Trial Judges Have the Discretion Not to Sentence a Defendant As a Habitual Felony Offender

In Seabrook v. State, 629 So. 2d 129 (Fla. 1993), the petitioner specifically contended that the habitual felony offender statute violated separation of powers because it deprived the trial court of discretion not to sentence a defendant as a habitual felony offender. However, this Court had already determined--without reference to any separation of powers argument--that, pursuant to that statute, trial judges have the discretion not to sentence a qualifying defendant as a habitual felony offender. See McKnight v. State, 616 So. 2d 31 (Fla. 1993) (adopting the rationale of King v. State, 597 So. 2d 309, 314 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992), in which the Second District held--not in the context of a separation of powers challenge--that the trial court has the discretion "to exercise leniency and to sentence a defendant found to be an habitual felony offender or an habitual violent felony offender to a sentence less severe than the maximum sentence that is permitted by subsections 775.084(4)(a) or (b)"). Therefore, the Court in Seabrook determined that, since "petitioner's contention that the statute violated the doctrine of separation of powers" was based on the erroneous premise that the statute "deprived trial judges of such discretion," the contention "necessarily failed." 629 So. 2d at 130. This conclusion is very different from its inverse: petitioners' argument that, had the habitual felony offender statute established a mandatory minimum sentence--so that, where the State invoked the statute, the trial court would be compelled to sentence a qualifying defendant pursuant to the minimum penalty--that necessarily would have violated separation of powers. In fact, here, no one asserts that a mandatory minimum sentencing scheme violates separation of powers. Cf. Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S. 453, 467, 114 L. Ed. 2d 524, 111 S. Ct. 1919 (1991) (observing that "Congress has the power to define criminal punishments without giving the courts any sentencing discretion").