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Knight v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

December 19, 2019



          Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Certified Great Public Importance/Certified Direct Conflict of Decisions First District - Case No. 1D14-2382 (Okaloosa County)

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Glen P. Gifford, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Petitioner

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Trisha M. Pate, Bureau Chief, and Virginia Harris, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Respondent

          Rocco J. Carbone, III, of Law Offices of Rocco J. Carbone, III, St. Augustine, Florida, Amicus Curiae Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

          Carol Stafford Haughwout, Public Defender, and Gary Lee Caldwell, Assistant Public Defender, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, Florida, Amicus Curiae Florida Public Defender Association

          PER CURIAM.

         We review the decision of the First District Court of Appeal in Knight v. State, 267 So.3d 38 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), which affirmed Knight's conviction for attempted second-degree murder with a weapon where the jury was given an erroneous jury instruction on the lesser included offense of attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon.[1] For the reasons that follow, we approve the result of the First District's decision but not its reasoning.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The First District set forth the pertinent facts as follows:

[Knight] challenges his conviction and thirty-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder of his former girlfriend. The evidence supported the conclusion that he used a heavy, metal hydraulic jack handle to beat the victim very severely in her face and head, breaking the arm she used to try to block the attack, and breaking one of her eye sockets, in addition to inflicting other serious injuries to her face and head, including a gash down to her skull, leaving her with permanent residual impairments. The emergency medicine physician who treated the victim testified that the injuries required a direct blow of great force.
The victim testified that [Knight] had lived with her and her two young-adult children for a short time and had previously threatened to kill her if she ever tried to leave him. After [Knight] moved out of the victim's house at the request of the victim and her son, the victim obtained an injunction for protection against domestic violence against [Knight]. Nine hours after he was served with that injunction, at a time when he was aware from having lived with the victim that she would be leaving her house alone to prepare to leave in her car, [Knight] was waiting for her and attacked her. The victim saw him begin beating her with the weapon, although the severity of the beating prevented her from remembering the remainder of the attack. The victim's son heard her call out, and was an eyewitness to part of the attack. He saw [Knight] with the weapon in his hand and confronted him. The victim's daughter saw [Knight] walking away from the attack carrying an object matching the description of the weapon.
The weapon was found a short distance away, between the victim's house and the place where law enforcement found [Knight]. The weapon was found to have the victim's DNA on both ends and [Knight]'s DNA on one end. Although the weapon was the handle to a hydraulic jack, no such jack was found anywhere near the victim's house or surrounding area, supporting the conclusion that [Knight] had brought it with him. The presence of the weapon, together with the evidence of [Knight]'s having been served with the domestic violence injunction just hours earlier, his timed arrival at the victim's house, and his lying in wait for her, also supported the conclusion that [Knight] had planned the attack in advance.
[Knight] did not testify at his trial, but neither the fact of the attack nor [Knight]'s identity as the attacker was disputed. There was evidence that upon being informed of the charges including use of a crowbar as a weapon, [Knight] spontaneously denied having used a weapon; but there was no evidence explaining how the victim's serious injuries including a deep gash down to her skull could have been inflicted with bare hands. Defense counsel argued to the jury that the attack was not premeditated, [Knight] had no intent to kill the victim, and the evidence was insufficient to establish that [Knight] had used the jack handle as his weapon for the attack.
The jury was instructed on the following offenses in the following order:
-attempted first-degree premeditated murder with a weapon (the charged offense);
-attempted first-degree premeditated murder;
-attempted second-degree murder with a weapon (the offense of conviction);
-attempted second-degree murder;
-attempted voluntary manslaughter with a weapon (the erroneous instruction);
-attempted voluntary manslaughter;
-aggravated battery with a deadly weapon or great ...

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