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Florida Jury Instruction for Fleeing and Eluding

Miami prosecutors may seek harsh punishments for convictions for fleeing and eluding. The harshest punishments are for fleeing and eluding that causes serious bodily injury. In a recent appellate case, a man appealed his convictions and 10-year sentence for fleeing or trying to elude causing serious bodily injury, abandoning the crash site involving serious bodily injury, leaving a crash site where property damage occurred, nonviolent resisting of an officer,  and driving on a suspended license. He specifically challenged a jury instruction (3.6(k)(6)).

The case arose when a police officer reportedly observed the defendant’s car hadn’t come to a total stop. An officer followed and turned on her siren and lights. Although the defendant pulled over, he didn’t stop and went back to driving. The officer chased. The defendant reportedly went 70 mph in a 25-mph zone. The defendant drove through five stop signs until he T-boned another car in an intersection and veered off-road, crashing into a restaurant.

After crashing, he ran away across the street and ran into a police car. He continued to run after being told to stop. He didn’t stop until he was tased. The driver of the car he’d struck fell into a coma, suffered traumatic brain injury and became disabled as a result of the crash.

The prosecutor’s theory of the case was that the defendant fled because he was on probation and driving on a suspended license. The theory of defense was that he’d acted out of duress. He testified that a passenger in the front pointed a gun at him, which forced him to flee.

There were witnesses in the backseat: the defendant’s son, the son’s fiancé and someone else. The fiancé would later testify the defendant claim to have guns but didn’t say so when asked questions by the police at the crash site. At the trial, the government presented police dash-cam videos depicting the slowness of the passengers in the backseat to leave the vehicle. They didn’t flee the way the defendant did. Someone matching the defendant’s description of the guy who held him up was seen running from the vehicle, but never found.

The defense attorney agreed to an instruction on duress. He asked that duress be considered independently for each charge. Duress requires the prosecutor to show: (1) the defendant reasonably thought there was a danger he didn’t intentionally cause, (2) the danger presented a substantial harm to himself or a third person, (3) real, imminent, and impending threatened harm, (4) the defendant didn’t have a reasonable way to avoid the danger except to commit the fleeing and eluding crime, (5) the fleeing and eluding with serious injury or death was perpetrated out of duress to avoid danger, and (6) whatever harm the defendant avoided by behaving this weigh outweighed harm caused by perpetrating the fleeing or trying to elude crime involving serious bodily injury.

The jury found the defendant guilty. He appealed on the grounds that there was fundamental error in the instruction.

The appellate court explained that unless there is an objection at trial, an objection is only appropriate if fundamental error occurred. Someone can’t invite a mistake at trial and then use that mistake to appeal. In this case, the defendant didn’t make a proper objection, but affirmatively agreed. The extra sentence was there at his request.

The appellate court explained no Florida law authorizes duress as a defense to the crimes charged against the defendant. The appellate court further explained that somebody can be excused from having perpetrated a crime where his conduct was done under coercion or compulsion related to a real, imminent and impending danger. The coercion has to be continuous and the defendant can’t have a reasonable opportunity to run away from the compulsion without perpetrating a crime.

The defendant had waived the fundamental error argument by agreeing to the whole standard instruction. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you’re accused of, investigated for or charged with fleeing and eluding in Miami, you should hire a skillful criminal defense attorney. Call The Hoffman Firm at (305) 249-0090 or (800) 223-1866, or contact us via our online form.

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