final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit,
Okeechobee County; Gary L. Sweet, Judge; L.T. Case No.
Haughwout, Public Defender, and Patrick B. Burke, Assistant
Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Melynda L.
Melear, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for
was convicted of multiple counts, including first degree
murder with a firearm, and sentenced to life in prison. He
appeals the denial of his motion to suppress evidence and the
adequacy of the Nelsoninquiries into his allegations of
counsel's incompetence. We affirm on both issues, but
write to address the second.
having counsel, appellant inundated both the trial court and
this court with pro se filings stemming from the charges at
issue in this appeal. Throughout the circuit court
proceedings, appellant lodged complaints against the four
attorneys who successively represented him. On appeal,
appellant takes issue with the trial court's handling of
complaints directed at his appointed counsel after trial
several of the state's witnesses testified, appellant
asked to absent himself from court to write an
"advisory, " pursuant to section 27.40(9), Florida
Statutes (2015), which allows an "interested
person" to advise the court of "any circumstance
affecting the quality of representation." Appellant gave
the court permission to proceed in his absence.
advisory took issue with his counsel's trial strategy and
asserted counsel was working "in concert with the state
to ensure [appellant's] conviction." The trial court
treated the advisory as a written request for a
Nelson hearing. Appellant added nothing further to
the arguments raised in his written advisory. To refute
appellant's claims, counsel insisted he had done his best
to prepare for trial and felt he was "fighting this case
on two fronts" due to appellant's constant
complaints. The trial court found counsel's
representation to be competent and appellant's motion to
discharge counsel was denied.
the last defense witness testified, appellant again voiced
displeasure with his representation, making general
allegations about counsel's trial strategy and claiming
counsel was working with the state to harm appellant's
case. When asked for specific details establishing how
counsel was ineffective, appellant insisted the record spoke
for itself. Again, the court rejected appellant's
assertion that his counsel was incompetent and
appellant's request for a Nelson hearing was
denied. Appellant declined the opportunity to represent
review a trial court's handling of a Nelson
inquiry for an abuse of discretion. Wilson v. State,
889 So.2d 114, 117 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004). Here, no abuse of
discretion occurred because (1) appellant's requests for
Nelson hearings were untimely and (2) appellant
failed to raise specific allegations of incompetence
warranting a Nelson hearing; the vague complaints
were designed to create chaos at trial in the hope of
creating an appellate issue.
complaints about his counsel were raised after trial began,
making them untimely. See Nelson v. State, 274 So.2d
256 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973) (explaining an inquiry is only
necessary when the defendant wishes to discharge
court-appointed counsel "before the commencement of
trial"). As we explained in Haugabook v. State,
to allow a defendant to initiate Nelson hearings
during trial "would be impracticable" because the
defendant could force the court to stop the proceedings and
hold the mandated Nelson inquiry for "every
single tactical action trial counsel takes that the defendant
disagrees with." 689 So.2d 1245, 1246 (Fla. 4th DCA
1997). "The rule in Nelson was designed as a
prophylactic measure to prevent a trial from commencing-not
to abort a trial already in progress." Id.
if appellant's grievances against counsel were timely,
the trial court did not err by refusing to hold a more
extensive Nelson inquiry. An abuse of discretion
occurs if the trial court fails to provide an opportunity for
the defendant to explain the objection to counsel. Moore
v. State, 778 So.2d 1054, 1056 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).
However, there is no abuse of discretion if a trial judge
refuses to conduct a Nelson inquiry "where the
defendant merely expresses his general dissatisfaction with
counsel." Wilson v. State, 889 So.2d at 118
(internal citation omitted). Nor does a trial court err by
failing to conduct a Nelson hearing when a defendant
expresses general dissatisfaction with counsel's trial
preparation, witness development, or lack of contact with the
defendant. Id. (citing Morrison v. State,
818 So.2d 432, 440 (Fla. 2002)).
"[t]o trigger a Nelson hearing, a defendant must raise
specific allegations of attorney incompetence sufficient to
warrant the inquiry; it is not the job of the trial judge to
become an advocate for the defendant, assisting in developing
the grounds ...