Florida Court Holds a Defendant Convicted of Crime of Violence May be Entitled to Have His Sentence Re-Evaluated Due to Recent Case Rulings

If you are convicted of a crime, that does not necessarily mean you can no longer appeal your conviction or sentence. If subsequent rulings determine that a law or method used to evaluate your guilt is unconstitutional, your conviction may be overturned or your sentence may be reduced.

For example, in a recent case, a Florida Court of Appeals held that a defendant convicted of crimes of violence may be entitled to have a jury re-evaluate his sentencing due to recent case law that determined the method previously used to evaluate crimes of violence for purposes of enhanced sentencing was unconstitutionally vague. If you are a Clearwater resident charged with a crime you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to determine how previous convictions may affect your case.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Subsequent Appeal

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with and convicted of multiple crimes, including knowingly carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which permitted enhanced penalties for defendants with prior convictions. The defendant’s total sentence was 335 months in prison, which included 120 months for the section 924 charge. Shortly after the defendant was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court determined in Johnson v. United States that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was void due to vagueness. The defendant subsequently moved to vacate his sentence for the section 924 violation, arguing that his conviction was invalid under Johnson. The court denied his motion, holding that Johnson did not render section 924 unconstitutional. The defendant appealed.

Evaluation of Crimes of Violence Under the State and Federal Residual Clauses

On appeal, the court noted that the residual clause of the ACCA defines a crime as a felony if it involved conduct presenting a serious risk of physical harm to another person. Similar to the ACCA, section 924’s residual clause defines a crime of violence as a felony that involves a substantial risk of physical force against another person. The court noted that the ACCA residual clause was determined to be unconstitutionally vague because it required courts to engage a categorical approach to determine whether an act constituted a crime of violence. This approach forced courts to assess whether a crime constituted an act of violence crimes based solely on the elements of the offense and not the suspect’s behavior in allegedly committing the offense. Additionally, courts were required to weigh the amount of risk required to qualify as a felony.

Prior to Johnson, the Florida Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals also used the categorical approach to determine if a crime was a crime of violence. In light of Johnson, however, the court ruled in Ovalles v. United States, that the categorical-based approach was problematic due to its vagueness and adopted a conduct-based approach. This approach requires an assessment of whether a defendant’s conduct involved an actual substantial risk of force, rather than a theoretical risk. The court held that based on Ovalles ruling, the defendant in Burke may be entitled to have a jury assess whether the crimes he allegedly committed constituted crimes of violence based on his actions. As such, the court reversed the trial court’s denial of his motion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Schedule a Consultation with a Skilled Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a Clearwater resident who was previously convicted of a crime and are currently facing criminal charges, it is essential to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who will work diligently to help you retain your rights. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will assess the facts of your cases to help you set forth a strong defense. Contact our offices at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court in Florida Reverses Murder Conviction Based on Self-Defense Jury Instruction October 16, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Juvenile’s Robbery Conviction is Reversed by Florida Appeals Court October 9, 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

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