On June 21, 2007, Steven Montgomery was found guilty of second-degree murder in Jacksonville, Florida. Patrick McGuinness and I were the Jacksonville criminal attorneys assigned to the case at the Public Defender Office. The Jacksonville State Attorney’s Office was seeking a conviction for first-degree murder in this Jacksonville murder case which would result in a minimum mandatory sentence of life in prison. However, the jury found Montgomery guilty of second-degree murder instead. After the Jacksonville sentencing hearing, Montgomery was sentenced to 45 years in the Florida State Prison.
Today, the Florida First District Court of Appeal reserved Montgomery’s judgment and sentence and remanded the case for a new trial. The court ruled that the Jacksonville trial court made a fundamental error when it gave a manslaughter instruction that erroneously suggested that an intent to kill is an element of Jacksonville manslaughter.
The good news for Montgomery is that he gets a shot at a new Jacksonville murder trial. Under Florida’s Double Jeopardy Laws, the State cannot try him for first-degree murder again. He can only be tried for second-degree murder, the crime that he was convicted of in Jacksonville. However, he has the chance of being acquitted or convicted of a lesser offense, like Jacksonville manslaughter. Also, Montgomery cannot be sentenced to more than 45 years in prison for the Jacksonville murder. Therefore, even if he is convicted of Jacksonville second-degree murder again, he gets another sentencing hearing. At the hearing, he may get less than 45 years in jail. In the end, Montgomery comes out ahead in this Jacksonville murder case. He gets a new trial and cannot be convicted or sentenced to anything more than he already has been. He has nothing to lose from a retrial of his Jacksonville second-degree murder case and everything to gain.