Williams v. State

Decision Date29 August 2013
Docket NumberNo. SC11–1543.,SC11–1543.
Citation121 So.3d 524
PartiesMelvin D. WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Carol J.Y. Wilson, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, FL, for Petitioner.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL; Robert J. Krauss, Chief Assistant Attorney General and Danilo Cruz–Carino, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, FL, for Respondent.

QUINCE, J.

This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal in Williams v. State, 66 So.3d 360 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011), which certified to this Court three questions of great public importance. Id. at 361.1 We have jurisdiction. Seeart. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. We rephrase the certified questions as follows:

1. MUST A TRIAL COURT INSTRUCT THE JURY PURSUANT TO SECTION 812.025, FLORIDA STATUTES (2008), WHEN BOTH THEFT

AND DEALING IN STOLEN PROPERTY OFFENSES ARE SUBMITTED TO THE JURY?

2. IF A TRIAL COURT DENIES A DEFENDANT'S REQUEST FOR A JURY INSTRUCTION UNDER SECTION 812.025, MUST THE DEFENDANT BE GIVEN A NEW TRIAL IF THE JURY CONVICTS THE DEFENDANT OF BOTH THEFT AND DEALING IN STOLEN PROPERTY CONTRARY TO SAID STATUTE?

We answer both rephrased questions in the affirmative. Accordingly, we quash the decision of the Second District in this case.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the evening of August 8, 2008, the victim discovered that her house had been broken into and that two video game systems, games, about thirty DVDs, and a digital camera were taken from her house. The intruder entered and exited the home through the kitchen window. Melvin Williams' fingerprints were on a PVC pipe which had been used by the victim to secure the kitchen window. The next afternoon, Williams sold a video game system and games to a pawn shop for $40. For this transaction, Williams signed the pawn shop's contract, affixed his thumbprint to the contract, and presented his driver's license. The items Williams sold to the pawn shop were positively identified by the victim.

The State charged Williams with one count of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling; one count of grand theft, a third-degree felony; one count of dealing in stolen property, a second-degree felony; and one count of providing false information to a pawnbroker. After the State presented its case-in-chief, Williams moved for a judgment of acquittal. According to Williams, the State failed to present: a prima facie case that he committed the burglary, evidence that he knowingly possessed the items, evidence that he falsified information on the pawnbroker form, and sufficient evidence of value. The trial court denied Williams' motion. Williams did not put on a defense.

Based on section 812.025, Florida Statutes, Williams requested that the jury be given the following instruction:

CHARGING THEFT AND DEALING IN STOLEN PROPERTY

An information may charge theft and dealing in stolen property in connection with one scheme or course of conduct in separate counts, but you may return a guilty verdict on one or the other, but not both, of the counts.

Williams' request apprised the trial judge of pertinent language from our decision in Hall v. State, 826 So.2d 268 (Fla.2002):

Section 812.025 allows the State to charge theft and dealing in stolen property in connection with one scheme or course of conduct in separate counts, but the trier of fact must then determine whether the defendant is a common thief who steals property with the intent to appropriate said property to his own use or to the use of a person not entitled to the use of the property or whether the defendant traffics or endeavors to traffic in the stolen property.

Id. at 271. As to this proposed jury instruction, the following exchange took place:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: ... The issue is that Dealing [in] stolen property or Grand Theft should be decided by the trier of fact.

THE COURT: They will be, both of them will be.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Right. But the jury, based upon Florida Statute 812.025 which reads that a person can be only convicted of one or the other, then the next step is for the jury to determine one or the other and that [is] decided by the jury, not later on by the Court once a conviction is made.

THE COURT: Negative. I'm not doing that. There's no standard jury instruction, nor do these cases abrogate the ability of this Court and, indeed, the responsibility of this Court to properly evaluate this issue as a matter of law. We are not going to convert this jury into lawyers. It would be entirely confusing for this jury to be given this conflicting, contrasting instruction that has not yet been reviewed and ultimately approved or blessed by the Florida Supreme Court. As such, I'm not submitting this issue to the jury, but I will reserve jurisdiction to address this issue, which is well-raised and timely raised, at the appropriate time after the jury has considered all the evidence.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Your Honor, specifically, if I may, ... Hall v. State I believe addresses that particular issue....

