Florida Supreme Court Rules Juveniles May Be Charged With Battery by a Detainee – Hopkins v State

September 21, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

As a juvenile crimes defense attorney, I believe we have a separate set of rules for minor defendants because minors are in some ways less culpable for their actions than adults. That’s why I don’t believe laws for adults should be applied to minors, at least under most circumstances. That’s why I was interested to see the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Hopkins v. State, a case involving a juvenile detained in a juvenile detention center. Laveress Hopkins challenged the charge against him of battery by a detainee, saying detention in a juvenile facility was inadequate to support the detainee charge. The trial court dismissed, following a First District Court of Appeal decision, but the Fourth District overturned it and the state Supreme Court upheld that decision.

Hopkins was detained at the St. Lucie Juvenile Detention Center when the new charges arose; the circumstances were not described in the opinion. However, the use of the “battery by a detainee” charge enhanced the offense from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Hopkins moved to dismiss, relying on the First District Court of Appeal’s 2003 decision in T.C. v. State, which held that the charge was inapplicable to juveniles in juvenile detention facilities. The trial court disagreed with T.C. but felt bound by it and dismissed the case, urging the state to appeal. The Fourth District Court of Appeal did take up and reverse the case, finding that there existed contradictory cases that were on point. Hopkins appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

That court affirmed the Fourth District’s ruling calling for reinstatement of the battery charge. The relevant law (section 784.082) applies to “a person who is being detained in a prison, jail or other detention facility...” The state high court found it clear and unambiguous that a juvenile detention facility could be classified under “other detention facility.” It also noted that the statute uses the word “person,” showing that the law is not limited to adult detainees. Furthermore, it noted, the law’s preamble specifically noted juvenile crime as a reason for enactment. Hopkins argued that the rule of lenity should apply to exclude juveniles from the law, but the court ruled that the rule was inapplicable, since the statute was not subject to differing reasonable interpretations. Thus, it upheld the Fourth District.

One thing about this case that interests me as a criminal defense lawyer here in Miami is the difference this makes for Hopkins. A first-degree misdemeanor is just below a third-degree felony in terms of seriousness, but a felony conviction carries several consequences that a misdemeanor does not. If you are convicted of a felony, you must disclose it on many job applications, which can hurt your chances of being hired. Felonies can also disrupt your right to vote and own a firearm, and of course, a felony carries additional time in prison. All in all, as a juvenile crimes defense lawyer, I am not surprised that Hopkins sought to exclude the charge against him from the enhancement. For a minor under the age of 18, these are heavy penalties that can hurt his adult life before it even starts.

If you or your child are charged with a crime in Florida and you’d like to discuss your options and your rights with an experienced attorney, don’t hesitate to call Seltzer Law, P.A. From offices in downtown Miami, we represent clients across Miami-Dade, Fort Lauderdale and all of Florida. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us a message through our website.

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