BRANDON S. HEGELE, Appellant,
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit,
Palm Beach County; Samantha Schosberg Feuer, Judge; L.T. Case
H. Malone of Steven H. Malone, P.A., West Palm Beach, for
B. Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Luke R.
Napodano, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for
Brandon Hegele, formerly a deputy sheriff with the Palm Beach
County Sheriff's Office, appeals from his conviction for
reckless driving causing serious bodily injury to another.
Hegele raises several issues on appeal, but we write to
address only his argument that the trial court improperly
instructed the jury that law enforcement officers are not
relieved from the duty to drive with "due regard"
for the safety of all persons. On that argument and all other
arguments raised, we affirm.
was on duty at the time of the crash in a marked patrol car.
In response to an earlier "be on the lookout"
(BOLO) alert, he was looking for a vehicle suspected of
involvement in a felony incident in another jurisdiction. At
the time of the collision, Hegele was traveling over 100
miles per hour-more than double the posted speed
limit-with no lights or siren, in the middle of the day, on a
major roadway (Southern Boulevard in Palm Beach County),
after his supervisors had given orders to "hang
back" and "break it off." As a result of the
accident, which was captured on Hegele's dashboard
camera, the driver of the other car, Harry Deshommes,
suffered serious injuries.
on this incident, the State charged Hegele with reckless
driving causing serious bodily injury. The case went to
trial. Hegele's defense was that Mr. Deshommes was a
distracted driver and caused the accident by entering
Hegele's lane of travel without signaling. Defense
counsel also maintained in opening statements that, at the
time of the accident, "Deputy Sheriff Brandon Hegele was
doing his job . . . ." He "was one of a group of
deputies who was out looking for a car full of criminals . .
. who had committed felonies in Palm Beach County." The
defense continued: "And in doing his job, now Brandon
Hegele is being prosecuted for something that's not his
the charge conference, the State argued that these opening
remarks by the defense, and the unique facts of the case,
necessitated a special instruction in addition to the
standard instructions. Over defense objection, the State
proposed a special instruction consistent with state statutes
addressing the ability of emergency vehicles to breach
traffic laws during emergencies. See §§
316.072(5)(c) & 316.126(5), Fla. Stat. (2016) (both
providing that, regardless of the emergency, the driver of an
authorized emergency vehicle is not relieved "from the
duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all
persons") (emphasis added)).
State initially proposed to include two paragraphs, the first
of which included statutory language regarding other drivers
moving over for emergency vehicles. At defense counsel's
request, the State quickly agreed to remove the first
paragraph. With respect to the remainder of the proposed
instruction, the prosecutor asserted:
[T]he State's position is that it's relevant because
the defendant disregarded [the supervisors' radio
commands] and continued to act as if he's going to an
existing emergency and drive in a fashion as such which I
think the jury should know what the law says. . . . Whether
[an emergency] actually existed or not, they should be
instructed on what is required of a law enforcement officer
in the State of Florida. . . . [B]ecause otherwise they may
say maybe he's allowed to do this. What if they go back
in the jury room and think that? . . . Because their opening
statement which I expect will wrap to a question is he's
basically doing the right thing and pursuing a criminal[;]
these bad criminals is how it was termed in opening. So my
fear is that the jury is going to go back in the jury room
and think well, is he allowed to drive like this? He's in
a marked patrol unit. Is he allowed to drive this way? And
the answer is no. And he shouldn't get a jury pardon
because they're improperly instructed or don't
receive enough instruction to understand what the law
trial court agreed that a special instruction was necessary
considering the unique facts of the case; however, as the
transcript reflects, the court also was concerned about
properly wording the instruction, so as not to impose an
extra burden on the defendant. At one point, the court
Well, the bottom line is that the standard instructions need
to be said. The standard instructions for reckless driving,
the serious bodily injury did not contemplate a situation
where a police officer is on duty during that time period.
So[, ] I mean you would agree that a police officer -- there
might be some question in the jury's mind as to what a
police officer can and cannot do and are they permitted to
drive in this sort of manner, or are they not permitted to
drive in this sort of manner. I think there's that
question. So[, ] we have to instruct them in some way,
I'm not saying by this, but in some way so this they can
understand otherwise this is a very specific type of
circumstance. This is not a typical reckless driving and
serious bodily injury. Wouldn't you agree? Defense? No.
Okay. So[, ] I think that the jury needs to know in some way.
They need an understanding as to -- because what if they come
back and they say well, is a police officer allowed to drive
in this type of -- in a ...