Court Discusses Severance of Charges in Florida Criminal Trials

Typically, when a person faces numerous charges arising out of a single incident, they will be tried for all of the offenses in one trial. In some instances, though, a defendant may be able to successfully demonstrate that certain charges should be severed, as a trial on all charges at once would be prejudicial. In a recent ruling, a Florida court discussed what evidence a defendant must offer to show severance is warranted in a case in which the defendant was found guilty of possessing a firearm as a violent career criminal. If you are charged with a weapons offense, it is advisable to speak to a Sarasota weapons crime defense attorney as soon as possible.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is reported that the defendant had an altercation with the victim, who was his girlfriend, at the victim’s house. The altercation became physical, and the defendant brandished a gun and fired multiple shots into the air. He was subsequently charged with aggravated assault, burglary with battery, assault, and possession of a firearm as a violent career criminal.

Allegedly, the defendant moved to sever the gun possession charge from the other offenses, arguing that severance was necessary for a fair trial. The court denied his motion but bifurcated the hearing; during the first phase, the jury found that the defendant possessed a firearm, and during the second, it found that he qualified as a violent career criminal. The defendant was sentenced to life in prison, and he appealed.

Severance in Criminal Cases

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever and that the error violated his constitutional rights. The court did not agree and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Under Florida law, courts should liberally grant severance when a denial of a request for severance would likely result in prejudice. The trial courts have ample discretion with regard to motions for severance, though, and their rulings will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion.

In the subject case, the court ruled that the offenses requiring proof of the defendant’s criminal record had to be weighed separately from the other crimes. The court found, though, that as the jury did not learn of his prior convictions until the second phase of the trial, that effect was achieved. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

While most people can lawfully possess firearms, people convicted of certain offenses may be charged with a gun crime if they are found with a weapon in their possession. If you are accused of a weapons offense, it is smart to meet with an attorney. The trusted Sarasota criminal defense lawyers of Hanlon Law are proficient at helping people accused of crimes protect their interests, and if you hire us, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach Hanlon Law through the online form or by calling 941-462-1789 to set up a meeting.

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