Michael Dunn verdict – begin with the truth, please

Last night and this morning I began to see a flood of commentary on the Michael Dunn verdict – I haven’t been following the case, but I knew it was out there and I’ve seen some references to it.  In the commentary last night and this morning, mostly on Facebook without links to news articles, I learned that a white racist, Michael Dunn, was acquitted of murder, by a white jury, because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and people are outraged.

Except, I looked up an article (and another, and another) to see what had happened in this case, and discovered that Dunn did not invoke the Stand Your Ground law, although he argued self defense, he was not acquitted but the jury hung on the murder charge, and he was convicted on all 4 of the remaining charges, including 3 counts of attempted murder, each of which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years?

It appears that Dunn may be racist – according to some articles, he sent letters from the jail that sounded racist.  He clearly doesn’t like rap music, and he did shoot into a car full of black men.  I don’t claim to know what happened during the incident or what happened at the trial apart from the soundbytes the media gives us, but if the guy left the scene, had a drink, took a walk, and took a nap without calling the police he has a huge credibility problem.  Per the media reports, his girlfriend did not support his story of seeing a gun barrel and no guns were found.

Racist people come into court every day – as defendants, as victims, as witnesses, and as judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.  When you deal with people, you are dealing with biases and prejudices and some of them are extreme.  The fact that most people do not recognize or acknowledge their prejudices makes it more difficult to deal with.  But, the Michael Dunn verdict is not the poster child for decrying a racist criminal justice system that sets free white men who murder black teenagers.

To get to that conclusion, people are straight up lying about what happened.  Dunn was not acquitted or found not guilty – an acquittal means 12 people agreed that he was not guilty.  That did not happen.  A hung jury, which is what happened on the murder charge only, means that 12 people could not agree as to the elements of murder – some said guilty, some said not guilty, and they could not persuade one another – and a mistrial was declared, as to the murder charge only.  Which means that the state can retry the murder charge if they choose to, although it would be a ridiculous waste of resources since the man was found guilty of the other charges and is now facing mandatory minimums of 20 years in prison.

This probably wouldn’t bother me as much if the posts and comments were written only by non-lawyers who don’t understand the terminology or procedure in the criminal courts.  But, this is commentary by lawyers who should know better.  The same posts that I am seeing on Facebook, where lawyers – not lay persons, but lawyers – are posting the above incorrect information, also are quickly devolving into name-calling and what could be either racist or anti-racist rants in the comments.  By lawyers, talking about lawyers. 

I’ve always tried to steer clear of writing about or commenting on these cases.  Although I don’t understand it, I clearly see the frenzy that nationally-reported criminal trials send people into.  A man shoots into a car at a gas station?  There are racial over-tones?  It’s no different than the hundreds of run-of-the-mill cases criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors deal with every day in your local courtrooms.  Somehow the national media exposure sends the masses into an irrational, emotional, obsessive tailspin.

Start the conversation with the facts: Dunn was convicted.  He is going to prison.  The jury was a mix of Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian.  He was not acquitted on the murder charge and it can be retried if the state chooses.  Stand your ground laws were not an issue in the trial.  And, based on the limited information I’ve read in the above articles, he is probably a racist and the shooting was probably racially motivated.

Then, if the truth does not support your agenda, find another case where it does.  Don’t lie or shade the truth to support your arguments, and, to my lawyer friends attacking one another and calling names like children on the playground, shame on you.


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