Nancy H. Raik, pro se, Appellant. Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Erica T. Hill, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Legal Affairs, Bureau of Victim Compensation, Tallahassee, for Appellee.
Nancy H. Raik, pro se, Appellant.
Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Erica T. Hill, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Legal Affairs, Bureau of Victim Compensation, Tallahassee, for Appellee.
B.L. Thomas, J.
Brian Raik was killed in a criminal act: vehicular homicide. He and his wife, Appellant Nancy Raik, had been married for thirty-one years. They had two children. She applied for victim compensation under the "Florida Crimes Compensation Act." §§ 960.01–.28, Fla. Stat. The Bureau of Crimes Compensation erroneously denied compensation to a surviving spouse of a deceased victim in direct violation of the Legislature's expressed intent that "aid, care, and support be provided by the state, as a matter of moral responsibility, for such victims ...." § 960.02, Fla. Stat. (emphasis added). The Bureau's interpretation and the dissenting opinion's interpretation would contradict plain legislative intent, and thereby wrongfully deprive crime victims of their rightful compensation. Therefore, we reverse with direction that the Bureau compensate Mrs. Raik in compliance with the Act. The probable cause affidavit noted that the other driver, Elie Charles, was traveling at an "excessive/reckless" speed—seventy miles per hour in a forty-five miles per hour zone—when he lost control of his vehicle while attempting to pass another car. His vehicle flew over a median and crashed head-on into Mr. Raik's car, killing him. The force of the impact on Mr. Raik's car caused it to hit another car and inflicted serious injuries on that driver. Mr. Charles was taken to the hospital but left "against medical advice." The State charged Mr. Charles with vehicular homicide under section 782.071(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2019).
Mrs. Raik filed a victim's compensation claim with the Bureau under section 960.07, Florida Statutes (2021), listing herself and her two children as dependents. After the accident, Mrs. Raik was in financial straits. She had to borrow money from family and friends to cover not only the bills, but also Mr. Raik's funeral expenses. In her claim form, she noted that her husband's cause of death was vehicular homicide.
The Bureau denied Mrs. Raik's claim, interpreting the Florida Crimes Compensation Act to exclude compensation for claims from the families of deceased victims of vehicular homicide, unless the perpetrator left the crime scene or intentionally caused the victim's death.
Our standard of review is de novo. Art. V, § 21, Fla. Const. ("In interpreting a state statute or rule, a state court ... may not defer to an administrative agency's interpretation of such statute or rule, and must instead interpret such statute or rule de novo .") (emphasis added).
The Bureau's denial is subject to the provisions of chapter 120, Florida Statutes. § 960.09(2), Fla. Stat. (2021). "A party who is adversely affected by [a] final agency action is entitled to judicial review." § 120.68(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2021). If the agency incorrectly interprets a provision of law and a correct interpretation would compel a particular action, then the reviewing court may set aside the agency action. § 120.68(7)(d).
The Florida Crimes Compensation Act
Section 960.03 provides the definitions applicable throughout the Florida Crimes Compensation Act, which are to be used, "unless the context otherwise requires." § 960.03, Fla. Stat. And the correct context must always be based on a reading of the relevant statute as a whole. Koile v. State , 934 So. 2d 1226 (Fla. 2006). In Koile , the supreme court emphasized this principle in holding that Florida's crime-victim restitution statute permitted a trial court to award lost future income of a murder victim to his estate, where, as here, the Legislature decreed that the state had a "moral responsibility" to crime victims:
The clear language of the statute is bolstered by the Legislature's explicit statements of intent in respect to the statute. In numerous years, the Legislature has passed and amended the restitution statute, and each time the Legislature has stated that its intent is to ensure that victims of crime are properly compensated and respected by the criminal justice system. For example, in 1984 when the Legislature amended section 775.089 to include the provisions at issue, the Legislature made explicit findings that "[e]ven though there is growing recognition that the criminal justice system would cease to function without the cooperation of victims and witnesses, the historic unresponsiveness of the criminal justice system to the real needs of victims and witnesses has not yet been fully corrected." Ch. 84–363, § 2, at 2144, Laws of Fla. Moreover, in the same legislative findings, the Legislature
also noted that "[w]hile state law provides the option of financial restitution to victims by defendants, most victims are never fully or even partially compensated by defendants for their injuries and other losses." Id. Accordingly, the Legislature required courts to order the defendant to make restitution to the victims unless clear and compelling reasons existed to justify the nonpayment of restitution.... In 1992, the Legislature amended section 775.089 slightly, and in the bill amending the statute specifically noted that it had previously determined that "the state has a moral responsibility to provide aid, care, and support to victims of crime." Ch. 92–107 at 901, Laws of Fla. (preamble).
The main purpose of section 775.089 has been to uphold the rights of crime victims by guaranteeing that they are compensated for their losses. Anything less than full compensation for those items discussed in section 775.089 would defeat the legislative intent of the statute .
