Consequenses of a First-Degree Murder Defendant Moving to Dismiss Information on the Ground That He Was Immune Form Criminal Prosecution
In Peterson v. State, 983 So. 2d 27 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008), the State charged the defendant with attempted first-degree murder, and the defendant moved to dismiss the information on the ground that he was immune from criminal prosecution pursuant to section 776.032, Florida Statutes (2006).
After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss on the basis that the defendant had not established immunity "as a matter of fact or law." Peterson, 983 So. 2d at 28.
The trial court recognized that no procedure had yet been enacted for deciding claims of immunity under section 776.032(1).
Peterson then filed a petition for a writ of prohibition, challenging the denial of his motion to dismiss.
In response, the State argued that the motion should have been considered under rule 3.190(c)(4) and was properly denied because "any factual dispute should defeat a claim of statutory immunity" under that rule. Peterson, 983 So. 2d at 28.
The First District rejected the State's argument that a motion to dismiss based on section 776.032 immunity must be denied whenever there are disputed material facts.
Based upon its conclusion that the Legislature "intended to establish a true immunity and not merely an affirmative defense," the First District outlined a procedure for use in ruling on motions to dismiss pursuant to section 776.032. Id. at 29.
The First District explained:
We now hold that when immunity under this law is properly raised by a defendant, the trial court must decide the matter by confronting and weighing only factual disputes.
The court may not deny a motion simply because factual disputes exist.
Here, the trial court did what was required.
Petitioner is not precluded from submitting the matter to the jury as an affirmative defense in his criminal trial.
In the absence of a procedure for handling these matters, we find guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court's decision in People v. Guenther, 740 P.2d 971 (Colo. 1987).
In that case, the court decided that Colorado's similar immunity statute authorized a trial court to dismiss a criminal prosecution at the pretrial stage and did not merely create an affirmative defense for adjudication at trial. Id. at 976.
The court further determined that a defendant raising the immunity would have the burden of establishing the factual prerequisites to the immunity claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 980. the court imposed the same burden of proof as it would in motions for postconviction relief or motions to suppress. Id.
Likewise, we hold that a defendant may raise the question of statutory immunity pretrial and, when such a claim is raised, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the immunity attaches.
As noted by the trial court, courts have imposed a similar burden for motions challenging the voluntariness of a confession. See, e.g., McDole v. State, 283 So. 2d 553, 554 (Fla. 1973).
We reject any suggestion that the procedure established by rule 3.190(c) should control so as to require denial of a motion whenever a material issue of fact appears. Peterson, 983 So. 2d at 29-30.
The First District ultimately denied Peterson's petition for a writ of prohibition, concluding that the trial court did not err in finding that Peterson had failed to establish immunity.