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State v. Johnson

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

January 10, 2020

STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellant,
v.
CLAUDELL JOHNSON, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Barbara Twine Thomas, Judge.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Linsey Sims-Bohnenstiehl, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellant.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Carly J. Robbins-Gilbert, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellee.

          SMITH, JUDGE.

         The State of Florida appeals the downward departure prison sentence imposed on Claudell Johnson arising from his convictions of grand theft of a motor vehicle and dealing in stolen property. The State argues the trial court's mitigating reasoning is not supported by competent, substantial evidence, and we agree. Accordingly, we reverse Mr. Johnson's sentence and remand to the trial court so that he may be properly sentenced in accordance with his Criminal Punishment Code (Code) scoresheet and chapter 921, Florida Statutes (2018).

         Background

         After a jury found Mr. Johnson guilty of grand theft of a motor vehicle and dealing in stolen property, the trial court proceeded to sentencing for those charges, as well as the violations of probation in his six other felony cases. Pursuant to Mr. Johnson's scoresheet, the lowest permissible prison sentence was 85.95 months (approximately seven years and two months). The defense stipulated to the accuracy of the scoresheet, but argued that Mr. Johnson's prior offenses, which were more than ten years old, would not be calculated into his scoresheet but for his 2013 misdemeanor conviction for driving with a suspended license. The defense acknowledged this was not a mitigating factor contemplated in the applicable sentencing statute. Without factoring in the prior offenses, the lowest permissible sentence Mr. Johnson could receive significantly dropped from 85.95 to 20.85 months (one year and seven months).

         Defense counsel acknowledged there was no legal authority allowing trial court to disregard Mr. Johnson's 2013 offense and the trial court recognized its limited discretion and frustration with the guidelines:

This is a classic challenge that I have and I want you to hear me out if for no other reason than it allows me to ventilate. We constantly have these very hard choices where I have no latitude, where I have no discretion sometimes where the plea offer is far more generous.
So these 85 months [referring to Mr. Johnson's scoresheet] would be seven years in prison for a hundred dollar transaction.
[B]ut that is the assertion we're confronted with here today all for a hundred dollars. At best, bone-headed, very unfortunate. And the court always is here trying to reconcile these extremes. . . .

         Notwithstanding, the trial court, relying upon the mitigating factor in section 921.0026(2)(c), which was not argued by the defense, departed from the lowest permissible sentence stating:

His 2013 traffic matter is what allows his priors before 2006 to be scored and the court is persuaded that he did not have the benefit of an understanding that that would have the impact that it has, and it was a traffic violation. So the court uses that as ground for mitigation downward to not give him the full ...

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