From the News Service of Florida: An appeals court Wednesday sided with an inmate who argued that part of a 2009 state law was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to a judge, rather than a jury, to impose a tougher sentence.
A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal ordered resentencing for Reginald Lee Booker III, who pleaded no contest in Escambia County to fleeing or attempting to elude a law-enforcement officer and driving without a valid license. The appeal focused on a 2009 law that deals with scoresheets used in sentencing defendants.
The law said non-violent offenders who receive less than 22 points under the scoresheet process would receive maximum sentences of up to one year in county jail, rather than being sent to state prisons for longer periods. But the law also included a provision that allowed judges to sentence defendants to prison if they made written findings that a lighter sentence could “present a danger to the public,” according to the appeals-court ruling.
Using that provision, Circuit Judge J. Scott Duncan sentenced Booker to four years in prison. But the appeals court said the increase in Booker’s sentence was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which requires juries, not judges, to find facts that could justify increasing sentences.
The ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Scott Makar, said the Legislature could have allowed sentences to be increased for Booker and similar defendants based on factors such as prior convictions — but did not do so.
“Here, the trial judge had no statutory authority to elevate Booker’s sentence to state prison simply because Booker had prior conviction,” Makar wrote in a decision that was joined fully by Judge Clay Roberts and partially by Judge Harvey Jay. “And he considered matters other than prior convictions as well, such as whether Booker was working, lacked a driver’s license, failed to show up for his trial date, wore camouflage overalls to court, and so on, in assessing his future dangerousness. And the sole witness, the investigator from whom Booker had fled, merely recounted the details of Booker eluding her in a motor vehicle, which are only the facts inherent in the crime.”
Makar and Roberts ruled that Booker should be resentenced under a law that was in effect before the 2009 change. Jay dissented on ordering a new sentencing hearing, saying Booker also would likely be sentenced to four years in prison under the old law.