Appellate Law, Criminal Defense, Criminal Appeals & Criminal Appellate Review and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit for Criminal Attorneys, Criminal Lawyers & Appellate Lawyers
I’ve been pretty busy lately, but I wanted to take a moment to let you know that on September 17, 2013, the Florida Supreme Court held oral argument in a very important criminal appeal, Henry v. State, No. SC12-578. The issue is whether sentencing a juvenile to a sentence which is a de facto life sentence violates the Eighth Amendment, in light of Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The Florida Supreme Court Gavel to Gavel Video Portal page summarized the facts as follows:
Mr. Henry was convicted of sexual battery, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking and burglary. The crimes were committed when he was 17. He was tried as an adult and sentenced as a sexual predator to life in prison plus 60 years. While his appeal was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles sentenced for crimes other than homicide could not be denied the opportunity for parole. The trial court resentenced Mr. Henry to 90 years in prison. The Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the sentence.
I don’t know about you, but I find this issue extremely interesting. If you represent juveniles in criminal court, you really should take the time to view the recording of the oral argument by clicking here. Be sure to enter the case number in the lower right corner, under the “Search by Term” box. (For those of you who would rather have the Cliff’s Notes version, the majority of the Justices appeared to side with the attorney appearing for Mr. Henry, and the argument questions centered on the remedy, the lack of the possibility of parole, and what constitutes “meaningful review” under Graham). You can monitor the status of the docket by clicking here.
The Florida Supreme Court has been back in session for a few weeks now, and it has recently issued 2 opinions on the proper application of section 812.025: Blackmon v. State, No. SC11-903, and Williams v. State, No. SC11-1543.
If you’ve been a criminal trial lawyer for any period of time, hopefully you’re familiar with section 812.025, which precludes a jury from finding a defendant guilty of both “theft and dealing in stolen property in connection with one scheme or course of conduct.” Blackmon and Williams are almost the same procedurally: both were charged with counts of theft and dealing in stolen property, and both were convicted of both counts after trial. The distinguishing factor is that in Blackmon, the trial court failed to instruct the jury on section 812.025 (Blackmon neither requested the instruction, nor objected to the court’s failure to so instruct the jury), while in Williams, the defendant’s request for the section 812.025 instruction was denied.
Both cases wound their way to the Florida Supreme Court. In Blackmon, after discussing the various approaches employed by the District Courts of Appeal, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court should have instructed the jury on section 812.025; (2) section 812.025 precludes a court from adjudicating the defendant guilty of both dealing in stolen property and theft; and, (3) although the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury in accord with section 812.025, the error was not fundamental, and a new trial was not required.
In Williams, after being convicted of both the theft and dealing in stolen property counts, the court dismissed the theft count, and adjudicated him on the dealing in stolen property count. On appeal, the Supreme Court answered two rephrased certified questions: (1) whether a trial court must instruct the jury pursuant to section 812.025 when both theft and dealing in stolen property charges are submitted to the jury; and, (2) whether the trial court’s denial of an instruction pursuant to section 812.025 requires the defendant to be given a new trial if the defendant is convicted of both theft and dealing in stolen property. In answering both questions in the affirmative, the Court went on to hold that (1) a trial court must instruct the jury pursuant to section 812.025 when both theft and dealing in stolen property counts are submitted to the jury; (2) the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s request for the section 812.025 instruction; and, (3) the trial court’s error in failing to instruct the jury pursuant to section 812.025 was not harmless, and a new trial was required.
The lesson here: when you and your client go to trial on charges of theft and dealing in stolen property, you should request the jury to be instructed pursuant to section 812.025. If you fail to do so, and the trial court fails to give the instruction, your client may not win a new trial on appeal.