Florida Supreme Court upholds harsh sentence for man who maintained his innocence

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A divided Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a judge’s decision to impose a maximum prison sentence in a firearms case after the defendant claimed innocence and refused to show remorse.

The judges, in a 5-2 decision, said Leon County Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler’s decision to impose a 15-year prison sentence did not violate Alvin’s constitutional due process rights. Davis, who was arrested by Tallahassee police in 2016 after a gun was found in a car he was a passenger in.

A jury found Davis guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but at a sentencing hearing he spoke to the judge and maintained his innocence. Wheeler cited Davis’ failure to take “accountability” for the crime and imposed a 15-year sentence which was the maximum allowed by state law.

The 1st District Court of Appeals backed Wheeler, prompting Davis to appeal to the Supreme Court. In a 21-page majority opinion on Thursday, Chief Justice Charles Canady rejected arguments that Davis’ rights had been violated, pointing in part to the judge’s discretion in sentencing and issues such as criminal record. Davis judiciary.

“The trial judge had many valid reasons for imposing the maximum sentence here, but … he didn’t need to articulate a reason,” Canady wrote. “The judge was legally authorized to impose a sentence of up to 15 years based solely on the fact of conviction, regardless of any sentencing considerations and whether or not Davis took responsibility for his actions. …Whether an accused says nothing at sentencing or takes full responsibility and is able to show that he is a pillar of the community, a judge retains discretion to impose sentence maximum.

But Judge Ricky Polston, in a dissent joined by Judge Jorge Labarga, wrote that the majority opinion was inconsistent with legal precedent and “has no basis in our sentencing system”.

“Showing remorse is admitting you did something wrong – an admission of guilt,” Polston wrote. “And increasing a defendant’s sentence on the basis of lack of remorse is punishing a defendant for not admitting guilt. Punishing someone unless they confess to a crime is a violation of due process and the right against self-incrimination. Accordingly, I would consider that a trial court violates an accused’s constitutional right to due process and the right against self-incrimination when it penalizes an accused for failing to admit guilt. »

Under state guidelines, Davis could have been sentenced to approximately 10 years in prison to a maximum of 15 years.

Canady was joined in Thursday’s majority opinion by Justices Alan Lawson, Carlos Muniz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans. The majority opinion and a concurring opinion by Grosshans said Davis’ comments to the judge asserting his innocence during the sentencing hearing were a key issue.

Grosshans wrote that Davis “spoke voluntarily at sentencing, thereby waiving his constitutional right against coerced self-incrimination.”

“And Davis’s unconstrained words were relevant to the severity of his criminal sanction,” Grosshans wrote. “Specifically, through his words, Davis demonstrated a refusal to take responsibility for his criminal conduct, an issue bearing on his rehabilitation. Thus, the sentencing court properly considered Davis’ refusal to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct in imposing the maximum sentence.

But Polston wrote that “just because Davis chose to speak out and maintain his innocence does not mean he should be punished for not admitting guilt.”

“Accepting responsibility is an admission of guilt and punishing someone for not admitting guilt is a violation of due process and the right against self-incrimination,” the dissent said.

Polston also pushed back against the majority’s argument that the judge could have imposed the maximum sentence without needing to “articulate” the reasons.

“A simple reading of the sentence transcript shows that the trial judge relied on Davis’ statement of innocence,” Polston wrote. “In his address, Davis argued that he was innocent and that his conviction was based on conspiratorial actions by the police and deficient legal representation. The trial judge then reprimanded Davis for failing to take responsibility and the condemned to the legal maximum because he had not assumed his responsibility.

Davis, 42, is being held at the Charlotte Correctional Facility, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.

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