Faulty Jury Instructions for 16 Years in Florida Lead to Retrials and Plea Deals
Interpretation in the law is sometimes more important than the law itself. If a law is written ambiguously and the ambiguity is understood by the jury in a way not originally intended, the criminal defendant may suffer the consequences. That is the case in Florida, where over the last 15 years more than 100 murder or attempted murder convictions have been thrown out and new trials and plea agreements have resulted.
The Faulty Language of “Manslaughter by Act”
The faulty jury instructions that have caused such an uproar are related to Florida’s attempted manslaughter by act offense. According to an article published by the Tampa Bay Times describing the offense at the center of the issue, manslaughter by act is the situation where one kills another as a result of an unlawful act, but whose intention was not to kill. In other words, if two men are at a bar, get into a fight, one punches the other who falls, hits his head on the bar, and dies, the puncher will be convicted of manslaughter by act. At the center of the interpretation is the understanding of “intent”. Manslaughter by act requires that the man who threw the punch intended to throw the punch, but was not intending the death which occurred as a consequence. The puncher maybe only have wanted to give the other man a black eye, but as a result of the punch, the unintended result was his death.
“Intentionally Caused the Death of” Leads to Second Degree Murder Findings
The faulty jury instructions were written in a way to state that the jury could only find the criminal defendant guilty if he/she intentionally caused the death of the victim. This is where the faulty language created an issue; the jury was only able to convict someone of manslaughter by act if intent to kill was found. Because most of these men and women who were charged for manslaughter by act were not found to have intentionally caused the death of the victim, the next offense that could be applicable was second-degree murder, a harsher punishment.
The Disparity between Second-Degree Murder and Lesser Crime of Manslaughter by Act
Second-degree murder does not require that the criminal defendant had an intent to kill; only that he or she behaved in such a way where he/she showed a depraved indifference toward human life. Thus, the faulty instruction made it easier for the prosecutor to convict a criminal defendant of the harsher crime of second-degree murder than the lesser offense of manslaughter by act. The difference in penalties between the two crimes could lead to a life imprisonment or a maximum ceiling of 15 years in jail, a significant disparity.
Overall, this is an opportunity for criminal defendants to receive the fairer sentences that they were denied years earlier. There is a hope that this will right the wrongs of the past.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
The Eighth Amendment ensures that criminal defendants are not cruelly or unfairly punished for wrongdoings. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can advocate on your behalf and make sure that you are dealt with fairly during criminal proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.