Brown v. State

Decision Date12 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. 4D17-1110,4D17-1110
Citation263 So.3d 48
Parties Wesley BROWN, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Virginia Murphy, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Georgina Jimenez-Orosa, Senior Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

Klingensmith, J.

Wesley Brown appeals his conviction and sentence in adult court for crimes committed as a juvenile. He specifically appeals the jurisdiction of the lower court and, alternatively, asserts a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Brown's conviction.

Brown faced numerous charges, including vehicular homicide; fleeing and eluding; and driving while license canceled, suspended, or revoked causing serious bodily injury or death. At the time of the incident that gave rise to these charges, Brown was fifteen years old; however, the case was direct-filed in adult court. At the time of the direct-file, Brown raised no objection; instead, the defense filed a Waiver of Arraignment, Plea of Not Guilty, and Demand for Jury Trial. Brown also filed a motion for bond reduction, which requested that he be released to "a maximum security juvenile commitment program" of the Department of Juvenile Justice. (Emphasis added). The court granted that motion. When the state filed an amended information on Brown's charges, defense counsel again demanded jury trial. There was still no objection filed with the trial court, nor was one made after a request for a continuance and the filing of a second amended information thirteen months after Brown was initially charged.

As he previously requested, Brown took his case to trial, which resulted in a hung-jury and mistrial. At no time during that trial did Brown raise any jurisdictional objections. The court reconvened for a second trial on Brown's charges soon thereafter. As with the first trial, no objection was ever made regarding divisional jurisdiction. However, unlike the first trial, the second resulted in an outcome unfavorable to Brown—he received guilty verdicts on all three charges. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for six weeks later, and Brown waived a Pre-Sentence Investigation. As before, Brown raised no objection to proceeding in adult court.

The sentencing hearing began as scheduled, but due to the illness of the defense's expert witness, the trial court rescheduled the hearing for a week later to allow the expert to return and testify. Once again, no objection to the court's jurisdiction was made.

It was not until just prior to the rescheduled sentencing hearing when—for the first time—Brown's counsel raised the issue of jurisdiction by filing a motion to vacate the verdict and return the case to juvenile court. That motion asserted that the adult trial court lacked divisional jurisdiction over the case when it initially proceeded to trial. Particularly, it noted that vehicular homicide was not a criminal act for which a fifteen-year-old defendant's case could be direct-filed in adult court, pursuant to section 985.557(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2016). The motion also argued that Brown did not waive juvenile division jurisdiction by proceeding to trial.

Immediately prior to sentencing, a brief hearing was held on Brown's motion. The state asserted that the filing of Brown's charges in adult court was proper because they were lesser-included felony offenses of those enumerated in the direct-file statute. Further, it argued that Brown had indeed waived juvenile division jurisdiction by proceeding to trial in the adult division. While reiterating her position on the matter, defense counsel countered that nothing in section 985.557 indicated that lesser-included offenses were part of the statutory provision allowing for direct-file.

On the issue of Brown's waiver of juvenile court jurisdiction, the trial judge explained:

You know, and I do think there's something to be said for going through not one, but two trials and having a jury reach a verdict and then, you know, I'm not suggesting, of course, there was any shady behavior and I'm certainly not suggesting this was your strategy or anything else, I mean that would be ridiculous, but I think it can cover those situations as well. And so I just think in this case a waiver has been established, and I'm sure that's something the appellate court will deal with, and so I deny your motion.

The court considered Brown's fourteen prior felony convictions, rejected the defense's request for juvenile sanctions, and sentenced Brown to fifteen years in prison for vehicular homicide, plus a consecutive term of five years for fleeing or attempting to elude.1 This appeal followed.

"The Juvenile Justice Act vests the juvenile division with exclusive jurisdiction over all proceedings in which a child allegedly violates the law unless, in compliance with the Act, juvenile jurisdiction is waived or the juvenile falls under a statutory exception." State v. Griffith , 675 So.2d 911, 913 (Fla. 1996). "Accordingly, in certain circumstances, children may be tried as adults and exposed to adult sanctions." Id.

