Carter v. State, No. SC92501.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPARIENTE, J.
Citation786 So.2d 1173
Docket NumberNo. SC92501.
Decision Date24 May 2001
PartiesWade CARTER, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.

786 So.2d 1173

Wade CARTER, Petitioner,
v.
STATE of Florida, Respondent

No. SC92501.

Supreme Court of Florida.

May 24, 2001.


786 So.2d 1174
Wade Carter, Bushnell, FL, Petitioner, pro se

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Roberta J. Tylke, and Kellie A. Nielan, Assistant Attorneys General, Daytona Beach, FL, for Respondent.

PARIENTE, J.

We have for review Carter v. State, 704 So.2d 1068 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), which expressly and directly conflicts with the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Sneed v. State, 754 So.2d 53 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000), the decisions of the Second District Court of Appeal in Young v. State, 716 So.2d 280 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998),1 and Nathan v. State, 689 So.2d 1150 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997), and the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Austin v. State, 756 So.2d 1080 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.2 The conflict issue is whether a habitual offender sentence imposed on a life felony may be corrected as illegal through a motion filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a), where the habitual offender statute in existence at the time of the defendant's crime did not provide for habitualization of life felonies.

BACKGROUND

The facts are undisputed. Carter received a forty-year sentence as a habitual offender for second-degree murder with a weapon, which constitutes a life felony.

786 So.2d 1175
See Carter, 704 So.2d at 1069-70. Under the version of the habitual offender statute in existence at the time that Carter committed his offense, the statute did not provide an enhanced habitual offender penalty for a defendant who committed a life felony. See Lamont v. State, 610 So.2d 435, 438 (Fla.1992) ("Both the plain language and the history of the relevant statutes lead us to hold that one convicted of a life felony is not subject to enhanced punishment as a habitual offender under section 775.084."); Carter, 704 So.2d at 1070.3 Carter filed a postconviction motion pursuant to rule 3.800(a), contending that because life felonies were not subject to habitualization under the statute, his habitual offender sentence was illegal. See Carter, 704 So.2d at 1069. The trial court denied relief and the Fifth District affirmed. See id. at 1068-69. Relying on our opinions in King v. State, 681 So.2d 1136 (Fla.1996), Davis v. State, 661 So.2d 1193 (Fla.1995), and State v. Callaway, 658 So.2d 983 (Fla. 1995), receded from on other grounds, Dixon v. State, 730 So.2d 265 (Fla.1999), the Fifth District concluded that Carter's "improper habitualization" was not "illegal" and therefore was not "remediable under Rule 3.800(a) as long as the sentence is within the statutory maximum for the offense." 704 So.2d 1070

As in Carter, the defendant in Nathan alleged that his sentence of forty years as a habitual offender was illegal because his convictions were for life felonies and the habitual offender statute in existence at the time of his crime did not provide an enhanced habitual offender penalty for a defendant who committed a life felony. Nathan, 689 So.2d at 1151. In contrast to Carter, however, the Second District found that the sentence was illegal because "the terms or conditions of the sentence exceed those authorized by the habitual offender statute." Id. (citing Judge v. State, 596 So.2d 73 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991) (en banc)). Similarly, in Young, the Second District again relied upon Judge to conclude that improper habitualization of a life felony is illegal because "the terms or conditions of the punishment for a particular offense are impermissible as a matter of law." 716 So.2d at 282. More recently, the First District in Sneed, 754 So.2d at 54, and the Fourth District in Austin, 756 So.2d at 1081, also agreed that a defendant's sentence is subject to correction pursuant to rule 3.800(a) where the habitual offender statute in effect at the time did not permit habitualization for life felonies.

