Florida Criminal Appeals Attorney Law

Appellate Law, Criminal Defense and Appeals and Post Conviction Relief in Florida Courts, Federal District Courts and the 11th Circuit

Category: 4th DCA

Florida’s Fourth and Second DCAs Start New Year With Interesting Opinions

The Second and Fourth District Courts of Appeal have started off the New Year with a couple of opinions that Florida’s criminal defense and criminal appeals attorneys should take a minute to read.

In the first opinion, Peterson v. State, No. 2D11-5083, the Court held that a vehicle’s air bag control system report was properly admitted into evidence at trial because the report is not testimonial.  In short, because the Court determined that the report was non-testimonial, the court rejected Peterson’s contention that the admission of the report violated the Confrontation Clause.  In so holding, the Court reasoned that the air bag system report was analogous to a defendant’s driving record.  Slip. op., pgs. 2-5 (citing Card v. State, 927 So. 2d 200 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) and Pfleiger v. State, 952 So. 2d 1251 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007)).

Next, in Seymour v. State, No. 4D13-4649, the court entertained, and granted, Seymour’s emergency petition for writ of habeas corpus, wherein Seymour asked the Court to reverse the trial court’s decision to deny him bond after an Arthur hearing (State v. Arthur, 390 So. 2d 717, 718 (Fla. 1980)).  The Court granted the petition, and ordered the trial court to set a reasonable bond for Seymour.  This opinion is worth the few minutes it will take to read because opinions on bond issues don’t come up as often as criminal defense attorneys might like.  And, since the Court took the time to review several other bond cases, the Seymour opinion might be a good one to keep handy.

Noel v. State, No. 4D10-1765: Florida’s 4th DCA En Banc Opinion Holds That Trial Judge May Consider Defendant’s Ability To Pay Restitution During Initial Sentencing Proceedings

In an opinion that’s created a lot of discussion among criminal defense and criminal appeals attorneys alike, Florida’s 4th DCA has held, in an en banc opinion, that the trial judge may consider a defendant’s ability to pay restitution when fashioning a sentence.  See Noel v. State, 4D10-1765.

Noel was convicted after a jury trial of conspiracy to racketeer and first degree grand theft, arising from a scheme to steal advance fees from victims who sought to obtain funding for their business projects.  Noel, slip. op., pg. 1.  At the sentencing hearing, the court judge asked Noel if he was in a position to make any up front restitution.  Noel stated that he was, and that he could pay between $20,000 to $40,000, “plus other things.”  Slip. op., pg. 2.  The State requested a sentence of 15 years, while the defense requested a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, 3.8 years.  The court sentenced Noel to 10 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation, with the provision that if Noel made restitution of $20,000 within 60 days, his prison sentence would be mitigated to 8 years.  As a condition of probation, the court ordered Noel to pay $650,000 in restitution to the victims, with 15% of his net pay going towards restitution.  Slip op., pg.2.

In the forcefully written opinion, the majority goes to great lengths to distinguish DeLuise v. State, 72 So. 3d 248 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011), where the 4th DCA held–only two years ago–that it is fundamental error for the court to offer to mitigate a lawful sentence in exchange for the defendant paying some restitution for the victims of a crime within 60 days of the sentence.  The court also emphasizes the State’s interest in securing restitution, and declares that the trial judge should always have the ability to  impose a sentence which is more lenient than the statutory maximum” for whatever reason.”   Noel, slip. op., pgs. 2-11.

While many agree that  the judge should have the ability to impose a sentence less than the statutory maximum, the dissenters correctly note that the trial judge cannot simply do so “for whatever reason.”  Rather, the court can only consider a defendant’s ability to pay restitution within the parameters of the United States Constitution.  And, as noted by the dissenters, the net result of the majority opinion is that a defendant who is unable to pay restitution up front may be sentenced to a longer term of incarceration than a defendant who is able to pay restitution.

This is by no means settled.  A review of the 4th DCA docket shows that the Public Defender has filed a motion for rehearing, to which the State of Florida has responded.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

More Graham Fallout- Juvenile Charged With Attempted Murder Entitled To Bond

Florida’s criminal appeals and criminal defense attorneys who represent juvenile offenders should be aware of an opinion released by the Florida Supreme Court on October 10, 2013.  In Treacy v. Lamberti, SC12-647, the court reversed the 4th DCA’s denial of Treacy’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.  In his petition, Treacy argued that since he could not be punished to life imprisonment for the offense charged, attempted murder, in light of Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), he was entitled to bond.   The 4th DCA rejected his contentions not once, but twice.  Only on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court did Treacy finally win the relief he sought- the right to be entitled to bond.   This is a fairly straightforward opinion, so there’s not much for me to do other than pass it along, and urge you to keep this opinion handy for future reference.

Florida Supreme Court Issues Opinions Discussing Jury Instruction Pursuant to Section 812.025

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.

Florida’s 4th DCA Applies New Analytical Framework for Claims of Assistance of Counsel

You may recall from two of my posts a few months ago that in Lafler v. Cooper, No. 10-209, and Missouri v. Frye, No. 10-444, the United States Supreme Court revised the analytical framework to be used for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to communicate plea offers.  (To see those posts, click here and here).  Well, Florida’s 4th DCA has now issued an opinion, Gribble v. State, 4D11-4352, addressing both of those US Supreme Court decisions, as well as the Florida Supreme Court decision of Alcorn v. State, 38 Fla. L. Weekly S397 (Fla. June 13, 2013).

In Gribble, the defendant appealed the summary denial of his 3.850 motion, wherein he alleged that his criminal defense attorney was ineffective for misadvising him of the maximum sentence he faced.  Based on counsel’s misadvice, Gribble rejected a plea offer.  After trial, he was convicted of driving on a suspended license, and the State requested habitualization.  The court sentenced Gribble to 8 years’ imprisonment, which is 3 years more than he was advised he could get.  According to Gribble, had counsel advised him that he could get 10 years as an habitual offender on the DWLS count, he would have taken the State’s 5 year plea offer.

On appeal, although the State conceded deficient performance by counsel, the State (predictably) argued that Gribble failed to prove that he was prejudiced because he was sentenced to only 8 years, which is less than the potential 10 years he faced.  However, the Court rejected the State’s argument, and noted that the correct analysis of the prejudice prong under Lafler, Frye, and Alcorn requires an examination of “whether the defendant has shown a reasonable probability that the end result of the criminal process would have been more favorable by reason of a plea to a lesser charge or a sentence of less prison time, not whether he received the same sentence as what he was incorrectly advised.”  Gribble, slip op., pg. 2.  The court reversed the trial court’s summary denial of Gribble’s 3.850 motion, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Alcorn, Lafler, and Frye.

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