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Supreme Court to decide if car can be weapon

In a case stemming from the death of a man after an altercation in a bar, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Friday urged the Florida Supreme Court to uphold a ruling that a car can legally be considered a weapon.

The Supreme Court said in January that it would take up an appeal by Adam Lloyd Shepard, who was convicted on a charge of manslaughter with a weapon after fatally striking Spencer Schott with a car after leaving a Jacksonville Beach bar in January 2011. The men were University of Kansas basketball fans, but as their team lost a game, “the amicable relationship between Schott and Shepard began to deteriorate,” according to a brief by Shepard’s attorneys.

Under state law, the use of a weapon bumped up the manslaughter charge from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, carrying a longer prison sentence. After a jury found him guilty of manslaughter, Shepard challenged the reclassification of the crime to a first-degree felony based on the car being considered a “weapon.”

While the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected Shepard’s argument, it acknowledged that its conclusion differed from a ruling in a separate case in the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Shepard took the issue to the Supreme Court, but lawyers in Bondi’s office filed a 43-page brief Friday that contended a vehicle can be a weapon.

“In this case, petitioner (Shepard) used the car against the victim to attack or defeat him,” the brief said. “Petitioner specifically drove the car into the victim in a manner that was likely to cause death or great bodily harm. Moreover, although a car may not be a traditional weapon, it has become a modern weapon of choice for a variety of criminals, including those who use it to try to strike people or police officers, and terrorists who use cars as a bomb or a weapon of mass destruction to mow down pedestrians on a sidewalk.”

But in a brief filed last month, Shepard’s attorneys argued that vehicles are not considered weapons under a law that allows reclassification of felonies. The brief said the law does not define “weapon” but that previous Supreme Court opinions have made clear that the “reclassification statute only applies to instruments commonly understood as having the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury to others.”

“Under (guidelines from those opinions), Shepard’s vehicle could not be considered a weapon because the commonly recognized purpose of a vehicle is for transportation, not as an instrument of combat,” Shepard’s attorneys wrote. “Therefore, the trial court erred in reclassifying Shepard’s manslaughter conviction to a first-degree felony.”

The Supreme Court has not said when it will hear oral arguments in the case, which also involves arguments about whether Shepard’s car was improperly seized without a warrant. Shepard, now 37, is an inmate at Cross City Correctional Institution.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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