Santiago v. State

Decision Date25 May 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2D10–5515.,2D10–5515.
PartiesJose F. SANTIAGO, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

88 So.3d 1020

Jose F. SANTIAGO, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. 2D10–5515.

District Court of Appeal of Florida,
Second District.

May 25, 2012.


[88 So.3d 1021]


Jose F. Santiago, pro se.

[88 So.3d 1022]

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Katherine Coombs Cline, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.


VILLANTI, Judge.

This case involves another misuse of the often misunderstood jury instruction on the forcible felony exception to self-defense. The misuse of the instruction in this case requires us to reverse the summary denial of one claim raised by Jose F. Santiago in his motion for postconviction relief and remand for further proceedings.

Generally, a defendant is entitled to have a jury consider his or her theory of defense as long as there is any evidence to support that theory. See, e.g., Bryant v. State, 412 So.2d 347, 350 (Fla.1982); Upshaw v. State, 871 So.2d 1015, 1017 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004) (noting that “[a] defendant is entitled to an instruction on his theory of defense ‘however flimsy’ the evidence is which supports that theory” (quoting Arthur v. State, 717 So.2d 193, 194 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998))). However, the legislature has modified a defendant's right to have the jury consider the defense of self-defense when the defendant is engaged in a forcible felony at the time of the alleged self-defense. The forcible felony exception—section 776.041(1), Florida Statutes (2000)—provides that self-defense is not available as a defense if it occurred while the defendant was “attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a forcible felony....” Thus, as a matter of public policy, the forcible felony exception prohibits defendants from availing themselves of the defense of self-defense in certain circumstances even when there are facts that might arguably support such a defense.

However, in recognition of the due process considerations underlying a defendant's general right to have the jury instructed on his or her theory of defense, the legislature defined relatively narrow circumstances under which the forcible felony exception applies. First, the exception applies only when “the accused is charged with at least two criminal acts, the act for which the accused is claiming self-defense and a separate forcible felony.” Giles v. State, 831 So.2d 1263, 1265 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002); see also Martinez v. State, 981 So.2d 449, 453–54 (Fla.2008). Thus, “the proper test for determining the applicability of the instruction is not whether the self-defense act itself could qualify as a forcible felony, but whether, at the time of the self-defense, the accused was engaged in a separate forcible felonious act.” Giles, 831 So.2d at 1266.

Second, for the forcible felony exception to apply, the defendant must be engaged in the separate and independent felonious act at the time of the alleged self-defense. See Giles, 831 So.2d at 1266;Cleveland v. State, 887 So.2d 362, 363 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). A separate and independent forcible felony that occurs at some time other than when the alleged self-defense was occurring will not generally support giving the forcible felony instruction. See Garrell v. State, 972 So.2d 240, 242 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) (noting that robbery that occurred earlier in the evening before the events giving rise to the claim of self-defense could not support the forcible felony instruction because, among other things, the robbery was not in progress “at the time of the shooting”).

Third, because the defendant must be engaged in a separate and independent forcible felony at the time of the self-defense, “[a]n instruction on the forcible-felony exception should not be given ‘unless the defendant is charged with an independent forcible felony, in addition to the offense for which he claims self-defense.’ ”

[88 So.3d 1023]

Redding v. State, 41 So.3d 353, 354–55 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) (quoting Wilson v. State, 944 So.2d 1244, 1245 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006)) (emphasis added); see also Zuniga v. State, 869 So.2d 1239, 1240 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004); Stoute v. State, 987 So.2d 748, 749 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). Thus, when the defendant claims self-defense as to every offense with which he is charged, there is no separately charged “forcible felony” to trigger the application of the instruction. See Martinez, 981 So.2d at 453–54 (finding the forcible felony instruction improperly given when the defendant was charged with both attempted murder and aggravated battery and claimed self-defense as to both charges); Shepard v. Crosby, 916 So.2d 861, 864 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005) (holding that the forcible felony exception was inapplicable in a case in which the defendant claimed self-defense with respect to every charged offense, thus leaving no separately charged forcible felony to trigger the instruction).

Because there seemed to be some uncertainty in the trial courts concerning the proper use of the forcible felony exception, the supreme court set out an example in Martinez to illustrate its proper application.

[A] defendant enters a convenience store and points a knife at the clerk, asking him to empty the register. As the clerk is doing so, a customer approaches the defendant from behind and hits him in the head with a bottle. The defendant turns and stabs the customer.

At his subsequent trial, assuming the jury believes this version of events, the defendant could not successfully claim self-defense for his aggravated battery of the customer. While ordinarily an individual who has been hit in the head with a bottle would be justified in using force to repel this attack, the Legislature has determined that a person who is committing a crime (in this example, the robbery) is not entitled to use deadly force.

981 So.2d at 454 n. 4. In this example, the robbery was a separate and independent forcible felony that the defendant was engaged in at the time of the alleged self-defense and the defendant was not claiming self-defense as to the robbery offense. Therefore, the forcible felony exception would apply to prevent the defendant from claiming self-defense to any charge arising from the stabbing of the customer.


From this legal framework, we turn to the facts of Santiago's case. The very limited record before this court reveals that Santiago was involved in an ongoing dispute with one George Smith concerning the wheels on Santiago's car, which Smith contended had been stolen from him. According to Santiago, Smith, Derrick Phillips, and a third person who may have been Kevin Hayes confronted Santiago about the wheels while the four men were at a nightclub on July 20, 2000. The men exchanged words inside the club but then separated. Several hours later, as Santiago got in his car to leave the club, Smith and Phillips approached Santiago's car and Phillips reached toward the waistband of his pants. Believing that Phillips was reaching for a gun, Santiago pulled out his own gun and fired several shots toward the men. Phillips was hit by a shot but survived. Hayes was also shot and later died. While fleeing the scene after the shooting, Santiago allegedly took some type of aggressive action towards two police officers who were responding to reports of the shooting. Santiago was apprehended a...

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11 cases
  • Montgomery v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 12 d3 Fevereiro d3 2020
    ...least two criminal acts, the act for which the accused is claiming self-defense and a separate forcible felony’ " Santiago v. State, 88 So. 3d 1020, 1022 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (quoting Giles, 831 So. 2d at 1265 ). Contrary to the State's argument that Montgomery was charged with an independent......
  • Morgan v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 13 d5 Dezembro d5 2013
    ...charges, based on theory that alleged victim initiated physical violence by attacking defendant with baseball bat); Santiago v. State, 88 So.3d 1020 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (holding that where defendant shot at three individuals, killing one and injuring another, and was charged with one count o......
  • Santiago v. Sec'y
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • 2 d5 Fevereiro d5 2018
    ...for an evidentiary hearing on Santiago's ineffective-counsel claim concerning the forcible felony instruction. Santiago v. State, 88 So. 3d 1020, 1022 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012). The Second DCA explained that the forcible felony exception "applies only when 'the accused is charged with at l......
  • Morgan v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 22 d5 Novembro d5 2013
    ...charges, based on theory that alleged victim initiated physical violence by attacking defendant with baseball bat); Santiago v. State, 88 So. 3d 1020 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) (holding that where defendant shot at three individuals, killing one and injuring another, and was charged with one count ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Pretrial motions and defenses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • 30 d5 Abril d5 2021
    ...(See this case for a good description of when the forcible felony exception applies, and when it does not.) Santiago v. State, 88 So. 3d 1020 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012) When defendant is charged with disorderly conduct as a result of a fight, he may claim self-defense so long as he was not the aggr......

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