Not Every Day Can Be a Good One Trust Us to Protect Your Future

Florida Supreme Court - Criminal Headnotes - December 21, 2017

JOEL LEBRON V. STATE OF FLORIDA – SUPPRESSION OF POST-MIRANDA CONFESSION; REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Direct appeal from conviction and sentencing for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed kidnapping (two counts), armed robbery (two counts), and armed sexual battery.

The defendant raised numerous issues on appeal, including the inadmissibility of a confession he had made after having been given a Miranda warning, the denial of several motions for mistrial, and the exclusion of testimony of a neuropsychologist suggesting the defendant may have had a traumatic brain injury.

The Court rejected each of these arguments, but because the penalty phase jury was not unanimous in its recommendation of the death penalty, the Court vacated the death sentence and remanded for a new penalty phase, in light of Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016).

The trial court initially suppressed both the post-Miranda confession, and a confession the defendant had made a few minutes earlier, before he had been given a Miranda warning. The pre-Miranda confession had been elicited, the trial court found, in what amounted to an interrogation, and the post-Miranda confession was therefore inadmissible under Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). The state appealed these rulings. The 3rd District appeals court affirmed as to the pre-Miranda confession, State v. Lebron, 979 So. 2d 1093 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008), but reversed as to the post-Miranda confession.

In the present appeal, the Supreme Court determined that the defendant's confession was not the product of "a deliberate two-step interrogation strategy calculated to undermine" the Miranda warning, and that the defendant "was fully informed of and waived" his right not to incriminate himself.

Justice Pariente, dissenting in part, argued (a) that the delay of more than two hours between the defendant's arrest and the giving of a Miranda warning was "improper and deliberate," (b) that the detective who elicited the pre-Miranda confession acknowledged he did so intentionally, and (c) that the circumstances under which the detectives then elicited the post-Miranda confession were calculated to "minimize and downplay" the significance of the defendant's right against self-incrimination.

Conviction affirmed, death sentence vacated, case remanded for new penalty phase.

TERRY MARVIN ELLERBEE, JR. V. STATE OF FLORIDA – INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL; REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Appeal from an order denying a motion to vacate a conviction of first-degree murder and a sentence of death, and petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The state filed a protective cross-appeal challenging the trial court's finding that penalty phase counsel was deficient in his investigation of mitigating factors, though this finding did not affect the sentence.

The Court rejected the defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in the guilt phase. Trial counsel was not ineffective, the Court said, in failing to move for a change of venue, in failing to object to a comment the prosecutor made in questioning a prospective juror during voir dire, in failing to move in limine to exclude a tape from the victim's telephone answering machine, nor in offering an invalid defense to the charge of felony-murder -- that the killing was accidental.

Because the Court had determined to grant the habeas corpus petition and remand for a new penalty phase in light of Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), it would not ordinarily have ruled on the defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in the penalty phase. However, the Court said it felt "compelled" to address the issue "because of the egregious nature of [the defendant's] upbringing, counsel’s failure to discover it, and the prejudice [the defendant] suffered as a result."

The Court detailed testimony the defendant offered in the post-conviction hearing concerning the abuse he had suffered as a child, the effects this abuse had had on his intellectual and emotional development, and possible brain damage resulting from his drug abuse, and concluded defense counsel had been deficient in researching and developing this evidence.

The Court disagreed with the trial court's assessment that these failures did not prejudice the defendant, and said it would have remanded for a new penalty phase hearing in any event. Because the penalty phase jury was not unanimous in its recommendation of the death penalty, the Court vacated the death sentence and remanded for a new penalty phase, in light of Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016).

Denial of post-conviction relief affirmed, death sentence vacated, remanded for new penalty phase.

TYRONE WILLIAMS V. STATE OF FLORIDA – MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING;

DANGEROUS FELONY SEXUAL OFFENDER (DFSO) ACT;

Review of decision in Williams v. State, 189 So. 3d 288 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), for certified conflict with Wilkerson v. State, 143 So. 3d 462 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014).

At issue was whether the "Dangerous Felony Sexual Offender" (DFSO) Act, section 794.0115 of the Florida statutes, authorizes a mandatory minimum life sentence regardless of the statutory maximum for the crime, or whether, when the statutory maximum for the particular crime is less than twenty-five years, the DFSO Act authorizes only a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty-five years.

The Court compared the DFSO Act with the 10-20-Life statute imposing mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes committed with a firearm, section 775.087 of the Florida statutes. Both statutes include language expressly requiring that the mandatory minimum sentence be imposed, even if it exceeds the maximum sentence authorized by the statute defining the particular crime.

In Mendenhall v. State, 48 So. 3d 740 (Fla. 2010), the Court determined the 10-20-Life statute gives trial courts discretion to impose a mandatory minimum sentence "anywhere in the range of twenty-five years to life," even if that sentence exceeds the maximum sentence provided for in section 775.028. The Court reaffirmed this result "in no uncertain terms" in Hatten v. State, 203 So. 3d 142 (Fla. 2016), in which, however, it also held that "additional statutory authority is required" for the trial court to add a further term of years to the mandatory minimum.

Based on these precedents, the Court concluded the First District Court of Appeals in Williams had correctly affirmed a mandatory minimum life sentence for a second-degree felony that would otherwise carry a fifteen-year maximum. The Court disapproved the Fifth District court's decision in Wilkerson, which held that the DFSO Act authorized only a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty-five years where the general statutory maximum for the particular crime is less than twenty-five years.

Justice Quince, dissenting, pointed out that the relevant language of the two statutes is not identical, and remarked that in any event he had dissented from the opinion in Mendenhall. In the present case, he would have ruled that "where the lower term in a range of years provided as a statutory minimum mandatory sentence exceeds the statutory maximum for an offense[,] the plain language of the DFSO authorizes only that the lower number be applied." The legislature intended, he said, "to provide an enhancement to crimes where the statutory maximum may already exceed twenty-five years, not to create mandatory minimum life sentences for crimes that are otherwise subject to ten- or fifteen-year sentences."