Understanding the 'Loud Music' Verdict

Understanding the 'Loud Music' Verdict

There's been a mixed reaction to the jury's verdict in Florida's "loud music" case: A white man named Michael Dunn got into a confrontation with some black teenagers over music they were playing; fired his gun into the teens' car numerous times, killing one of them, Jordan Davis; left the scene; and later claimed he'd seen Davis brandish a gun. He never contacted police himself, and no weapon was found. There were clear echoes of the Trayvon Martin case, down to the same prosecutor.

Some of the reporting thus far has said that the jury found Dunn guilty of "attempted murder" while failing to reach a verdict on "murder," which makes zero sense at first glance: How could firing into a car constitute the attempted murder of the people who weren't killed but not constitute the murder of the person who was? Here are the key details.

Importantly, Dunn fired three different volleys of shots, two from inside his car and one after he got out and the teens' car was driving away. The attempted-murder charges stemmed from the final volley of shots, the murder charge from the earlier shots that killed Davis. The jury was given the options of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder, as well as lesser charges for both.

Under Florida law, except in some circumstances that don't apply here (murder during the commission of certain other crimes and deaths that result from drugs dealt illegally), first-degree murder has to be premeditated. According to the state's jury instructions:

"Killing with premeditation" is killing after consciously deciding to do so. The decision must be present in the mind at the time of the killing. The law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the killing. The period of time must be long enough to allow reflection by the defendant. The premeditated intent to kill must be formed before the killing.

That is a tough thing to prove when the accused didn't know the victims and events unfolded quickly. Further, the judge could tell even before the verdict that some jurors might have been okay with the initial shots on self-defense grounds. Indeed, they failed to come to a guilty verdict on any murder charge, and even opted for second-degree when it came to the attempted-murder charges (for which the case for premeditation was much stronger, because they pertained to later shots).

At any rate, Dunn is 47, and he could face 20 years for each of three attempted-murder charges, plus another 15 for another charge stemming from firing into the vehicle. Prosecutors are going to re-try the murder charge, too.

Many thanks to Twitter users @BrantHadaway, @dg22727, and @Alyx518 for pointing me in the right direction as I was researching this post.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

[Note: This post has been updated to make clear the full range of options available to the jury.]

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