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“A Year and a Day Rule”; The Retroactivity of an Abolished Criminal Defense

In the criminal justice system, there are certain safeguards that protect both criminal defendants and victims of crime by attempting to provide certain laws and rules that are beneficial to the parties. Criminal defendants, however, because of the possible loss of life and liberty as a result of a negative ruling, are protected by ensuring that they are not unfairly punished for crimes or results that were not foreseeable or that they did not commit.

“A Year and a Day” Rule

One of the safeguards for criminal defendants was a common law rule known as “a year and a day” rule, which is a time frame by which causation may be applied to the consequence and the offense that caused it. In other words, if someone were to shoot a person in the heart, but the victim were to live for a year and a day and then died, the shooter would not be responsible for the victim’s death. The rule, however, was never codified but was mentioned in past cases, and later with the progress in medical technology, the need for the “year and a day” rule was obsolete.

The Issues Surrounding the “Year and a Day” Rule

Florida abrogated the rule of the “year and a day” rule in 1988, but there are still significant ramifications of the rule on criminal law today. This issue came up recently in Florida where a victim who was shaken violently as an infant died at the age of twenty as a result of complications. It also has been fiercely debated with regards to the Ronald Reagan assassination shooting, where the unintended victim, James Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, died in August 2014 as a result of injuries sustained from that shooting incident. Though “a year and day” is still a federal law, the abolishment of the “year and a day” could still apply retroactively without violating the Ex Post Facto Clause and Due Process Clause. Whether it will still apply is in limbo.

The Effect of “Year and a Day” in Florida

In Florida case law, the “year and a day” rule was only mentioned in three cases since 1900, and in past cases, the ability for the rule to be applied retroactively was based largely on how oft-used the rule was in the criminal justice system. In one court in Tennessee, the court found it was rarely used; in a case that was in D.C., it was found the rule was not tenuous to D.C. criminal law.

Questions for the Florida Supreme Court Regarding the Rule

The Florida Supreme Court still has yet to rule on the retroactivity of the rule. The possibility of the application of the “year and a day” rule in Florida may be based on the following things:

  • Was the common law rule in effect in Florida at the time of the offense, i.e. any crime before 1988?
  • Did the criminal defendant have fair warning that the rule was about to change? (If he or she did then he/she can not avail him/herself of the effect of the year and day rule.)
  • Was the abrogation of the rule a legislative or judicial act? (Ex Post Facto issues are relevant only in legislative changes.)

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a criminal offense, It is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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