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
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.
The media is swirling with reports about the verdict in the Casey Anthony case. Reporters and courthouse watchers are all talking about how shocked they are. Others speculate about what will happen to Anthony and her family now that she has been acquitted. It is easy to get dragged in to the media hype surrounding this case. After all, a little girl’s dead body was found in the woods, and her mother acted despicably in the days following her disappearance. But before you join that angry mob out there, take a minute to think about something else.
We all know that in a trial, the prosecution’s job is to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the defense attorney’s job is to convince the jury that there is reasonable doubt. The role of defense attorney seems easy enough in cases where the criminal defendant might be a likeable person, or where the Government made some clear mistakes either in the investigation or in the prosecution of the case. But in cases like Anthony’s, where the defendant shows no remorse for what happened, or acts despicably in the days following the perpetration of the crime, the role of the defense attorney becomes all the more difficult and important. In cases where the defense attorney has to defend someone that is despised by the public, the defense attorney truly assumes the role of defender. The jury trial system given to us by the Founders of this great Nation knew the importance of the jury trial as a check against mob justice. And the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), recognized that all defendants, regardless of income, have the right to be defended against criminal charges. The right to due process of law, which we all enjoy under the Constitution, requires nothing less.
It is somewhat ironic that the verdict in the Anthony case was reached one day after Independence Day. While we may feel angered and frustrated by the senseless death of little Caylee, and while we may disagree as to the appropriateness of the verdict, there are two things we should all take a moment to remember in these days surrounding the Fourth of July: the right to trial by jury, and the important role of the criminal defense attorney. An oath contained on the website of the Office of the Public Defender for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit is worth quoting:
I am a Public Defender.
I am the guardian of the presumption of innocence.
My clients are the indigent accused.
They are the lonely, the friendless.
There is no one to speak for them but me.
My voice will be raised in their defense.
I will protect and defend my clients and the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Florida.
After only approximately 10 hours of deliberations, the jury reached its verdict in the Casey Anthony case: Not Guilty of Counts I through III, which were the counts charging Anthony in the death of her daughter. (Note: Count I charged First Degree Murder, Count II charged Aggravated Child Abuse, and Count III charged Aggravated Manslaughter of a Child). The jury did, however, find Anthony guilty on Counts IV through VII, which charged her with Providing False Information to a Law Enforcement Officer. Sentencing has been set for Thursday, July 7, 2011.
Pursuant to Florida Statute sec. 837.05(2), a person who provides false information to a law enforcement officer with regard to the alleged commission of a capital felony commits a third degree felony, and may be incarcerated for a term of up to 5 years. Since Anthony has been in custody on and off since the death of her daughter in 2008, Anthony may have already earned a substantial amount of credit for time served.