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A local man convicted last month of felony battery by a six-member jury was handed a maximum prison sentence earlier this week, despite the appeals of family members and a spirited argument by his defense attorney.
The court on Monday, Nov. 26, sentenced 27-year-old Marquice Serial Dobson to five years with the Department of Corrections (DOC), crediting him with 31 days of jail-time served.
“I'm sympathetic to the defense's argument but I find that Mr. Dobson qualifies for PRR,” Circuit Judge Dawn Caloca-Johnson said, following a lengthy recess during which she researched the law after hearing arguments from the defense and state as to what the sentence should be.
PRR stands for prison releasee reoffender. Under Florida law, an individual who commits certain types of felonies within three years of being released from prison qualifies as a prison releasee reoffender and the judge must impose the maximum possible sentence.
It was Defense Attorney David Collins' argument that mitigating circumstances in the case relieved the judge of having to impose the maximum sentence.
As part of his argument, Collins introduced a document attesting to Dobson's mental health history, information that the former said he hadn't received until after the trial. Additionally, Collins said, members of Dobson's family wanted to address the court on behalf of his client.
First to speak was Dobson's father, who said that as a correctional officer he well understood the effects of prison on inmates. The father expressed regret that he hadn't been part of his son's life when the latter was growing up. But he said he was now ready to step forward and help provide direction to his son to help make the right choices.
Dobson's girlfriend, with whom he has two children, made an impassioned plea to the court for mercy, citing his bipolar disorder and dysfunctional family background as causes for his troubled past.
“I ask you to help him get treatment and psychological help,” the girlfriend told the judge. “He needs to be with his kids.”
Dobson himself asked the court for a second chance, saying that he had been doing well and making progress in getting his life together until “this bump on the road” had occurred.
“I was taking my meds and doing good but I still had this thing hanging over me,” he said, referring to the charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon/causing great bodily harm, which the jury in its verdict reduced to felony battery.
And this reduction largely went to the heart of Collins' argument, which was that because the jury had found Dobson guilty of the lesser included offense of felony battery, and hadn't specifically cited great bodily harm it its verdict, it warranted a deviation from the PRR requirement.
Collins cited state statutes, case law and legislative intent to buttress his argument. Another part of which was that in situations where state statutes conflicted, it was the legislative intent that the benefit of the doubt should go to the defendant, especially when there was a mitigating factor, as a mental health issue.
Collins asked the court to have the courage to take a chance on Dobson, whom he said he had known as a young football player when he (Collins) was a coach, vouching for Dobson as a well-behaved and respectful young man. It was only when he was off his meds that he got into trouble, Collins said.
He asked the court to give Dobson jail time instead of prison and make mental health treatment part of the sentence.
Assistant State Attorney Andrew Deneen argued to the contrary. He pointed out that Dobson had been released from prison in February 2016 and in April had been arrested on the felony battery charge, which more than qualified him under the PRR requirement. Dobson, he said, wasn't someone just entering the criminal justice system. Rather, he had an extensive criminal history, Deneen said, citing various of Dobson's previous offenses.
“I have no doubt that he has a mental condition,” Deneen said. “But he's never shown a willingness to undergo treatment in the past. Nor did his mental condition contribute to the his action on the day of the incident.”
After listening to the argument from both sides, Caloca-Johnson clearly stated her position.
“What I'm concerned about is that this court follow the law,” she said.
Following the recess, the judge spoke at length about her decision. She said her research hadn't been exhaustive, given the time constraints. But it had been adequate to satisfy her, she said.
“It's clear from the jury's verdict that Dobson was convicted of the lesser included offense of felony battery,” the judge said. “But to reach its verdict, the jury had to find both the element of striking the victim and causing great bodily harm.”
Notwithstanding the defense's argument of conflict or ambiguity in the statutes, “I cannot reconcile the legislative intent was that if you get convicted of a lesser included, the PRR doesn't apply,” Caloca-Johnson said.
She noted that the thrust of Collins' argument was that the mental health issue trumped the PRR requirement. She, however, didn't see it that way, she said. If the lawmakers had intended to create an exemption to the PRR requirement, she believed that they would have stated explicitly somewhere in the statute, given the great detail they had had dedicated to the subject, she said.
While remaining sympathetic to the defense's argument, she could not abide by it, Caloca-Johnson said, thereafter imposing the maximum sentence.
The jury found Dobson guilty of felony battery on Oct. 26. following a daylong trial.
The incident that resulted in the charge against Dobson stemmed from an altercation during a card game that turned violent when the defendant hurled a brick at another man, striking him in the jaw and significantly injuring him.
The defense argued that the Dobson had acted in self-defense. The jury, however, found him guilty of felony battery.