Criminal defense and appeals attorneys will be glad to see a couple of good opinions released by the 4th DCA this week.
The most noteworthy case is probably Bruce v. State, 4D09-2620, where the Court reversed a conviction for 3 counts of involuntary manslaughter because the police obtained Bruce’s confession in violation of his due process rights as guaranteed by the Florida Constitution (article I, section 9). The opinion contains a good discussion of due process rights of criminal suspects under both the United States and Florida Constitutions with regard to interrogations, Miranda, and law enforcement’s duties to notify a suspect that his attorney is at the station and available to speak with him. The lesson of this case: because the Florida Constitution may be construed to provide greater protections to criminal suspects and defendants than the United States Constitution, don’t forget to invoke the Florida Constitution the next time you draft a motion to suppress.
The next case is Petit v. State, 4D09-4253, where, on motion for clarification, the Court affirmed the admission into evidence at trial (1) a witness’ prior testimony which had been given at a bond hearing; and (2) tape recordings of four 911 calls between two witnesses and 911 dispatchers. With regard to the bond hearing testimony, the Court held that the witness’ prior bond hearing testimony was admissible at trial because the witness was unavailable to testify, and because the bond hearing provided Petit with the opportunity for cross examination. Slip op., pgs. 2-8. Next, the Court held that the 911 calls were admissible because they were non-testimonial within the meaning of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), and Michigan v. Bryant, 131 S.Ct. 1143, –U.S.– (2011). Slip op., pgs. 8-11.
Although the case is instructive because it contains a lengthy analysis of Crawford, the opinion appears to help the State more than the defense. This case has potential application to many criminal cases, but domestic violence and battery cases may be the most common. In deciding that the witness’ prior bond hearing testimony was admissible at trial, the Court reasoned that the witness was unavailable. However, the witness was not just unavailable–he was actually refusing to testify. The Court acknowledged as much, but then stated, almost casually, that as long as the State made a “good faith effort” to procure the witness for trial, then that was enough. Slip op., pg. 4 (citing State v. Johnson, 982 So. 2d 672, 681 (Fla. 2008). Based on this part of the opinion, it seems like the State will have no problem going forward with cases that involve reluctant witnesses.
The last opinion, Althouse v. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, 4D10-2221, is a good case for criminal defense attorneys because the Court held that the Sheriff’s Office would be required to pay litigation costs incurred by Althouse as a result of his filing a public records request seeking information as to the recruitment and use of confidential informants. The next time you decide to file a public records request with the Sheriff’s Office, hopefully they will comply in a timely manner. But if they jerk you around like the Sheriff’s Office did to Mr. Althouse, be sure to have this case on hand!