Florida Court Explains Legally Inconsistent Verdicts in Criminal Matters

Under Florida law, the State can charge a defendant with felony murder if a person dies during the defendant’s commission of a felony offense. A conviction for a felony is an essential element of felony murder, and if the State cannot establish the defendant committed a felony crime, the defendant should not be found guilty of felony murder. As demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling, though, they may be found guilty of other murder offenses. If you are charged with murder or any other violent crime, it is smart to speak to a Clearwater violent crime defense attorney about your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the State indicted the defendant for first-degree murder with a firearm and robbery with a firearm or deadly weapon. The jury found the defendant guilty on the first-degree murder charge, with special findings related to firearm possession and discharge resulting in the victim’s death. On the robbery charge, the jury convicted the defendant of the lesser offense of petit theft.

Allegedly, the court sentenced him to life in prison for the murder charge and time served for the robbery charge. The defendant appealed his first-degree murder conviction, arguing that it was based on a legally inadequate legal theory.

Demonstrating Legally Inconsistent Verdicts

On appeal, the defendant argued that the State presented two alternative theories of first-degree murder: premeditated murder and felony murder based on the commission of a robbery. He was charged separately for the underlying offense of robbery but was only convicted of the lesser offense of petit theft, a misdemeanor. Because the general verdict does not specify which theory of first-degree murder the jury relied on, the defendant argued that the jury may have incorrectly thought that he could be convicted of felony murder based on the commission of a theft.

The court disagreed and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The court noted that true inconsistent verdicts on legally interlocking charges could be reversible errors. Such inconsistency arises when the acquittal of one charge negates an element of another, for instance, convictions for lesser included misdemeanors of a separately charged underlying felony can negate the essential felony element in felony murder. The defendant failed to preserve the issue, though, and could not demonstrate a fundamental error.

The court emphasized that the defendant sought to challenge the validity of the conviction rather than sentencing errors. To establish fundamental error, the defendant needed to show a denial of due process resulting in prejudice. In the subject case, evidence supported two valid alternative theories: premeditated murder and felony murder during an attempted robbery. The court pointed out the absence of instructions or arguments suggesting felony murder based on theft and concluded that the defendant failed to meet the burden of proving fundamental error. As such, it upheld the defendant’s conviction.

Talk to a Dedicated Clearwater Attorney

Convictions for felony murder and other violent crimes can result in lengthy prison sentences, but if the State cannot prove each element of the charged offense, it should not be able to obtain a guilty verdict. If you are charged with a violent offense, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney. The dedicated Clearwater violent crime defense attorneys of Hanlon Law can assess the facts of your case and inform you of your options for seeking a good outcome. You can contact Hanlon Law by using our online form or by calling us at 727-897-5413 to set up a meeting.

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