Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

February 22, 2018

RODRICK D. 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 Great Public Importance Fifth District - Case No. 5D16-1348 (St. Johns County)

          Valarie Linnen, Atlantic Beach, Florida, for Petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Wesley Heidt, Bureau Chief, and Pamela J. Koller, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, Florida, for Respondent.

          LABARGA, C.J.

         This case is before the Court for review of the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Williams v. State (Williams II), 211 So.3d 1070 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017). In its decision, the Fifth District ruled upon the following question certified to be of great public importance:

DOES ALLEYNE V. UNITED STATES, 570 U.S. 99, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013), REQUIRE THE JURY AND NOT THE TRIAL COURT TO MAKE THE FACTUAL FINDING UNDER SECTION 775.082(1)(b), FLORIDA STATUTES (2016), AS TO WHETHER A JUVENILE OFFENDER ACTUALLY KILLED, INTENDED TO KILL, OR ATTEMPTED TO KILL THE VICTIM?

Id. at 1073. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. For the reasons explained below, we hold that Alleyne requires a jury to make the factual finding, but conclude that Alleyne violations are subject to harmless error review. Where the error cannot be deemed harmless, the proper remedy is to resentence the juvenile offender pursuant to section 775.082(1)(b)2., Florida Statutes (2016).

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 19, 2013, a jury found Petitioner Rodrick D. Williams guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping. During the evening hours of April 26, 2010, and through the early morning hours of April 27, 2010, victim James Vincent Brookins was beaten and bound with duct tape at a "trap house"[1] in Jacksonville, then transported in the trunk of a vehicle to a rural road in St. Johns County, where he was shot twice. Two other individuals, Harry Henderson and Sharina Parker, were also involved in the death of Brookins. Williams and Parker were involved in a sexual relationship. Although Henderson and Parker were adults at the time of the murder, Williams was sixteen years old. The firearm used to commit the murder was never located.

         The predominant evidence offered during trial to connect Williams to the offenses included: (1) the police interrogation of Williams, during which his mother was present and Williams signed a Miranda[2] waiver; (2) a text message purportedly sent by Williams to Parker at 6:24 p.m. on April 26, in which Williams stated, "Bae thx killah[3] i cant talk cuz im round 2 many people but jus chill bae ima take care of yo problems jus give me the greenlight"; and (3) the testimony of a jailhouse informant.

         During the interrogation, Williams contended it was Henderson who shot Brookins. According to Williams, Parker called him between 2 and 3 p.m. on April 26-less than five hours before the text message was sent-and told him she had been robbed of marijuana by a relative of Brookins during a drug transaction, and Parker believed Brookins had "set her up." Williams asserted that Parker and Henderson brought Brookins to the trap house later that day in an attempt to force him to give them money or disclose the location of his safe, where Parker believed the stolen marijuana was stored. Parker subsequently picked up Williams and drove him to the trap house, where, upon entering the house, Williams saw "blood all over" and Brookins begging for his life. According to Williams, Henderson beat Brookins with a gun, and Henderson and Parker bound his arms and legs and covered his mouth with duct tape as Brookins screamed. Williams stated that while at the trap house, Parker told him she and Henderson planned to leave Brookins alive in the trunk of the vehicle.[4] Williams admitted he drove the vehicle with Brookins in the trunk to the rural road while Henderson and Parker rode in a separate vehicle. He stated that upon arriving, Henderson wiped down the vehicle used to transport Brookins, opened the trunk, and shot Brookins. Williams asserted that he only participated in the offenses because he feared he would be harmed if he refused.

         In contrast, during trial, the informant testified that while they were housed together at the St. Johns County jail, Williams admitted that he brought a gun to the trap house and shot Brookins. According to the informant, Williams stated he was involved in the plan to lure Brookins to the trap house on the pretense of having gold teeth created[5] and then force him to disclose the location of his safe. Coincidentally, prior to his interactions with Williams, the informant was housed with codefendant Henderson at the St. Johns County jail. The informant testified on cross-examination that Henderson assisted him by filing a motion on his behalf with respect to a drug-related charge and, as a result of Henderson's assistance, the charge was dropped. However, the informant testified that Henderson never spoke with him about the Brookins homicide.

         The jury was instructed on both first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder with robbery, attempted robbery, kidnapping, and attempted kidnapping as the underlying felonies; however, the verdict form did not require the jury to specify the theory upon which it found Williams guilty of first-degree murder. Upon conviction, the trial court sentenced Williams to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole in twenty-five years for the murder. The court relied upon Horsley v. State (Horsley I), 121 So.3d 1130 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), quashed, 160 So.3d 393 (Fla. 2015), in which the Fifth District Court of Appeal addressed the implications of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), for Florida sentencing law. See Williams v. State (Williams I), 171 So.3d 143, 144-45 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015). Because Miller determined "the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, " 567 U.S. at 479, the Fifth District in Horsley I held that in Florida, the only sentence available for a juvenile offender convicted of capital murder was life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years. Williams I, 171 So.3d at 144.

         On appeal, the Fifth District affirmed Williams's convictions but reversed his sentence with respect to the murder conviction. Id. The district court recognized that while the trial court properly relied on Horsley I when it imposed the sentence, this Court subsequently granted review of Horsley I based upon a certified question. Id. at 144-45. In Horsley v. State (Horsley II), 160 So.3d 393 (Fla. 2015), we held the appropriate remedy for juveniles whose sentences are unconstitutional under Miller is to resentence them in conformance with chapter 2014-220, Laws of Florida. See Williams I, 171 So.3d at 144. Chapter 2014-220 was enacted to bring Florida juvenile sentencing law into compliance with United States Supreme Court Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. See Horsley II, 160 So.3d at 394. It amended section 775.082(1), Florida Statutes, to provide, in pertinent part:

(b)1. A person who actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim and who is convicted under s. 782.04 of a capital felony, or an offense that was reclassified as a capital felony, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age shall be punished by a term of imprisonment for life if, after a sentencing hearing conducted by the court in accordance with s. 921.1401, the court finds that life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence. If the court finds that life imprisonment is not an appropriate sentence, such person shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of at least 40 years. A person sentenced pursuant to this subparagraph is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(a).
2. A person who did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim and who is convicted under s. 782.04 of a capital felony, or an offense that was reclassified as a capital felony, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age may be punished by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of years equal to life if, after a sentencing hearing conducted by the court in accordance with s. 921.1401, the court finds that life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence. A person who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 15 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(c).

Ch. 2014-220, § 1, Laws of Fla. The session law also created section 921.1402, Florida Statutes (2017), which provides, in pertinent part:

(2)(a) A juvenile offender sentenced under s. 775.082(1)(b)1. is entitled to a review of his or her sentence after 25 years [unless the juvenile offender has been previously convicted of certain enumerated offenses that were part of a separate criminal transaction or episode].
. . . .
(c) A juvenile offender sentenced to a term of more than 15 years under s. 775.082(1)(b)2., s. 775.082(3)(a)5.b., or s. 775.082(3)(b)2.b. is entitled to a review of his or her sentence after 15 years.

Ch. 2014-220, § 3, Laws of Fla.

         The Fifth District in Williams I instructed the trial court as follows:

On remand, the trial court shall hold an individualized sentencing hearing . . . to consider the enumerated and other pertinent factors "relevant to the offense and [Williams's] youth and attendant circumstances." Ch. 2014-220, § 2, Laws of Fla. Because the jury did not find that Williams actually possessed and discharged a firearm during the crime, the court must make a written finding as to whether Williams killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Ch. 2014-220, § 1, Laws of Fla. Based on that determination, after holding the individualized hearing, the trial court may sentence Williams to life imprisonment if it finds that life is an appropriate sentence. Id. If the trial court determines that life is not an appropriate sentence, then it should sentence Williams to a term of at least forty years' imprisonment. Id. Either way, unless Williams has a prior conviction of a felony enumerated in section three of chapter 2014-220, Laws of Florida, arising out of a separate criminal transaction or episode, he will receive a judicial review of his sentence after fifteen or twenty-five years, depending on the court's determination. See ch. 2014-220, § 3, Laws of Fla.

