Florida Supreme Court Changes How DUI Manslaughter Cases Can Be Prosecuted.

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For the last thirty-five or so years, since Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193 (Fla. 1985), Carawan v. State, 515 So. 2d 161, 170 (Fla. 1987), and State v. Chapman, 625 So. 2d 838, 839 (Fla. 1993), it has been the law in Florida that multiple charges arising from one criminal episode and involving the same core elements could not be tried separately, as such multiple trials violated the double jeopardy rule. The reason for the double jeopardy bar against successive punishment for crimes arising from the same criminal episode is to prevent the government from acting abusively by seeking a second punishment when it is dissatisfied with the punishment in the first trial.

United States v. Millan, 2 F.3d at 20. Similarly, multiple charges involving the same core elements and a single additional distinguishing element, arising from a single criminal episode, often with significantly differing sentencing guidelines, does not violate the double jeopardy rule when tried together. However, where the lesser charges are “wholly subsumed” within the more serious charges, the more serious charge often requiring the finding of that one additional element, the lesser charge is generally dismissed by the court and the defendant sentenced on the more serious charge, see FSS §775.021(4), again to prevent double jeopardy concerns. See State v. McCloud, 577 So. 2d 939, 941(Fla. 1991) (double jeopardy is violated when sentenced for both when the greater offense necessarily includes the lesser offense);State v. Weller, 590 So. 2d 923, 925 (Fla. 1991) (a crime constitutes a necessarily lesser included offense if the defendant cannot possibly avoid committing the lesser offense when the more serious crime is perpetrated).

In Houser v. State, the Florida Supreme Court held that multiple convictions, as for DWI manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter charges arising from the same incident, were prohibited under double jeopardy principles, despite being separate offenses under a Blockburger analysis, formally adopting the single homicide rule, codified in section FSS775.021(4). Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193, 1196-97 (Fla. 1985). Also see Ready v. State, 183 So.3d 1234, 1238 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). In Carawan v. State, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that courts should “resolve all doubts in favor of lenity” and follow the presumption that the Legislature did not intent to punish a single homicide under two different statutes.

Carawan v. State, 515 So. 2d 161, 170 (Fla. 1987). The Legislature, however, disagreed with the decision in Carawan and, in 1988, enacted an amendment to section 775.021, Florida Statutes, to clarify that the principle of lenity should not be applied to a double jeopardy analysis, and specifically stated in FSS 775.021(4)(b), “[T]he intent of the Legislature is to convict and sentence for each criminal offense committed in the course of one criminal episode or transaction and not to allow the principle of lenity as set forth in subsection (1) to determine legislative intent”, see State v. Smith, 547 So. 2d 613, 616-17 (Fla. 1989) (explaining the 1988 amendment changes), and going on to describe the three exceptions to that intent. “Subsections (b)(1)-(3) have been described as setting forth ‘exceptions to the Blockburger same-elements test’, Gaber, 684 So. 2d at 192, because even if the offenses are separate under that test, dual convictions are barred if the offenses meet the criteria in one of the exceptions.” State v. Florida, 894 So.2d 941, 945 n.2 (Fla. 2005). See Gil v. State, 118 So. 3d 787, 792 (Fla. 2013), wherein it was again explained that “The statute (FSS 775.021(4)(b)) expresses the legislative intent that defendants be charged with every offense that arises out of one criminal episode unless an exception applies.”

The Blockburger test, based on the decision in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932), is an analysis in criminal law wherein it is determined whether a person can or cannot be tried for lesser and greater crimes using the same evidence in subsequent trials. However, it has been determined that under FL law a person can be tried for lesser and greater companion charges arising from the same criminal episode using the same evidence if the crimes are tried together in one trial. This does not constitute double jeopardy because the defendant is not tried twice using the same evidence.

“As this Court has explained, both the United States and Florida Constitutions contain double jeopardy clauses that ‘prohibit subjecting a person to multiple prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for the same criminal offense’.” State v. Shelley, 176 So. 3d 914, 917 (Fla. 2015) (quoting Valdes v. State, 3 So. 3d 1067, 1069 (Fla. 2009)). The FL Supreme Court went on to state, “there is no constitutional prohibition against multiple punishments for different offenses arising out of the same criminal transaction as long as the Legislature intends to authorize separate punishments”. Valdes, 3 So. 3d at 1070 (emphasis added). “The prevailing standard … is whether the Legislature ‘intended to authorize separate punishments for the two crimes’.” Shelley, id., quoting Gordon v. State, 780 So. 2d 17, 19 (Fla. 2001), receded from on other grounds by Valdes, 3 So. 3d at 1077. “[A]bsent an explicit statement of legislative intent to authorize separate punishments for two crimes, application of the Blockburger [v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932)] “same-elements” test, as set forth in FSS 775.021(4), is the sole method of determining whether multiple punishments are double jeopardy violations.” Shelley, 176 So. 3d at 917.

