The Check Fraud Case
On Monday, January 25, 2010 Casey Anthony pleaded guilty Monday to 13 counts of check fraud. At the time of her plea, she was also being held in jail without bond on charges of murder, manslaughter, and lying to police.
Judge Strickland or Judge Solomon
In what can only be described as recognition of the chess game the State was playing with Ms. Anthony’s life by demanding the check fraud case go to trial first, Judge Strickland did not formally convict her on all 13 check fraud counts and instead threw her a lifeline by withholding the adjudication of guilt on 7 of the counts. (As I had predicted he would prior to the sentencing.)
By withholding guilt on 7 of the counts, Casey Anthony was only considered a six-time convicted felony; as opposed to a 13 time convicted felon. At the time, the felony convictions were extremely valuable to the State Attorney for impeachment purposes should Casey Anthony testify or her self-serving statements somehow be admitted (which Jose Baez almost opened the door too).
But by withholding adjudication there was a legal catch. Under Florida Statute 948.01, a judge cannot withhold adjudication of guilt on a felony UNLESS they also place the person on probation.
And that is exactly what Judge Strickland did, even though everyone knew she was being held in jail on No Bond for the murder case, Judge Strickland ORALLY pronounced that she was sentenced to the 412 days she already spent in jail on the check fraud charges, but for each count he Withheld Adjudication of Guilt on, he also placed her on One Year of Supervised Probation to be served “once released.”
An Indefinite Sentence?
Almost immediately after Judge Strickland explained his sentence, Assistant State Attorney Frank George raised his concerns that such a sentence would be considered an “indefinite” sentence under Florida law (which is illegal) because Ms. Anthony would obviously be held in jail and therefore could not begin her probation for the foreseeable future.
Judge Strickland stuck with his original pronouncement and stated that if the State could think of a better idea, they should file a motion seeking the better idea. They never did.
While Judge Strickland’s intentions were clear, there seems to have been some confusion because the sentencing minutes that were generated after the hearing, and which Judge Strickland signed, simply stated credit for 412 days jail followed by one year of supervised probation. Notably, the sentencing minutes never contained the magical words “upon release” at the end of the sentence – not that they needed to.
And because the sentencing minutes lacked the magical words “upon release,” the Florida Department of Corrections unilaterally decided that her probation began running while she was in jail and her probation ended on January 24, 2011.
Presumably, the reason they interpreted it this way is that she was in jail awaiting trial, as opposed to serving a sentence. (Never mind she was ultimately sentenced to all the time spent awaiting trial and then some.) Thus by giving her credit for the time she spent in jail towards her probation she was allowed to double dip and essentially get a two for one.
And since nobody brought the Department of Corrections oversight to the court, no clarification was ever provided from Judge Strickland’s office.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter, was there a discrepancy between Judge Strickland’s oral sentence and the sentencing minutes in the first place. If so, did it even need to be clarified?
The Legality of Judge Strickland’s Sentence
To begin, the Florida Supreme Court has held time and time again that “a court’s oral pronouncement of sentence controls over the written document.” State v. Jones, 753 So. 2d 1276 (Fla. 2000) This principal was recently reaffirmed by the Florida Supreme Court in State v. Akins, 36 Fla. L. Weekly S215a (Fla. May 26, 2011) (“when there is a discrepancy between the written sentence and ‘the oral pronouncement, the oral pronouncement prevails.’)
As a result, even if there was a discrepancy between Judge Strickland’s oral pronouncement of sentence, where he said the probation was to begin “once released” and the written minutes that omitted these “magical words,” the oral sentence still controls – irrespective of how the defense or the Department of Corrections wants to interpret it.
Did Written Order Actually Conflict with Oral Sentence?
Nonetheless, even if the written sentencing minutes did not contain the magical words “upon release,” Judge Strickland did not legally have to even include them in his oral pronouncement for Casey Anthony’s probation to have begun “once released.”
This is because the general rule is that when a person is sentenced to incarceration followed by probation and the person completes the custodial portion of the sentence, but nonetheless remains incarcerated on another offense, the probationary portion is tolled (meaning does not begin) until the person is released from incarceration in the other case being held on. See Brooks v. State, 762 So. 2d 1011 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000). This means that absent specific language stating that Casey Anthony’s probation was to run while she remained in jail, her probation was tolled by operation of law – Judge Strickland was not required to include any magical language stating “upon release.”
Does the Defense have a Legitimate Double Jeopardy Argument?
Actually, the defense has TWO legitimate Double Jeopardy arguments.
Argument 1: Being Supervised Twice
The first argument is that requiring Casey Anthony to report to probation now amounts to double jeopardy since the Department of Corrections already “supervised” her for one year while she was in jail.
The problem with this argument is that Casey Anthony never actually did anything; a probation officer visited her at least one time and then verified her continued incarceration for the next twelve months (thus accounting for the “contacts” DOC references – read look her up online). My gut feeling is that a Court of appeals would not be to sympathetic to Ms. Anthony, because she was not actually reporting to probation and there was no impediment placed on her liberty.
