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Casiano v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

September 18, 2019

Juan C. CASIANO, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

         Consolidated appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Indian River County; Cynthia L. Cox, Judge; L.T. Case Nos. 312017CF001209A and 312018CF000831A.

         Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Benjamin Eisenberg, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

         Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Rachael Kaiman, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.


         Kuntz, J.

         Juan C. Casiano raises two challenges to the prison sentences he received after entering a partially negotiated no contest plea to several driving offenses. First, he argues the court erred when it, and not a jury, made a finding that he was a danger to the public under section 775.082(10), Florida Statutes (2018). Second, he argues the court’s findings were legally insufficient to demonstrate that he would pose a danger to the community if sentenced to a nonstate prison sanction. But because Casiano has served the sentence he challenges on appeal and has been released from prison, we dismiss this appeal as moot.

         When the court sentenced Casiano to state prison, it applied section 775.082(10), Florida Statutes. For a defendant who scores fewer than twenty-two sentencing points and is being sentenced for a third-degree felony, that section allows the court to "sentence the offender to a state correctional facility" if it makes "written findings that a nonstate prison sanction could present a danger to the public." Id. Otherwise,

Page 106

the court must sentence the defendant to a nonstate prison sanction. Id.

         At the time of Casiano’s sentencing, the court properly applied the statute because we had previously rejected his exact argument. See Porter v. State, 110 So.3d 962 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). In Porter, we rejected a defendant’s argument that a jury must make a finding that he was a danger to the community. Id. at 963. The circuit court therefore correctly complied with our decision in Porter when it rejected Casiano’s challenge.

         But after the court sentenced Casiano, our supreme court disapproved Porter . Brown v. State, 260 So.3d 147, 151 (Fla. 2018). In Brown, the supreme court held that section 775.082(10) "violates the Sixth Amendment by requiring the court rather than the jury to make the finding of dangerousness to the public necessary to increase the statutory maximum nonstate prison sanction to a state prison sentence." Id. As a result, "for a court to impose any sentence above a nonstate prison sanction when section 775.082(10) applies, a jury must make the dangerousness finding." Id.

         Based on Brown, Casiano is correct that the court erred when it made a finding that he posed a danger to the community, a finding a jury needed to make. Even so, we cannot reverse Casiano’s sentence.

         During this appeal, Casiano served his sentence and was released from prison. Casiano’s appeal therefore is moot. See Woods v. State, 214 So.3d 803, 804-05 & n.1 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) (on reh’g en banc) (Makar, J., concurring in affirmance). In Woods, the First District issued an en banc per curiam affirmed decision with multiple concurring and dissenting opinions. Woods raised the same challenge to section 775.082(10) as Casiano and, like Casiano, Woods was released from prison before the en banc argument being scheduled. Id. at 804-05 (Makar, J., concurring in affirmance).

         Woods’s release from prison led eight out of the fourteen judges to agree the appeal was moot.[1] In Judge Makar’s concurring opinion, joined by four other judges, he explained that Woods’s appeal was moot. Id. at 804-05 & n.1 (Makar, J., concurring in affirmance). But he explained that mootness does not destroy an appellate court’s jurisdiction when the issue is of great public importance and likely to recur. Id. (Makar, J., concurring in affirmance). In Judge Winsor’s dissenting opinion, joined by two other judges, he agreed the appeal was moot and argued it should be dismissed. Id. at 825-26 (Winsor, J., dissenting).

         In a later case, that court addressed this issue of mootness and the prison releasee reoffender statute. Johnson v. State,260 So.3d 502, 505 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018). As here, Johnson was released from prison during the appeal. Id. Despite the apparent earlier agreement of eight judges that the issue was moot, a split three-judge panel in Johnson reached a different result. Seeid. The majority stated that because "adverse legal consequences could befall Appellant as a result of his sentence," the appeal was not moot. Id. In dissent, Judge Rowe stated that she "would dismiss the appeal as moot. Johnson was sentenced to 383 ...

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