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Ramroop v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

March 30, 2017

GANGAPERSAD RAMROOP, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF FILED, DETERMINED.

         Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Direct Conflict of Decisions Fifth District - Case No. 5D14-1359 (Orange County)

          William R. Ponall of Ponall Law, Maitland, Florida, for Petitioner

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Wesley Heidt, Bureau Chief, and Andrea K. Totten, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, Florida, for Respondent

          PARIENTE, J.

         The conflict issue in this case is whether section 782.065, Florida Statutes (2013), [1] creates a substantive criminal offense of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer that includes as an essential element that the defendant knew that the victim was a law enforcement officer. In Ramroop v. State, 174 So.3d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that section 782.065, titled "Murder; law enforcement officer, correctional officer, correctional probation officer, " requires knowledge but is a reclassification statute that "in and of itself, is not a substantive crime." Id. at 598. Gangapersad Ramroop, who received two life sentences, including a mandatory life sentence for attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, seeks review of the Fifth District's decision on the ground that it expressly and directly conflicts with this Court's decisions in Wright v. State, 586 So.2d 1024 (Fla. 1991), and State v. Darst, 837 So.2d 394 (Fla. 2002), on whether the crime of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer constitutes a substantive criminal offense. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.

         The Fifth District correctly concluded that the jury instructions in Ramroop's trial were erroneous by not requiring the jury to find that Ramroop knew that the victim was a law enforcement officer because knowledge is an essential element of the crime defined by section 782.065. However, the Fifth District incorrectly determined that section 782.065 is a reclassification statute that does not create a separate substantive offense. We conclude that section 782.065 is a reclassification statute that creates a substantive offense and, therefore, the proper remedy for the erroneous jury instructions in Ramroop's case would have been to vacate both Ramroop's convictions-attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and first-degree felony murder of another victim, which was based on the attempted second-degree murder conviction-and remand for a new trial. Because the Fifth District incorrectly determined that section 782.065 does not create a separate substantive offense, it improperly remanded Ramroop's case for resentencing on the lesser-included offense of attempted second-degree murder instead of ordering a new trial. Id. at 599. In doing so, the Fifth District left intact the conviction of first-degree felony murder of a separate victim, for which a life sentence was also imposed. Id. Accordingly, we quash the Fifth District's decision to the extent that it held that section 782.065 does not create a substantive offense and remand with directions to order a new trial on the charges of attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and first-degree felony murder.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         The Fifth District explained the facts underlying Ramroop's convictions as follows:

During the early morning hours of July 4, 2013, several officers of the Orlando Police Department attempted to pull over Ramroop's vehicle for a traffic violation. A chase ensued, whereupon Ramroop ran several red lights, and allegedly shot at one of the officers involved in the pursuit, Officer Christopher Brillant. Ramroop ultimately struck another vehicle in an intersection, causing the death of the driver of that vehicle, Robert Charles John Hunter. Hunter was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, and his body was ejected from the vehicle onto the pavement. Ramroop was apprehended at the scene of the crash and subsequently charged by information with (1) attempted first-degree murder of an officer engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty and (2) knowingly discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1000 feet of a person. Ramroop was also separately indicted for first-degree murder of Hunter.

Ramroop, 174 So.3d at 587.

         A grand jury indicted Ramroop of first-degree murder for unlawfully killing Robert Charles John Hunter "while engaged in the perpetration of an attempt to murder [Officer Brillant] or while escaping from the immediate scene of an attempt[] to murder [Brillant]" in violation of section 782.04(1)(a)(2). Ramroop was separately charged by information with attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer in violation of sections 782.04(1)(a)(1), 777.04, 782.065, 775.087(1), 775.087(2), and 775.0823, Florida Statutes. The information alleged that the crime of attempted first-degree murder arose from a "premeditated design to effect the death of Christopher Brilliant [sic], attempt to murder Christopher Brilliant [sic], by shooting a gun at Christopher Brilliant [sic] thus creating in the mind of Christopher Brilliant [sic] a well founded fear that violence was about to take place, while Christopher Brilliant [sic], a law enforcement officer for the Orlando Police Department, was engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty; to-wit: enforcement of the traffic laws."

         At trial, the special verdict form as to the indictment listed the following offenses:

___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of First Degree Murder, as charged in the Indictment.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of the lesser included offense of Manslaughter.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, not guilty.

         The special verdict form as to Count 1 of the information listed the following offenses:

___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of Attempted First Degree Murder, as charged in the Information.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of the lesser included offense of Attempted Second Degree Murder.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of the lesser included offense of Attempted Voluntary Manslaughter.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of the lesser included offense of Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, guilty of the lesser included offense of Assault.
___ WE, THE JURY, find the Defendant, not guilty.

(Emphasis added.) The jury convicted Ramroop of the first-degree felony murder of Hunter and the lesser-included offense of attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, which served as the underlying felony for the conviction of first-degree felony murder.

         As to section 782.065, the verdict form reflects that the jury made a special finding "that [the victim] was at the time of the offense a police officer for the City of Orlando in the lawful execution of his legal duties." On appeal, the Fifth District found that "the jury instruction pertaining to the jury's special finding that the victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duties at the time of the offense failed to also require the jury to find that Ramroop had knowledge of the victim's status." Ramroop, 174 So.3d at 586. However, the Fifth District concluded that because section 782.065 is a reclassification statute that does not create a separate substantive offense, but rather "operates solely to reclassify . . . offenses committed against law enforcement officers, " reversing Ramroop's conviction of first-degree felony murder was unnecessary, and the proper remedy for the erroneous jury instructions was to vacate the jury's special finding and remand Ramroop's case for resentencing on the lesser-included offense of attempted second-degree murder without reclassification. Ramroop, 174 So.3d at 598-99.

         ANALYSIS

         The issue before us is whether section 782.065 creates a separate substantive offense. Because this is a pure question of law, our review is de novo. See Haygood v. State, 109 So.3d 735, 739 (Fla. 2013).

         The United States Supreme Court made clear in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees each criminal defendant the right "to 'a jury determination [of guilt on] every element of the crime with which he is charged, beyond a reasonable doubt.' " Id. at 476-77 (quoting United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 510 (1995)) (citations omitted). This principle guides our analysis.

          The text of section 782.065 states in full:

Murder; law enforcement officer, correctional officer, correctional probation officer.-Notwithstanding
ss. 775.082, 775.0823, 782.04, 782.051, and chapter 921, a defendant shall be sentenced to life imprisonment without eligibility for release upon findings by the trier of ...

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