’t deserve to die just to even out the interracial murder rates. But there is no epidemic of white people running around and shooting black people just for the hell of it, or because black people are scary, and then getting acquitted.

        *Federal crime reports classify Hispanics as white if they are not black or Asian, so this includes Hispanics who would not generally be considered white.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

      zic, I know you’re a TNC fan. Have you read this?Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        No I hadn’t.

        (I guess I should be clear too; I’m not suggesting that there isn’t an open season on young black men; I think there is, and it’s also reflected in incarceration rates. Specific instances of SYG may tie in; but that open season is only one of many reasons to question SYG, not the primary reason, and not it’s only injustice.)Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        Initially, I thought you were referring to this.

        It’s TNC in a despair that’s heartbreaking. Somedays, I’m afraid he’s right.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Ooops. You’re right zic, I meant the one you linked to, sorry about that.

        Here’s an article from the Guardian that’s relevant.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Daily Mail, actually.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

        And because it’s the British press, the story of course must have a picture of his daughter looking hot inserted for literally no relevant reason, because why not?Report

      • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

        /blech, @stillwater

        I did not want to read that crap. It’s like total GZ deja vu.

        But it does reinforce one thing: there’s this certain type of psycho who thinks it’s okay to beat up on women and gun down black kids, and they too often get away with it because they’re just psycho enough to say, “Poor me, I’m the victim here.”Report

  4. Cathy says:

    I think part of this particular verdict may be the relative degrees of the murder charges. Second-degree isn’t really a “lesser” charge to first-degree murder; second-degree is the default, and you can bump it up to first if additional criteria are met. It is strange to me that the jury would convict on attempted murder but not actual murder when one of the guys in fact died, but it’s also strange to me that the prosecution didn’t charge him in such a way that the jury could have chosen to convict on actual second-degree murder if they didn’t find enough evidence of all the criteria for first-degree.

    Mainstream (non-specialist) reporting on court proceeding often bugs me, because so frequently relevant details get unreported in the name of (charitably) simplifying the story for people who nothing about the law, and/or (less charitably) forming a convenient sound-byte. Murder charges are almost always an example of this, for the above reason.

    This is not to downplay the general issue of attitudes towards young black men in America, and how this plays out to their great detriment in various aspects of life, including and perhaps especially in the courtroom. This particular verdict may be one more instance of that. However, without more about the jurors or what went on in the deliberations, it’s also perfectly consistent with a jury that couldn’t find the sometimes picky criteria for first-degree murder satisfied. Perhaps they would have if the races of the people involved had been different, but skepticism of prosecutors’ claims not backed by evidence is something to be encouraged where it doesn’t now exist, instead of discouraged where it still does.

    Worth noting: they didn’t acquit him, either.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to Cathy says:

      Fair point about the lesser charges issue – I’ve made that criticism in the past and should have thought to look into the extent to which it might have played a role here. That doesn’t, of course, change the fact that making mere fear without a duty to retreat a justification for homicide is appalling, and I still have a hard time believing that SYG wasn’t in this guy’s head all along.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        According to his letters from jail, his lawyer seems to have convinced him he had a STRONGER SYG case than Zimmerman, and his letters reek of his believe that he was fully justified to gun these guys down.

        It was “life or death” to him.

        Which really, comes to the real issue with SYG laws (at least in public. Castle Doctrine, again, I’m more supportive of). Even assuming Dunn was, in fact, terrified out of his wits at ‘black thugs’ (his words) and ‘thug music’ — do we want “I’m so racist that black people frighten me” to be an affirmative defense for murder?

        So much of SYG is in the mind of the shooter. I don’t believe there’s a reasonableness standard for the fear, there’s no duty to retreat. The necessary facts are “Possession of a gun” and a “Claim to fear a jury will believe”. That is..insufficient…for shooting someone in a public space, in my mind.

        And we’re one screwed up country that that’s not some aberration of a law to one backwards state,.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I don’t believe there’s a reasonableness standard for the fear

        I’m not sure if there is or not (that is, whether the law actually specifies that or not), but the cases and reporting we’re getting seem to indicate there’s not. And if that’s correct, it is a huge problem. As fuzzy as the “reasonable person” standard is, it serves an important purpose. In some cases it means we don’t get held to the standards of the most sensitive person in the world, and in other cases it means being extra-super-scared of “those people” doesn’t become a defense against shooting them without provocation.

