The Importance of the Right to a Jury Trial in Domestic Violence Cases
If you are charged with a criminal offense arising from alleged acts of domestic violence, you have certain constitutional rights the courts must respect, such as the right to a jury trial. This may seem obvious enough. But keep in mind, a jury trial means the jury must hear and decide–beyond a reasonable doubt–that you are guilty of all elements of the offense.
Florida Judge Ignores Supreme Court’s Sentencing Rules
Such elements include any facts that might enhance your sentence beyond the normal penalties. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court held in the case of Alleyne v. United States that under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to a jury trial, “Any fact that, by law, increases the penalty for a crime is an ‘element’ that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Court was specifically addressing cases where the law requires a mandatory minimum sentence for a given offense.
More recently, a court here in Florida addressed a violation of the Alleyne ruling in a domestic violence case. The defendant in this case was charged with battery by strangulation against his daughter. During the argument leading up to the alleged battery, the daughter’s infant child was also in the room. Another relative removed the child prior to the actual strangulation.
A jury found the defendant guilty of the battery. Criminal sentencing in Florida is based on a worksheet that takes into account a number of factors. The defendant’s initial score in this case indicated a sentence without any jail time. However, the judge multiplied the defendant’s initial score by a factor of 1.5 after determining he committed “domestic violence in the presence of a related child,” i.e., the defendant’s infant grandchild. With this multiplier, the court sentenced the defendant to three years in prison.
But the California Fourth District Court of Appeals held the trial judge erred in applying the multiplier in the first place. Under Alleyne, whether or not the child was present in the room during the battery–and it appears he was not–is a factual question that should have been submitted to the jury. It was not. Indeed, the Fourth District noted that “the jury was never presented with an interrogatory regarding the child’s presence, nor did its verdict reflect any finding that the battery by strangulation was committed while the child was in the room.” The judge therefore violated the defendant’s constitutional rights when he cited the child’s alleged–but unproven presence–as a factor in calculating his sentence. The appellate court therefore directed the trial judge to re-sentence the defendant.
Have You Been Charged With Criminal Domestic Violence?
Nobody disputes the severity of domestic violence or the need for strict criminal penalties. But in our zeal to punish defendants, we can never ignore their clearly established constitutional rights. If you have been charged with domestic violence, you need to speak with an experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer who understands the law in this area and will fight to protect your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Julia Kefalinos at (305) 676-9545 today if you need assistance.