Knight v. State, No. SC18-309

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation286 So.3d 147
Docket NumberNo. SC18-309
Decision Date19 December 2019
Parties Arnold Jerome KNIGHT, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.

286 So.3d 147

Arnold Jerome KNIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
STATE of Florida, Respondent.

No. SC18-309

Supreme Court of Florida.

December 19, 2019


Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Glen P. Gifford, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Petitioner

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Trisha M. Pate, Bureau Chief, and Virginia Harris, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent

Rocco J. Carbone, III, of Law Offices of Rocco J. Carbone, III, St. Augustine, Florida, Amicus Curiae Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Carol Stafford Haughwout, Public Defender, and Gary Lee Caldwell, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida, Amicus Curiae Florida Public Defender Association

PER CURIAM.

We review the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Knight v. State , 267 So. 3d 38 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), which affirmed Knight's conviction for attempted second-degree murder with a weapon where the jury was given an erroneous jury instruction on the lesser included offense of attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon.1 For the reasons that follow, we approve the result of the First District's decision but not its reasoning.

I. BACKGROUND

The First District set forth the pertinent facts as follows:

[Knight] challenges his conviction and thirty-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder of his former girlfriend. The evidence supported the conclusion that he used a heavy, metal hydraulic jack handle to beat the victim very severely in her face and head, breaking the arm she used to try to block the attack, and breaking one of her eye sockets, in addition to inflicting other serious injuries to her face and
286 So.3d 149
head, including a gash down to her skull, leaving her with permanent residual impairments. The emergency medicine physician who treated the victim testified that the injuries required a direct blow of great force.

The victim testified that [Knight] had lived with her and her two young-adult children for a short time and had previously threatened to kill her if she ever tried to leave him. After [Knight] moved out of the victim's house at the request of the victim and her son, the victim obtained an injunction for protection against domestic violence against [Knight]. Nine hours after he was served with that injunction, at a time when he was aware from having lived with the victim that she would be leaving her house alone to prepare to leave in her car, [Knight] was waiting for her and attacked her. The victim saw him begin beating her with the weapon, although the severity of the beating prevented her from remembering the remainder of the attack. The victim's son heard her call out, and was an eyewitness to part of the attack. He saw [Knight] with the weapon in his hand and confronted him. The victim's daughter saw [Knight] walking away from the attack carrying an object matching the description of the weapon.

The weapon was found a short distance away, between the victim's house and the place where law enforcement found [Knight]. The weapon was found to have the victim's DNA on both ends and [Knight]'s DNA on one end. Although the weapon was the handle to a hydraulic jack, no such jack was found anywhere near the victim's house or surrounding area, supporting the conclusion that [Knight] had brought it with him. The presence of the weapon, together with the evidence of [Knight]'s having been served with the domestic violence injunction just hours earlier, his timed arrival at the victim's house, and his lying in wait for her, also supported the conclusion that [Knight] had planned the attack in advance.

[Knight] did not testify at his trial, but neither the fact of the attack nor [Knight]'s identity as the attacker was disputed. There was evidence that upon being informed of the charges including use of a crowbar as a weapon, [Knight] spontaneously denied having used a weapon; but there was no evidence explaining how the victim's serious injuries including a deep gash down to her skull could have been inflicted with bare hands. Defense counsel argued to the jury that the attack was not premeditated, [Knight] had no intent to kill the victim, and the evidence was insufficient to establish that [Knight] had used the jack handle as his weapon for the attack.

The jury was instructed on the following offenses in the following order:

- attempted first-degree premeditated murder with a weapon (the charged offense);

- attempted first-degree premeditated murder;

- attempted second-degree murder with a weapon (the offense of conviction);

- attempted second-degree murder;

- attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon (the erroneous instruction);

- attempted voluntary manslaughter;

- aggravated battery with a deadly weapon or great bodily harm;

- felony battery with great bodily harm; and

- battery.

Knight , 267 So. 3d at 40-41. The instruction for attempted voluntary manslaughter

286 So.3d 150

that was provided to the jury included intent to kill language; however, less than one month before Knight's trial, this Court approved a standard jury instruction for attempted manslaughter by act that eliminated the intent to kill language. See In re Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases–Instruction 6.6 , 132 So. 3d 1124, 1125 (Fla. 2014).2

On appeal, the First District concluded that the erroneous jury instruction did not constitute fundamental error because this Court receded from the jury pardon doctrine—which holds that the jury must be given a fair opportunity to exercise its inherent pardon or nullification power by returning a verdict of guilty as to the next lower crime—in Dean v. State , 230 So. 3d 420, 425 (Fla. 2017). Knight , 267 So. 3d at 42-44. This Court's decision in Dean generated four opinions. Justices Lewis, Canady, and Lawson concurred with the per curiam opinion. Justice Polston concurred with an opinion in which Justices Canady and Lawson concurred. Justice Quince concurred in result only with an opinion. Justice Pariente concurred in part and dissented in part with an opinion, and Chief Justice Labarga was recused.

