In July 2013, during the trial of Florida vs. Zimmerman 1, there was a lot of confusion about just what charges George Zimmerman faced for killing Trayvon Martin. I wrote a brief recap “GZ: Murder vs Manslaughter?” to clarify the charges. In some ways history seems to be sadly repeating itself. Again an unarmed Florida teenager has been shot to death, again the killer is claiming self-defense, and again the public is understandably confused about just what charges the accused faces. The names have changed, the facts are different, but the legal issues, though not identical, are remarkably similar.
In Florida vs Dunn2, Michael David Dunn is charged with killing Jordan Russell Davis, and with firing 9 rounds from a 9mm gun into the vehicle in which Davis’ three friends escaped fatal injury. On Nov. 23, 2012 Florida prosecutors brought charges of Premeditated First Degree Murder (1 count), Attempted First Degree Murder (3 counts), and Discharging a Firearm into an Occupied Vehicle (1 count) against Michael Dunn. The State charged Michael Dunn with 5 counts via indictment, specifically:
- 1st Degree Murder of Jordan Davis. §782.04(1)* [*Firearms Enhancement3]
- Attempted 1st Degree Murder of Tevin Thompson. §§777.04,782.04(1)(a)*
- Attempted 1st Degree Murder of Leland Brunson. ⊥*
- Attempted 1st Degree Murder of Tommie Stornes. ⊥*
- Shooting or Throwing Deadly Missiles. §790.19
But those 5 named counts are not the only charges that Michael Dunn potentially faces. According to the Florida Schedule of Lesser Included Offenses5 Florida law allows for two types of Lesser Included Offenses: Category I [Mandatory] and Category II [Discretionary]. The FLvsMD jury must consider all Mandatory Lesser Included charges, and may consider Discretionary Lesser Included charges.
So although the only mandatory lesser offenses that must be given to the FLvsGZ jury are second degree murder and manslaughter (for 1st° murder), and attempted second degree murder plus attempted voluntary manslaughter (for attempted 1st° murder), either prosecution or defense may request discretionary lessers as well.
- Thus, while re: Jordan Davis, Florida only charged Dunn with first degree murder, FLvsMD jury could find Dunn not guilty of first degree, yet still find him guilty of the mandatory lesser included offense of either second degree murder or manslaughter.
- Similarly, while Florida charged 3 counts of attempted first degree murder, the jury could acquit of attempted first degree, but instead convict on [1, 2, or 3 counts of] attempted second degree or attempted voluntary manslaughter.
- For the fifth and final charge, Discharging a Firearm into an Occupied vehicle, there are no mandatory lesser included charges.
Of course, the jury could also find Dunn not guilty of all charges, or convict him on any one of several discretionary lesser included charges. | Update: Neither Prosecution nor Defense counsel requested any Discretionary Lessers at the charge conference. So only the 4 enumerated Mandatory Lessers will be presented to the jury for consideration. (Essentially, ignore the far right column on the chart above; consider only first three columns from left.)
Elisabeth Epps earned her JD from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2011. Follow her, her trial coverage, and her random rants/raves about basketball, dating, and other assorted miscellany: @ElisabethEpps on Twitter.
- …State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman: SA No. 1712F04573 18th Judicial Circuit In and For Seminole County, Florida. Hereafter FLvsGZ. [↩]
- …State of Florida vs. Michael David Dunn: SA No. 12CF076957 4th Judicial Circuit In and For Duval County, Florida. Hereafter FLvsMD. [↩]
- …Firearms Enhancement = Possession of a Firearm and Discharge Causing Death. FL § 775.087(1), (2)(a)3. [↩]
- …Indictment retrieved via MichaelDunnTrial.com, a publication of the Duval County, FL Circuit Court. [↩]
- …Information retrieved Tues. 2/12/14 via Florida State Supreme Court. A disclaimer on FL website says info may not be complete nor current. [↩]