State v. King

Decision Date22 December 1982
Docket NumberNo. 60857,60857
Citation426 So.2d 12
PartiesSTATE of Florida, Petitioner, v. Nathaniel KING, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen., and Laura R. Morrison and Sharon Lee Stedman, Asst. Attys. Gen., West Palm Beach, for petitioner.

Richard L. Jorandby, Public Defender, and Jon May and Gary Caldwell, Asst. Public Defenders, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit West Palm Beach, for respondent.

BOYD, Justice.

This cause is before the Court on the state's petition for review of a decision of the district court of appeal. King v. State, 425 So.2d 1379 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981). The district court certified as a question of great public importance the following:


We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. We answer the question in the negative, finding that the provisions of chapter 39, part II, Florida Statutes (1981), Florida's Juvenile Justice Act, enacted under the express authorization of article I, section 15(b), Florida Constitution, give individuals of a certain age group the statutory right to be treated as juveniles with certain limited exceptions. The legislature, in chapter 39, has restricted grand juries to indictment of juveniles only for those crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment or connected with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment. Other crimes are clearly not included.

The relevant facts in the instant case are as follows. An indictment was returned by the grand jury charging respondent, Nathaniel King, with robbery and aggravated assault, crimes which respondent allegedly committed when he was seventeen years old. Respondent did not attack the indictment in the trial court. After being tried as an adult and convicted by a jury, respondent appealed his conviction to the district court of appeal, asserting for the first time that, because he was a juvenile, he could not be charged by indictment and tried as an adult under the provisions of chapter 39. The district court agreed, holding that the indictment was not proper because the crimes charged were not punishable by death or life imprisonment. The district court reversed the conviction and directed the trial court to dismiss the indictment without prejudice to allow the state attorney to proceed as required by chapter 39. Although we agree with the district court that an indictment is not the proper method of charging a juvenile with a crime not punishable by death or life imprisonment, we reverse the district court's decision since in this case respondent waived his right not to be charged by an indictment.

The state, citing this Court's decision in State ex rel. Latour v. Stone, 135 Fla. 816, 185 So. 729 (1939), seeks disapproval of the district court decision, asserting that an indictment may properly be used to charge any person with any crime for which an information may be filed. The state contends that the state attorney should be able to charge a juvenile offender by indictment whenever the juvenile could be charged by the filing of an information as permitted under chapter 39. We disagree, concluding that this argument is contrary to the clear legislative intent in chapter 39.

Our constitution, in article I, section 15(b), gives the legislature the authority to provide for the special treatment of juvenile offenders:

When authorized by law, a child as therein defined may be charged with a violation of law as an act of delinquency instead of crime and tried without a jury or other requirements applicable to criminal cases. Any child so charged shall, upon demand made as provided by law before a trial in a juvenile proceeding, be tried in an appropriate court as an adult. A child found delinquent shall be disciplined as provided by law.

This section has been interpreted as conferring upon a child the right to be treated as a juvenile offender in the manner provided by statute. State v. Cain, 381 So.2d 1361 (Fla.1980).

In chapter 39, the legislature has delineated four circumstances in which a juvenile may be tried as an adult and exposed to more severe adult criminal penalties. First, the child, joined by a parent or guardian, may demand trial as an adult. § 39.02(5)(b), Fla.Stat. (1981). Second, the judge responsible for juvenile proceedings may certify a case for adult trial if the child was at least fourteen years old when he or she committed the offense, but only after the court has conducted a waiver hearing and has considered the appropriateness of adult trial according to the criteria in section 39.09(2)(c), Florida Statutes (1981). § 39.02(5)(a), Fla.Stat. (1981). Third, the state attorney may file an information against a child who was sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of the alleged offense and may criminally prosecute the child and seek the imposition of adult sanctions should the child be convicted. § 39.04(2)(e)4, Fla.Stat. (1981). In this circumstance, if the violation charged is a misdemeanor, 1 the child shall be treated as a juvenile if the child moves for such treatment and is able to show he has not previously committed two delinquent acts, one of which was a felony. Id. Fourth, a child may be indicted by a grand jury for any crime punishable by death or life imprisonment and any other violation which is based on the same transaction or connected with the offense punishable by death or life imprisonment. § 39.02(5)(c), Fla.Stat. (1981). 2 When so charged, the juvenile shall be tried and treated as an adult. Id.

The legislature, in granting to children the right to be treated differently from adults, has expressly provided that children may be tried as adults and exposed to adult sanctions in the circumstances delineated above. From our review of chapter 39, we can find no indication that the legislature intended to allow the indictment of a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old juvenile as an alternative to the filing of a direct information. The provisions of section 39.04(2)(e)5, Florida Statutes (1981), allowing the state attorney to refer the case of a juvenile to a grand jury, must be read together with section 39.02(5)(c), which limits the crimes for which a juvenile may be indicted by the grand jury to capital or life felonies and, since October, 1981, to connected offenses.

Thus we hold that a juvenile charged with an offense not punishable by death or life imprisonment has a right not to be charged by an indictment. However, this right, as with all other rights, may be waived if not asserted in a timely and proper fashion. The second issue raised by the state in this case is whether a juvenile must assert his right not to be tried by an indictment at the trial level or whether he can assert that right for the first time on appeal. The answer to this question depends on whether the error committed is a fundamental error affecting the court's jurisdiction thereby rendering its judgment void.

This Court has long recognized a distinction between judgments that are void and those that are voidable. Objections to a void judgment can be raised at any time, whereas objections to a voidable judgment must be timely made. Malone v. Meres, 91 Fla. 709, 109 So. 677 (1926). "If the court has acquired jurisdiction of the subject-matter and of the parties, the judgment or decree entered is binding, even though erroneous because of irregularity of procedure, and such judgment or decree will not be set aside, reversed, or modified, except by appropriate direct appellate procedure." 91 Fla. at 720, 109 So. at 682. If a court has jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties, the proceeding is not a nullity and the judgment is not void.

In this case the trial court had jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties. It had jurisdiction of the subject matter because it is a circuit court which has jurisdiction of all felonies. § 26.012(2)(d), Fla.Stat. (1981). As for any objections King may have had as to the court's jurisdiction over his person, he waived them by appearing in person and defending his case. Haddock v. State, 129 Fla. 701, 176 So. 782 (1937); Tillman v. State, 58 Fla. 113, 50 So. 675 (1909).

The situation in Haddock is quite analogous to the one in this case. In Haddock the defendant appealed his conviction entered by the criminal court of record, complaining that the court lacked jurisdiction because the statutory procedures for transferring his case from the circuit court to the criminal court of record were not properly followed. This Court affirmed the conviction, noting that the defendant had waived any right to question the criminal court of record's jurisdiction by appearing before the court and defending his case without objecting to the court's jurisdiction until after judgment. Similarly, respondent waived any objections he may have had about his case not being transferred properly to the criminal division of the circuit court by the filing of the information. Cf. State v. Goodson, 403 So.2d 1337 (Fla.1981) (the filing of an information acts as a transfer to the criminal division for purposes of invoking section 958.04(1)(a) of the Youthful Offender Act).

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