In a very similar fashion here, as noted, that correct context requires an interpretation that is faithful to the express legislative intent and moral purpose of the Act:
The Legislature recognizes that many innocent persons suffer personal injury or death as a direct result of criminal acts .... Such persons or their dependents may thereby suffer disabilities, incur financial hardships, or become dependent upon public assistance. The Legislature finds and determines that there is a need for government financial assistance for such victims of crime. Accordingly, it is the intent of the Legislature that aid, care, and support be provided by the state, as a matter of moral responsibility , for such victims of crime. It is the express intent of the Legislature that all state departments and agencies cooperate with the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services in carrying out the provisions of this chapter.
Ch. 77-452, § 1, Laws of Fla. (emphasis added). That intent has not changed in forty-five years, except as it has been expanded to specify that it includes juvenile crimes. See § 960.02, Fla. Stat. (2021).
Accordingly, every section of the Florida Crimes Compensation Act, and every amendment to it, must be read and interpreted to effectuate the Legislature's explicit intent to financially aid the victims of crime. Joshua v. City of Gainesville , 768 So. 2d 432, 435 (Fla. 2000) (noting that statutes should be interpreted to effectuate their stated purposes). Further, the Florida Crimes Compensation Act must be interpreted in its historical context.
The Act's definition of "victim" unambiguously includes the deceased victim here and his family. "Victim" means "a person who suffers personal physical injury or death as a direct result of a crime." § 960.03(14)(a), Fla. Stat. And "[a] surviving spouse ... of a deceased victim" shall be eligible for awards under the Act. § 960.065 (1)(c), Fla. Stat.
The Bureau may award compensation if it determines a crime has been committed. § 960.13(1)(a)1., Fla. Stat. (2021). The Act broadly defines crime to include misdemeanors which result in physical injury or death:
(a) A felony or misdemeanor offense committed by an adult or a juvenile which results in physical injury or death ....
(b) A violation of s. 316.027(2), s. 316.193, s. 316.1935, s. 327.35(1), s. 782.071(1)(b), or s. 860.13(1)(a) which results in physical injury or death.
(c) An act involving the operation of a motor vehicle, ... which results in another person's injury or death that is intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle ... ; however, no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter.
§ 960.03(3)(a)–(c), Fla. Stat. (2021) (emphasis added).
The Bureau concluded that subsection (3)(c) limits the compensable crimes involving motor vehicles to only those listed in subsection (3)(b) and those where a person intentionally causes the victim's personal injury or death while operating a motor vehicle. The Bureau reasoned that Mrs. Raik's claim was not compensable because the person who caused Mr. Raik's death was charged under section 782.071(1)(a), Florida Statutes, which is not a crime listed in section 960.03(3)(b).
The Bureau's incorrect reading of the statute unduly limits the Legislature's stated declaration to compensate victims and their families. First, the statute's definition of a crime does not require a conviction of a "felony or misdemeanor offense committed by an adult or a juvenile which results in physical injury or death" before a victim of an "offense" is eligible for compensation under the Act. This will be discussed below regarding the correct interpretation of the statute as a whole. Second, the Bureau's interpretation nullified other provisions of section 960.03(3), Florida Statutes. The Bureau's reading of the statute contradicts the specific and express legislative intent to compensate crime victims, misreads the plain text of the statute and applicable definitions of crime, and results in the wrongful exclusion of victims and their families from compensation. Thus, the Bureau's reading of the statute defeats the legislative purpose and rationale of the Act.
History of the Florida Crimes Compensation Act
The original version of the Crimes Compensation Act defined "crime" as:
[T]he commission of a felony or misdemeanor under the laws of this state by any person which is punishable under the criminal laws of the State of Florida and which results in physical injury or death of a resident of this state; provided, however, that no act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... which results in injury or death shall constitute a crime for the purpose of this chapter unless the injury or death was intentionally inflicted through the use of such vehicle ..., or unless such vehicle ... is an implement of a crime to which this act applies.
Ch. 77-452, § 1, Laws of Fla.
The Legislature has consistently broadened the definition of "crime" to include more crime victims.
In 1985, the Legislature expanded the definition of compensable crimes to include violations of section 316.193, Florida Statutes, that result in serious injury or death. Ch. 85-326, § 1, Laws of Fla. In 1992, the Legislature again amended the definition of crime to include violations of sections 316.027(2) and 782.071(2), Florida Statutes, that result in serious injury or death. Ch. 92-107, § 4, Laws of Fla. That same year, the Legislature expanded the definition of crime to include crimes committed by juveniles. Ch. 92-287, § 19, Laws of Fla.
This expansion abrogated opinions such as Davis v. Bureau of Crimes Compensation , which held that one of section 960.03(3) ’s earlier definitions of crime only applied to "overt acts of a driver while using [an] automobile, and not to any subsequent intentional omission of the driver to render aid to another." 406 So. 2d 1189, 1190 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981).
