Sheppard, White, Kachergus, & DeMaggio, P.A. Attorneys & Counselors At Law
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Knowledge That Victim Is a Law Enforcement Officer Now Required to Convict for Attempted Murder of Law Enforcement Officer

Florida law imposes harsher penalties on defendants who knowingly commit crimes of violence against law enforcement officers. For instance, a defendant found guilty of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer is subject to a mandatory life sentence. Understandably, a criminal defense attorney who represents a client faced with one of these charges will strive to remove the law enforcement victim enhancement, if possible. A recent decision out of the Florida Supreme Court-Ramroop v. State-has made it easier for defendants to do just that, by holding that the defendant must have known the victim was a law enforcement officer for the statute to apply.

Ramroop involved a driver who attempted to flee the police during a traffic stop. While doing so, he shot at one of the officers involved in the pursuit. After a jury trial, he was convicted of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. The appeals court and the Florida Supreme Court reversed the conviction, however, because the trial judge did not instruct the jury that knowledge the victim was a law enforcement officer was an essential element of the offense.

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court drew a distinction between "enhancement" statutes and "reclassification" statutes. If a trial court imposes an enhancement in error, an appellate court can remove the enhancement and leave untouched the conviction for the un-enhanced version of the crime; in this case, regular attempted murder.

To reclassify a crime, however, the jury must find that the defendant committed every essential element of the reclassified offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the jury was not instructed on one of the essential elements of the crime, the Florida Supreme Court found that the entire conviction was defective, and ordered a new trial.

The Florida Supreme Court's decision will make convictions for these types of crimes more difficult to prove and provide a more substantial remedy to Defendants when the court does not properly instruct the jury. While a Defendant who doesn't know that the victim is a law enforcement officer may still be convicted of attempted murder, a criminal defense attorney who successfully prevents the crime from being reclassified may ultimately save his or her client from a lifetime of incarceration.

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Sheppard, White, Kachergus, & DeMaggio, P.A. Attorneys & Counselors at Law.
215 N. Washington Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202

Phone: 904-701-0589
Phone: 904-727-7191
Fax: 904-356-9667
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Regular office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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