Subsequently, in State v. Chapman, when addressing whether the Legislature’s statutory changes to FSS 775.021 was a disavowal of Carawan and the principle of lenity that affected the single homicide rule, the FL Supreme Court concluded that the 1988 statutory amendment did not supersede Houser v. State, 474 So. 2d 1193 (Fla. 1985), and that the single homicide rule was still the law in Florida. State v. Chapman, 625 So. 2d 838, 839 (Fla. 1993) (“We see nothing more in the 1988 amendment than that it was intended to limit the rule of lenity and to override [Carawan]. Especially, we do not read the amendment as an overruling of Houser ….”).

Under Houser and Carawan andChapman, the initial defense analysis was whether the charged offenses were separate offenses for which a defendant could be separately sentenced upon conviction as an exception to the Rule of Leinity, to 775.021(4)(a). If so, a defense attorney and the court must then determine whether the lesser crimes are degree variants or aggravated forms of the same core offense subsumed into the greater offense. Gordon, 780 So. 2d at 21; Mitchell, 830 So. 2d at 946. This was the analysis to determine the sentencing guidelines under which a conviction for the charged offenses fell. For example, upon conviction for both DUI and DUI with property damage at trial, the court would dismiss the DUI charge and sentence on the DUI with property damage charge, based on the foregoing “wholly subsumed” and double jeopardy concerns. The “wholly subsumed” argument and double jeopardy concerns would also arise in the context of “DUI Manslaughter” cases that also involve a charge of “DUI with Serious Bodily Injury or Death”, in a case with but one criminal episode and one dead body and no other serious bodily injuries. Until recently, where there is but one dead body involved and no other serious bodily injury, both charges could be taken to trial, but upon conviction of both, the lesser “DUI with Serious Bodily Injury or Death” charge would be dismissed by the court and only the more serious DUI Manslaughter would proceed to sentencing.

Then along comes the recently-published State v. Maisonet-Maldonado, 308 So.3d 63 (FL 2020) to present a cosmic and, from the defense outlook, cataclysmic shift in sentencing. Maisonet-Maldonado arose from the Fifth District in the context of an 3.850 post-conviction relief petition, the summary denial of which was affirmed by that district court, in which a question of great public importance was certified to the Florida Supreme Court, see Maisonet-Maldonado v. State, 283 So.3d 862 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019). In State v. Maisonet-Maldonado, the FL Supreme Court answered the following question, certified by the Fifth District as a matter of great public importance, in the negative:


Id. at 1.

The court examined the case law evolution of the single homicide rule with particular focus on the impact of the 1988 legislative amendment to FSS 775.021. Id. at 3-4. The court noted the 1988 amendment clarified “the principle of lenity should not be applied in a double jeopardy analysis”. Id. at 3. After analyzing the plain wording of the statute, our supreme court determined:

After the 1988 amendment, the plain language of section 775.021 clearly expresses [legislative intent] that offenses which pass the codified Blockburger test should be punished separately and that there is no exception for offenses arising from a single death. Accordingly, we conclude that the 1988 amendment to section 775.021 superseded our decision in Houser, and our decision in Chapman holding otherwise was wrongly decided.

Id. at 4.

Ultimately, the court held that “the single homicide rule is no longer applicable under Florida law”. Id.

This means that, in DUI Manslaughter cases where there is but a single dead body, with no other persons having serious bodily injury, a defendant can be charged with violations of the separate “DUI Manslaughter” and “DUI with Serious Bodily Injury or Death” statutes, and if convicted of both, sentenced separately under both statutes. Whether the sentences are consecutive or concurrent would be at the sole discretion of the trial court. Potentially, this almost doubles the prior sentencing guideline available to the trial court, and places the defendant at significantly greater jeopardy.

Taracks and Associates is here to help, to call the State to task, and zealously protect the rights of our clients. The procedures used by the State are sometimes questionable, and will need to be looked at by someone with the training and experience to see the flaws, someone like the former prosecutor that is Barry Taracks. Feel free to call the office to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.

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