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Florida Supreme Court – Criminal Headnotes – June 29, 2017

CHRISTOPHER L. CARPENTER V. STATE OF FLORIDA – WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF CELL PHONE – GOOD-FAITH EXCEPTION TO EXCLUSIONARY RULE – RELIANCE ON “QUESTIONABLE DECISION IN PIPELINE CASE” NOT REASONABLE

The Florida Supreme Court disapproved a decision of the 1st District Court of Appeal, which had reversed a trial court order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence from a warrantless search of his cell phone, finding the search fell within the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

The 1st District’s decision is in direct conflict with the 2nd District Court of Appeal’s 2014 decision in Willis v. State. The Willis court reversed the denial of a motion to suppress in similar circumstances, in light of the 2013 decision of the Florida Supreme Court in Smallwood v. State (Smallwood II), quashing a decision of the 1st District Court of Appeal (Smallwood I), which had affirmed a trial court order denying a motion to suppress, but certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court.

In both Willis and the present case, the search occurred after Smallwood I was decided, but before the Florida Supreme Court had ruled in Smallwood II. Citing the 2011 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. United States, the Willis court determined that although Smallwood I was “binding appellate precedent” at the time, it was not “objectively reasonable” for the officers to rely on it in conducting a warrantless search, given the fact the case was “in the legal pipeline” for review by the state supreme court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in the present case took the opposite view, citing the 1992 decision of the Florida Supreme Court in Pardo v. State, which held that the decision of an appeals court is binding on trial courts “unless and until overruled” by the supreme court.

The Supreme Court agreed with the result in Willis. While Smallwood I was “in the pipeline,” the court said, with “the nonfinal nature of the decision noted on the face of the opinion,” it was not reasonable for officers to rely on it to conduct a warrantless search of the defendant’s cell phone. The court expressly did not adopt other parts of the 2nd District Court of Appeal court’s reasoning in Willis.

Justice Lawson dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Canady and Polston, arguing the majority was adopting not the majority holding of Davis, but the logic of a concurring opinion by Justice Sotomayor.

RONNIE KEITH WILLIAMS V. STATE OF FLORIDA – POST-CONVICTION RELIEF; INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL; INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY; REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Appeal from denial of motion to vacate conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. Florida public records statute is not unconstitutional on its face or as applied to this defendant, and the defendant did not establish that he was prejudiced by the destruction of older files pursuant to a reasonable records retention policy. The defendant’s claim that counsel at his initial trial was ineffective is without merit, where the defendant had secured a reversal and retrial on other grounds, and any prejudice to the defendant arising from the lapse of time was speculative. The fact that the doctor who assisted the state in the penalty phase had also, years previously, testified that the defendant’s then counsel was competent to try a capital case did not present an impermissible conflict of interest.

The post-conviction court did not err in denying the defendant’s claim he was intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty, where the defendant did not present sufficient evidence to establish any of the three prongs recited in the 2016 decision in Salazar v. State, i.e., significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior, and manifestation of the condition before age eighteen.

Because the recommendation of the penalty phase jury was not unanimous, the death sentence is vacated post-Hurst. Other penalty phase issues not reached.

TIFFANY ANN COLE V. STATE OF FLORIDA – POST-CONVICTION RELIEF; INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL; MOTION TO SUPPRESS; REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Appeal from denial motion for post-conviction relief. Trial counsel was not ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress, where search warrant and arrest were more than adequately supported probable cause. Counsel was not ineffective during guilt phase in failing to advance a defense of duress, where this was a reasonable strategic decision.

Because the recommendation of the penalty phase jury was not unanimous, the death sentence is vacated post-Hurst. Other penalty phase issues not reached.

JOHN SEXTON V. STATE OF FLORIDA – MOTION IN LIMINE TO LIMIT CROSS-EXAMINATION OF DNA ANALYST – “REVERSE WILLIAMS” EVIDENCE EXCLUDED – ADMISSION OF HEARSAY TESTIMONY HARMLESS – SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE – REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Direct appeal from conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting the state’s motion in limine to preclude the defense from cross-examining its DNA analyst on the subject of prior instances of contamination of samples, where there was no evidence of contamination in the present case. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding proffered “reverse Williams” testimony concerning unrelated criminal activity near the scene of the murder, as this was irrelevant. Any error in admitting a detectives’ hearsay testimony that the defendant’s wife disavowed his alibi was harmless, where she herself testified to the same effect. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting photographs depicting post-mortem injuries to the victim. The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for first-degree murder.

Because the recommendation of the penalty phase jury was not unanimous, the death sentence is vacated post-Hurst. Other penalty phase issues not reached.

MICHAEL SHANE BARGO, JR. V. STATE OF FLORIDA – INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL; SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE; DENIAL OF MOTION TO APPOINT CRIME SCENE EXPERT; REMAND FOR PENALTY PHASE POST-HURST WHERE JURY RECOMMENDATION NOT UNANIMOUS

Direct appeal from conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. The court declines to consider four allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, as this does not appear on the face of the record. Instead, the defendant must file a post-conviction motion. The evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for first-degree murder. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to appoint a crime scene expert, absent a particularized showing of need.

Because the recommendation of the penalty phase jury was not unanimous, the death sentence is vacated post-Hurst. Other penalty phase issues not reached.