-Summary by Anna Lusk
On June 2, 2022, the Supreme Court of Florida considered whether a sentencing court may rely on a defendant’s lack of remorse after the defendant had given a sworn confession to the crime and had obviously lied under oath at trial about his guilt. The Supreme Court ruled that trial courts are under no obligation to ignore a defendant’s freely offered sworn testimony in determining that defendant’s testimony.
Burns was sentenced to 300 years in jail for crimes he had committed. Though Burns gave a sworn confession to the crimes of which he was convicted, which he retracted during his trial testimony, the district court felt that it had to reverse his sentence because the trial court relied on his prior claims of innocence in sentencing him to jail. The First District Court sent the case back to the trial court to resentence Burns. This question remains for the Florida Supreme Court: may a sentencing court rely on a defendant’s lack of remorse after the defendant has given a sworn confession to the crime and has obviously lied under oath at trial about his guilt?
The Supreme Court ruled that even though Burns offered statements in trial that he did not during allocution, the trial court was under no obligation to ignore those statements in sentencing him. The Supreme Court came to this conclusion because of the ruling in a recent case (Davis) with a similar fact pattern. The Court determined that the Davis principle applied here in that “when a defendant voluntarily chooses to allocute at a sentencing hearing, the sentencing court is permitted to consider the defendant’s freely offered statements, including those indicating a failure to accept responsibility.” Davis, 332 So.3d at 978. Therefore, the Supreme Court gave sentencing courts the permission to consider all sworn testimony statements made by defendants during sentencing.