I think an appellate court would say that one that the Department of Corrections actions did not amount to supervision and two, they could not supervise someone without lawful authority. And as explained earlier, a person cannot serve probation while in jail (unless the jail is made a specific condition of probation).
Argument 2: “Clarification Order” is Void
The second argument is that Judge Strickland’s Clarification Order amounts to double jeopardy because Casey Anthony had already served her sentence and the Judge’s jurisdiction to clarify the sentence had long since expired. Therefore, once a sentence has been imposed and the person begins to serve the sentence, that sentence may not be increased without running afoul of double jeopardy principles. Ashley v. State, 850 So. 2d 1265 (Fla. 2003)
On its face, this argument is correct. As a Judge only has 60 days from the date of a sentence to correct a scrivener’s error, which refers to a mistake in the written sentence that is at variance with the oral pronouncement of sentence or the record but not those errors that are the result of a judicial determination or error. Rule 3.800 Fla.R.Crim.Pro.
In Ms. Anthony’s case, the judge’s 60 days of jurisdiction expired on March 26, 2010. As a result, the “Clarification Order” entered by Judge Strickland is void, illegal, and unenforceable. Stang v. State, 24 So. 3d 566 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009); rev. denied. State v. Stang, 41 So. 3d 206 (Fla. 2010).
Warren Stang and Casey Anthony Sitting in a Tree, Dou-ble Jeop-ar-dy
Stang is an important case because on its face it is very similar to Ms. Anthony’s case. In Stang’s case, he was sentenced to consecutive sentences on multiple counts in a violation of probation case and given a total of 27 years in prison. Notably, the oral sentencing pronouncement intended for him to get credit for 1,915 days towards the 27 years; meaning he would have about 23 more years to do.
However, his sentencing minutes appeared to give him 1,915 days credit towards each count. The net result was that he only had 2 more months on his sentence, not 23 years. The Department of Corrections noticed this and asked the judge to clarify his sentence. So 67 days after the sentence was imposed, the court entered a “Clarification Order” (sound familiar) saying that the credit was towards the total years, not each count.
The appellate court upheld the two month interpretation, finding that the Court lacked jurisdiction to clarify the order because more than 60 days passed and finding that based on double jeopardy, once credit has been awarded, it cannot be rescinded – even if granted in complete error.
What is notable about this case is that the State Attorney’s Office never challenged the defendant’s post-conviction motions on the merits. Because if they had, the transcripts of the oral pronouncement shows that the credit was only given towards the years, not each count.
And this is notable, because the case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court; and the Florida Supreme Court denied review of the case specifically because the State Attorney did not provide the transcripts until after the case had been affirmed by the District Court of Appeal (meaning the State simply argued the case based on the sentencing minutes and did not get the hearing transcribed). See State v. Stang, 41 So. 3d 206 (Fla. 2010).
What the clear indication of this procedural defense means is that had the transcript originally been provided to the lower courts; the Florida Supreme Court would likely have agreed that the oral sentence controls and Mr. Stang had 24 more years in prison to complete.
The Current Situation
This brings us to the current situation in Ms. Anthony’s case. It is understood that the defense will first file a Motion to Disqualify or recuse Judge Strickland. I have no doubt that Judge Strickland will grant his request and the case will then be turned over to a new judge.
Can the Successor Judge Vacate Judge Strickland’s Clarification Order
The Defense will have 20 days to file a Motion for Reconsideration asking the successor judge to vacate the Clarification Order entered by Judge Strickland. See Rule 2.330, Fla.R.Jud.Admin.
It is my opinion that the new judge will likely agree to vacate Judge Strickland’s Clarification Order, as it is clearly Void and unenforceable under Stang v. State, 24 So. 3d 566 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)
Coming Full Circle
However, just because Judge Strickland’s Clarification Order is void and unenforceable; it does not mean his original sentence is unenforceable.
To the contrary, Judge Strickland’s original sentence still controls and the Department of Corrections – as a member of the executive branch – has a duty to enforce it. This is because, by operation of law, Ms. Anthony’s probation was tolled while she was in jail awaiting trial on the murder case.
If the defense wants to then argue that she was supervised in jail and thus double jeopardy prevents her from being supervised again; by all means, they should argue it – I know I would.
But that has been my point from the very beginning, it is not for the State Attorney or the Department of Corrections to decide whether requiring Ms. Anthony to report to probation as Judge Strickland intended amounts to Double Jeopardy – it is up to a court to decide.
Have Some Balls Lawson Lamar; Defend Strickland’s Sentence
I know next year is an election year and you want to distance yourself from Ms. Anthony and the boondogle of a prosecution you put on lest a formidable opponent emerge to run against you.
But seriously, the Very Honorable Lawson Lamar needs to grow a sack and defend Judge Strickland’s sentence and provide this community with some sense that you aren’t afraid of big bad lawyers like Mike Snure, Donald Lykkebak, and “gulp,” Cheney Mason, who make mince-meat our of your high profile cases.
If you thought she was such a danger to society that you were committed enough to have her executed, I think you should be committed enough to at least try and have the Department of Corrections execute a simple probation sentence on her for one year.
If you don’t, the irony is indeed rich that Jose Baez and Cheney Mason ultimately made you their Bitch.