Court Explains Crime Classifications Under Florida Law

In Florida, crimes are classified by degrees, with life felonies carrying the most significant penalties. It is critical that the courts classify criminal offenses accurately because if they fail to do so, it can result in improperly enhanced sentences. The impact of an inaccurate crime classification was demonstrated in an opinion recently delivered by a Florida court in which the court found that the defendant was entitled to an appeal after he was sentenced for a life felony when he was convicted of attempted first-degree murder, which is a first-degree felony. If you are charged with a violent offense, it is critical to retain a Tampa violent crime defense attorney who will fight to protect your interests.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant shot his girlfriend in front of multiple witnesses. In an attempt to hide the shooting, he hired a third party to murder the witnesses, one of whom lived. The defendant was then charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and two counts of first-degree murder with a weapon. The jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon as a principal due to the actions committed by his co-defendant.

It is reported that the jury did not issue a specific finding that the defendant used, displayed, or threatened to use a gun during the commission of the crime, however. Under Florida law, first-degree murder is a first-degree felony, but the trial court entered a judgment listing the offense as a life felony. The defendant then filed a petition for habeas corpus review, arguing that the court incorrectly enhanced his sentence.

Crime Classifications Under Florida Law

The court agreed with the defendant’s review and granted his petition, authorizing an appeal on the issue of the classification of his conviction for attempted first-degree murder. The court explained that in certain situations, Florida law permits the courts to reclassify first-degree murder to a life felony. It noted, however, that the provisions allowing for reclassification cannot be employed in cases in which the conviction arose out of the principal theory.

In the subject case, as the state prosecuted the defendant under the principal theory and the jury did not make a specific finding that the defendant garnished, used, or attempted to use a firearm during the crime, the defendant’s attorney should have objected to the reclassification of the offense on appeal. As the issue was not raised, the court found the performance of the defendant’s attorney deficient and granted his petition.

Speak with a Trusted Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Murder and other violent crimes carry substantial penalties, and anyone charged with such an offense should speak to an attorney about what measures they can employ to protect their rights as soon as possible. The trusted Tampa lawyers of Hanlon Law zealously defend people accused of crimes, and if you are charged with a violent offense, we can help you pursue the best legal result possible in consideration of the facts of your case. You can contact Hanlon Law by using the form online or by calling us at 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.