In 1997, the Legislature amended the definition of crime to include acts of mass violence or international terrorism committed outside the United States resulting in physical injury or death for victims not otherwise covered under federal law. Ch. 97-41, § 1, Laws of Fla. In 1999, the Legislature again amended the definition to include violations of sections 327.35(1) and 860.13(1)(a), Florida Statutes, resulting in physical injury and death. Ch. 99-373, § 2, Laws of Fla. In 2008, it included in the definition crimes relating to online sexual exploitation and child pornography. Ch. 2008-172, § 7, Laws of Fla.
In 2012, the Legislature "redefin[ed] the term ‘crime’ for purposes of crime victims compensation to include additional forms of injury" to compensate victims of child abuse resulting in mental injury. Ch. 2012-155, § 15, Laws of Fla. (emphasis added). The Legislature again expanded the definition to include "forcible felon[ies] committed by an adult or juvenile which directly results in psychiatric or psychological injury ...." Ch. 2015-92, § 14, Laws of Fla.
And in its latest revision, the Legislature enlarged the definition of crime to include felonies or misdemeanors that result in the death of an emergency responder. Ch. 2017-155, § 13, Laws of Fla.
And even where the Legislature removed provisions from the Florida Crimes Compensation Act, its intent was to expand the Act. In 2001, the Legislature amended the 1992 definition of crime by removing reference to section 782.071(1)(b), Florida Statutes, and instead making section 782.071(2), Florida Statutes, compensable. See Ch. 2001-147, § 4, Laws of Fla. This change coincided with the amendment to section 782.071, Florida Statutes, which expanded the definition of "vehicular homicide" to include the killing of a viable fetus by any injury to the mother. Ch. 2001-147, § 2, Laws of Fla.
In 2007, the Legislature removed from the definition of crime the 1997 amendments, which covered acts of mass violence and international terrorism committed outside the United States. Ch. 2007-129, § 3, Laws of Fla. But the Legislature revised the definition so that this deletion would not affect the scope of coverage. See id. ; see also Fla. H.R. Homeland Sec. & Pub. Saf., HB 989 (2007) Post-Meeting Analysis 4–5 (Mar. 9, 2007), https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=h0989a.HSPS.doc&DocumentType=Analysis&BillNumber=0989&Session=2007 (last visited May 06, 2022).
Between 1977 and 2011, section 960.03, Florida Statutes, would have specifically included the crime at issue here because Mr. Charles’ vehicle was the "implement of [the] crime" of vehicular homicide. Compare Ch. 77-452, § 1, Laws of Fla. (making crimes where a vehicle is the implement of the crime resulting in death or physical injury a compensable crime), with Ch. 2012-155, § 15 Laws of Fla. (removing the implement of a crime provision). The Legislature's removal of the "implement of a crime" clause does not resolve the issue here, because the Legislature removed it with the intent to expand the definition of crime. See Ch. 2012-155, Laws of Fla. (nothing in the title indicates that the legislation was "redefining the term ‘crime’ for purposes of crime victim compensation to include additional forms of injury"). This is especially true when considering the Crimes Compensation Act's express intent to fulfill the state's "moral responsibility" to aid crime victims. See § 960.02, Fla. Stat. (2021). Textual Considerations
As noted, in interpreting the Florida Crimes Compensation Act, this Court must honor the stated legislative purpose: to help victims like Mrs. Raik, whose husband was killed by a criminal act, which the Legislature defined as a "homicide." See Koile , 934 So. 2d at 1232 n.5 (citation omitted) ("It is important to keep the expanded definition of "victims" in mind while reviewing the legislative intent because the expressed intent behind the amendment was to protect the ‘victims’ and ensure the state ‘do all that is possible’ to assist the ‘victims.’ "); Joshua , 768 So. 2d at 435 (noting that courts are "guided by the Legislature's stated purpose for enacting" a piece of legislation). Second, in properly and reasonably interpreting the statute, we must consider the relevant statutory definitions as a whole, against the backdrop of the historical context, as noted above. See Anderson v. State , 87 So. 3d 774, 777 (Fla. 2012) ("Legislative intent is the polestar that guides the interpretation and construction of a statute. ... When the meaning of a statute is ambiguous, a court may turn to the rules of statutory interpretation and construction.") (citations omitted).
If a statute is ambiguous and contains internally inconsistent provisions, our interpretation cannot render any provision illusory. See Am. Home Assur. Co. v. Plaza Materials Corp ., 908 So. 2d 360, 366–67 (Fla. 2005) ("Court[s] cannot engage in a narrow, limited reading of an individual subsection ..., which would render another coequal provision of the statute entirely nugatory."). Rather, "our duty [is] to read the provisions of a statute as consistent with one another ... and to give effect and meaning to the entirety of the legislative enactment ...." Id. (citations omitted). Further, we must not literally interpret a statutory provision if doing so "would lead to an unreasonable conclusion or defeat legislative intent ...." Joshua , 768 So. 2d at 435 (quoting Las Olas Tower Co. v. City of Fort Lauderdale , 742 So. 2d 308, 312 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999) ). Only after we discern legislative intent may we read the statute "as a whole to properly construe its effect." Id. This is because a statute's stated intent must guide our decision-making. See id.
