Florida juries are given what some courts describe as an inherent pardon power to return a verdict of guilty for a lesser offense. However, the jury must be instructed as to lesser included offenses. If not, this may constitute a per se reversible error. In a recent decision, the appellate court found that the lower court erred in not instructing the jury on the charge of improper exhibition of a firearm, which was a permissive lesser included offense of attempted first-degree murder.
The appellant was involved in a verbal dispute with a woman at a convenience store. During the course of the argument, the appellant drew a gun and said he had a bullet for the woman and her fiance. The woman left and joined her family at the park. The appellant followed the woman and threatened to kill her and her family. He later fired shots at the woman and her aunt as they attempted to drive away. The appellant was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in this Florida gun crime case.
The defense counsel requested an instruction on the improper exhibition of a firearm as a lesser included offense of attempted first-degree murder. The Florida jury instructions identify lesser included offenses, and, if requested, the court must instruct the jury on a lesser included offense of the crime charged against the accused, as long as it is supported by the information and evidence. Improper exhibition of a firearm was a lesser included offense in this case. However, the lower court did not allow the instruction, and the appellant appealed his conviction.