"[L]egislative intent is the polestar that guides a court's statutory construction analysis." State v. J.M. , 824 So.2d 105, 109 (Fla. 2002). "Further, ... when [a court] construes a statute, [it should] look first at the statute's plain meaning.’ " Id. at 110 (alterations added) (quoting Moonlit Waters Apartments, Inc. v. Cauley , 666 So.2d 898, 900 (Fla. 1996) ); accord Stoletz v. State , 875 So.2d 572, 575 (Fla. 2004). "When the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no occasion for resorting to the rules of statutory interpretation and construction; the statute must be given its plain and obvious meaning." A.R. Douglass, Inc. v. McRainey , 102 Fla. 1141, 137 So. 157, 159 (1931). Courts are " ‘without power to construe an unambiguous statute in a way which would extend, modify, or limit, its express terms or its reasonable and obvious implications. To do so would be an abrogation of legislative power.’ " Holly v. Auld , 450 So.2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1984) (emphasis removed) (quoting Am. Bankers Life Assurance Co. of Fla. v. Williams , 212 So.2d 777, 778 (Fla. 1st DCA 1968) ).

" ‘Under the principle of statutory construction, expressio unius est exclusio alterius , the mention of one thing implies the exclusion of another.’ " Young v. Progressive Southeastern Ins. Co ., 753 So.2d 80, 85 (Fla. 2000) (quoting Moonlit Waters , 666 So.2d at 900 ); accord Thayer v. State , 335 So.2d 815, 817 (Fla. 1976). Put even simpler, "when a statute ... lists the areas to which it applies, it will be construed as excluding from its reach any areas not expressly listed." Siegle v. Lee Cty ., 198 So.3d 773, 775 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) ; see also State v. Hearns , 961 So.2d 211, 219 (Fla. 2007) ("[T]he forcible felony statute specifically enumerates two types of battery .... BOLEO is not among them.... Had the Legislature intended to include all types of battery as forcible felonies, it would have listed simply ‘battery’ rather than only the specific types enumerated."); see e.g., Pro-Art Dental Lab, Inc. v. V-Strategic Grp., LLC , 986 So.2d 1244, 1258 (Fla. 2008) ("Had the Legislature intended for a commercial tenant [in this situation] to suffer an instantaneous default, it would have explicitly provided for such a severe sanction."); Am. Bankers Life , 212 So.2d at 778 ("Had the legislature intended the statute to import a more specific and definite meaning, it could easily have chosen words to express any limitation it wished to impose.").

According to section 985.557(1)(a) :

With respect to any child who was 14 or 15 years of age at the time the alleged offense was committed, the state attorney may file an information when in the state attorney's judgment and discretion the public interest requires that adult sanctions be considered or imposed and when the offense charged is for the commission of, attempt to commit, or conspiracy to commit:
....
8. Murder;
9. Manslaughter;
....

(Emphasis added).

Lesser-included offenses are not included by silent incorporation into section 985.557(1)(a). For example, while vehicular homicide is a lesser-included offense of manslaughter, see Luzardo v. State , 147 So.3d 1083, 1085 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014), under the plain language of the statute, vehicular homicide was not included by the legislature within the list of crimes providing the state with divisional prosecutorial discretion. See § 985.557(1)(a). Likewise, there are a number of offenses listed in section 985.557(1)(a) with lesser-included offenses also expressly enumerated in the statute.2 See Siegle , 198 So.3d at 775 ; Pro-Art Dental , 986 So.2d at 1258 ; Hearns , 961 So.2d at 219 ; Young , 753 So.2d at 85 ; Thayer , 335 So.2d at 817 ; Am. Bankers Life , 212 So.2d at 778.

Taking the state's argument to its logical conclusion, any lesser-included offense to one of the enumerated crimes under the statute would qualify for direct-filing. For instance, simple assault is a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault; yet under that theory, the state could proceed with a direct-file in any simple assault case. Accepting this argument would run counter to the clear legislative intent found in the statute and would subject juveniles to direct-filing for a host of unenumerated offenses.

Given that the state improperly direct-filed Brown's case because a statutory exception does not apply to Brown's juvenile jurisdiction, we consider whether he waived any challenge to defending the case in adult court. "The right to be prosecuted as a juvenile is one that can be waived." Williams v. State , 754 So.2d 67, 69 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). In fact, courts have held that a defendant can waive his statutory right to be treated as a juvenile by silence. See id. ; see also Smith v....

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