Florida Court Explains Independent Act Doctrine

Criminal cases involving multiple defendants can be complicated. When defendants conspire to commit a crime, what crime each defendant is charged with depends on the original intent of the defendants, and whether the crimes ultimately committed fell within the scope of the initial plan. Under Florida law, the independent act doctrine allows a co-conspirator to avoid conviction for a crime if it was not foreseeable under the original plan.

In a recent case arising in a Florida Court of Appeals, the court explained when an instruction on the independent act doctrine is appropriate.  If you live in Clearwater and are facing criminal charges, you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and what defenses you may be able to set forth.

 Trial Testimony

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with first-degree felony murder and armed burglary. During the trial, the state presented evidence the defendant and three other individuals went to the victim’s apartment, with the intent to rob the victim. While he was in the victim’s apartment, the defendant took the victim into a room and threatened to kill the victim’s fiancé if the victim did not tell the defendant where drugs where hidden. Additionally, the defendant hit the victim in the head with a gun. The defendant subsequently told the victim’s fiancé he was going to kidnap the victim for ransom. The victim was forced into the trunk of his car which was driven from the scene by one of the defendant’s co-conspirators. The victim subsequently escaped from the trunk and was shot and killed by one of the defendant’s co-conspirators.

Allegedly, the defendant’s attorney requested the jury receive an instruction on the independent act doctrine, but the court denied his request. The defendant was convicted of the crimes with which he was charged and sentenced to concurrent life sentences. He subsequently appealed his conviction, arguing the court abused its discretion in rejecting his request for a jury instruction on the independent act doctrine.

The Independent Act Doctrine

On appeal, the court explained that the independent act doctrine is relevant when one co-felon who engaged in a common plan does not partake in acts committed by his or her co-felon that fall outside of the originally agreed upon plan. The court held that a jury instruction on the independent act doctrine is only called for when the actions of the co-felon that fall outside of the original plan are not predictable based on the actions taken by the co-conspirators. Thus, in cases where a defendant partakes in a felony and a victim is subsequently murdered during the act, an independent act instruction is not appropriate. The court was not persuaded by the defendant’s argument that an independent act instruction was warranted because they only agreed to rob and kidnap the victim, finding that the victim’s murder was foreseeable under the facts surrounding the kidnapping. As such, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a Clearwater resident charged with a crime, you should meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assess the facts of your case and assist you in formulating a defense.  William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will work diligently to help you seek a favorable result under the circumstances of your case. Call our offices at 727-897-5413 or contact us through the online form to schedule a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court of Appeals Affirms Eyewitness Testimony is Sufficient Evidence to Support a Conviction for a Crime November 26, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Murder Conviction Upheld by Florida Appeals Court September 25, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Florida Tax Fraudster’s Plea Deal Means 30 Months in Prison December 11, 2017, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Contact Information