We note that while the dissenting opinion in Plaza Materials did not agree that an internal conflict existed, it did not disagree with the principles of statutory construction relied on in the majority opinion, which did recognize an internal conflict in the statute. See 908 So. 2d at 372–77 (Cantero, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).
Section 960.03(3)(a), Florida Statutes, unambiguously defines a compensable crime as every felony and misdemeanor offense committed by an adult or juvenile that results in personal injury or death.
Vehicular homicide is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in state prison. § 782.071(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2021). And while vehicular homicide is enhanced to a first-degree felony if the offender leaves the scene of the fatal accident, the substantive and core definition of the crime does not require the perpetrator to leave the crime scene. § 782.071(1)(b). Rather, the statute simply increases the penalty for the underlying criminal act if such attempt to elude detection occurs. Id.
The Bureau's literal and isolated reading of section 960.03(3)(c) would contradict and invalidate much of subsection (3)(a). This interpretation would prevent victims of felonies involving the unintentional use of an automobile, resulting in deaths or physical injury, from receiving compensation. This interpretation violates core principles of statutory construction and the express legislative intent of section 960.02, Florida Statutes, and leads to absurd results.
For example, the Bureau's interpretation would exclude the offense which resulted in the death of a child in State v. Ellison , 561 So. 2d 576 (Fla. 1990). Ellison was convicted of second-degree murder, later reduced to manslaughter, after losing control of a vehicle in a high-speed police chase and hitting another vehicle, killing a sixteen-month-old victim. Under the Bureau's interpretation, the child's parents would not be eligible for compensation, because the perpetrator in Ellison did not intentionally use the vehicle: "Ellison's act of losing control of the car was not committed from ill-will or spite." Id. at 577. Thus, under the Bureau's literal reading of subsection (3)(c) in isolation, the state would fail in its "moral responsibility" to aid those victims in violation of the stated purpose of the Act. See. § 960.02, Fla. Stat.
Similarly, under the Bureau's literal interpretation of section 960.03(3)(c), Florida Statutes, the victim's family in Hicks v. State , 41 So. 3d 327 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010), would be ineligible for compensation. There, Hicks drove the wrong way on the interstate and killed the victim. Id. at 328–29. The court reduced the conviction from second-degree murder to manslaughter on the rationale that there was no "evil intent" to kill the victim. Id. at 331. Thus, the victim's family could not show the offender's car was "intentionally" used in the crime. Such a result would contradict the express intent of the Act and lead to an absurd result.
The supreme court's decision in Maddox v. State , 923 So. 2d 442 (Fla. 2006), is instructive regarding the error of an absurd, literal interpretation of a statute. Maddox concerned the interpretation of section 316.650(9), Florida Statutes, which stated that a traffic citation was not admissible "in any trial." Id. at 444. The Second District declined to apply a literal interpretation of the statute and held that a traffic citation was admissible in an unrelated criminal trial. Maddox v. State, 862 So. 2d 783, 784–85 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), aff'd, 923 So. 2d 442 (Fla. 2006). The Second District also certified conflict with this Court's decision in Dixon v. State , 812 So. 2d 595 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002). Maddox , 862 So. 2d at 784–85. In Dixon , this Court held that section 316.650(9) applied even when a person forged a false name on the citation and was later prosecuted for forgery. 923 So. 2d at 448. The supreme court rejected this Court's literal interpretation of the statute and approved the decision of the Second District Court. Maddox , 923 So. 2d at 448. The supreme court noted that a literal interpretation of the phrase "at any trial" would lead to an absurd result and be contrary to legislative intent:
Moreover, ... if we were to agree ... [that] the phrase "any trial" ... was intended to absolutely encompass all proceedings in a court of law, we would in essence be sanctioning a construction of this statutory provision that would lead to "unreasonable or ridiculous" results.
... In a similar manner, under ... [this] view, a citation found at the scene of the murder of a police officer would be inadmissible to show the last person having contact with the officer when the substance of the particular citation was in no way in controversy.
We find further support for our conclusion in this matter when recognizing that the First District's [literal] interpretation of section 316.650(9) essentially eradicates all prosecutions for forgery of a traffic citation.
... [A]lthough the strict meaning of the words in the abstract employed by
the Legislature when it drafted section 316.650(9) may admittedly support the outcome of the First District's opinion ..., such a sterile literal interpretation should not be adhered to when it would lead to absurd results.
923 So. 2d at 447–48 (citations omitted). And a literal interpretation of the clause at issue here would necessitate just that—an absurd result.
If the language "however, no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter" means that "no other [such] act" can be a "crime" eligible for victim compensation, then much of section 960.03(3)(a) is nullified. As noted, the victims of many crimes which would qualify as an "offense" under subsection (3)(a), including even homicide and manslaughter offenses involving a vehicle not intentionally used, would be unable to receive compensation under a literal reading of subsection (3)(c). This result would be particularly absurd, as subsection (3)(a) does not even require a conviction for such offenses.
