Details matter. In Florida criminal cases, the difference between being charged with one crime over another can have a big impact on whether a criminal defendant is ultimately convicted and on how much time he or she may eventually have to spend behind bars. In Tuttle v. State, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals takes on what may at first seem like a technical dispute over legal intricacies. But it is exactly these kind of issues that can make or break a case.
Mr. Tuttle was charged with second degree murder, armed burglary and attempted home invasion stemming from a tragic, fatal incident in which two men who were armed and wearing masks entered a Florida home and shot one of the residents after demanding money and drugs. The victim’s girlfriend was able to positively identify Tuttle as one of those men, according to the Court. A jury found Tuttle guilty of manslaughter with a firearm as well as armed burglary and attempted home invasion robbery.
Following trial, both Tuttle and the State agreed that he couldn’t be found guilty on both the armed burglary and attempted home invasion because of the so-called “double jeopardy” rule, which generally provides that a person cannot be charged twice for the same crime. Section 775.021(a)(4), Florida Statutes states that a person charged with a crime 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 or information.
The parties disputed, however, which of the two convictions should be dropped as the “lesser offense.” The State ultimately convinced the trial judge that the home invasion robbery verdict should be overturned because it carried a lesser prison sentence than the armed burglary conviction. The Second District disagreed on appeal.
“[L]esser offenses are those in which the elements of the lesser offense are always subsumed within the greater, without regard to the charging document or evidence at trial,” the Court explained, quoting the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Pizzo v. State. In other words, courts are required to focus on the statutory elements – the specific points that need to be proved – of the crimes at issue to determine which is the lesser offense.
Home invasion robbery occurs when a person: 1) enters a home with the intent to commit a robbery and 2) commits the robbery. Burglary, on the other hand, occurs when a person enters or remains in a home with the intent to commit a crime. Thus, the Court said home burglary was essentially an aggravated version of home invasion robbery because it involved entering a home with the intent to commit a robbery. Indeed, the Court said it already previously decided that burglary was a lesser offense than burglary in a 2008 case.
As a result, the Court vacated the armed burglary conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to resentence him on the burglary conviction.
The double jeopardy rule is just one of the potential defenses available 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 region, fighting aggressively to defend our clients’ rights and achieve the best possible outcome. Our team of attorneys, investigators and support experts are fully capable of handling all aspects of your case.
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