Florida Court Finds Trial Court Erred in Imposing a Discretionary Sentence when the Defendant was not Present at the Sentencing Hearing

Florida law affords individuals convicted of crimes certain rights with regards to sentencing. For example, certain sentences must be orally pronounced, and with few exceptions, a defendant has the right to be present at his or her sentencing hearing.

As the District Court of Appeal for the Second District of Florida recently held in Darwin v. Florida, if the trial court imposes a sentence without the presence of the convicted party, it can result in the sentence being reversed. If you were charged with a sex-crime in Clearwater, it is important to retain an experienced Clearwater sex crimes attorney who will fight diligently to protect your liberties.

Defendant’s Sentencing

Allegedly, the defendant was convicted and sentenced for uninformed HIV-infected sexual intercourse. His sentence included a $525 discretionary fine. During the sentencing hearing, the fine was not orally pronounced; therefore, the defendant filed a motion to correct the sentence, arguing that the fine was improperly imposed due to the fact that Florida law requires discretionary fines to be orally pronounced to ensure due process. The trial court agreed and scheduled a status conference during which the court orally pronounced the fine, but made no other changes to the sentence. The defendant was not present at the status conference. He subsequently appealed the discretionary fine, arguing that the trial court erred by imposing the sentence without his presence at the hearing. The court agreed and reversed.

Defendant’s Rights Regarding Sentencing

The court of appeals noted that Florida law affords defendants the right to be present at all sentencing hearings unless the hearing is solely ministerial. A proceeding would be considered ministerial if not discretion or judgment is exercised at the hearing. The right to be present at sentencing hearings extends to resentencing hearings as well. If a court is engaging in solely ministerial acts the fact that the defendant is not present for the hearing constitutes a harmless error. The Florida courts have specifically held, however, that resentencing hearing in which the judge is exercising discretion is not purely ministerial and defendants have the right to be present during such hearings. As the trial court was imposing a discretionary sentence during the resentencing hearing, the court found that it was not a solely ministerial act, and therefore, the defendant had a right to be present. Additionally, the court found that there was no evidence the defendant waived his right to be present, or that his absence was harmless. As such, the court reversed the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

Meet with an Experienced Clearwater Sex Crime Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a sex crime in Clearwater, you should seek the assistance of an experienced sex crimes defense attorney to help you evaluate your case and to discuss any defenses available to the charges you face. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skilled Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney who will advocate aggressively on your behalf to help you obtain a favorable outcome. Contact our offices at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Holds Defendant Waived Right to Lesser Included Offense Instruction by Failing to Specifically Request it at Trial November 28, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog

Florida Appeals Court Holds Defendant May Be Eligible for Sentence Reduction October 25, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog

Sex Crime and Burglary Defendant Attempts Statute of Limitations Defense in Florida September 6, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog