Williams v. State

Decision Date03 March 2016
Docket NumberNo. SC13–1080.,SC13–1080.
Citation186 So.3d 989
Parties Ronald WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Jonathan Russell Kaplan of Richard G. Lubin, P.A., West Palm Beach, FL, for Petitioner.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL; Consiglia Terenzio, Bureau Chief, and Mitchell Alan Egber, Assistant

Attorney General, West Palm Beach, FL, for Respondent.


, J.

This case is before the Court for review of the Fourth District Court of Appeal's decision in Williams v. State, 125 So.3d 879 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013)

. In its decision, the district court ruled upon the following question, which the court certified to be of great public importance:

Does section 775.087(2)(d)

's statement that "The court shall impose any term of imprisonment provided for in this subsection consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed for any other felony offense" require consecutive sentences when the sentences arise from one criminal episode?

Id. at 880

. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons discussed below, we answer the certified question in the negative and quash the Fourth District's decision.


On February 12, 2008, four men had just arrived home and were walking toward their apartment door when they heard Ronald Williams, who was in a neighbor's driveway, calling out offensive words regarding their sexuality, including "faggot," "punk," and making other "homosexual gestures." The men exchanged words with Williams, then Williams "pulled a gun, pointed it at the men, and then fired the gun into the air multiple times, causing the men to run inside their home." Williams, 125 So.3d at 880

. The men reported the incident to police, and Williams was arrested a short time later.

"The [S]tate charged [Williams] by information with four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, during the course of which [he] actually possessed and discharged a firearm. The four counts corresponded with each of the four victims." Id.

Williams admitted in a recorded statement to police that, during the exchange, he pulled out a gun and fired it in the air multiple times. Williams explained that this incident was prompted because he was upset with the men and felt like the men were "flirting with him" and "giving [him] the eye" and when he fired the gun he was just trying to "scare them" and let them know that they should not "stare at [him] like that." Williams also stated that he had been drinking earlier that day.

The State initially offered Williams a plea deal of five years' imprisonment with a mandatory minimum of three years. He rejected this offer and responded affirmatively when asked by the trial court whether he understood that, if found guilty on all four counts, he would be sentenced to eighty years in prison because each count carried a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years.

The case proceeded to trial, and the jury found Williams guilty on all counts. Id. at 881. The jury specifically found that he had possessed and discharged the firearm on each of the aggravated assault counts. Id. At sentencing, the trial court acknowledged that under the "10–20–Life" statute, section 775.087(2)(a)

2., Florida Statutes (2008), each count carried a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years. Id. at 881. The State argued that the mandatory minimums were required to be imposed consecutively pursuant to section 775.087(2)(d), Florida Statutes (2008). Id. However, Williams argued that the trial court had the discretion to impose consecutive or concurrent sentences based on this Court's decision in State v. Christian, 692 So.2d 889 (Fla.1997), in which this Court stated that "[a]s a general rule, for offenses arising from a single episode, stacking is permissible where the violations of the mandatory minimum statutes cause injury to multiple victims, or multiple injuries to one victim." Id. at 890–91

(emphasis added) (footnotes omitted). In response, the State pointed out that section 775.087(2)(d) was enacted after this Court's decision in Christian and expressly requires consecutive sentences. Williams, 125 So.3d at 881. The trial court agreed with the State, and Williams was sentenced to four consecutive mandatory minimum twenty-year sentences. Id. Judge Joseph Marx noted that he "thought it was required and it's mandatory to impose four consecutive twenty-year sentences pursuant to the statute" and if he "didn't feel compelled to do it, [he] wouldn't do it." Judge Marx also assured that he otherwise would not sentence Williams to eighty years on this case because the court has "first-degree murder cases that people get less than this."

On appeal, the Fourth District affirmed the trial court, concluding that "the trial court was required to impose consecutive sentences" under section 775.087(2)(d)

. Id. at 882. The Fourth District focused on the plain language of the statute and this Court's interpretation of that language in State v. Sousa (Sousa II), 903 So.2d 923 (Fla.2005). Id. at 882–84. Accordingly, the Fourth District affirmed Williams' sentences and certified the question of great public importance at issue here. Id. at 884.