THE COURT: Do any of these cases say that the Court can't properly go back and fix this issue as a matter of law after the jury has rendered its verdict?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Yes, Your Honor, one does say that.

THE COURT: And which one would that be?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: It would be Hall that I provided to the court....

THE COURT: I note for the record that our Supreme Court, despite having raised this issue in 2002 in the Hall case has not yet seen fit to encourage our Florida Bar committee on criminal jury instructions to properly write an instruction as it relates to section 812.025 of the Florida Statutes. I find this to be abysmal in light of the fact that this jury must be properly instructed in accordance with Florida law and no jury instruction has yet been crafted by that committee or approved by the Florida Supreme Court. I profess a complete lack of any understanding as to any valid justification for the lack of action by this committee and/or the Florida Supreme Court.

I will on this record encourage that committee and, indeed, our Florida Supreme Court to fulfill the responsibilities incumbent upon those bodies to properly give guidance to these trial courts and these juries as it relates to Florida law. That's all I'm going to say about that, because this is not good, folks, because there is no guidance whatsoever other than these cases, Hall, that say, Oh, yeah, you've got to do this, trial court. We're not going to tell you how to do it, just figure it out....

But I just don't think saying you may return a guilty verdict for one or the other but not both would be essentially telling the jury, well, it's either grand theft, either he took all this, or he sold some of if [sic] to a pawn broker. There's no way they're going to be able to make that determination without getting confused....

DEFENSE COUNSEL: The jury has to make the decision....

THE COURT: [The proposed instruction, which was taken] right out of the Hall case ... is woefully inadequate as it relates to this very complicated issue of law....

THE COURT: So despite the wording of the Hall court, we, the trial court, are left in this dilemma. And it is a dilemma that I will solve as follows:

I'm denying the defense request for the jury instruction finding that, as written, it is woefully inadequate. I furtherfind that there is no way humanly possible for this Court to ... craft a lawful instruction given the absence of guidance from our appellate courts....

I will take action and entertain a proper defense motion as it relates to this very issue subsequent to the jury reaching a verdict, but before judgment is entered as it relates to the defendant, if, indeed that is even necessary....

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Well, Your Honor, the defense in the closings wouldn't be able to say, Look, Members of the jury, you can find him guilty of Grand Theft or Dealing in Stolen Property if we're not going—

THE COURT: No. You're being precluded from that given the Court's ruling.

(Emphasis added.)

The trial court instructed the jury on the standard jury instructions—which were relied on by the State and do not refer to section 812.025 or otherwise instruct a jury that it is precluded from finding a defendant guilty of both dealing in stolen property and theft “in connection with one scheme or course of conduct.” § 812.025, Fla. Stat. (2008).2

Williams was convicted of all of the charges. Thereafter, Williams asked the trial court to dismiss the dealing in stolen property conviction; the State objected. In dismissing the grand theft conviction, the lesser of the two offenses, the trial judge stated:

I will merge and dismiss Count II, which is Grand Theft Third Degree, into Count III, which is dealing in Stolen Property, as it was the same property as was proven to the satisfaction of the jury. Clearly, to sentence this defendant on both would be multiplicious for sentencing purposes only. As such, I will deny the motion to merge and dismiss Count III into Count II, but will grant, as pretty much I always do, dismiss the Grand Theft Third Degree finding that it is subsumed within Count III, Dealing in Stolen Property.

Accordingly, the trial court adjudicated Williams guilty of dealing in stolen property, burglary, and providing false information to a pawnbroker. Williams was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for the dealing in stolen property conviction and fifteen years in prison for the burglary conviction, which were ordered to run concurrently with each other. The trial court also imposed a five-year prison term for providing false information to a pawnbroker, which was ordered to run consecutively to the fifteen-year sentences.

On appeal to the Second District, relying on Kiss v. State, 42 So.3d 810 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), Williams argued that he was entitled to a new trial because the trial court denied his requested instruction modeled after section 812.025.3Williams v. State, 66 So.3d...

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