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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

December 21, 2017

TYRONE WILLIAMS, 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 Direct Conflict of Decisions First District - Case No. 1D15-5716 (Alachua County)

          Rocco J. Carbone, III, Eakin & Sneed, Atlantic Beach, Florida, for Petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Trisha Meggs Pate, Bureau Chief, and Michael McDermott, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent.

          CANADY, J.

         In this case we examine section 794.0115, Florida Statutes (2009)-also known as Florida's "Dangerous Sexual Felony Offender Act" (the "DSFO Act")- which imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for certain sexual crimes committed under certain circumstances. Specifically, we consider whether the DSFO Act's mandatory minimum sentencing term of "25 years imprisonment up to, and including, life imprisonment" provides trial courts with the discretion to impose a mandatory minimum of life imprisonment irrespective of the statutory maximum for the crime. § 794.0115(2), Fla. Stat. (2009). We have for review Williams v. State, 189 So.3d 288 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), in which the First District Court of Appeal held that the DSFO Act authorizes a mandatory minimum life sentence regardless of the statutory maximum for the crime. In so holding, the First District certified conflict with Wilkerson v. State, 143 So.3d 462 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014), in which the Fifth District Court of Appeal concluded that when the statutory maximum for a particular crime is less than twenty-five years, the DSFO Act authorizes a trial court to impose only a mandatory minimum term of twenty-five years' imprisonment. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

         Both parties agree-as do we-that this case is controlled by this Court's decision in Mendenhall v. State, 48 So.3d 740 (Fla. 2010). In Mendenhall, we concluded that a very similar mandatory "25 to life" provision in section 775.087, Florida Statutes (2004)-also known as Florida's "10-20-Life" statute[1]- authorized the trial court "to impose a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years to life, even if that mandatory minimum exceeds the statutory maximum provided for in section 775.082." Id. at 742. As explained below, we decline Williams's invitation to recede from Mendenhall. Accordingly, we approve the First District's decision in Williams. We also disapprove the Fifth District's decision in the conflict case of Wilkerson to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner, Tyrone Williams, was convicted of sexual battery by use of force not likely to cause serious personal injury. Under Florida law, that crime is a second-degree felony generally punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years. See §§ 794.011(5), 775.082(3)(c), Fla. Stat. (2009). But because Williams had been designated as a "dangerous sexual felony offender, " he was subject to the mandatory sentencing provisions under the DSFO Act.[2]§ 794.0115, Fla. Stat. (2009). The trial court sentenced Williams to a mandatory minimum life sentence. Williams appealed, and the First District affirmed. See Williams v. State, 83 So.3d 1001 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012).

         Williams subsequently filed a postconviction Motion to Correct Sentence with the trial court under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a), contending that the mandatory minimum life sentence was unlawful. Specifically, Williams argued that the trial court was not authorized to impose any sentence under the DSFO Act other than a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years. In denying Williams's motion, the trial court principally relied on two subsections of the DSFO Act-subsections (2) and (6).

         Section 794.0115(2) sets forth the enumerated crimes covered by the DSFO Act and contains the mandatory minimum sentencing provision itself. Under section 794.0115(2), an offender convicted of one of the referenced crimes and meeting certain other conditions "is a dangerous sexual felony offender, who must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years imprisonment up to, and including, life imprisonment." § 794.0115(2), Fla. Stat. (2009).

         Section 794.0115(6) addresses the DSFO Act's mandatory minimum sentencing provision as it relates to Florida's general statutory sentencing maximums:

(6) Notwithstanding s. 775.082(3), chapter 958, any other law, or any interpretation or construction thereof, a person subject to sentencing under this section must be sentenced to the mandatory term of imprisonment provided under this section. If the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment imposed under this section exceeds the maximum sentence authorized under s. 775.082, s. 775.084, or chapter 921, the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment under this section must be imposed. If the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment under this section is less than the sentence that could be imposed under s. 775.082, s. 775.084, or chapter 921, the sentence imposed must include the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment under this section.

§ 794.0115(6), Fla. Stat. (2009). This mandatory minimum precludes eligibility for discretionary early release (including gain-time), other than pardon, executive clemency, or conditional medical release. § 794.0115(7), Fla. Stat. (2009).

         The trial court concluded that Williams's mandatory minimum life sentence was appropriate because the plain language of section 794.0115(2) "does not reflect any restriction on the length of the mandatory minimum that can be imposed under it, other than stating it must be between 25 years and life imprisonment, " and because the plain language of section 794.0115(6) provides that the mandatory minimum term must be imposed if the mandatory minimum exceeds the statutory maximum for the crime-which it did in this case.

         In reaching its conclusion, the trial court dismissed the Fifth District's decision in Wilkerson on the basis that it "provides no analysis of how it reached its conclusion that a trial court cannot impose more than a 25-year mandatory minimum on a second-degree felony." The trial court also relied on Flowers v. State, 69 So.3d 1042, 1044 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), in which the First District concluded that the "25 to life" provision in Florida's 10-20-Life statute permitted a trial court to impose a mandatory minimum life sentence for a second-degree felony. The trial court noted that Flowers reached its decision by applying this Court's decision in Mendenhall. And the trial court ultimately concluded that the same analysis in Flowers and Mendenhall should apply when analyzing the DSFO Act.[3]

         Williams appealed the trial court's denial of his Motion to Correct Sentence. On appeal, the First District upheld the trial court's sentence, holding that the DSFO Act provides the trial court with discretion to impose a mandatory minimum life sentence regardless of the statutory maximum for the charged offense. Williams, 189 So.3d at 290. As did the trial court, the First District relied on the plain language of section 794.0115 and on the district court's previous decision in Flowers. Id. at 289-90.

         As to the plain language of the DSFO Act, the First District noted that under section 794.0115(2) and section 794.0115(6), a designated sexual felony offender "must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years imprisonment up to, and including, life imprisonment, " and the minimum sentence must be imposed whenever that minimum exceeds the statutory maximum otherwise provided by Florida law. Id. at 289 (quoting § 794.0115(2), Fla. Stat. (2009)). And according to the First District, that mandatory minimum allows for any term between twenty-five years and life. Id. at 289-90.

         The First District also relied on its previous decision in Flowers, which held that the "25 to life" provision in the 10-20-Life statute authorized any mandatory minimum term between twenty-five years and life for a second-degree felony. Id. at 290. Unlike the trial court, however, the First District did not mention the fact that Flowers reached its decision by applying Mendenhall.

         In upholding Williams's sentence, the First District disagreed with the Fifth District's conclusion in Wilkerson that the plain language of the DSFO Act authorized only a twenty-five-year mandatory minimum when the underlying crime had a fifteen-year statutory maximum. Id. at 289. The First District determined that "the plain language of section 794.0115" instead supported the conclusion that the "minimum mandatory sentence" is "any term between twenty-five ...


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