But almost all offenses in subsection (3)(b) would not allow for victim compensation under a literal reading of subsection (3)(c), as noted below:
(b) A violation of
s. 316.027(2), s. 316.193,s. 316.1935, s. 327.35(1), s. 782.071(1)(b), or s. 860.13(1)(a)which results in physical injury or death.
§ 960.03(3)(b), Fla. Stat. And although the Bureau interprets subsection (3)(c) to include all of subsection (3)(b), there is no logical basis for such a reading. Either subsection (3)(c) must be read literally, and apply to the entire definition of a "crime," including the crimes designated in subsection 93)(b) by its plain terms, or it cannot be read literally. No text in (3)(c) exempts (3)(b) from its reach. If subsection (3)(c) is to be read literally and in isolation, it necessarily excludes a broad swath of crimes, including felonies resulting in the deaths of victims.
We either, therefore, adopt a literal interpretation of subsection (3)(c), which we cannot do without violating express legislative intent and repealing preceding subsections, or we must interpret subsection (3)(c) in harmony with subsections (3)(a) and (3)(b) to adhere to the declared legislative intent to fulfill the state's "moral responsibility" to devastated crime victims, which we must do.
The sentence in subsection (3)(c) regarding crimes in which an automobile is "intentionally used," and which results in personal injury or death, if read literally, is redundant to language in subsection (3)(a), which makes all felonies resulting in injury or death subject to compensation to the victims of those crimes. Thus, that sentence must be read in conjunction with the following clause: "no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter." § 960.03(3)(c), Fla. Stat. (emphasis added).
The only reasonable interpretation of this language, in light of the unambiguous declaration of legislative intent, the broad language in subsection (3)(a), and the proper context of the statute as a whole, is to read the sentence as confirming legislative intent that victims of crimes involving the intentional use of an automobile are entitled to compensation. And "acts" (not criminal offenses) involving only negligence or other civil wrongs involving motor vehicles are not covered by the statute. This interpretation preserves every provision of the Legislature's definition of "crimes" without invalidating any provision, as mandated by rules of statutory construction addressed in Plaza Materials. 908 So. 2d at 366–68. The subsection's reference to "acts," not "crimes," further supports this correct interpretation. These references indicate that the Legislature intended this language to operate as a fallback provision to ensure that no deaths or injuries to crime victims were excluded, while simultaneously ensuring that the statute, and the limited funds appropriated to that statute, were not depleted in any manner for injuries or deaths resulting from civil torts.
As this Court held in Owens v. State , 303 So. 3d 993 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020), which involved a very similar question of statutory interpretation, a court cannot adopt a literal and sterile statutory interpretation that produces an absurd result. In Owens, this Court addressed a statute that provided a more lenient sentencing scheme for certain probationers who violated their terms of supervision and who met "any" of four enumerated criteria. See id. We held the word "any" had to be interpreted to read that "all" requisite criteria applied:
Here, although the use of "any" rather than "all" before the list of four conditions in subsection 948.06(2)(f)1 creates an ambiguity, it is not unresolvable. We must read all parts of the amended section 948.06 together so as "to ascertain their meaning." Rollins v. Pizzarelli , 761 So. 2d 294, 298 (Fla. 2000). "It is axiomatic that all parts of a statute must be read together in order to achieve a consistent whole." Forsythe v. Longboat Key Beach Erosion Control Dist ., 604 So. 2d 452, 455 (Fla. 1992).
"In certain circumstances, the absurdity doctrine may be used to justify departures from the general rule that courts will apply a statute's plain language." State v. Hackley , 95 So. 3d 92, 95 (Fla. 2012). If we were to read "any" strictly and not in context with the four conditions that follow, we would give an absurd reading to the revised statute. "[A] sterile literal interpretation should not be adhered to when it would lead to absurd results." Maddox v. State , 923 So. 2d 442, 448 (Fla. 2006). If "any" in context here did not mean "all," everyone on probation would meet the requirement of subsection 948.06(2)(f)1.a. The conditions in b. through d. would be superfluous since anyone found to have violated probation must, of course, be on probation.
... Lastly, regardless of how many previous violations of probation have been committed, if "any" was read literally, then subsection 948.06(2)(f)1.d would be meaningless and probation could never be revoked. Such readings would not give meaning to the whole of the statutory amendment and would be absurd.
Courts must be careful in applying the absurdity doctrine so as to not "substitute their judgment of how legislation should read, rather than how it does read, in violation of the separation of powers." Nassau County v. Willis , 41 So. 3d 270, 279 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010). Courts should not resort to the absurdity doctrine merely because of disagreements with the result of legislation. Lewars v. State , 277 So. 3d 143, 149 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017). But, "a literal interpretation of the language of a statute need not be given when to do so would lead to an unreasonable or ridiculous conclusion." Holly v. Auld , 450 So. 2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1984). We believe it would be unreasonable to conclude that the Legislature intended the new subsection 948.06(2)(f)1. apply to every probationer irrespective of whether the probationer complied with all the listed conditions. Rather than benefitting all probationers, it seems clear that the Legislature intended
section 948.06(2)(f) 1 apply only to persons who meet all four conditions.
