A divided Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a judge’s decision to impose a maximum prison sentence in a firearm case after the defendant maintained his innocence and refused to show remorse, reported the Orlando Weekly.
Justices, in a 5-2 decision, said Leon County Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler’s
decision to impose a 15-year prison sentence did not violate the constitutional
due-process rights of Alvin Davis, who was arrested by Tallahassee police in
2016 after a gun was found in a car in which he was a passenger.
A jury convicted Davis of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but during a sentencing hearing he spoke to the judge and maintained his innocence. Wheeler cited Davis’ failure to take “responsibility” for the crime and imposed a 15-year sentence that was the maximum allowed under state law.
The 1st District Court of Appeal backed Wheeler, prompting an appeal by Davis to the Supreme Court. In a 21-page majority opinion Thursday, Chief Justice Charles Canady rejected arguments that Davis’ rights had been violated, pointing in part to the judge’s discretion in sentencing and issues such as Davis’ criminal record.
“The trial judge had numerous valid reasons for imposing the maximum sentence
here, but … he did not need to articulate any reason,” Canady wrote. “The judge
was statutorily authorized to impose a sentence up to 15 years based solely on
the fact of the conviction, regardless of any sentencing considerations and
whether or not Davis took responsibility for his actions. ... Whether a
defendant says nothing at sentencing or takes full responsibility and is able
to show that he is a pillar of the community, a judge retains the discretion to
impose the maximum sentence.”
But Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissent joined by Justice Jorge Labarga, wrote that the majority opinion was inconsistent with legal precedent and “has no basis in our statutory sentencing scheme.”
“Showing remorse is admitting you did something wrong —- an admission of guilt,” Polston wrote. “And increasing a defendant’s sentence based on the failure to show remorse is punishing a defendant for failing to admit guilt. Punishing someone unless they confess guilt of a crime is a violation of due process and the right against self-incrimination. Accordingly, I would hold that a trial court violates a defendant’s constitutional right to due process and right against self-incrimination where it penalizes a defendant for the failure to admit guilt.”
Under state guidelines, Davis could have faced a sentence of about 10 years in
prison to the maximum of 15 years.
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