171 So.3d at 145 (second alteration in original).

         On September 30, 2015, Williams filed with the trial court a Motion to Empanel Jury. Williams asserted that because the finding that a juvenile offender actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim leads to a minimum forty-year sentence with a sentence review after twenty-five years-whereas a finding that the offender did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim results in there being no minimum sentence and a sentence review after fifteen years-Alleyne requires that this factual determination be made by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court denied the motion on the basis that it had been directed by the Fifth District to make the finding.

         After a hearing, the trial court found that Williams both actually killed and intended to kill Brookins. The court subsequently held a resentencing hearing on the first-degree murder conviction pursuant to section 921.1401, Florida Statutes (2016), and again sentenced Williams to life imprisonment, but with a sentence review in twenty-five years, as required by section 921.1402(2)(a), Florida Statutes (2016).

         On appeal, Williams challenged the trial court's denial of his Motion to Empanel Jury. Williams II, 211 So.3d at 1071. The Fifth District held that the trial court properly denied the motion, but noted that the Alleyne challenge appeared to have merit on the basis that the finding "increases both the mandatory-minimum from zero years to forty years-if the sentencing court determines that life is not an appropriate sentence-and the time for a sentence review hearing from fifteen years to twenty-five years." Id. at 1072-73. However, the Fifth District explained that in Falcon v. State, 162 So.3d 954 (Fla. 2015), this Court stated the trial court was to make the finding of whether the defendant actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Id. at 1073.[6] As a result, the Fifth District certified the question now before this Court as one of great public importance.

         ANALYSIS

         Alleyne v. United States

         In Alleyne, the defendant (Alleyne) was charged with using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, as well as other federal offenses, arising from the robbery of a store manager. 570 U.S. at 103. The applicable statute provided that anyone who uses or carries a firearm in relation to a crime of violence shall be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison. Id. However, if the firearm is brandished, the statute mandated a minimum sentence of seven years' incarceration. Id. at 104. The jury convicted Alleyne and indicated on the verdict form that he used or carried a firearm; however, the jury did not indicate a finding that the firearm was brandished. Id. The trial court found that the evidence supported a finding of brandishing and imposed a seven-year sentence on this count. Id. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Id.

         On certiorari review, the United States Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit's judgment with respect to the sentence on the count of using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and remanded for resentencing. Id. at 117-18. The Supreme Court held that any fact that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for an offense is an "element" which must be submitted to a jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 108. In reaching this holding, the Supreme Court relied upon Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), in which it held that any fact that increases the statutory maximum sentence is an "element" of the offense to be found by a jury. Alleyne, 570 U.S. at 106; see also Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490 ("Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.").

         The Supreme Court explained that "Apprendi's definition of 'elements' necessarily includes not only facts that increase the ceiling, but also those that increase the floor. Both kinds of facts alter the prescribed range of sentences to which a defendant is exposed and do so in a manner that aggravates the punishment." Alleyne, 570 U.S. at 108. The Court further stated:

[I]t is impossible to dispute that facts increasing the legally prescribed floor aggravate the punishment. Elevating the low end of a sentencing range heightens the loss of liberty associated with the crime: the defendant's “expected punishment has increased as a result of the narrowed range” and “the prosecution is empowered, by invoking the mandatory minimum, to require the judge to impose a higher punishment than he might wish.” Apprendi, supra, at 522, 120 S.Ct. 2348 (THOMAS, J., concurring). Why else would Congress link an increased mandatory minimum to a particular aggravating fact other than to heighten the consequences for that behavior? This reality demonstrates that the core crime and the fact triggering the mandatory minimum sentence together constitute a new, aggravated crime, each element of which must be submitted to the jury. [n.2]
[N.2.] Juries must find any facts that increase either the statutory maximum or minimum because the Sixth Amendment applies where a finding of fact both alters the legally prescribed range and does so in a way that aggravates the penalty. Importantly, this is distinct from factfinding used to guide judicial discretion in selecting a punishment "within limits fixed by law." Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 246 (1949). While such findings of fact may lead judges to select sentences that are more severe than the ones they would have selected without those facts, the Sixth Amendment does not govern that element of sentencing.

Id. at 113 (citations omitted).

         The Supreme Court rejected the contention that, because the seven-year sentence could have been imposed without the finding of brandishing, the Sixth ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.