Must a Florida Jury Determine Every Fact Applicable to a Defendant’s Sentence?
Any person charged with a crime in Florida has the right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified this right meant that “any fact that increases the mandatory minimum” sentence for the alleged crime is an “element that must be submitted to the jury.” (The only exception is for the fact of a defendant’s prior criminal conviction.) The case before the Court, Alleyne v. United States, involved a defendant charged with violating federal firearms laws. The statute increased the mandatory minimum sentence based on certain facts. In Alleyne’s case, however, the trial judge determined the existence of these additional facts. The Supreme Court said that was a legal error.
Florida Supreme Court: New Juries May Be Empaneled Before Re-Sentencing
More recently, the Florida Supreme Court addressed the proper remedy for what is now called an Alleyne violation in a state-level criminal prosecution. This case, State v. Manago, arose from a fatal shooting that took place when the defendant was 17 years old. According to evidence introduced at the defendant’s trial, the defendant and two other men were in a car pulled up next to another vehicle, a Crown Victoria, in the parking lot of a Burger King. The defendant’s friends testified they planned to steal or “carjack” the Crown Victoria.
There were four people inside of the Crown Victoria. The driver testified that someone–he could not positively identify who–put a gun to his head. The carjacking attempt proceeded. A struggle ensued and someone fired a gun, striking and killing one of the passengers in the Crown Victoria. The defendant fled the scene but was later apprehended by police.
The state initially charged the defendant and his two colleagues with first-degree felony murder and carjacking with a firearm. At trial, prosecutors argued the defendant was the shooter. But the trial court instructed the jury it could find the defendant guilty of first-degree felony murder even if he wasn’t the shooter. Felony murder only requires proof the defendant was a “principal” involved in the carjacking which led to the fatal shooting.
The jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree felony murder without specifying whether they believed he was the shooter. The trial court sentenced the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The U.S. Supreme Court later held it was unconstitutional to impose such sentences on juvenile defendants. The Florida Legislature subsequently amended state law to comply with the Court’s ruling.
As relevant here, the new rules specified that a defendant who “actually kills” a victim is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years. But someone who did not actually kill the victim–as can happen in a felony murder case–is not subject to any mandatory minimum sentence.
The defendant thus sought a new sentencing hearing. The state argued the original jury would have found the defendant guilty of actually killing the victim had they been presented that question. The trial court agreed and re-imposed a life sentence for first-degree murder.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed. It held that the trial judge determined a specific element of the crime–whether the defendant actually killed the victim–violated Alleyne. The Fifth District said the proper remedy was to re-sentence the defendant under the statute providing the lesser penalty. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed, however, and said that under the circumstances, the trial court could simply convene a new jury to determine whether the defendant was the actual shooter. In doing so, the Court said that in dealing with future Alleyne violations, a trial court could “give back” to the jury authority that was improperly taken away from it in the first place.
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If you are facing a serious felony charge such as murder, you need to work with a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney who will advocate for your rights. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, PA, today to schedule a consultation.