Florida Court Explains Grounds for Altering Convictions

It is axiomatic that under state and federal law, a person cannot be charged with or convicted for the same crime more than once, as doing so would violate their protections against double jeopardy. Merely because a person is convicted of violating a specific statute more than once does not necessarily mean that their rights have been violated, however, as illustrated in a recent Florida ruling issued in a drug crime case in which the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. If you are faced with accusations that you committed a drug-related crime, it is wise to contact a Tampa drug crime defense lawyer regarding what steps you can take to protect your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was convicted in 2016 of four counts related to the possession and distribution of heroin. His PSI categorized him as a career offender based on multiple previous felony convictions for controlled substance crimes, including two convictions for the sale of cocaine in violation of Florida law and one conviction for conspiracy to possess cocaine and cocaine base with intent to distribute in violation of federal law. The defendant objected to these calculations during sentencing, arguing that he was being charged for the same cocaine convictions multiple times, raising a double jeopardy claim.

It is alleged that in the district court affirmed the PSI’s calculations, and his sentence was upheld on direct appeal. In 2022 the defendant filed a Rule 36 motion, contending that his prior state and federal cocaine convictions should be scored as a single offense for the purposes of calculating his criminal history in relation to his 2016 heroin conviction. The trial court denied his motion, which led to the current appeal.

Grounds for Altering Convictions

On appeal, the court declined to adopt the defendant’s reasoning. In doing so, it explained that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 allows a court to correct clerical errors in a judgment or record but does not grant jurisdiction to address substantive alterations to a sentence.

In the subject case, the defendant framed his challenge as relating to his security status with the Bureau of Prisons, but combining his state and federal cocaine convictions into a single prior drug conviction would fundamentally change his career offender status, substantially altering his guideline range. The court explained that such changes are considered substantive, not clerical, and are beyond the scope of Rule 36, which is meant for minor and mechanical corrections.

Additionally, Rule 32, governing the preparation of PSIs, did not provide the necessary scope for the defendant’s motion since both the district court and the appellate court had previously addressed and denied his criminal history objections at different stages, including sentencing, direct appeal, and collateral relief. Therefore, the court found that the trial court correctly denied the defendant’s Rule 36 motion.

Talk to a Skilled Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

People found guilty of committing drug crimes may be sentenced to lengthy prison terms. As such, if you are charged with a drug offense, it is wise to talk to an attorney about your potential defenses. The skilled Tampa criminal defense lawyers of Hanlon can inform you of your options and aid you in pursuing a positive result. You can contact Hanlon Law by using the form online or by calling us at 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.