In Miami, a prosecutor charging you with aggravated assault must show: (1) you intentionally and illegally threatened to do violence to a victim, (2) you appeared to have the ability to carry out your threat, (3) your threat created the victim’s well-founded fear violence was going to happen and (4) your assault was committed with a deadly weapon or with a fully formed conscious intent to perpetrate a felony. In a recent appellate case, the defendant appealed convictions and sentences for aggravated assault. The case arose when the defendant got drunk and went to his dad’s house where he accused his dad of stealing a gun. He asked where it was and, holding a knife, threatened to slit his dad’s throat if he didn’t get the gun.
The defendant’s dad fled the house and called 911. Three deputies responded. The defendant went out with a gun and fired a shot into the air. The deputies ordered him to drop the gun but he refused and said they’d need to shoot him. There was a standoff and the defendant went back into the house and out another door. Later he was arrested.
At trial, the defendant asserted an insanity defense. A psychologist testified that his medication hadn’t been working and he’d had a manic episode that caused his behavior. The prosecutor called an expert who testified he wasn’t insane. The defendant objected to the prosecutor’s expert testimony claiming the expert wasn’t qualified to provide an opinion about sanity because he wasn’t a doctor, licensed psychologist or psychiatrist but was a mental health counselor with an education Ph.D. The objection was overruled, and the court found the prosecutor’s expert qualified. The defendant was convicted for five counts of aggravated assault.
The first aggravated assault count was for the defendant’s assault on his father with a knife. The other four were for his assault on the deputies and his father, an assault that included discharging a firearm. He was sentenced to over 8 years for the first count and 2 concurrent 20-year terms, according to 10-20-Life for the assaults against the deputies and a consecutive 20-year term for the last count.
The defendant argued that the lower court should not have allowed the prosecutor’s expert testimony about sanity. The defendant argued that Florida Statutes section 916.115(1)(a) precluded expert testimony from someone who wasn’t a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. The court explained that there was a difference between experts presented at trial and those appointed to evaluate sanity. Sometimes experts appointed under section 916.115 testify at trial, but the parties could also introduce other evidence about the defendant’s mental condition.
Just because the prosecutor’s expert wasn’t a licensed doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist didn’t mean his testimony at trial was stopped. The witness’s qualifications to testify as an expert were at the lower court’s discretion. The defendant’s argument was that his back-to-back sentences under 10-20-Life were not lawful because they arose from one criminal act. He argued that since there were multiple assault victims, no physical injuries and one gunshot, the court didn’t have the authority to put in place back-to-back sentences.
The court explained that the Florida Supreme Court precedent should prevent the consecutive sentences under these circumstances. Generally, a court can impose consecutive sentences for mandatory minimum incarceration terms for multiple firearm crimes. When they’re perpetrated as part of the same incident such that many victims are shot at, consecutive sentencing is allowed but isn’t mandatory.
In this case, however, the defendant discharged his firearm and shot it into the air, but not at people, so neither statute nor Florida Supreme Court precedent applied. It noted that there was one shot with multiple victims. The appellate court found the case similar to another case in which there weren’t distinct acts to support consecutive mandatory minimum sentences. Accordingly, the defendant was entitled to be sentenced concurrently.
Prosecutors take violent crime seriously in Miami. If you’re accused of, investigated for or charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Miami, you should hire a skillful criminal defense attorney. Call The Hoffman Firm at (305) 928-1669, or contact us via our online form.