ANALYSIS

The issue in this case requires us to determine whether a habitual offender sentence may be corrected as an illegal sentence pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a) when the habitual offender statute in effect at the time of the defendant's offense did not permit habitualization for life felonies. This case also presents an opportunity for this Court to further clarify its definition of "illegal sentence" for purposes of rule 3.800(a) as well as to consider whether, in the future, rule 3.800(a) should be revised as advanced by Judge Cope in Bover v. State, 732 So.2d 1187, 1193 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999), review granted, 743 So.2d 508 (Fla.1999) (No. 95,649), to specifically identify the types of sentencing errors that are "sufficiently important" to be corrected at any time through a motion to correct an illegal sentence.

786 So.2d 1176
1. Evolving Definition of Illegal Sentence

Since 1968, our procedural rules have provided for the correction of illegal sentences. Rule 3.800(a), entitled "Correction, Reduction, and Modification of Sentences" provides that a "court may at any time correct an illegal sentence imposed by it."4 Accordingly, rule 3.800(a) vests trial courts with the broad authority to correct an illegal sentence without imposing a time limitation on the ability of defendants to seek relief. The rule, however, does not include a definition of "illegal sentence." As we recently observed, the definition of "illegal sentence" as interpreted by case law has narrowed significantly since that term was used in the 1960s and 1970s. See Maddox v. State, 760 So.2d 89, 96 n. 6 (Fla.2000).

Although sentencing may have been a relatively straightforward exercise when we first adopted the procedural rule to correct illegal sentences "at any time," sentencing has become increasingly more complex. See Amendments to Fla. Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.111(e) & 3.800 & Fla. Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.020(h), 9.140, & 9.600, 761 So.2d 1015, 1017 (Fla.1999), reh'g granted, 761 So.2d 1025 (Fla.2000). This is due in part to the multitude of sentencing statutes that have proliferated since the Court first adopted rule 3.800. In addition, many of these laws are frequently amended. The habitual offender statute, section 775.084, which authorizes extended terms of imprisonment for those who meet the statutory requirements, is but one prominent example. Therefore, expertise in sentencing is required by the defense, the State, and the trial court.

Despite the best intentions of all participants, sentencing in a given case may be filled with hidden traps, thus requiring sufficient procedural safeguards to protect against a sentencing error that would require a defendant to serve more time than authorized by law. This reality precipitated our recent decision to expand the ability of defendants to file a motion to correct sentence in the trial court pursuant to rule 3.800(b) from thirty days after the rendition of the sentence to "at any time until the first appellate brief is filed." Id. at 1018.

Rule 3.800(a) is intended to balance the need for finality of convictions and sentences with the goal of ensuring that criminal defendants do not serve sentences imposed contrary to the requirements of law. Thus, over the past several years, this Court has attempted to formulate a workable definition of what type of sentences should be considered "illegal" for purposes of rule 3.800(a). In Davis, the defendant claimed his departure sentence was illegal because the trial court failed to reduce to

786 So.2d 1177
writing the reasons for departure at the time of sentencing. 661 So.2d at 1194. Although the defendant's sentence was within the maximum authorized by law, the sentence was outside the range of the sentencing guidelines. See id. In rejecting the defendant's claim, we held that the trial court's failure to file written findings for a departure sentence did not render the resulting sentence illegal and subject to correction at any time pursuant to rule 3.800(a). See id. at 1196. Rather, we concluded that "an illegal sentence is one that exceeds the maximum period set forth by law for a particular offense without regard to the guidelines." Id. We additionally made the statement that seemingly narrowed the definition of an "illegal sentence" by stating that "[o]nly if the sentence exceeds the maximum allowed by law would the sentence be illegal." Id.

On the same day that we issued our opinion in Davis, we also issued our opinion in State v. Callaway, 658 So.2d 983 (Fla.1995). In Callaway, the defendant claimed that his sentence was illegal because the trial court had imposed consecutive habitual felony offender sentences for offenses arising out of the same criminal episode in violation of Hale v. State, 630 So.2d 521 (Fla.1993). Callaway, 658 So.2d at 985. In rejecting the argument that the sentence was illegal, our decision turned not on our definition of "illegal sentence," but on the fact that the error at issue was not patent from the record. See id. at 988. The Court reasoned that because "[a] rule 3.800 motion can be filed at any time, even decades after a sentence has been imposed... its subject matter is limited to those sentencing issues that can be resolved as a matter of law without an evidentiary determination." Id.

