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Desantis v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

March 21, 2018

JULIAN BROOK DESANTIS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; L.T. Case No. 502014CF008876A Glenn Kelley, Judge.

          Gregory Salnick of Law Offices of Salnick & Fuchs, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Melynda L. Melear, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          May, J.

         This appeal arises from a tragic accident resulting in the defendant's conviction and sentence for manslaughter, improper exhibition of a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a minor. He argues the trial court made multiple errors in admitting evidence, instructing the jury, and sentencing the defendant. We agree with him only on the sentencing issue. We reverse and remand the case for resentencing before a different judge.

         Law enforcement responded to the defendant's 911 call claiming a shooting had occurred. When the officers arrived, the victim was deceased. The defendant, who was 17 at the time, ultimately admitted that he accidentally shot the victim.

         At the police station, the defendant told the police that he and his friends were at his apartment playing with a 9mm handgun when he accidentally shot his friend. He confirmed that they had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. He appeared visibly shocked and shaken.

         The State charged the defendant by amended information with manslaughter with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm, and possession of a firearm by a minor. Prior to trial, the defendant moved for the court to consider sentencing him as a juvenile; the trial court denied the motion.

         The jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter, possession of a firearm by a minor, and the lesser included offense of improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon. The defendant then moved for a downward departure. The State asked for 20 years in prison.

         The trial court found there were reasons to depart from the guidelines, but chose not to exercise its discretion in departing. The court stated that a 20-year sentence was inappropriate as well. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 124.8 months in accordance with the sentencing guidelines.

         On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court fundamentally erred in failing to consider a youthful offender sentence based on its stated policy of not imposing youthful offender sanctions in death cases. The State responds that the trial court properly considered the facts and exercised its discretion in imposing an appropriate sentence.

         We apply a mixed two-part review when analyzing a downward departure sentence. Kovalsky v. State, 220 So.3d 1192, 1194 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017). In the first step, the trial court must determine whether it can depart, i.e., whether there is a valid legal ground and adequate factual support for that ground in the case pending before it. Id. In reviewing the first step, we must determine whether competent substantial evidence supports the trial court's ruling. Id.

         In the second step, the trial court must decide whether to depart, i.e., whether departure is indeed the best sentencing option. Id. This requires the trial court to weigh the totality of the circumstances, including aggravating and mitigating factors. Id. We review this decision for an abuse of discretion, which occurs ...


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