FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal -
Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions First District - Case
No. 1D15-5716 (Alachua County)
J. Carbone, III, Eakin & Sneed, Atlantic Beach, Florida,
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Trisha Meggs Pate, Bureau Chief,
and Michael McDermott, Assistant Attorney General,
Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent.
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.
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- 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.
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.§ 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
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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