Jury instructions are a key part of any criminal trial in Florida. The way that a judge instructs the jury about the evidence and the legal requirements necessary to return a conviction can make or break a Florida homicide or other criminal case. As a recent case out of the Florida Supreme Court shows, judges are also required to inform the jury if there are lesser offenses than those charged of which the person charged could be convicted instead.
A defendant was charged with attempted second-degree murder, possession of a firearm, and other crimes stemming from an incident in Duval County in which she allegedly shot a woman during a drug transaction gone awry. The victim testified at trial that her cousin got into a verbal argument with the defendant during a marijuana sale. She said the defendant pulled the gun after the argument escalated. The victim punched the defendant in the face when she saw the gun. The victim then raised her hands to protect her face when the defendant pointed it at her. The defendant fired the gun, wounding the woman in the hand and neck. The victim and two other witnesses said the victim was standing about 10 feet away from the defendant and was not moving toward her at the time of the shooting.
The defendant told the court that she had the gun at her side and was moving away from the victim after the woman punched the defendant in the face. She said she raised and fired the weapon in self-defense, concerned that she would have been jumped if she had not done so. The judge in the case explained the legal elements of second-degree murder, including the lesser offenses of aggravated battery and aggravated assault. The judge did not, however, inform the jury that the defendant could also be convicted on the lesser offense of attempted manslaughter. She was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and other offenses related to the gun and drugs.