FL Supreme Court – Criminal Headnotes – 08.30.2018 & 09.06.2018

  • Sep 7 2018

Florida Supreme Court – Criminal Headnotes – August 30, 2018


Review of a question certified by the 5th district appeals court, on appeal from the redetermination of a life sentence without possibility of parole for first-degree murder, committed when the defendant was a minor.

The trial court resentenced the defendant to forty years, and then reduced that sentence to time served — more than twenty years — plus ten years’ probation, on finding that the defendant had matured and had been rehabilitated. However, the trial court determined that it had no authority to reduce sentences on two other convictions arising from the same episode, for armed robbery and armed carjacking, roughly ten years each, concurrent with each other but consecutive to the life sentence.

The appeals court reversed, holding that a trial court is required to review a juvenile’s “aggregate sentence” arising from a single episode in determining whether to modify the sentence based on maturity and rehabilitation, and then certified that question.

A divided supreme court answered the question in the negative and quashed the appeals court’s decision.  Justice Lawson, writing for a majority of four justices, noted that the parties had briefed and argued the question as a matter of interpreting section 921.1402 of the Florida statutes, which provides a mechanism for review of sentences imposed on juveniles for “specified offenses.”

That statute was enacted in 2014 in response to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), which held that the Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a juvenile homicide offender.  In Falcon v. State, 162 So. 3d 954 (Fla. 2015), the court had determined that Miller applied retroactively to juveniles whose convictions and sentences were already final when that case was decided.

The majority determined that the statute by its express terms applies only to capital felonies, other homicide offenses, non-homicide “life felonies,” and first-degree felonies punishable by life imprisonment — which the court abbreviated as “F1-PBLs” — for which the actual sentence imposed was twenty years or more.

While the statute does provide a review mechanism for certain term-of-years sentences, the majority said, this is only because some F1-PBLs can be punished by term-of-years sentences, and because a juvenile might now be given a term-of-years sentence for a capital felony.  There is no express authority in the statute, the majority said, for reviewing the “aggregate sentence” imposed for other crimes arising from the same episode.

Justice Pariente wrote a lengthy dissent in which Justice LaBarga joined.  She argued that if the statute in its plain meaning did not authorize the trial court to consider the “aggregate sentence” in determining whether to modify the sentence, this in itself would violate the Eighth Amendment under Miller.  She noted the present result was at odds with the court’s own prior decision in Henry v. State, 175 So. 3d 675 (Fla. 2015).

Justice Quince also dissented, without an opinion.

Florida Supreme Court – Criminal Headnotes – September 6, 2018


Review of the decision of the 5th District appeals court in Johnson v. State, 215 So. 3d 644 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017), affirming his conviction for conspiracy to traffic in cocaine. The appeals court had rejected defendant’s argument that the testimony of an investigating officer identifying his voice on recordings of intercepted telephone calls improperly usurped the fact-finding role of the jury.

Defendant seeks review for conflict with Evans v. State, 177 So. 3d 1219 (Fla. 2015), in which the court held that an investigating office could not establish the requisite “prior special familiarity” with the defendant’s voice to permit a lay identification if that familiarity was acquired “after the investigation is ongoing.”

In the present case, the investigating officer had listened to the intercepted calls while they were occurring and had met the defendant face to face. His identification was bolstered by having viewed a video of a hearing at which the defendant had testified, but this was excluded from evidence and was therefore not available to the jury. The jury did listen to recordings of intercepted calls.

The supreme court approved the decision of the 5th District appeals court and receded from its opinion in Evans to the extent it stated a flat rule that an investigating officer could not under any circumstances establish “prior special familiarity” with a defendant’s voice acquired in the course of an investigation.

Justice Pariente, concurring in the result only, dissented from what she said was an overly broad statement of the rule going forward. The present case was readily distinguishable from Evans on its facts, she said.

In Evans, the state had relied entirely on the identification testimony of an investigating officer who had acquired his “familiarity” with the defendant’s voice only from recordings which the state chose not to introduce into evidence. Here, the officer who identified the defendant’s voice had been deeply involved in the investigation from the outset, and the recordings were in evidence.

Justice Quince joined in this separate opinion.

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