In Florida, there is something called a lesser included charge or offense which can be a great benefit to a defendant who may be guilty of a crime, but not a crime as serious as the one charged by the state. Most felony charges have lesser included charges that either the criminal defense attorney and the state can agree with a plea deal is more appropriate or a jury can determine is more appropriate after a trial. An obvious example occurs where a defendant is charged with aggravated assault. An aggravated assault can occur when a person commits an act that places another person in reasonable fear of injury and the defendant uses a deadly weapon in the process. If the state charges the defendant with aggravated assault but the jury finds that the defendant did commit the act but he either did not have a weapon or had some object that was not really a deadly weapon, the jury can return a verdict on a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. The lesser included offenses, as one would guess, are usually much less serious than the original charges. They are often the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor which often means the difference between prison and probation.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, FL, the defendant and victim got into an argument and ultimately, the defendant got into his car and struck the victim while driving. The defendant was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. The criminal defense attorney did not argue that a vehicle was not a deadly weapon; a vehicle can and does cause deaths every day. The criminal defense lawyer did argue that the defendant may have driven recklessly, but he did not intend to strike the victim with the vehicle. As a result, the criminal defense attorney requested the court to allow the jury to consider the lesser included offense of reckless driving.
Reckless driving is obviously much different and much less serious than aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. However, since the elements of reckless driving are included within the definition of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, i.e. driving recklessly without regard for the safety of others, the reckless driving lesser charge was appropriate for consideration. Additionally, there was evidence at the trial that supported a reckless driving charge, if the jury found it credible. As a result, the court held that the jury should have been allowed to consider a reckless driving charge along with the aggravated battery with a deadly weapon charge.