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Williams v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

August 23, 2019

RODERICK D'ANTHONY WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for St. Johns County, Howard M. Maltz, Judge.

          Valarie Linnen, Jacksonville, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Pamela J. Koller, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.

          LAMBERT, J.

         Roderick D'Anthony Williams makes his third appearance before this court regarding his convictions following trial for first-degree murder and kidnapping that he committed while he was a juvenile. Williams is presently serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder, with a judicial review hearing after fifteen years, and a concurrent fifty-year prison sentence for his kidnapping conviction, with a review hearing after twenty years. In this appeal, Williams argues that sections 775.082(1)(b)2. and 921.1402(2)(d), Florida Statutes (2014), [1] are unconstitutional because the timing of his respective review hearings under these statutes is grossly disproportionate based on the relative severity of his two offenses and thus fails to offer him a meaningful opportunity for release based on his demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. For the following reasons, we decline to address the constitutionality of these statutes and affirm Williams's sentences.

         Williams was initially sentenced by the trial court to serve life in prison on his first-degree murder conviction and to serve a concurrent fifty years' imprisonment for the kidnapping conviction. On direct appeal, this court affirmed Williams's convictions without comment. Williams v. State (Williams I), 171 So.3d 143, 144 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015). We did, however, reverse his sentence for the first-degree murder[2] and remand for the trial court to hold an individualized sentencing hearing under the then-recently-enacted juvenile sentencing laws to consider whether Williams's life sentence remained an appropriate sentence. Id. at 145. Also, because the jury did not find that Williams actually possessed and discharged a firearm during the commission of the first-degree murder, [3]we specifically directed the trial court to make a separate written finding under section 775.082(1)(b), Florida Statutes, as to whether Williams actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Id. Based upon this determination, Williams would either be entitled to: a judicial review hearing after twenty-five years under section 921.1402(2)(a) if the trial court found that he had actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim; or a judicial review hearing after fifteen years under section 921.1402(2)(c) if the trial court had found that he did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim.

         Prior to his resentencing, Williams moved pursuant to Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), to empanel a jury to make the aforementioned factual findings as to whether he actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. In Alleyne, the United States Supreme Court held that any factor that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is an "element" of the crime, not a "sentencing factor," and must be determined by a jury. Id. at 106-07.

         Williams contended that Alleyne was applicable in his case for two reasons. First, under section 775.082(1)(b)1., Florida Statutes, a finding that he actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim would mandate a minimum sentence of at least forty years' imprisonment but, without this finding, there is no required minimum sentence. See § 775.082(1)(b)2., Fla. Stat. Second, as a juvenile offender, a finding that Williams had actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim would entitle him to a judicial review hearing and potential release to probation after twenty-five years. See § 921.1402(2)(a), Fla. Stat. However, if it was found that he did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim, then, under section 921.1402(2)(c), Williams would be entitled to a review hearing and potential release to probation in fifteen years (provided the underlying sentence exceeded fifteen years). Thus, depending solely upon this specific factual finding made by the trial court, Williams faced either a forty-year minimum prison sentence or no minimum sentence and a judicial review hearing, and possible early release, after either twenty-five years or fifteen years.

         The trial court denied Williams's motion to empanel the jury. The court reasoned that in Williams I, our court had specifically ordered the trial court, and not a jury, to make the factual finding as to whether Williams actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. The trial court thereafter entered an order finding that Williams actually killed and intended to kill the victim, and it resentenced Williams to serve life in prison, with a review hearing after twenty-five years. The trial court also resentenced Williams to serve a concurrent fifty years' imprisonment on his kidnapping conviction, but it included in that sentence a judicial review hearing after twenty years.

         Williams appealed his resentencing, asserting that Alleyne required that this factual issue as to whether he actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim must be determined by the jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirmed. Williams v. State (Williams II), 211 So.3d 1070, 1073 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017). In doing so, our court observed that although Williams's Alleyne argument appeared to have merit, in Falcon v. State, 162 So.3d 954, 963 (Fla. 2015), the Florida Supreme Court, under similar circumstances where the record did not conclusively establish that the juvenile offender had actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim, nor had the jury found the defendant to have been in actual possession of a firearm during the commission of the subject crime, directed the trial court to make the factual finding as to whether the juvenile offender actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Williams II, 211 So.3d at 1073. Additionally, because it did not appear to us that either party in Falcon had specifically addressed the applicability of the Alleyne decision, we certified a question of great public importance to our supreme court as to whether Alleyne required the jury, and not the trial court, to make the factual finding under section 775.082(1)(b) of whether a juvenile offender actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Id.

         The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction to answer the certified question. The court held that Alleyne requires a jury to make the factual finding under section 775.082(1)(b) of whether a juvenile offender actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim, Williams v. State (Williams III), 242 So.3d 280, 282 (Fla. 2018), and receded from its earlier decision in Falcon to the extent that its decision there concluded that this determination was to be made by the trial court. Id. at 288 n.7. The court found that based upon the jury instructions that were given, including the principals instruction that allowed the jury to find Williams guilty of first-degree murder even if he did not actually shoot the victim, and the general verdict form, which did not differentiate between whether Williams was convicted of premeditated or felony first-degree murder, there was no clear jury finding that Williams had actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. Id. at 288-89. It therefore concluded that an Alleyne violation had occurred. Id. at 289.

         The court then analyzed whether an Alleyne violation is subject to harmless error review. Id. It concluded that it is, and proceeded to conduct a harmless-error analysis. Id. at 289-90. The court determined that the record failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found that Williams actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim; thus, the Alleyne violation in this case was not harmless. Id. at 292.

         The court next addressed the appropriate remedy for an Alleyne violation. Id. Williams had suggested to the court two alternatives: either empanel a new jury to make this requisite factual finding or simply resentence him under section 775.082(1)(b)2., which, by the terms of this statute, equates to a finding that Williams did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim. Id. As previously discussed, resentencing pursuant to this statute would entitle Williams to a judicial ...


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