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Rodriguez v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 10, 2017

JOSE ALBINO RODRIGUEZ, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Thomas P. Barber and William Fuente, Judges.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and J. Rafael Rodriguez, Special Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Cerese Crawford Taylor, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          SILBERMAN, Judge.

         Jose Albino Rodriguez appeals his convictions and sentences for conspiracy to traffic in heroin and trafficking in heroin. Rodriguez raises four issues on appeal, and we find no error and make no further comment on the denial of his motion to suppress and motion to continue.[1] Because the trial court committed reversible error in denying challenges for cause during jury selection, we reverse and remand for a new trial. Based on this disposition, we need not reach a fourth issue that Rodriguez raises on appeal.

         Rodriguez contends that the trial court erred in failing to strike for cause Jurors 8, 13, 16, and 20 based on their responses regarding whether they would give greater credence to law enforcement witnesses. Because Jurors 13, 16, and 20 were not rehabilitated, we agree that they should have been stricken for cause.

         In giving the prospective jurors preliminary instructions at the beginning of voir dire, the trial court stated as follows:

It doesn't matter whether the witness is a physician or a chemist or a police officer or a plumber. Every witness gets on the witness stand on the same footing and you have to assess the accuracy of that witness' testimony based upon what he or she says compared to what other witnesses have to say. And again in fact you'll get a special instruction regarding expert witnesses and police officers and the instruction will simply tell you that any witness, no witness rather is entitled to any greater or lesser consideration simply because of his or her position as to what he or she does.

         When defense counsel was questioning the venire he asked if law enforcement officers are "given additional credibility just because of who they are." He also asked the question in terms of whether law enforcement officers are given "additional credibility because of their experiences[, ] because of their training." When defense counsel asked Juror 8 if officers are given additional credibility, she responded, "All things being equal I think perhaps a law enforcement officer may have a little more credibility but I would probably judge the testimony based on the individual and what they were saying compared to what everybody else was saying." When counsel said he was trying to get a more definitive answer, she said, "My training is in insurance claims work and so I'm very accustomed to looking at a whole bunch of different versions of things and trying to make an independent decision based on what makes sense."

         Defense counsel asked Juror 13, "[I]s law enforcement given additional credibility because-" Juror 13 cut counsel off and said, "In my personal view, yes."

         Defense counsel asked Juror 16, "[I]s law enforcement given additional credibility?" She answered yes, and when asked to explain, she said, "Because it's their job. I just assume they know how to do it."

         Defense counsel asked Juror 20, "[I]s law enforcement given additional credibility based upon their training and experience or are they treated as equal to any other lay witness?" Juror 20 said, "Yes, based on their training and experience."

         After the defense concluded, the prosecutor asked if she could have a brief opportunity to rehabilitate some of the prospective jurors. The trial court denied the request and said that they would "proceed with what's been asked." No more questions were asked of the ...


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