County Criminal Court : CRIMINAL LAW – Sentencing – Statutory construction – In a case involving a charge of DUI, the action of the trial court, in crediting time previously spent in a residential treatment program after the offense was committed but prior to the imposition of sentence, was lawful and not in conflict with Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k).  Trial court’s judgment and sentence affirmed.  State v. Sarantos, No. CRC08-00038APANO (Fla. 6th Cir.App.Ct. April 17, 2009).

 

 

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES FOR REHEARING

AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY

 

 

STATE OF FLORIDA

 

            Appellant,

 

Appeal No. CRC 08-00038APANO UCN 522007CT085405XXXXXX

TINA A. SARANTOS

 

            Appellee.

__________________________________/

 

 

Opinion filed April 17, 2009.

 

Appeal from a Judgment

entered by the Pinellas County Court

County Judge Donald E. Horrox

 

Wesley C. Dicus, Esquire

Assistant State Attorney

Attorney for Appellant

 

Lynda B. Barack, Esquire

Attorney for Appellee

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            PETERS, Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Appellant, State of Florida’s appeal from a judgment of the Pinellas County Court which, in part, allowed Appellee credit toward a term of incarceration, for time previously spent in a residential treatment program after the offense was committed but prior to the imposition of sentence.  After reviewing the briefs and record, this Court affirms the judgment.

Factual Background and Trial Court Proceedings

            On June 5, 2007, Appellee, Tina A. Sarantos, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and other offenses.  On June 15, 2007, Appellee entered a residential treatment program to address substance abuse issues.  She remained in the residential program for forty-four days and thereafter entered the outpatient after-care program.  On May 22, 2008, Appellee entered a plea agreement and was sentenced on the driving under the influence offense to, among other things, ten days incarceration in the Pinellas County Jail.  The trial court, over the objection of the State, allowed Appellee credit for the forty-four days she had previously spent in the residential treatment program.  This credit for time served satisfied the requirement that Appellee serve ten days in jail.  The State argues that this was an illegal sentence.

Standard of Review

Our review of a trial court's ruling on a judicial interpretation of a statute is a pure question of law subject to the de novo standard of review.  State v. Sigler, 967 So2d 835 (Fla. 2007).

The Statute

            Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k) provides in pertinent part:

A defendant, in the court's discretion, may be required to serve all or any portion of a term of imprisonment to which the defendant has been sentenced pursuant to this section in a residential alcoholism treatment program or a residential drug abuse treatment program. Any time spent in such a program must be credited by the court toward the term of imprisonment.

 

Appellant’s Argument

            Appellant argues that the trial court improperly construed Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k).  Specifically, the trial court incorrectly ruled it had discretion to credit a defendant with time spent in a residential treatment program after the commission of the offense but before the imposition of sentence. 

Appellant maintains that:

The time frame for when the residential treatment program must be served in order to earn time-served credit is clearly set out in the first sentence of the statute. The relevant portion of the statute reads, “A defendant … may be required to serve all or any portion of a term of imprisonment to which the defendant has been sentenced … in a residential … treatment program..” § 316.193 (6) (k) Fla. Stat. (2007) (emphasis added). The phrasing “to which the Defendant has been sentenced” indicates, the defendant cannot be required to enter into the court-ordered residential program until after she has been sentenced to a period of incarceration.

 

Appellant’s Reply Brief, pages 7-8.  Therefore, Appellant claims, “the judge’s discretion lies solely in whether the judge will require the defendant, post-conviction, to spend all or a portion of the term of imprisonment in a residential treatment program.” (Emphasis added).

The problem with Appellant’s argument is that the actual language of the statute does not expressly require that the time spent in a residential treatment program be post-conviction.  The words of the two sentences of the statute do not prohibit a trial court from recognizing time previously spent in a residential treatment program after the offense was committed but before the sentence was imposed.

Statutory Construction

When the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no occasion for resorting to the rules of statutory interpretation and construction; the statute must be given its plain and obvious meaning.  Holly v. Auld, 450 So.2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1984); See State v. Burris, 875 So.2d 408, 410 (Fla.2004); Overstreet v. State, 629 So.2d 125, 126 (Fla.1993).  When the plain text of the relevant statute is unambiguous, the inquiry is at an end.  E.A.R.  v. State, --- So.2d ----, 2009 WL 217979, (Fla. 2009).  It is only when a statute is ambiguous that a court may resort to the rules of statutory construction. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc. v. Meeks, 863 So.2d 287, 289 (Fla.2003).  Ambiguity suggests that reasonable persons can find a different meaning in the same language. State v. Huggins, 802 So.2d 276, 277 (Fla.2001).  Although virtually every English sentence contains some level of uncertainty, rules of statutory construction are reserved for cases in which a fair reading of the statute leaves a court in genuine doubt about the correct application of the statute.[1]  Fajardo v. State, 805 So.2d 961, 963-64 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).  A court's purpose in construing a statute is to give effect to legislative intent, which is the polestar that guides the court in statutory construction.  To discern legislative intent, a court must look first and foremost at the actual language used in the statute. Larimore v. State, 2 So.3d 101 (Fla. 2008).  

In its application to penal and criminal statutes, the due process requirement of definiteness is of special importance.  Thus, to the extent that definiteness is lacking, a statute must be construed in the manner most favorable to the accused.  Perkins v. State, 576 So.2d 1310, 1312 (Fla. 1991); See § 775.021 Fla. Stat.

The rule of strict construction also rests on the doctrine that the power to create crimes and punishments in derogation of the common law inheres solely in the democratic processes of the legislative branch. The Florida Constitution requires a certain precision defined by the legislature, not legislation articulated by the judiciary. See Article II, Section 3, Florida Constitution. (Citations omitted).  This principle can be honored only if criminal statutes are applied in their strict sense, not if the courts use some minor vagueness to extend the statutes' (Cite as: 576 So.2d 1310, *1313)

breadth beyond the strict language approved by the legislature. To do otherwise would violate the separation of powers. Art. II, § 3, Fla. Const.

 

Perkins, 576 So2d 1312-1313.  A criminal statute must apprise ordinary persons of common intelligence as to what is prohibited and what penalties are imposed. Borjas v. State, 790 So.2d 1114, 1115 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).  Any ambiguity or situations in which statutory language is susceptible to differing constructions must be resolved in favor of the person charged with an offense.  Kasischke v. State, 991 So.2d 803, 814 (Fla. 2008); State v. Byars, 823 So.2d 740, 742 (Fla.2002).

The Present Case

            Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k) contains two sentences.  The first sentence means simply that the trial court has discretion to require a defendant to serve all or part of a jail sentence in a residential treatment program.  The second sentence means simply that any such time in a program must be credited toward the jail sentence.  The actual language of the statute contains no requirement that the time spent in a residential treatment program be post-conviction.   

This Court has no genuine doubt about the meaning or correct application of this statute.  There is no need for statutory interpretation and construction.  If there was such a need, the statutory provision would have to be strictly construed in favor of the person charged with an offense.  In the present case, the action of the trial court, in crediting time previously spent in a residential treatment program after the offense was committed but prior to the imposition of sentence, was not in conflict with Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k).  The sentence imposed was lawful.

Conclusion

            This court concludes that the judgment of the trial court should be affirmed.

            IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

            ORDERED at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ____ day of April, 2009.

 

 

Original opinion entered by Circuit Judges Michael F. Andrews, Raymond O. Gross, & R. Timothy Peters.  

 

 

 

 

 

           

cc:        Honorable Donald E. Horrox

            Office of the State Attorney

Lynda B. Barack, Esquire      

                                                                                                                                   



[1] Notwithstanding the fact that the language of the present Florida Statute § 316.193 (6) (k) was enacted in 1988, this Court is aware of no Florida appellate case authority that finds any ambiguity in that statutory provision or that supports Appellant’s reading of that statute.