Reset A A Font size: Print

Juan Ines BARRIERA, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. 5D16–630.

Decided: July 29, 2016

Juan I. Barriera, Madison, pro se. Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Allison Leigh Morris, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.

Juan Barriera appeals the summary denial of his Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.800(a) motion to correct illegal sentence. Barriera candidly acknowledges that his sentence “is not technically illegal.” Nevertheless, he argues that the postconviction court erred by not granting him habeas corpus relief to rectify a “manifest injustice.” We write to explain why Barriera is not entitled to relief.

In 1994, following a jury trial, Barriera was convicted of armed burglary of a dwelling, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. § 810.02(2)(b), Fla. Stat. (1994).1 He was sentenced as a habitual violent felony offender (“HVFO”) to serve life in prison, with the trial court also orally pronouncing that Barriera “would not be eligible for parole for at least fifteen years.”2 This court affirmed Barriera's judgment and sentence without opinion. Barriera v. State, 661 So.2d 16 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995).

Over the ensuing years, Barriera filed several motions seeking postconviction relief, which were all denied by the lower court. His appeals of the denial orders were also unsuccessful. In 2015, Barriera, through counsel, wrote a letter to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, inquiring as to his parole eligibility for the armed burglary conviction. The commission responded that, due to the nature and the timing of his offense, Barriera would essentially never be eligible for parole. Barriera, thereafter, filed his present motion, arguing that his sentence is illegal and, more particularly, that a manifest injustice has occurred because the trial court intended that he be eligible for parole, yet the Commission on Offender Review determined otherwise. In the order on appeal, the postconviction court held that Barriera's sentence was not illegal and the transcript from the sentencing hearing did not demonstrate that the sentencing court intended for Barriera to receive parole.

Citing to Johnson v. State, 9 So.3d 640 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009), and Stephens v. State, 974 So.2d 455 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008), Barriera essentially asks that we treat his appeal as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus and, much like our sister courts in those two cases, grant relief, directing the trial court to hold a new sentencing hearing and to reconsider his sentence to avoid a manifest injustice. Because we perceive significant differences between Barriera's sentencing and those in Stephens and Johnson, we decline the invitation.

In Burdick v. State, 594 So.2d 267 (Fla.1992), the Florida Supreme Court held that first-degree felonies punishable by a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment are subject to enhancement sentencing under the habitual felony offender statute. 594 So.2d at 267–68. The court also held that sentencing under the HFO and HVFO statutes is permissive, not mandatory. Id. Nevertheless, the trial judges in Stephens and Johnson were both under the impression that they were required to impose a life sentence on a defendant convicted of a first-degree felony punishable by up to life and who qualified for sentencing as a habitual felony offender. See Johnson, 9 So.3d at 641; Stephens, 974 So.2d at 456.

In the present case, unlike in Johnson and Stephens, the trial court was not under the misapprehension that, because Barriera qualified for HVFO sentencing, the imposition of the life sentence was mandatory. Furthermore, it is evident from the trial court's comments at sentencing that the court believed the life sentence was entirely justified and only mentioned parole because it thought it was required to do so. Thus, although the court failed to perceive that by imposing an HVFO life sentence, Barriera would not be eligible for parole, see Johnson, 9 So.3d at 641 (citations omitted), we conclude that no manifest injustice exists to justify resentencing. Cf. Lewis v. State, 625 So.2d 102, 103 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (affirming life sentence for HFO defendant despite trial court's inaccurate statement during sentencing concerning possibility of early release from prison because the trial court's intent to impose a life sentence was unambiguous).

Accordingly, we affirm the postconviction court's denial of Barriera's motion to correct illegal sentence and deny his request for habeas corpus relief.3