Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Florida Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the First District Court of Appeal vacating Defendant's sentence and remanding for resentencing under the prior version of Fla. Stat. 775.082(1), which could have resulted in reimposition of Defendant's sentence without any findings by a jury or the trial court, holding that the proper remedy for harmful error resulting from the court, not the jury finding the fact of dangerousness under section 775.082(1) is to remand for resentencing. In Brown v. State, 260 So. 3d 147, 150 (Fla. 2018), the Supreme Court held that the portion of section 775.082(10) requiring the court, not the jury, to find the fact of dangerousness to the public necessary to increase the statutory maximum nonstate prison sanction violated the Sixth Amendment. At issue in this case was the proper remedy for harmful error resulting from the court finding the fact of dangerousness under the statute. The First District held that statutory revival was the proper remedy. The Supreme Court quashed the First District's decision, holding that the proper remedy is to remand for resentencing with instructions to either impose a nonstate sanction of up to one year in county jail or empanel a jury to make the determination of dangerousness, if the State so requests. View "Gaymon v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment ordering a new penalty phase proceeding after finding Defendant was entitled to relief under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), and rejecting Defendant's guilt-phase claim, holding that this Court must partially recede from Hurst. The jury in Defendant's case recommended death by a vote of eleven to one after unanimously finding that, during the course of the first-degree murder, Defendant committed related crimes. Defendant later filed his postconviction motion alleging that counsel was ineffective for conceding that Defendant committed the nonhomicide offenses for which he was convicted and that Defendant was entitled to resentencing because the jury did not make the findings required by Hurst. The trial court denied Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim but vacated Defendant's death sentence pursuant to Hurst. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) this Court recedes from Hurst except to the extent it requires a jury unanimously to find the existence of a statutory aggravating circumstance; and (2) under a correct understanding of Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), the requirement that a jury unanimously find a statutory aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt was satisfied in this case. View "State v. Poole" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court dismissing in part, denying in part, and granting in part Genghis Nicholas Kocaker's initial motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death and denied Kocaker's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err and that Kocaker was not entitled to habeas relief. Kocaker was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Kocaker later filed a Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 motion to vacate his conviction and sentence, asserting, among other things, entitlement to relief under Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016), because the jury's recommendation of death in his case was nonunanimougs. The State conceded that claim, vacated Kocaker's sentence, and summarily denied or dismissed Kocaker's remaining claims, either for mootness or on the merits. Kocaker appealed and also filed a petition for habeas corpus. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in finding Kocaker competent to proceed in postconviction; (2) the circuit court correctly denied Kocaker's ineffective assistance of counsel claims and Brady claim; and (3) Kocaker was not entitled to habeas corpus relief. View "Kocaker v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversing the trial court's decision denying Defendant's motion to correct his sentence on the grounds that the trial court could not impose investigative costs because the State had not requested them, as required by Fla. Stat. 938.27(1), holding that the State's request for investigative costs must occur before the judgment is rendered. The Fifth District held that the trial court erred in imposing costs of investigation in the absence of a request from the State but concluded that the State, on remand, should be given the opportunity to request the imposition of investigative costs. The Supreme Court quashed the Fifth District's opinion, holding that because the State failed to request investigative costs before the trial court pronounced sentence and entered Defendant's judgment the State's opportunity to request investigative costs has passed. View "Richards v. State" on Justia Law

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In this advisory opinion, the Supreme Court answered a question asked by Governor Ron DeSantis regarding the interpretation of a portion of the Florida Constitution affecting his executive powers and duties by stating that it is in the Court's opinion that the phrase "all terms of sentence," as used in article VI, section 4, has an ordinary meaning that the voters would have understood to refer not only to durational periods but also to all legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt. Specifically, the Governor requested advice regarding the meaning of language added to Fla. Const. art. VI, 4 by the approval of an initiative petition, commonly referred to as Amendment 4, that restored the voting rights of certain convicted felons "upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation." The Supreme Court answered that the phrase "all terms of sentence" encompasses not just durational periods but also all LFOs - fines, restitution, costs, and fees - imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt. View "Advisory Opinion to Governor re Implementation of Amendment 4, The Voting Restoration Amendment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's third amended motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851 and denied Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Appellant was not entitled to relief. Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. This appeal concerned Appellant's second amended motion for postconviction relief. The postconviction court noted that Appellant was entitled to a new penalty phase pursuant to Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016) but denied the guilt-phase claims. The majority of the claims presented in Appellant's appeal alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The Supreme Court denied the claims and affirmed the order of the postconviction court. The Court also denied Appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Appellant's claim that comments made by the prosecutor tapped into racial stereotypes was procedurally barred and that Appellant's claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel also failed. View "Martin v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling that a peremptory strike was constitutionally impermissible because it was based on the prospective juror's religion, holding that the issue of the constitutionality of a religion-based strike was not properly preserved in the trial court and that the district court erred in reversing on the basis of an unpreserved argument. The district court concluded that the trial court erred in allowing the peremptory strike of the prospective juror at issue, basing its decision in part on its conclusion that the strike involved an unconstitutional religious test. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below, holding that Defendant's religion-based objection to the strike was not properly preserved. View "State v. Pacchiana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirming the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion for discharge for expiration of speedy trial, holding that the Fifth District properly applied Melton v. State, 75 So. 2d 291 (Fla. 1954), and that an investigatory detention does not constitute an arrest for purposes of starting the speedy trial period in Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.191. At issue was how the term "arrest" should be defined for purposes of starting the speedy trial period set forth in Rule 3.191, Florida's procedural speedy trial rule. The Supreme Court adhered to Griffin v. State, 474 So. 2d 777 (Fla. 1985), which adopted the definition of arrest from Melton for purposes of determining when the speedy trial period begins, and held that the Fifth District did not err in determining that there was no speedy trial violation in this case. View "Davis v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by the First District Court of Appeal by holding that an inquiry under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), is not invalid if the court does not explicitly inquire as to the defendant's age, experience, and understanding of the rules of criminal procedure. Petitioner was charged with drug-related offenses and allegedly violated his probation. Petitioner sought to waive his right to counsel. The trial judge discharged Petitioner's attorney, and Petitioner was found guilty of both charges. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the trial court conducted an insufficient Faretta colloquy because the court failed to ask questions about, inter alia, his age, health, and education. The First District held that the Faretta inquiry was adequate. The Supreme Court approved the holding below, holding that a Faretta colloquy is not rendered inadequate by the trial court's failure to inquire as to the defendant's age, experience, and understanding of the rules of criminal procedure. View "Hooks v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal concluding that Fla. Stat. 776.032(4) was a substantive change in the law and therefore did not apply retroactively, holding that section 776.032(4) is a procedural change in the law and applies to all Florida "Stand Your Ground" immunity hearings conducted on or after the statute's effective date. Section 776.032(4), which effective in June 2017 altered the burden of proof at pretrial immunity hearings under Stand Your Ground law, applies to pending cases involving criminal conduct committed prior to the effective date of the statute. In the instant case, Defendant's immunity hearing took place after the statute went into effect. The Third District concluded that section 776.032(4) did not apply retroactively, and therefore, the statute was inapplicable in this case. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below and remanded the case, holding (1) section 776.032(4) is a procedural change in the law and not categorically barred by Fla. Const. art. X, 9 from applying in pending cases; (2) the determination of whether a new procedure applies in a pending case generally depends on the posture of the case; and (3) applying section 776.032(4) in a pending case does not entail a retroactive application of the statute. View "Love v. State" on Justia Law