Does a No Contest Plea Mean Prior Conviction for Purposes of Capital Sentencing ?
In Garron v. State, 528 So. 2d 353 (Fla. 1988), the Court considered the issue of whether a no contest plea, followed by a withheld adjudication, was a conviction for purposes of determining an aggravating circumstance in a capital crime.
The Court, relying on McCrae v. State, 395 So. 2d 1145 (Fla. 1980), reiterated the position that guilty pleas with adjudication withheld are considered convictions for purposes of capital sentencing.
Despite this language in Garron, the Legislature, eleven years after Garron, enacted section 921.0021, Laws of Fla. defining convictions and specifically including convictions whether or not adjudication is withheld.
A finding that a no contest plea is a prior conviction, regardless of adjudication being withheld, is consistent with the legislative intent of section 921.0021(2).
In construing the meaning of a statute, we first look at its plain language.
"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) (quoting A.R. Douglass, Inc. v. McRainey, 102 Fla. 1141, 137 So. 157, 159 (Fla. 1931)).
Moreover, "one of the most fundamental tenets of statutory construction requires that we give statutory language its plain and ordinary meaning, unless words are defined in the statute or by the clear intent of the legislature."
When necessary, the plain and ordinary meaning of words can be ascertained by reference to a dictionary.
Seagrave v. State, 802 So. 2d 281, 286 (Fla. 2001) (quoting Green v. State, 604 So. 2d 471, 473 (Fla. 1992)).