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Florida Supreme Court: Trial Courts Have Authority to Correct Sentencing Errors, But Subject to Time Limits

by David M. Reutter

On June 16, 2022, the Supreme Court of Florida held that a trial court has authority to make corrections to sentence credits for jail and prison time already served by a defendant. However, it must do so within statutory time limits. As a result, a state prisoner who was given too much credit got to keep it.

Michael D. Spear was convicted of three counts of forgery and three counts of “uttering a forged instrument,” for which he was sentenced to “community control” followed by “drug offender probation,” the Court recalled. Spear then was charged with felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor domestic violence in a new case, violating the terms of his probation.

To resolve the new charges, he reached a plea agreement, which the trial court accepted. It also released Spear pending sentencing under a Quarterman agreement. That allowed the court, when he failed to appear for sentencing, to impose maximum penalties for his charges, as laid out in Quarterman v. State, 527 So. 2d 1380 (Fla. 1988).

Departing from his plea agreement, the trial court gave him the maximum sentence of five years on the false imprisonment count, plus five years on each forgery count, all running consecutively for a total of 35 years.

Spear appealed to the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal. It remanded his case for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he intentionally violated his Quarterman agreement.

Back at the trial court, the violation was found to be willful, so Spear’s sentences were reinstated. He was also awarded credit for jail and prison time served of 686 days on the forgery case and 932 days in the false imprisonment case.

The state Department of Corrections (DOC) then let the trial court know its math was bad, and that Spear had been given credit for more time than he actually served — 30 days in the false imprisonment case and 300 days in the forgery case. The trial court then made the corrections sua sponte. Meanwhile, however, the appellate court had issued its final mandate, which included the erroneous calculations.

Spear appealed again, arguing the trial court made its correction too late. The Fifth District Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision. But it certified a “question of great public importance” to the state Supreme Court: Does a trial court have authority to make sua sponte corrections to sentencing documents, like Spear’s, that overreport credit for time served?

In answer, the Court said yes. Citing state Rule of Civil Procedure 3.800(b), it said a motion to correct a sentencing error — including an incorrect jail or prison credit — must be filed before an appeal is final. However, in Spear’s case the trial court acted too late, the Court continued. Therefore the Fifth District’s order was quashed and the matter remanded. See: Spear v. State, 341 So. 3d 1106 (Fla. 2022).

Back at the Fifth District Court of Appeal, the trial court’s recalculated order was vacated and the case remanded to reinstate Spear’s original sentences. Spear was represented by Public Defender Matthew Metz and Assistant Public Defender Glendon G. Gordon, Jr. of the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Daytona Beach. See: Spear v. State, 343 So. 3d 656 (Fla. 5th DCA 2022). 

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