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Clines v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant pled nolo contendere to grand theft and resisting arrest with violence. At the sentencing hearing, Prosecution wanted to increase his penalty on the grounds that Defendant was both a habitual felony offender and a violent career criminal. The trial judge allowed Prosecution to do so. Defendant appealed on the grounds that such application of multiple recidivist categories was a violation of Florida law. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision, but also certified a conflict to the Florida Supreme Court, because two other appellate courts in Florida ruled in the contrary.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Pursuant to Florida’s recidivist-sentencing statute, there must only be one recidivist category applied to increase a defendant’s sentence.

    Facts.

    Defendant, Michael Ray Clines, entered a plea of nolo contendere to grand theft and resisting arrest with violence. At the sentencing hearing, Prosecution sought to increase his penalty under Florida’s recidivist-sentencing statute, contending that Defendant was both habitual felony offender and a violent career criminal. Under these classifications, there was a set penalty in which Defendant could be imposed with. Specifically, for Defendant’s charge, resisting arrest, the trial court sentenced Defendant to ten years in prison as a habitual felony offender, as well as a mandatory minimum term of ten years as a violent career criminal. Defendant appealed claiming the application of both recidivist a categories was a violation of Florida law. The appellate court affirmed the sentencing and held that the application of multiple categories was not a violation of double jeopardy nor legislative intent under Florida law. Nevertheless, the appellate court certified a conflict to the Supreme Court of Florida, as the two other appellate courts previously held that such application would be a violation under Florida law.  

    Issue.

    Whether more than one recidivist category may be applied to increase a defendant’s sentence, under Florida law.

    Held.

    No, under Florida law, there must only be one recidivist category applied to increase a defendant’s sentence.

    Concurrence.

    Omitted from casebook excerpt.

    Discussion.

    Pursuant to Florida’s recidivist-sentencing statute, there must only be one recidivist category applied to increase a defendant’s sentence. Florida law allows enhanced sentencing for four categories of recidivists:  (1) habitual felony offenders, (2) habitual violent felony offenders, (3) three-time violent felony offenders, and (4) violent career criminals. The categories are listed in order of increasing punishment level, but the requirements for each category overlap multiple times. . The qualifying requirements for the categories often overlap. For instance, often times, a defendant may be classified as a violent career criminal, and at the same time, the defendant can also satisfy the requirements as a habitual felony offender. The different paragraphs in the statute relate to the different recidivist categories. Further, the use of the word “or” indicates that the court should apply only one recidivist category. Prosecution asserts that the legislature intends to impose the harshest penalty on the repeat offender, allowing multiple categories. However, such an intention is not expressed in the statute, causing the statute to be a little unclear. Moreover, when a criminal statute is unclean and ambiguous, the court must apply the rule of lenity, drawing the statute in favor of the defendant. Therefore, based on this rational, only one recidivist category may be applied against Defendant, and the case is remanded to the trial court for a resentencing hearing.


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