303 So. 3d 993, 997–98 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020) (internal footnote omitted).
This Court's logic in Owens was partly incorporated by the Fifth District in Kirk v. State , and is also instructive here:
Two rules of statutory construction justify that position. The first is the doctrine of in pari materia , which provides that we should view statutes in a manner that would harmonize the applicable law. See Deen v. Wilson , 1 So. 3d 1179, 1182 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009). The second, referred to as the absurdity doctrine, is that "a literal interpretation of the language of a statute need not be given when to do so would lead to an unreasonable or ridiculous conclusion." Holly v. Auld , 450 So. 2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1984) (citing Johnson v. Presbyterian Homes of Synod of Fla., Inc. , 239 So. 2d 256 (Fla. 1970) ). Given the outcomes invited by Kirk's interpretation, these two principles compel the conclusion that section 948.06(2)(f) 1. requires all conditions to be met, rather than just one. While utilizing a slightly different approach, this is the same conclusion reached in Owens v. State ....
Rather than finding an ambiguity, [as this Court did in Owens] we should recognize that despite the lack of ambiguity, this statute is ripe for the utilization of the absurdity doctrine. ...
Certainly, the use of the absurdity doctrine should be exceptional. It is not intended to allow courts to substitute their judgment for that of the Legislature. However, viewing the statute as a whole, it is clear that the Legislature intended that all conditions be met before a probationer obtains its benefits.
Kirk v. State , 303 So. 3d 604, 606 (Fla. 5th DCA 2020) (citations omitted).
There is no other reasonable interpretation of the language at issue without violating the expressed legislative intent of the Florida Crimes Compensation Act to fulfill the state's moral obligation to compensate victims of crime. Appellant's late husband was killed in an accident in which the responsible driver was charged with vehicular homicide. This Court's interpretation ensures that the state's moral obligations to crime victims and their families is fulfilled, and properly reads section 960.03(3)(a)–(c), Florida Statutes, "to give effect and meaning to the entirety of the legislative enactment ...." Am. Home Assur. Co. v. Plaza Materials Corp ., 908 So. 2d at 366–67. The Bureau's interpretation cannot stand in light of the Legislature's broad definitions of crime victims and its expressed intent to ameliorate the suffering of those victims.
We reverse the Bureau's decision denying Appellant compensation from the fund with directions to approve her application.
M.K. Thomas, J., concurs; Makar, J. dissents with opinion
Makar, J., dissenting.
The legal question presented in this victim compensation fund case is whether the vehicular homicide that resulted in Brian Raik's death is a "crime" as defined in the Florida Crimes Compensation Act, Chapter 960, Florida Statutes. The vehicular homicide was a crime under Florida law, but it must fall within the Act's narrower definition of "crime" to trigger victim compensation.
The purpose of the Florida Crimes Compensation Act is to provide aid, care, and support for victims of adult and juvenile crime. § 960.02, Fla. Stat. (2022). Though both serve similar interests, the Act is separate and distinct from restitution, which courts may impose on criminal offenders. See § 775.089, Fla. Stat. (2022). Under the Act, the State recognizes a "moral responsibility" to assist crime victims and has placed legal parameters on the scope of crimes eligible for victim compensation. § 960.02, Fla. Stat. For purposes of the Act, the word "crime" is defined in six subsections of section 960.03(3), three of which are relevant in deciding this case. One sets forth a general meaning of "crime" (subsection (3)(a)); another refers to a specific type of vehicular homicide (subsection (3)(b)); and the third explicitly excludes crimes involving the operation of motor vehicles unless injury or death of a victim was "intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle" (subsection (3)(c)). This latter subsection unequivocally states that "no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter." Id . § 960.03(3)(c). The clear and unambiguous language of this specific exclusion controls the outcome in this case.
As a general matter, the Act's definition of "crime" includes a "felony or misdemeanor offense committed by an adult or a juvenile which results in physical injury or death[.]" Id . § 960.03(3)(a). This broad definition—read in isolation without consideration of other parts of the Act—would include the vehicular homicide at issue. If subsection (3)(a) was the only definition of "crime," textual analysis comes to an end and the question of compensability is easily answered. But other subsections in section 960.03 must be considered in determining legislative intent as to what "crimes" it meant to include, particularly those involving motor vehicles, as the next two sections discuss.
Subsection (3)(a) states in full that "crime" means:
A felony or misdemeanor offense committed by an adult or a juvenile which results in physical injury or death, a forcible felony committed by an adult or juvenile which directly results in psychiatric or psychological injury, or a felony or misdemeanor offense of child abuse committed by an adult or a juvenile which results in a mental injury, as defined in s. 827.03, to a person younger than 18 years of age who was not physically injured by the criminal act. The mental injury to the minor must be verified by a psychologist licensed under chapter 490, by a physician licensed in this state under chapter 458 or chapter 459 who has completed an accredited residency in psychiatry, or by a physician who has obtained certification as an expert witness pursuant to s. 458.3175. The term also includes a criminal act that is committed within this state but that falls exclusively within federal jurisdiction.