The First District also held that, even if this Court has not abrogated the jury pardon doctrine, the defendant waived what otherwise would have been fundamental error in giving the erroneous jury instruction. Knight , 267 So. 3d at 44-45. At trial, the trial judge gave the prosecutor and defense counsel overnight to review the proposed jury instructions. Upon return the next morning, defense counsel indicated that he generally had no objection to the jury instructions. Specifically he stated, "No objection, Judge. I did read through these last night and I didn't really have a problem with any of the instructions." The record reflects defense counsel's further participation in discussions and drafting instructions. The discussion of the attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon instruction at issue in this case was a brief discussion in the context of the definition of a weapon. There was no discussion regarding the improper "intent to kill" language. Defense counsel neither requested this instruction nor objected to the instructions as given. In deciding whether Knight waived his claim, the First District considered the totality of the circumstances, including

the legal anomaly that results when counsel's failure to object to a fundamentally erroneous jury instruction has the legal effect of benefiting the defendant; the fact that this jury instruction had been declared erroneous and replaced with a valid instruction ... before this trial; and the fact that experienced counsel represented to the court that he had read and had no objections to the jury instructions, and was actively involved in reviewing and revising the jury instructions as a whole.

Id. The First District concluded that Knight's "counsel waived the fundamental error in the improper jury instruction for manslaughter." Id. at 49.

II. ANALYSIS

Knight argues that the trial court committed fundamental error and that he is entitled to relief from his conviction of attempted second-degree murder with a weapon, even though the evidence supports the elements of the conviction, because the jury instruction on the lesser included offense of attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon erroneously

286 So.3d 151

included the element of intent to kill. Knight further argues that the First District erred in holding that this Court's decision in Dean abrogated the jury pardon doctrine and that the Fourth District's decision in Caruthers v. State , 232 So. 3d 441 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), correctly concluded that this Court's decision in Dean did not abrogate the jury pardon doctrine. This issue presents a pure question of law; therefore, the standard of review is de novo. See Kirton v. Fields , 997 So. 2d 349, 352 (Fla. 2008).

We need not resolve the question whether a majority of the Court abrogated the jury pardon doctrine in Dean , because we now reconsider the jury pardon doctrine and more closely align ourselves with the majority of jurisdictions that do not recognize what is most accurately described as a fundamental right to instructions that facilitate partial jury nullification....

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43 practice notes
  • Perez v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., Case No. 8:18-cv-520-T-36SPF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • December 31, 2020
    ...what is most accurately described as a fundamental right to instructions that facilitate partial jury nullification." Knight v. State, 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019). Consequently, "the failure to give an instruction on a lesser included offense is not fundamental error," and Perez could n......
  • Duckworth v. State, No. 3D20-0272
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • May 13, 2020
    ...proceedings may afford an avenue for relief. See State v. Montgomery, 39 So. 3d 252, 258 (Fla. 2010), receded from by Knight v. State, 286 So. 3d 147 (Fla. 2019) ("[F]undamental error occurred ... where [the defendant] was indicted and tried for first-degree murder and ultimately convicted ......
  • Mohammed v. State, Case No. 5D19-1341
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • December 11, 2020
    ...II. Jury Instructions and Fundamental Error"Jury instruction errors are subject to the contemporaneous objection rule." Knight v. State , 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019) (first citing State v. Weaver , 957 So. 2d 586, 588 (Fla. 2007) ; and then citing State v. Delva , 575 So. 2d 643, 644 (F......
  • Smith v. State, SC18-822
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • April 22, 2021
    ...to the extent that a verdict of guilty could not have been obtained without the assistance of the alleged error." Knight v. State , 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019) (quoting Brown v. State , 124 So. 2d 481, 484 (Fla. 1960) ). Defendants have no constitutional due process right to correct an ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • Perez v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., Case No. 8:18-cv-520-T-36SPF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • December 31, 2020
    ...what is most accurately described as a fundamental right to instructions that facilitate partial jury nullification." Knight v. State, 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019). Consequently, "the failure to give an instruction on a lesser included offense is not fundamental error," and Perez could n......
  • Duckworth v. State, No. 3D20-0272
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • May 13, 2020
    ...proceedings may afford an avenue for relief. See State v. Montgomery, 39 So. 3d 252, 258 (Fla. 2010), receded from by Knight v. State, 286 So. 3d 147 (Fla. 2019) ("[F]undamental error occurred ... where [the defendant] was indicted and tried for first-degree murder and ultimately convicted ......
  • Mohammed v. State, Case No. 5D19-1341
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • December 11, 2020
    ...II. Jury Instructions and Fundamental Error"Jury instruction errors are subject to the contemporaneous objection rule." Knight v. State , 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019) (first citing State v. Weaver , 957 So. 2d 586, 588 (Fla. 2007) ; and then citing State v. Delva , 575 So. 2d 643, 644 (F......
  • Smith v. State, SC18-822
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • April 22, 2021
    ...to the extent that a verdict of guilty could not have been obtained without the assistance of the alleged error." Knight v. State , 286 So. 3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2019) (quoting Brown v. State , 124 So. 2d 481, 484 (Fla. 1960) ). Defendants have no constitutional due process right to correct an ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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