        I’m not sure where SYG actually adds any value that traditional self-defense doesn’t. It seems to incentivize, and the justify, escalation, rather than promoting de-escalation.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        There is a reasonableness standard.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Looking at the actual statute, instead of talking out my ass, Brandon is right.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        It certainly doesn’t seem to be applied, especially when coupled with “no duty to retreat”.

        As far as I can tell, it would be perfectly legal for me to pick up a gun, go pick a fight with a guy I hate, and as soon as he swings at me — pull out the gun and shoot him. Or as soon as he threatens to kill me or seriously hurt me, shoot him. Even better if I know he owns a gun or knife, I can always say I thought he had it on him.

        As long as I don’t stupidly say “I planned the whole thing” I’ve got a pretty solid defense there. I bumped into a guy, we’ve never liked each other, things escalated, I was in fear of my life, so sad he’s dead. Hopefully the NRA will get it’s members to pay my legal bills, give me a few guns, and let me do some speeches.

        It’s certainly rational to be terrified when a very angry man is trying to hit you, after all.

        Zimmerman stalked Martin, this guy confronted a car full of people, and it appears the ‘reasonable standard’ for fear is claiming you saw a weapon.

        I admit. Thinking the guy you’re in a confrontation with is armed is very frightening. I’m not gonna lie. Definitely scary. But without duty to retreat, we’ve turned every gun owner into a vigilante on a hair trigger, with a defense that’s really hard to penetrate. How do you prove to a jury that the shooter couldn’t possibly think the victim had a gun?Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Yeah, Corey’s office has a history of over-charging & then losing. No surprise there.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        It certainly doesn’t seem to be applied, especially when coupled with “no duty to retreat”.

        Seems to suggest the trouble is less with the law & more with Angela Corey being incompetent.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        From here:

        Did that suffice to give at least one juror reasonable doubt as to guilt? To believe that Dunn might well be telling the truth? That seems to be the primary assumption of commentators so far. It’s certainly a possibility, but it might also have been that the jury simply couldn’t agree on premeditated murder vis-à-vis lesser included offenses. In his closing statement, prosecutor John Guy told the jury that the state didn’t want anything less than a Murder One conviction.

        Seems to me that might have been the clincher. Manslaughter, even Murder 2, should have been a slam dunk.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Cathy says:

      I believe in this case, the jury had the option of finding him guilty on 2nd degree murder or manslaughter charges instead, but couldn’t reach an agreement on those either.Report

  5. Damon says:

    After reading the linked article, there’s no way Dunn could reasonably claim self defense under any rational scenario. That’s total BS. This dude just “went off”.Report

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist says:


    Moving it down here since the previous thread was getting long.

    Thank you for all that, seriously.

    I absolutely understand your reasoning with regard to the Duty to Retreat (DTR) & Lizard brain perceptions, & I can see the value in it. It is my belief that 99% of people already do this (check to make sure the threat is real & attempt to avoid it before acting against it), legal duty or not. We only hear about the 1% that don’t because they usually make a mess of things & show up on the news.

    That aside, my criticism of a specific legal duty to retreat remains – where it exists, DAs have been known to put people through the ringer & in jail specifically because, after armchair quarterbacking the incident, they decide that the shooter did not retreat sufficiently to satisfy their sense of what should have been done. So a legal duty to retreat, if it exists*, needs to be very narrow, or crafted such that speculations about possible avenues of retreat** have to be meet a high bar before the DA can introduce them in court to attack a claim of self defense.

    *Many states have neither a SYG nor a DTR law & don’t seem to have problems with gun owners killing people in public. Here in WA, the last case I can recall that approached either topic was a guy who killed a car thief with a lucky head shot as the thief was driving away in his car (Search Gail Gerlach Spokane WA).

    **In Dunn’s case, seeing as how he could have just as easily retrieved his weapon & gone into the store to call police, I think the bar for retreat speculation could be met pretty easily.Report

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