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Florida Third District Court Of Appeal – Criminal Headnotes – September 6, 2017

JASON BECKMAN V. STATE OF FLORIDA – “BAD CHARACTER” EVIDENCE; EXCLUDING EVIDENCE OF DIMINISHED CAPACITY; HEARSAY NOT ADMISSIBLE AS EXCITED UTTERANCE; JUVENILE SENTENCING STATUTE

Direct appeal from conviction and sentencing for first-degree murder.

The defendant claims the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to introduce “bad character” evidence, in excluding testimony that the defendant had Asperger’s syndrome, in excluding the defendant’s 911 call as hearsay, and in denying his motion for mistrial based on improper closing argument.

The defendant also argues the sentencing scheme for juveniles under section 921.1401 of the Florida statutes violates Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), which requires that any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury.

The appeals court rules:

(a) the list maintained by the defendant of the names of individuals against whom he held grudges, and the testimony of various of those individuals, though collateral, were admissible to establish the context in which the charged crime arose and to describe the events leading up to the charged crime, citing Dorsett v. State, 944 So. 2d 1207 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006);

(b) a similar list the defendant kept in jail after his arrest, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant concerning that list, were admissible to show the defendant’s “consciousness of guilt,” citing Grace v. State, 122 So. 3d 417 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013);

(c) evidence of the defendant’s Asperger’s was inadmissible as tending to show only diminished capacity, not legal insanity, citing Chestnut v. State, 538 So. 2d 820 (Fla. 1989);

(d) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the defendant’s 911 call as not meeting the hearsay exception for an excited utterance, as there was evidence indicating the call was not “spontaneous,” but was a premeditated fabrication; and

(e) the prosecutor’s statements in closing argument did not exploit the exclusion of the 911 call, and did not improperly comment on the defendant’s exercise of his right not to testify.

With regard to the Apprendi issue, the appeals court determined the juvenile sentencing statute, which was amended in 2014 to comply with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), did not permit the trial judge, rather than a jury, to increase a sentence beyond the statutory maximum with aggravating factors, but only to mitigate a sentence, and thus did not implicate Sixth Amendment concerns.

Affirmed.