The crime in this case involved a motor vehicle driven by the defendant who was charged with violating a specific subsection of the vehicular homicide statute. The definition of "vehicular homicide" is "the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child by any injury to the mother, caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another." § 782.071, Fla. Stat. (2022) (emphasis added). As emphasized, the crime of vehicular homicide involves reckless conduct; negligent or intentional conduct is not an element of the crime.
Two types of vehicular homicide exist, one a second-degree felony and the other a first-degree felony. Vehicular homicide is punishable as a second-degree felony under subsection 782.071(1)(a ). Vehicular homicide is punishable as a first-degree felony under subsection 782.071(1)(b ) , if it is proven that: "1. At the time of the accident, the person knew, or should have known, that the accident occurred; and 2. The person failed to give information and render aid as required by s. 316.062." Id. §§ 782.071(1)(a) & (b). In other words, subsection (1)(b) is a more serious offense, a first-degree felony, because it requires that an offender knowingly leave the scene of a fatal crash without compliance with statutory requirements.
The Act's definition of "crime" in subsection 960.03(3)(b) includes only the first-degree violation of the vehicular homicide statute. It does not include the specific charge in this case, i.e., a second-degree felony under subsection 782.071(1)(a ). Subsection 960.03(3)(b) of the Act defines "crime" to include a "violation of s. 316.027(2), s. 316.193, s. 316.1935, s. 327.35(1), s. 782.071(1)(b ) , or s. 860.13(1)(a) which results in physical injury or death." Id. § 960.03(3)(b) (emphases added). Subsection 782.071(1)(b)—as highlighted—is specifically included as a "crime" for purposes of victim compensation; but subsection 782.071(1)(a)—involving second degree felonies—is not. For this reason, a violation of section 782.071(1)(a) —the specific criminal charge in this case—is not a "crime" under subsection 960.03(3)(b) of the Act for purposes of compensability; perhaps it should be included in this subsection, but the Legislature chose not to do so, including only the more serious first-degree felony that includes leaving the scene of an accident.
In its 2015 session, the legislature divided then-existing subsection 960.03(3)(b) into two components, as follows:
(b) A violation of s. 316.027(2) , s. 316.193, s. 316.1935
s. 316.027(1), s. 327.35(1), s. 782.071(1)(b), or s. 860.13(1)(a) which results in physical injury or death.
(c) ; however, An act involving the operation of a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft which results in another person's injury or death that is intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle, boat, or aircraft; however, no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter
does not constitute a crime for the purpose of this chapter unless the injury or death was intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle, boat, or aircraft.
Ch. 2015-92, § 14, Laws of Fla. The legislature added to the list of violations in subsection (b); it could have added section 782.071(1)(a), Florida Statutes, but did not do so.
The final piece of the interpretive puzzle is subsection (3)(c), which encompasses the operation of motor vehicles and defines "crime" to include:
An act involving the operation of a motor vehicle , boat, or aircraft which results in another person's injury or death that is intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle , boat, or aircraft; however, no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle , boat, or aircraft constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter [Chapter 960, Victim Assistance] .
§ 960.03(3)(c), Fla. Stat. (emphases added). The highlighted language clearly indicates that the Legislature intended to limit victim compensation for injuries or deaths arising from the operation of motor vehicles to only those where the injuries or deaths were "intentionally inflicted through the use of the vehicle." Importantly, the last sentence of subsection (3)(c) states an unequivocal legislative intent that "no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter" other than intentional ones.
Read as the legislature intended, the plain and unambiguous text of subsection (3)(c) read as a whole clearly states that injuries and deaths from the operation of motor vehicles are "crimes" for victim compensation purposes only if they were intentionally inflicted by the use of the motor vehicle. The legislature affirmatively and unmistakably set a higher statutory bar for crimes involving motor vehicle injuries and deaths by requiring intentionality; here, the vehicular homicide statute only requires recklessness , not intentional conduct. As the Department of Legal Affairs, Bureau of Victim Compensation, argues: "the specific crime of Vehicular Homicide under Florida Statute 782.071(1)(a) is not a compensable crime under Florida Statute 960.03(3) because the legislature explicitly excluded vehicular crimes in Florida Statute 960.03(3)(c) unless the vehicular crime fell into the exception or specific type of vehicular crimes listed under Florida Statute 960.03(3)(b) and (c)." The Department's view, to which no deference is due, is nonetheless the most faithful to principles of textual analysis.
In addition, the age-old canon of statutory construction—that "[i]f there is a conflict between a general provision and a specific provision, the specific provision prevails"—has direct application to section 960.03. Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 183 (2012); McDonald v. State , 957 So. 2d 605, 610 (Fla. 2007) ("It is a well settled rule of statutory construction ... that a special statute covering a particular subject matter is controlling over a general statutory provision covering the same and other subjects in general terms.") (quoting Adams v. Culver, 111 So. 2d 665, 667 (Fla.1959) ); Fletcher v. Fletcher , 573 So. 2d 941, 942 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991) ("It is well established that, where there is in the same statute a specific provision, and also a general one that in its most comprehensive sense would include matters embraced in the former, the particular provision will nevertheless prevail; the general provision must be taken to affect only such cases as are not within the terms of the particular provision.").
