Florida Battery Case Poses Double Jeopardy Question - Green v. Florida

March 7, 2012

Alex Trebek fans may know "double jeopardy" as a way for sharp contestants to earn big bucks on game show television. But the term has a different and very significant meaning in the Florida criminal law context.

260445_double_rainbow.jpgIn Green v. Florida, the state's First District Court of Appeals explains that the rule against double jeopardy prevents prosecutors from charging a criminal defendant with the same offense twice for the same act.

Donald Lee attacked another detainee at Duval County Jail in Jacksonville in April 2010, according to the Court. Following trial, a jury found Lee guilty on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon (section 784.045, Florida Statutes) and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon upon another detainee in a detention facility (section 784.082). Lee appealed the verdict, arguing that his convictions on both charges violate the prohibition against double jeopardy.

Generally, a person charged with a crime cannot be subjected to "double jeopardy"; that is, he or she can't be charged with the same criminal offense a second time after a conviction, acquittal or mistrial nor charged with the same offense twice in the same indictment. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment ("nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb"), the rule against double jeopardy is also codified under Florida Law. Section 775.021(a)(4), Florida Statutes states

Whoever, in the course of one criminal transaction or episode, commits an act or acts which constitute one or more separate criminal offenses, upon conviction and adjudication of guilt, shall be sentenced separately for each criminal offense; and the sentencing judge may order the sentences to be served concurrently or consecutively... [O]ffenses are separate if each offense requires proof of an element that the other does not...
In other words, a person can be charged with multiple offenses related to a single alleged criminal act, but cannot be charged with the same offense twice for one specific act.

In this case, the court ruled that the offenses of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon by one detainee upon another "are not separate criminal offenses," but instead "degree variants of the same offense." Although the latter charge requires one additional element of proof - that the battery take place in a detention facility - the court found that this simply "reclassifies the offense but does not create a separate crime." As a result, the court held that the convictions violate the rule against double jeopardy. The court upheld the aggravated battery with a deadly weapon by one detainee upon another conviction and remanded the case so that the other conviction could be vacated.

Double jeopardy is one of the many legal protections afforded to a person charged with a crime in Florida. The South Florida criminal defense lawyers at Anidjar & Levine, P.A. handle a variety of criminal defense cases throughout the area. We can help assess your particular case, negotiate with the prosecution and aggressively defend your rights in court.

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Can Police Use Your Silence Against You? Supreme Court Decides not to Decide

Florida Supreme Court Explains Hearsay and the Fellow Officer Rule - State v. Bowers