We soon explained that our definition of "illegal sentence" in Davis should not be construed so narrowly as to preclude correction of a sentence that had been unconstitutionally lengthened in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Thus, in Hopping v. State, 708 So.2d 263, 265 (Fla. 1998), we concluded that a sentence that was increased upon resentencing in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause constituted an illegal sentence in that it exceeded "the maximum period set forth by law for a particular offense without regard to the guidelines." We held that "where it can be determined without an evidentiary hearing that a sentence has been unconstitutionally enhanced in violation of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
165 practice notes
  • Collins v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:18-cv-164-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • October 6, 2020
    ...inflict under any set of factual circumstances." Blakley v. State, 746 So. 2d 1182, 1187 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999). See also Carter v. State, 786 So. 2d 1173, 1181 (Fla. 2001) (approving the definition of illegal sentence outlined in Blakley). However, "if it is possible under all the sentencing ......
  • Rogers v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., Case No. 8:17-cv-2680-T-33SPF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • June 27, 2019
    ...that no judge under the entire body of sentencing statutes could possibly inflict under any set of circumstances." Carter v. State, 786 So.2d 1173 (Fla. 2001) (quoting Blakley v. State, 746 So.2d 1182) (Fla. 4th DCA 1999)). A court may correct an illegal sentence, at any time, if the defend......
  • Williams v. State, No. SC05-2163.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • May 17, 2007
    ...that no judge under the entire body of sentencing statutes and laws could impose under any set of factual circumstances. Carter v. State, 786 So.2d 1173, 1181 (Fla.2001). The First, Second, Third, and Fifth Districts have interpreted this to include an otherwise legal sentence set out in a ......
  • Robinson v. State, CASE NO. 1D16–1988
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • April 4, 2017
    ...sentence’ as interpreted by case law has narrowed significantly since that term was used in the 1960s and 1970s." Carter v. State , 786 So.2d 1173, 1176 (Fla. 2001). In 215 So.3d 1266Davis v. State , 661 So.2d 1193, 1196 (Fla. 1995), the Florida Supreme Court defined an "illegal sentence" a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
166 cases
  • Collins v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:18-cv-164-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • October 6, 2020
    ...inflict under any set of factual circumstances." Blakley v. State, 746 So. 2d 1182, 1187 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999). See also Carter v. State, 786 So. 2d 1173, 1181 (Fla. 2001) (approving the definition of illegal sentence outlined in Blakley). However, "if it is possible under all the sentencing ......
  • Rogers v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., Case No. 8:17-cv-2680-T-33SPF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • June 27, 2019
    ...that no judge under the entire body of sentencing statutes could possibly inflict under any set of circumstances." Carter v. State, 786 So.2d 1173 (Fla. 2001) (quoting Blakley v. State, 746 So.2d 1182) (Fla. 4th DCA 1999)). A court may correct an illegal sentence, at any time, if the defend......
  • Williams v. State, No. SC05-2163.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • May 17, 2007
    ...that no judge under the entire body of sentencing statutes and laws could impose under any set of factual circumstances. Carter v. State, 786 So.2d 1173, 1181 (Fla.2001). The First, Second, Third, and Fifth Districts have interpreted this to include an otherwise legal sentence set out in a ......
  • Robinson v. State, CASE NO. 1D16–1988
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • April 4, 2017
    ...sentence’ as interpreted by case law has narrowed significantly since that term was used in the 1960s and 1970s." Carter v. State , 786 So.2d 1173, 1176 (Fla. 2001). In 215 So.3d 1266Davis v. State , 661 So.2d 1193, 1196 (Fla. 1995), the Florida Supreme Court defined an "illegal sentence" a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT