Florida law requires a person charged with a felony crime to be brought to trial within 175 days of his or her arrest. In Whitehall v. State, the Second District Court of Appeal explains that prosecutors generally may not change the crime for which a defendant is charged once the speedy trial period has expired.

Appellant Thomas Whitehall was arrested and charged with fleeing to elude – a third-degree felony – in 2008 after Tampa police chased him through the city on his motorcycle. The following year, Whitehall filed a motion to dismiss the charge, arguing that the State failed to comply with his right to a speedy trial. While this motion was pending, the State amended the complaint against Whitehall to charge him with “fleeing to elude with high speed or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” a second-degree felony.

The State also opposed Whitehall’s motion, asserting that he waived his right to a speedy trial by affirmatively accepting a trial date outside of the 175-day period. A circuit court agreed, and allowed the trial on the new charge to proceed. A jury found Plaintiff guilty of the second-degree offense.

On appeal, the Second District held

Although the State may amend an information after the speedy trial time expires, the State may not circumvent the intent and effect of the speedy trial rule by lying in wait until the speedy trial time expires and then amending an existing information in such a way that results in the levying of new charges…

In this case, the speedy trial period had expired by the time the State filed the amended complaint to include the second-degree felony. Despite the State’s waiver argument, the court found no evidence of Whitehall affirmatively accepting a trial date beyond the 175-day period and therefore ruled that he did not waive his right to a speedy trial.

Furthermore, the court found that the new charge filed after the speedy trial period expired was based on the same facts underlying the original charge: the motorcycle chase. While the State amended the charge to simply fall under a different section of the same criminal statute under which Whitehall was originally charged, it was nevertheless a “new charge” because it included an element that the original charge did not. Specifically, the state was required to prove that Whitehall was operating his motorcycle at a high speed or with “wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” under the second-degree felony charge, but not under the original charge.

While the court ruled that Whitehall’s conviction on the second-degree felony eluding charge must therefore be reversed, it ordered the circuit court to enter a guilty verdict on the original, third-degree eluding charge. The court noted that, in order to find Whitehall guilty of the second-degree charge the jury necessarily had to find that he had committed each of the elements of the third-degree crime (as well as the additional element previously discussed).

Thus, the court reversed the circuit court’s ruling and remanded the case with an order for the proper verdict to be entered.

The speedy trial requirement is one of many legal tools available to defendants in Florida criminal cases. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are represent clients in a variety of cases, including those involving assault and battery, burglary, DUI and drug possession and trafficking. The attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are prepared to aggressively defend your rights and help achieve the best outcome possible.

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