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Vansmith v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

May 10, 2018

Charles Vansmith, Petitioner,
v.
State of Florida, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

         Petition for Writ of Certiorari - Original Jurisdiction.

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Marcia M. Perlin, Assistant Public Defender, Tallahassee, for Petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Steven Woods, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Respondent.

          Roberts, J.

         The petitioner, Charles Vansmith, petitions this Court for a writ of certiorari. The petitioner argues that the trial court departed from the essential elements of law by using section 775.021(4)(a), Florida Statutes (2017), to determine that it still had jurisdiction to keep him placed in a secure residential facility based on section 916.303(3), Florida Statutes (2017). We find that the trial court did not depart from the essential elements of law and deny the petition.

         On June 5, 1996, the State charged the petitioner with having committed two counts of lewd and lascivious acts in the presence of a child on March 4, 1996. On July 17, 1996, the petitioner was adjudged incompetent to proceed due to an intellectual disability. On January 5, 2005, the petitioner was committed to a secure residential facility, and the criminal charges against him were dropped. At some point, the petitioner filed a motion with the trial court to terminate jurisdiction. The petitioner argued that each of his prior charges had a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison and he had been placed in a secure residential facility for more than fifteen years. The petitioner argued that the trial court only had jurisdiction for fifteen years based on section 916.303(3). The trial court denied the motion finding that it had jurisdiction for thirty years based on the court's ability to structure sentences consecutively in accordance with section 775.021(4)(a), which prompted the petitioner to file the instant petition for writ of certiorari.

         Certiorari is generally the proper procedural mechanism for seeking review of an order that involuntarily commits a person. Dep't of Children & Families v. Ramos, 82 So.3d 1121, 1122 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012); Woods v. State, 969 So.2d 408, 409 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007). Certiorari review is only available when the petitioner shows that the order under review (1) constitutes a departure from the essential elements of law and (2) results in a material injury for the remainder of the case, and (3) the harm cannot be remedied on appeal. City of Freeport v. Beach Cmty. Bank, 108 So.3d 684, 687 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). The second and third prongs are what provide this Court with jurisdiction, so those elements must be analyzed first. Id.

         Because the petitioner's liberty interests are at stake, this Court has jurisdiction. Certiorari jurisdiction also lies when a petitioner alleges that a trial court has acted in excess of its jurisdiction. Dep't of Children & Families v. Carmona, 159 So.3d 165, 166 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015).

         The petitioner's argument is predicated on the language contained in section 916.303(3). When interpreting statutes, courts focus on legislative intent. Crews v. State, 183 So.3d 329, 332 (Fla. 2015). To discern legislative intent, a court first applies the plain and obvious meaning of the statutory text. Id. If the language provides a clear and unambiguous meaning, then the court will apply that meaning without resorting to the rules of statutory construction. Gaulden v. State, 195 So.3d 1123, 1125 (Fla. 2016). An ambiguity exists when reasonable people can find different meanings in the same language. Fla. Dep't of Transp. v. Clipper Bay Invs., LLC, 160 So.3d 858, 862 (Fla. 2015). When there is an ambiguity, a court may look to the cannons of statutory interpretation and construction. Anderson v. State, 87 So.3d 774, 777 (Fla. 2012).

         Section 916.303(3), states in relevant part:

A defendant's placement in a secure facility may not exceed the maximum sentence for the crime for which the defendant was charged.

         The phrase "maximum sentence" is not defined in chapter 916. The phrase "maximum sentence" also means "maximum sentences" based on section 1.01(1), Florida Statutes (2017). Based on the plain language of the relevant portion of section 916.303(3), one could interpret the phrase "maximum sentence(s)" in two different ways. One interpretation is the maximum sentence a defendant could receive for each individual crime charged, and the other interpretation is the maximum allowable sentence based on a trial court's sentencing structure. Since the relevant portion of section 916.303(3) is ambiguous, this Court resorts to the rules of statutory interpretation and construction.

         The legislative intent for chapter 916 is stated in section 916.105, Florida Statutes (2017). The language contained in this section has remained relatively unchanged since it was enacted, with the exception of the enactment of subsection (4), which was added in 2006. See § 916.105, Fla. Stat. (1985-2017). Based on the stated legislative intent, it appears the Legislature was attempting to balance the rights and needs of the individuals with the need to protect society. The Legislature found the need to protect society so important that it made an escape or an attempted escape from a secure facility a second-degree felony when it enacted this section. See ยง 916.175, Fla. Stat. (1985). In 2006, the Legislature amended section ...


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