The present question for consideration is whether a trial court is required under section 775.087(2)(d)

to impose consecutive minimum terms of imprisonment for multiple offenses when the offenses arise from a single criminal episode. "Judicial interpretations of statutes are pure questions of law subject to de novo review." Johnson v. State, 78 So.3d 1305, 1310 (Fla.2012). Statutory interpretation in any case "begin[s] with the actual language used in the statute because legislative intent is determined first and foremost from the statute's text." Raymond James Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Phillips, 126 So.3d 186, 190 (Fla.2013) (quoting Heart of Adoptions, Inc. v. J.A., 963 So.2d 189, 198 (Fla.2007) ). "When the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no occasion for resorting to the rules of statutory interpretation and construction; the statute must be given its plain and obvious meaning." Bennett v. St. Vincent's Med. Ctr., Inc., 71 So.3d 828, 837–38 (Fla.2011) (quoting Fla. Birth–Related Neuro. Injury Comp. Ass'n v. Dep't of Admin. Hearings, 29 So.3d 992, 997 (Fla.2010) ).

The 10–20–Life statute or section 775.087, Florida Statutes

, is implicated when a defendant is convicted of any of the qualifying felonies enumerated in subsection (2). § 775.087(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2008). Paragraph (2)(a) sets forth the mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment a trial court must impose when a defendant possesses or uses a firearm during the commission of a qualifying felony. In 1999, the Legislature added the following paragraph:

It is the intent of the Legislature that offenders who actually possess, carry, display, use, threaten to use, or attempt to use firearms or destructive devices be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and the minimum terms of imprisonment imposed pursuant to this subsection shall be imposed for each qualifying felony count for which the person is convicted. The court shall impose any term of imprisonment provided for in this subsection consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed for any other felony offense.

§ 775.087(2)(d), Fla. Stat. (1999)

(emphasis added).

As we have previously determined, this language is clear and unambiguous. See Sousa II, 903 So.2d at 928

("[N]or do we find the language of [section 775.087(2)(d) ] to be ambiguous."). As written, paragraph (2)(d) contemplates two distinct imprisonment terms: a term imposed for a qualifying felony pursuant to subsection (2), and a term imposed for a non-qualifying felony. The last sentence of paragraph (2)(d) further delineates the manner in which these distinct imprisonment terms are to be served in relation to one another. Specifically, it expressly mandates only that a qualifying felony sentence run "consecutively to" any sentence imposed for a non-qualifying felony. Nothing within paragraph (2)(d)'s plain language also requires, as the State posits, a qualifying felony sentence to run consecutively to another qualifying felony sentence.

Furthermore, at no point since its inception in the past sixteen years have we interpreted paragraph (2)(d) to mandate the imposition of consecutive sentences for the qualifying felonies. See Sousa II, 903 So.2d at 927

. Rather, we have repeatedly deferred to the trial judge's discretion wherever the Legislature has not explicitly subjugated it. See State v. Thomas, 487 So.2d 1043, 1044 (Fla.1986). Before the statute was amended in 1999, this Court expressly addressed the issue of whether trial courts were legally permitted to impose consecutive mandatory minimum sentences for multiple firearm offenses that occurred during a single criminal episode. Beginning with Palmer v. State, 438 So.2d 1 (Fla.1983), we opined that it was not the Legislature's intention for a defendant to serve consecutive three-year mandatory minimum sentences for possessing a firearm while robbing multiple victims at the same time. Id. at 3. It was noted, however, that "[b]y this holding, we do not prohibit the imposition of multiple concurrent three-year minimum mandatory sentences upon conviction of separate offenses included under subsection 775.087(2)." Id. at 4 (emphasis omitted).

We later refused to extend Palmer's prohibition against consecutive sentencing to cases in which the defendant shoots at multiple victims, based upon our belief "that the legislature intended that the trial court have discretion to impose consecutively or concurrently the mandatory minimum time to be served." Thomas, 487 So.2d at 1044

. In Thomas, for example, Thomas shot a woman numerous times and also shot at the woman's son during the same encounter. Because the record presented evidence of "two separate and distinct offenses involving two separate and distinct victims," we upheld the...

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