Does A Jury Have To Make All Of The Factual Findings In A Criminal Case?
The right to a jury trial in criminal cases includes the right to have that jury determine all factual issues related to the elements of the crime. In a 2013 decision, Alleyne v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that this includes “any fact that increases the mandatory minimum” sentence for a given crime. A judge alone cannot determine such elements as part of the sentencing process.
Florida Appeals Court Orders New Hearing to Determine “Domestic Violence” Designation
A recent decision from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, Bethea v. State, illustrates how Alleyne applies in practice. In this case, Palm Beach County prosecutors charged the defendant with domestic battery. The statute describes this offense as a “crime of domestic violence.” As such, the information charging the defendant alleged his victim was a member of the defendant’s family or household.
But when the trial judge instructed the jury, no mention was made of the need to find the victim was a household or family member. Instead, the court simply instructed the jury on the elements of battery itself–i.e., that the defendant “actually and intentionally touched or struck [the victim] against her will.” The jury proceeded to find the defendant guilty.
At sentencing, the judge then declared that this was a crime involving domestic violence. Under Florida law, domestic violence carries a minimum jail term, ranging between 10 and 20 days depending on a defendant’s prior history of committing similar crimes. Here, the judge sentenced the defendant to “eight long weekends” in the county jail and 12 months of probation.
On appeal, the defendant challenged the trial court’s designation of this crime as one of “domestic violence” absent an express finding of fact by the jury. The Fourth District agreed with the defendant on that point. The appellate court said Alleyne clearly applied to the designation at issue in this case based on the mandatory minimum jail term required by the statute. More to the point, the trial judge only instructed the jury on the elements of “misdemeanor battery.” The court never asked the jury to make any findings regarding the victim’s status–and Alleyne forbade the judge from making those findings on her own.
As such, the Third District returned the case to the trial court for resentencing. If the prosecution still wished to pursue the domestic violence designation, the trial court must impanel a new jury to first make the necessary findings. Otherwise, the judge must sentence the defendant for misdemeanor battery.
Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
When your freedom is at stake, you have every right to insist the courts strictly follow the law, especially with respect to basic elements of due process. An experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can provide you with advice and skilled representation in court. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today if you have been charged with a crime and need to speak with a lawyer right away.