The crime of aggravated battery is committed when a person commits the crime of battery and in the process either:
1. Intentionally or knowingly causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement; or
2. Uses a deadly weapon.
Aggravated battery is a second-degree felony and therefore punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison.
But in the case of Benjamin versus the State of Florida, Mr. Benjamin was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. How was that possible?
The judge who sentenced Benjamin based her decision on a Florida law which states that when a person commits an aggravated battery and in the process of doing so uses a gun, that crime is to be reclassified from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony.
But the judge failed to notice that the same law that authorizes reclassification also prohibits such reclassification when the use of a gun is an essential element of the crime of aggravated battery. In Mr. Benjamin's case, the use of a gun was an essential element of the crime for which he was convicted. Therefore, the appellate court deciding Benjamin's case ruled that the trial judge erred when she reclassified his convictions from second-degree felonies to first-degree felonies.