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Court Weights Constitutionality of Sentencing for a Felony in the Third Degree


The Florida state filed an appeal placing in issue the constitutionality of the provisions of law pertaining to the inclusion of prior convictions in the charging information. This was due to the ruling of the circuit court, wherein the appellees who were charged and found guilty of petit larceny and they have already been previously convicted of such crime twice. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the court granted the motion to dismiss filed by the accused on the ground that such charges were unconstitutional which deprived the defendants’ due process and equal protection of the law. The court granted the motion, thus, the appeal was made by the state.

The issue before the court is the constitutionality of the provision of law where “upon the third or subsequent conviction for petit larceny, the offender shall be guilty of a felony in the third degree.” A New York Criminal Lawyer said this was a distinct substantive offense that can be distinguished from the statute on being considered a criminal habitual offender. Both statutory provisions provide harsher punishments for a repeated offender. As habitual offender, the previous offense shall serve as the basis of an increased penalty while the other law makes the prior offense part of the elements of the present offense charged against the felon, which must be specifically alleged and proved during trial. In the latter case, the jury must provide judgment as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant based on the existence of facts related to prior conviction or convictions and return a verdict as to both.

The court pointed out several cases to sustain the action of the trial judge in submitting before the jury the judgment as to the verdict of the present offense charged and as to the historical fact of prior conviction. Furthermore, a New York Drug Possession Lawyer said the jury is under obligation to come up with specific findings of the facts in said former convictions.

The appellees contended that such procedure made by the trial judge violated their fundamental rights of due process and equal protection of the law pointing out that the two laws are, in essence, the same and defendants must be accorded the identical procedural safeguards. Such as, conducting separate proceeding by the state, by a separate writing and made subsequent to finding of guilt or innocence of the accused. However, these safeguards were not found in the statute in question. The jury was presented evidence of the prior offenses of the defendants; thus, presumption of innocence was violated. This was reiterated in one case, which stated that “the State should not be permitted merely to charge an accused with the commission of a crime and buttress its current charge with a simultaneous allegation that the accused had previously been convicted of a totally unrelated crime committed years before.”

The justices sided with the contention of the appellees that, in a constitutional point of view, the procedures to be followed must be in line with the protection of the fundament rights of an accused. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said that the law, as enacted by the Legislature, creating the substantive offense of “felony petit larceny” is proper; however, the court shall implement the procedure to be employed in the courts.

Thus, the court ruled that the felony petit larceny charged against the defendants can be tried in the circuit court without the presentation to the jury of the prior convictions of the accused to constitute as one of the elements in the latest offense charged and follow the procedure on criminal habitual offender.

For that reason, the order made by the trial court was reversed on appeal and the case was remanded for further proceedings applying the steps conducted for a criminal habitual offender.

If you have been previously charged and convicted of the same offense more than once, then you need to assistance of our criminal attorneys for hire at Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Being considered as a habitual delinquent would entail additional court hearings and harsher punishment that require service of an experienced criminal lawyer from our firm.

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