State Versus Court In a ''Prison Releasee Reoffender'' Case

In State v. Cotton, 728 So. 2d 251 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998), the district court affirmed the trial court's decision not to sentence Cotton, a qualifying defendant for whom the State sought sentencing under the Act, as a "prison releasee reoffender." In affirming Cotton's sentence, the Second District held that, where a defendant claims one of the circumstances set forth in section 775.082(8)(d)1, Florida Statutes, the trial court (not the prosecutor) has the responsibility to determine facts, and authority to exercise discretion, regarding whether or not to impose a mandatory sentence under the Act. See Cotton, 728 So. 2d at 252. In Woods v. State, 740 So. 2d 20 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999), the defendant below (who also qualified for sentencing as a "prison releasee reoffender") argued that the Act was unconstitutional on its face. The First District disagreed, holding that the Act does not violate "the separation of powers clause of the Florida Constitution and the due process and equal protection clauses of both the United States and the Florida Constitutions." 740 So. 2d at 24. In so holding, however, the First District--contrary to the Second District's construction--determined that the State, rather than the trial court, has discretion to determine whether a defendant qualifying under the Act will be sentenced as a "prison releasee reoffender." The First District, noting that its interpretation conflicted with Cotton, 3 certified 4 the following question as one of great public importance: DOES THE PRISON RELEASEE REOFFENDER PUNISHMENT ACT, CODIFIED AS SECTION 775.082(8), FLORIDA STATUTES (1997), VIOLATE THE SEPARATION OF POWERS CLAUSE OF THE FLORIDA CONSTITUTION ? Id. at 25.