If a jury is going to be expected to decide on whether a person is guilty or innocent in a Florida criminal case, it first has to first be properly instructed on the criminal offense with which the person is charged. A recent decision out of Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal in an attempted murder case is a good example of how critical jury instructions are in a criminal case.
Defendant was 17 years old when he was charged with the attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence, attempted robbery with a firearm, and aggravated assault with a firearm. Prosecutors alleged that Defendant was attempting to commit an armed robbery at an apartment complex when an officer patrolling the area noticed. Defendant, according to the prosecutors, fired his gun at the officer (but missed) when the officer intervened. He was later apprehended at a nearby convenience store.
He argued mistaken identity, claiming that he was not the person who committed the crimes. Defendant said he was visiting friends at the apartment complex when he got into an argument over a basketball game. He said he was surprised when the cops approached him at the convenience store. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial judge failed to inform the jury about an essential element of the attempted first degree murder of a law enforcement officer offense. Specifically, the judge didn’t tell the jury that it had to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was a law enforcement officer at the time of the offense. Although prosecutors agreed that the judge didn’t make that clear to the jury, they said Defendant waived his right to appeal the mistake because he didn’t object during trial.
The Fifth District disagreed.
Defendant, “like any defendant, has the right to have a court correctly and intelligently instruct the jury on the essential and material elements of the crime charged and required to be proven,” the court explained. “Jury instructions, however, are subject to the contemporaneous objection rule, and, absent an objection at trial, can be raised on appeal only if fundamental error occurred.”
Here, the court said Defendant challenged every element of the crime when he said the police had the wrong guy.
“The issue of whether [Defendant] knew that the victim of the attempted first-degree murder was a law enforcement officer remained a disputed element of the offense at trial, and the court’s failure to instruct on this essential element of the crime is fundamental error,” the court said.
As a result, the court reversed Defendant’s conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of crimes. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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