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Dean v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

August 31, 2017

CHRISTOPHER DEAN, 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 - Certified Great Public Importance Fourth District - Case No. 4D14-681 (Palm Beach County)

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Paul Edward Petillo, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Petitioner

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Celia Terenzio, Bureau Chief, and Melanie Dale Surber, Senior Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Respondent

          PER CURIAM.

         This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Dean v. State, 199 So.3d 932 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016). In its decision, the district court ruled upon the following question, which it subsequently certified to be of great public importance:[1]

IS MANSLAUGHTER A CATEGORY ONE LESSER INCLUDED OFFENSE OF SECOND-DEGREE FELONY MURDER?

Id. at 934-36; Dean v. State, 193 So.3d 1108, 1108 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016) (granting motion for certification). For the reasons expressed below, we answer the certified question in the affirmative.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following a jury trial in February 2014, Christopher Dean was convicted as charged of second-degree felony murder and burglary. The trial court designated Dean a prison releasee reoffender (PRR) and sentenced him to life for the murder and 15 years for the burglary. The murder victim in this case, Eric Flint, committed the burglary along with Dean. Flint was killed by one of the burglary victims during a high-speed car chase that ensued as Dean and Flint fled from the scene of the burglary. At trial, the State's case against Dean was based on the following evidence.

         Phillondra Thompson and Gregory Marlow lived in a second-floor apartment just west of I-95 in Palm Beach County. On January 12, 2005, they came home for lunch and saw an unfamiliar white Nissan Maxima in the parking lot with the engine running and no one inside. They discovered the door to their apartment open, so Marlow checked to see if someone was inside, and Thompson went downstairs to call 911. Marlow then went around to the back of the apartment building to see if someone was on their balcony. At that point, Thompson saw Dean coming down the stairs from the apartment carrying a green plastic bin. Dean put the bin inside the Maxima and quickly drove away. Marlow then jumped into his SUV and followed Dean. Shortly thereafter, Thompson saw Flint walk down the stairs from her apartment. Flint jumped over the fence separating the apartment complex from the road and walked through the hedges towards I-95.

         Marlow continued to pursue Dean at a high rate of speed, eventually following him onto I-95. Dean was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, and Marlow tried to keep up. As Marlow was driving, he called 911, and the operator advised him to stop pursuing Dean, but he did not. When Dean abruptly pulled off onto the right side of the interstate, Marlow continued following fast behind him. At that point, Marlow saw Flint come through the hedges and run towards the Maxima. Flint also saw Marlow and then he reached for something in his waistband. Believing that Flint was reaching for a gun, Marlow ducked inside his vehicle, which continued moving forward, striking and killing Flint.

         After this evidence was presented to the jury, defense counsel requested that, in addition to the charged offense of second-degree felony murder, the jury be instructed on manslaughter as a lesser included offense. The State opposed the request, arguing that manslaughter was not a lesser included offense of second-degree felony murder. The trial court agreed and denied defense counsel's request. The jury was then given the standard instruction for second-degree felony murder.

         On appeal to the Fourth District, Dean argued that the trial court erred in denying his request for the manslaughter instruction because it is a necessarily lesser included offense of second-degree felony murder and, therefore, the trial court was required to give the instruction. Dean, 199 So.3d at 935. The Fourth District affirmed the trial court's ruling, citing its decision in Avila v. State, 745 So.2d 983 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999), in which it stated that " 'manslaughter is not a lesser-included offense' of 'second-degree felony murder.' " Id. (quoting Avila, 745 So.2d at 984). The Fourth District concluded that Avila had been correctly decided based on the following reasoning:

Reduced to its essence, manslaughter requires the commission of an act that directly causes the death of another. Second-degree felony murder, on the other hand, requires the commission of an enumerated felony, with the death occurring "during the perpetration of" the felony, caused by a person not engaged in the perpetration of the felony. Unlike manslaughter, for second-degree felony murder there is no direct casual [sic] connection between the death of the victim and an act of the defendant. Manslaughter is thus not "always subsumed" within second-degree felony murder, because the act that caused death is by definition committed by a person who had nothing to do with the commission of the underlying felony.

Id. (citations omitted). Thereafter, the Fourth District granted Dean's motion to certify the question of whether manslaughter is a necessarily lesser included offense of second-degree felony murder. Dean, 193 So.3d at 1108.

         On appeal to this Court, Dean raises three issues in addition to the certified question: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the defense's cross-examination of a key witness; (2) whether the trial court properly controlled the content of both the State's and the defense's closing arguments; and (3) whether his PRR sentences are supported by the evidence in the record and whether they are unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment. Below, we address the certified question and whether Dean's PRR sentences are supported by the record. We reject the remaining issues without further comment.

         II. CERTIFIED QUESTION

         Dean argues that we should answer the certified question in the affirmative because the elements of manslaughter are subsumed within the elements of second-degree felony murder.[2] We agree.

         The second-degree felony murder statute provides:

When a person is killed in the perpetration of, or in the attempt to perpetrate, any [enumerated felony] by a person other than the person engaged in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate such felony, the person perpetrating or attempting to ...

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