Recent Changes in Felony Reclassification

The Supreme Court of Florida has changed the law regarding the use of a weapon during the commission of a felony.  Using a weapon during the commission of a felony is an aggravating factor; the State Attorney has the ability to increase the severity of the charges against you. This is called reclassification and it is defined in Florida Statute § 775.087(1). Obviously, someone charged with a felony may want to know if the State believes he or she used a weapon. However, the legislature doesn’t think so because it has never defined what constitutes a weapon for this purpose.

In 1995, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a decision in the case of State v. Houck, 652 So. 2d 359 (Fla. 1995), defining a weapon as “an instrument of attack or defense in combat or a means to defend against or defeat another.” In other words, for the purpose of the reclassification statute I mentioned, weapons are limited to things that are commonly considered weapons (i.e. guns, knives, swords, bombs, etc.).

The court went on to say that whether something is a weapon for reclassification purposes is a matter of law for a court to decide.  This inserted a level of judicial oversight into the State’s use of this reclassification law.

Well the 2018 version of the Supreme Court of Florida disagrees with its 1995 counterpart.  In the case of Shepard v. State, SC17-1952, the Court reversed itself. In a case from Jacksonville, Florida, Shepard was found to have struck someone with his vehicle who later died.  He was convicted of manslaughter with a weapon. His vehicle was the weapon. He appealed and argued a vehicle is not a weapon for the purpose of the reclassification statute.  He lost. His case went to the Supreme Court of Florida.

There, the Court said his vehicle was a weapon and the State was permitted to reclassify his charge from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony. The Court’s position is now that a weapon, for the purpose of reclassification, is any object used or intended to be used to inflict harm upon another.  Further, it is now the role of a jury, not a court, to determine if an object in question is a weapon.

This ruling will expand the State’s ability to reclassify cases more severely, which could thereby result in increased usage of the reclassification statute.  With this case, if you have been accused of a felony and you were carrying, displaying, using, threatening to use, or attempting to use any object, it could have been a weapon and the State may use that to reclassify the severity of the charges against you.

*Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be legal advise. We highly recommend speaking with an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*.