How and When Statutory Changes Apply to your Florida Criminal Case

How and When Statutory Changes Apply to your Florida Criminal Case

In Florida, the yearly process of repealing, amending, and readopting the Florida Statutes results in a mix of effective dates for different statutes. This can lead to confusion when determining which version of a statute applies to a legal issue.

As criminal defense attorneys, we have encountered this issue and understand the importance of knowing how Florida’s statutes are enacted and amended. This was particularly evident in the adoption of the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, for example, where the correct interpretation of the law was crucial. To assist with determining the applicable year of the Florida Statutes, there a few questions that you should answer.

First, it is essential to differentiate between procedural and substantive statutes and identify the controlling date in the relevant area of law. Second, a thorough examination of the specific date relevant to your case is required. Finally, this date is utilized to ascertain the version of the statute in effect at that time and its location within the Florida Statutes.

Once these steps are completed, you can confidently apply the correct law to your case. It is crucial to follow this process to ensure that you are referencing the most up-to-date and relevant statutes in Florida law.

Is the Statute Substantive or Procedural?

In general terms, substantive laws, which define rights and duties, are typically applied prospectively, while current procedural statutes, dealing with the enforcement of these rights and duties, may be applied retroactively in ongoing proceedings. This first step in identifying the relevant law involves deciding if the statute in question is substantive or procedural.

This distinction, which has puzzled legal scholars for years, is beyond the comprehensive scope of this article, but some noteworthy points can be made. For instance, in criminal cases, substantive law defines what constitutes a crime and the associated punishment, while procedural law dictates the process of punishing someone who breaks a criminal statute.

If the statute being applied in a criminal case doesn’t concern the crime or its penalty, it can generally be applied even if the crime was committed before the statute was enacted. Examples of such amendments include changes in the sequence of closing arguments and the application of certain court costs.

However, when it comes to applying substantive statutes, it’s crucial to identify the date that controls the application of substantive law in your case. The offense is defined by the statute in effect at the time of the crime. This is mandated by the Florida Constitution, which expressly forbids changes to criminal statutes that impact the prosecution or punishment for any previously committed crime. This means the date of the offense controls not only the law defining the offense but also the statutes determining its punishment. This is reinforced by both state and federal constitutions’ prohibitions against ex post facto laws.

These provisions’ effects on a criminal case are tangible: they prevent the legislature from adding new penalties to previously committed offenses. This is particularly important considering Florida’s sentencing framework’s continual evolution, encompassing guidelines, scoresheets, mandatory minimums, and statutory enhancements. Some criminal statutes, like those affecting a defendant’s probationary period, removing knowledge of a substance’s illegality as a sale offense element, or allowing for multiple convictions from a single incident, cannot be applied retroactively.

What is the Controlling Date?

Once the nature of the statute in question and the controlling date event have been determined, you must establish the exact controlling date for your case. This is especially important if recent changes to the law may impact your case either favorably or unfavorably, potentially necessitating arguments for or against retroactive application.

In a criminal case, the date of the offense is often included in the indictment, information, or complaint. This date is a useful starting point to determine which substantive law applies to the case. However, under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.140(d)(3), if the offense date is omitted, a defense counsel may need to request a bill of particulars unless the offense date can be inferred from pretrial discovery. The trial offense date might differ from the information alleged date. If a plea of guilty or no contest is anticipated, an offense date can be agreed upon that will bind the court and dictate the application of substantive law.

In the case of ongoing offenses, the rule of lenity typically calls for the application of the most lenient version of substantive law in effect during the period when the offense occurred.

In an appeal or post-conviction context, the controlling date will typically be dictated by the existing record. It is vital to confirm that the date established at trial, not merely the date alleged in the pleadings, guided the court’s application of substantive statutory provisions.

What is the Effective Date of the Statute?

With the controlling date established, the next step is to determine which statutory provisions were in effect at that time. This involves understanding the legislative process that resulted in the statute’s enactment or amendment, and how the statutes are published. In Florida, a bill becomes law when it is filed with the Secretary of State and receives a number. This number signifies the year of passage and the law’s chronological position within that year.

Each law’s text is designed to align with the Florida Statutes. It either introduces a new section to the existing Florida Statutes, detailing the content of the new section, or it amends an existing chapter and section of the Florida Statutes, indicating the amendments with underlining and strikethrough typesetting. Many laws also specify their effective date, usually in the final section.

The effective date for the reenactment of the statutes is neither the first day of the year nor a consistent date each year. Make sure you are correct.  This is an easy mistake to make.

By Sean Clayton, Esq.

Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Office of Sean Clayton, P.A.

1 E. Broward Blvd., Ste. 700

Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

Broward Phone: (954)951-3351

Palm Beach Phone: (561)932-1132

Cell Phone: (561)427-3402


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Daniel Tan is chief editor of Top Legal Firm. Top Legal Firm is a free lawyers & law firm directory and legal blog that accept guest posts on wide range of topics. Contact Daniel Tan to publish your legal blog.

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