Where a general and specific statute on the same topic exists—here, the definition of "crime" for victim compensation purposes in section 960.03—the specific statute (subsection (3)(c)) operates as an exception to or qualification upon the terms of the general statute (subsection (3)(a)). See McDonald , 957 So. 2d at 610. While the legislature broadly defined what constitutes a "crime" in subsection 960.03(3)(a), it simultaneously constrained its reach under Chapter 960, by significantly limiting motor vehicle crimes to only those involving intentional wrongdoing. The only way to read subsections (3)(a) and (3)(c) harmoniously is to give effect to the more specific limitation that subsection (3)(c) imposes. See McKendry v. State , 641 So. 2d 45, 46 (Fla. 1994) ("[A] specific statute covering a particular subject area always controls over a statute covering the same and other subjects in more general terms. The more specific statute is considered to be an exception to the general terms of the more comprehensive statute.") (citations omitted).
Giving effect to the legislature's intent as expressed in subsection (3)(c) does not render subsection (3)(a) entirely meaningless; it merely limits the breadth of that subsection to only those types of motor vehicle crashes specified in subsection (3)(c). On the other hand, allowing victim compensation for crimes involving motor vehicles, where intentional conduct is lacking, would render subsection (3)(c) meaningless in its entirety. Mendenhall v. State , 48 So. 3d 740, 749 (Fla. 2010) (noting that "words in a statute should not be construed as mere surplusage" or interpreted in a way that renders them "meaningless"). "To arrive at any other conclusion would render the specific mandatory language" of subsection (3)(c) "without meaning." McKendry , 641 So. 2d at 46.
Holding otherwise conflicts with the Second District, which recently addressed the language of subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c) and held as follows:
While the victim suffered death as a result of Latham's accident and Latham was charged with violating section 316.027(1), Latham's offense does not constitute a crime under section 960.03 because the "death was [not] intentionally inflicted through the use of [Latham's] vehicle." § 960.03(3)(b) [now § 960.03(3)(c) ]. Therefore, under the plain language of the above-mentioned statutes, the victim in this case did not qualify for compensation by the Fund and Latham is not obligated for restitution to the Fund.
Latham v. State , 185 So. 3d 686, 691 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (footnote omitted). The Second District's holding and interpretation of section 960.03, are consistent with principles of textualism and statutory construction.
Finally, neither the moral responsibility underlying the legislature's creation of a victim compensation system nor the phrase "unless the context otherwise requires" provides judicial leeway to broaden the parameters of section 960.03. As to the former, the act does not grant judicial power to impose what a court might deem is moral; instead, the legislature premised the Act's purpose in morality but codified the limits of victim compensation in statutory language whose interpretation is a legal function. The moral purpose that motivated the legislature's action doesn't empower a court to expand the statute's reach or negate a clearly worded exclusion. As to the latter, the point of the phrase "unless the context otherwise requires" is to ensure that one portion of a statute is not read to the exclusion of others and, instead, that a statutory provision be read as a whole in context; it is not a judicial license to nullify portions of the statute, such as subsection (3)(c)’s limitation on motor vehicle claims. Indeed, this type of qualifying language has a redundancy because judicial interpretation of legal texts necessarily considers statutes as a whole and the context in which they are applied. Scalia & Garner, supra , 33 (endorsing the "fair reading" approach to statutory interpretation, which "requires an ability to comprehend the purpose of the test, which is a vital part of its context. But the purpose is to be gathered only from the text itself, consistently with the other aspects of its context.").
To the contrary, the phrase ensures that subsection 930.03(3)(b)’s specific inclusion of first-degree vehicular homicide is not nullified by subsection 930.03(3)(c)’s exclusion of non-intentional motor vehicle crimes. The latter exclusion would otherwise prohibit victim compensation for a first-degree vehicular homicide, but the "context otherwise requires" its inclusion because it is specifically listed as a "crime" under the Act.
In conclusion, the Department's denial of compensation in this case is legally required due to the plain and unequivocal statutory language in Florida's Crimes Compensation Act. The legislature has specifically said that intentional wrongdoing is required in motor vehicle crimes under the Act and unequivocally punctuated its intent by saying that "no other act involving the operation of a motor vehicle ... constitutes a crime for purposes of this chapter ." The illegal act in this case was the reckless, but not intentional, operation of a motor vehicle, which is explicitly excluded "for purposes of [Chapter 960]." Allowing compensation for other than intentional wrongdoing in motor vehicle cases effectively erases the words and clear legislative intent set forth in subsection 960.03(3)(c). That said, everyone assuredly has sympathy and compassion for the victim and his family in this case; the vehicular homicide took his life and upended his family members’ lives irremediably. It is a legislative matter, not a judicial one, however, whether to extend victim compensation beyond what the text of the statute permits; this case—which creates conflict with the Second District—may provide the impetus for doing so.