Mosley v. State, SC20-195

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtCOURIEL, J.
Citation349 So.3d 861
Parties John F. MOSLEY, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Docket NumberSC20-195
Decision Date15 September 2022

349 So.3d 861

John F. MOSLEY, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. SC20-195

Supreme Court of Florida.

September 15, 2022

Jessica J. Yeary, Public Defender, and Barbara J. Busharis, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Charmaine M. Millsaps, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and William David Chappell, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellee


349 So.3d 863

This is the appeal of the circuit court's final order resentencing John F. Mosley to death for the murder of his ten-month-old son, Jay-Quan Mosley. The circuit court entered the order after Mosley's second penalty phase trial; we vacated Mosley's original sentence of death pursuant to Hurst v. State , 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016). Mosley v. State , 209 So. 3d 1248, 1284 (Fla. 2016).

We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We find that, because the trial court failed to address Mosley's unequivocal motion to represent himself at his Spencer1 hearing, he is entitled to a new Spencer hearing and sentencing hearing. We do not, however, find that he is entitled to a third penalty phase trial.


Twice before we have recounted the murders that bring Mosley to this Court. Mosley v. State , 46 So. 3d 510, 514-15 (Fla. 2009) ; Mosley , 209 So. 3d at 1254-55. A jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder after he strangled his girlfriend, Lynda Wilkes; asphyxiated their son, Jay-Quan, in a garbage bag; and disposed of both their bodies, hers by immolation, his in a dumpster. At the conclusion of his first trial, in 2005, the jury unanimously recommended a life sentence for the murder of Wilkes and, by a vote of eight to four, recommended a death sentence for the murder of Jay-Quan. The trial court imposed the recommended sentences.

This Court affirmed the convictions and sentence of death on direct appeal. Mosley , 46 So. 3d at 529. Mosley moved for postconviction relief under rule 3.851 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. Mosley , 209 So. 3d at 1257-58. After an evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court denied the motion. Id. This Court affirmed that decision as to Mosley's guilt phase claims but decided that a new penalty phase2 was required under Hurst v. Florida , 577 U.S. 92, 136 S.Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016).3 209 So. 3d at 1284.

Prior to his second penalty phase proceeding for Jay-Quan's murder, Mosley moved to represent himself in arguing a

349 So.3d 864

motion for an evidentiary hearing based on newly discovered evidence. On March 20, 2018, after a Faretta4 inquiry, the trial court initially granted his motion, appointing standby counsel and a mitigation specialist.5 But the trial court reversed itself when it found that Mosley did not understand what giving up his right to counsel entailed. At the end of the hearing, the trial court took Mosley's motion to proceed pro se under advisement.

With a new judge presiding,6 Mosley again moved to represent himself pro se. At a hearing on the motion, however, Mosley stated that he did not want to represent himself nor to be represented by his attorney at the time. The trial court denied Mosley's request for another attorney, and Mosley withdrew his outstanding motion to represent himself.

On November 20, 2019, the trial court held its final conference before the penalty phase. Mosley again moved to represent himself. After another Faretta inquiry, the trial court granted Mosley's motion to proceed pro se and appointed standby counsel. Mosley requested an eighteen-month continuance to prepare for trial, which the trial court denied.

On December 2, 2019, the trial court proceeded with Mosley's penalty phase.

349 So.3d 865

The State called Bernard Griffin, a key cooperating witness, who testified about the murders. On cross-examination, Mosley noted that Griffin was "back on the stand for the state" and asked him, "[A]fter this hearing is done you going to get to go free again or they going to cut your time in half?" The trial court interjected and instructed the jury that "Mr. Griffin is under a 20-year sentence," and "[t]here is no legal avenue for that sentence to be changed at all except perhaps by his death in custody." Mosley protested the judge's intervention. He insisted the "state can send letter recommendations" to the court, "[a]sking to reduce [Griffin's] time." After Mosley's repeated attempts to "establish [Griffin's] motive," the judge responded, "There is absolutely no evidence of that at all and the Court has no authority whatsoever to change a sentence once the period of expiration has occurred, so I don't care who writes the letter. He ain't going anywhere." On redirect, the prosecutor asked Griffin whether he'd been offered anything in exchange for his testimony. Griffin responded, "No, not at all."

Later in the penalty phase, Mosley called his mother to testify. She testified that her son was a good son; that Mosley's father was physically abusive; that Mosley attended high school, college, and a few police academies; that he had worked as an emergency technician; and that he had served in the Navy. After her initial testimony, she was excused, and several other witnesses testified. The next day, before the first witness was called, Mosley advised the trial court that he wished to recall his mother for further questioning. The State objected, arguing that any additional testimony would be cumulative. Because the trial court had allowed Mosley's mother to attend the proceedings, including the testimony of other witnesses after she testified, and because of the risk of cumulative testimony, the trial court required Mosley first to proffer her testimony outside the presence of the jury. During the proffer, Mosley asked his mother whether his father had sexually abused his sisters. Additionally, he asked whether his father had physically abused him and whether he had in fact been raised by his grandmother. The trial court allowed Mosley to elicit before the jury his mother's testimony regarding his physical abuse and being raised by his grandmother. But, explaining that the credibility of Mosley's father was not at issue, the trial court did not permit Mosley to ask questions about his father's sexual abuse of Mosley's sisters.

At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury unanimously found that the State had proven four aggravating factors: (1) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; (2) the murder was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner; (3) the victim was less than twelve years of age; and (4) Mosley was previously convicted of another capital felony—that is, Wilkes's murder. The jury unanimously found that the aggravating factors were sufficient to impose the death penalty and found no mitigating circumstances. And the jury unanimously found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

Once the trial judge dismissed the jury, he offered Mosley counsel for his Spencer hearing. Mosley accepted, and the judge set the hearing for January 30, 2020. But on January 23, 2020, seven days before the Spencer hearing, Mosley filed a motion titled, "Unequivocal Demand to Immediately Represent Myself Pro Se."

When the Spencer hearing began, the prosecutor acknowledged to the trial court that defense "counsel has provided me a pleading that was filed on January 23rd, 2020 ... and this was a pro se pleading

349 So.3d 866

filed by Mr. Mosley, so I believe prior to addressing the pleadings that have been filed by [defense counsel] we need to address that request." The trial court responded, "Sure. That's fine. And I intend to do so." But then it directed its questions toward the "written motion [for a new penalty phase trial] alleging some 10 or 12 errors." Mosley's counsel asked for clarification:

Counsel: "Your Honor, do you want me to go ahead with the Motion For New Penalty Phase argument?

The Court: "Yes."

Counsel: "Or do you want to address the pro se motion?"

The Court: "No, no, no."

After hearing argument, the trial court denied the motion for a new penalty phase, then asked the parties, "Any reason why sentence should not now be imposed?" Mosley's counsel answered with argument in mitigation, noting testimony from Mosley's mother about the family's history of abuse. Mosley's counsel inquired whether the court required written sentencing memoranda. The court responded, "I think it was capably argued." The court then asked again, "So is there any reason the sentence should not now be imposed?" Mosley's counsel responded, "There is none, sir, unless you require the sentencing memorandums." The court again declined the memoranda.

The trial court ruled, "Having gone through all of this, the motion for new penalty phase hearing is denied. Mr. Mosley ... I hereby sentence you to death and remand you to the custody of the Sheriff .... Mr. Mosley, now let me address with you a written -- written document which I received this morning called unequivocal demand to immediately represent myself pro se. Do you intend to represent yourself on appeal?" Mosley responded, "That was supposed to be before this S...

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