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Court studies facts in DWI case

The Facts of the Case:

On 11 October 1988, the petitioner was charged in the circuit court with three traffic-related offenses. One of the charges was for DUI in violation of the Florida Statutes, to wit: that any person who is convicted of a fourth or subsequent DUI violation is guilty of a felony of the third degree. However, the information filed charging the petitioner made no mention of any specific prior DUI convictions, nor did the state before trial provide the petitioner any details of the alleged prior convictions. At arraignment, petitioner moved to dismiss or to transfer the matter to the county court, contending that because the information did not inform him of what specific prior offenses he allegedly committed, the information did not adequately charge the felony, and therefore the circuit court had no jurisdiction. The circuit court denied the motion. Consequently, the jury found petitioner guilty of DUI. After denying the petitioner’s renewed motion to dismiss, the court immediately adjudicated petitioner guilty of third-degree felony DUI and sentenced him to four and one-half years’ imprisonment. Thereafter, the district court reversed on the ground that the felony prosecution in circuit court was improper because the information merely charged petitioner, in effect, with three misdemeanors. The district court expressed conflict with a prior court ruling which held that the state need not allege the prior DUI convictions in the charging document because of possible prejudice to the accused in the event the prior convictions were brought to the jury’s attention.

The Issue of the Case:

The sole issue is whether or not a charging document must specifically allege three or more prior convictions for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) when charging a defendant with felony DUI to confer jurisdiction on the circuit court and to comply with due process of law.
The Ruling of the Court:

Here, the court must make two related inquiries concerning the sufficiency of the information. The court must first determine whether the information unambiguously alleged the commission of a felony, thereby properly invoking the subject matter jurisdiction of the circuit court; and if the circuit court had jurisdiction, the court must then determine whether the information satisfied the petitioner’s right to the protection of due process of law.
On the question of jurisdiction:

As held by the court in a landmark case, an information charging a felony and misdemeanors arising out of the same circumstances is within the exclusive subject matter jurisdiction of the circuit court. However, the information must unambiguously charge a felony to invoke the circuit court’s jurisdiction. Here, the state made clear in the information that it was charging the petitioner with third-degree felony. It was specifically mentioned or stated. Thus, the court finds that the information properly invoked the jurisdiction of the circuit court.
On the sufficiency of the Information:

As a rule, if a defendant charged with felony DUI elects to be tried by a jury, the court shall conduct a jury trial on the elements of the single incident of DUI at issue without allowing the jury to learn of the alleged prior DUI offenses. If the jury returns a guilty verdict as to that single incident of DUI, the trial court shall conduct a separate proceeding without a jury to determine, in accord with general principles of law, whether the defendant had been convicted of DUI on three or more prior occasions. All evidence of the prior DUI convictions must be presented in open court and with full rights of confrontation, cross-examination, and representation by counsel. The trial court must be satisfied that the existence of three or more prior DUI convictions has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt before entering a conviction for felony DUI.

Applying the aforesaid rules of law to the facts in the case at bar, the court is persuaded that the district court found error for the wrong reason. The information charging the petitioner here did satisfy the law’s jurisdictional requirements and properly invoked the jurisdiction of the circuit court. Thus, the district court erred in reversing all the convictions on jurisdictional grounds. However, the state failed to give the defendant any notice of the alleged prior DUI convictions it intended to establish to prove felony DUI, and the record also contains insufficient evidence of the existence of any prior DUI convictions to support a felony DUI conviction. Thus, the felony DUI conviction cannot stand. Even so, substantial competent evidence does appear in the record to support a conviction of first-offense DUI, for which petitioner must now be resentenced.

In sum, the court approves the result as to the felony DUI conviction, but quashes the decision in all other respects; the case is remanded with instructions to reinstate the convictions for driving with a suspended license and attaching an unassigned registration license, to enter a conviction of first-offense DUI, and to resentence the petitioner.

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