By Scott Kalish
After serving nearly 18 years in prison, Respondent Robert Taylor was granted conditional release in 2007. In 2010, it was determined that Taylor violated a condition of his release by willfully using marijuana. After a hearing the parole examiner recommended that Taylor resume his release under regular supervision. The Florida Parole Commission (FPC) however, rejected the parole examiner’s recommendation and ordered that Taylor be returned to the custody of Florida Department of Corrections. Taylor filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Third Circuit Court of Florida, in which he argued that the FPC abused its discretion when it failed to state with “particularity” the reasoning behind departing from the parole examiner’s recommendation. Section 120.57(1)(l), Florida Statutes (2010). The Third Circuit denied Taylor’s petition without expressly addressing the issue of whether the FPC stated with the requisite particularity their reason for departure from the recommendation. The Third circuit concluded that FPC acted within its discretion based on the evidence presented at the hearing.
Following the Third Circuit’s decision, Taylor petitioned the First DCA for a writ of certiorari. The First DCA held that FPC’s decision to revoke Taylor’s supervision was an abuse of discretion that resulted in a miscarriage of justice. The FPC then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the DCA’s decision.
The Court began its analysis by explaining that a second-tier certiorari review is not a de novo review. The standard for second-tier certiorari review is two pronged: first a court must determine whether the lower court afforded procedural due process and second, whether the court applied the correct law. Furthermore, the reviewing court can only review the case “when there is a departure from the essential requirements of law resulting in a miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court found that the First District went beyond the scope of second-tier certiorari review because it reached its “decision by reviewing the merits of FPC’s decision to revoke Taylor’s conditional release.” The Court stressed the fact that the circuit court reviewed Taylor’s case on the merits and that he was not entitled to a second plenary appeal at the district court level. The First DCA erred when it addressed the issue of whether the FPC abused its discretion in revoking Taylor’s supervision. The proper inquiry should have been whether, “the circuit court provided due process and applied the correct law when ruling on Taylor’s habeas petition.”
The Supreme Court also held that the First DCA erred in finding that the circuit court’s denial of Taylor’s habeas petition was a grievous error constituting a miscarriage of justice. The Court pointed out that, once a willful violation of conditional release is established, the FPC has discretion to reject a parole examiner’s recommended sanction. As a result, the circuit court reviewing the FPC’s order could not enter an order directing the FPC to take a certain action, but could only quash the FPC’s order and remand for reconsideration.
The Court opined that in this case FPC’s specific reason that “revocation was ‘for the best interest of society and the Conditional Releasee,’” was arguably sufficient to meet section 120.57(1)(l). The Court ultimately quashed the First DCA’s opinion in the case and remanded the case for reinstatement of the circuit court’s order that denied Taylor’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.