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Brown v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 26, 2017

JOHNNIE ALLEN BROWN, III, DOC #372667, 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 Polk County; J. Dale Durrance, Judge.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Robert D. Rosen, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Susan D. Dunlevy, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

          WALLACE, Judge.

         Johnnie Allen Brown, III, challenges his judgment and sentence imposed after a jury returned a verdict finding him guilty of felony battery based on a second or subsequent offense, a violation of section 784.03(2), Florida Statutes (2015). Mr. Brown admitted striking the victim but claimed that he acted in self-defense. Because the trial court erred in excluding Mr. Brown's proffered testimony concerning his knowledge of specific acts of violence by the victim and his knowledge of her reputation in the community for violence, we reverse the judgment and sentence and remand for a new trial.

         I. THE FACTS

         The incident that gave rise to the charge occurred on January 6, 2016. Mr. Brown and the victim had previously enjoyed a romantic relationship, but that relationship had ended before the events in question. The victim testified that after an argument with Mr. Brown at his residence, she was preparing to leave and had gone inside to say goodbye to their dog. But before she was able to react, Mr. Brown was on top of her and began hitting her. She testified that Mr. Brown hit her three times; he finally stopped when the dog bit him. The victim denied that she was carrying a knife or a razor.

         Mr. Brown took the stand in his own defense. He did not deny hitting the victim, but his version of the events leading up to the fracas was substantially different from hers. According to Mr. Brown, the victim was angry with him because she believed that he had been "slandering" her. Mr. Brown explained to the victim that someone had misconstrued his remarks. With that, the victim went into his residence and began taking things from his nightstand and throwing them into her purse and backpack. When Mr. Brown followed the victim into the residence and asked her what she was doing, the victim stood up and replied, "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do." Mr. Brown testified that upon hearing the victim's reply he saw an X-Acto knife in her hand, became scared, and "flipped out." It was only after Mr. Brown heard the victim's threat and saw the knife in her hand that he "flipped out" and began hitting the victim.

         At this point in Mr. Brown's testimony, defense counsel attempted to elicit testimony from Mr. Brown regarding his knowledge of specific acts of violence by the victim and her reputation in the community for violence. The prosecutor promptly objected that such evidence was inadmissible because it amounted to an improper attack on the victim's character. The prosecutor also argued that such evidence was inadmissible because Mr. Brown had already established his self-defense claim with his testimony about the victim's threat and the act of brandishing the X-Acto knife. Defense counsel responded that the evidence was admissible to show that Mr. Brown had a reasonable apprehension of acts of violence at the hands of the victim. After these initial arguments, defense counsel proffered Mr. Brown's testimony concerning his knowledge of both specific prior acts of violence by the victim and her reputation in the community for violence. Further argument by counsel followed the proffer. After considering the parties' arguments, the trial court ruled that it would exclude the proffered testimony because it amounted to an attack on the victim's character. The trial court also reasoned that because Mr. Brown had already established his claim of self-defense with his testimony about the victim's threat and the brandishing of the knife, the proffered testimony was "irrelevant, immaterial, and inappropriate."

         When the direct examination of Mr. Brown resumed, he testified that he had struck the victim because he was scared and was trying to get away from her. During closing argument, defense counsel argued for a not guilty verdict on the theory that Mr. Brown had acted in self-defense. The jury rejected the self-defense claim and returned a verdict finding Mr. Brown guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced him to ten years in prison as a habitual felony offender. This appeal followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         "Admission of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed unless there has been a clear abuse of that discretion." Ray v. State, 755 So.2d 604, 610 (Fla. 2000). In general, evidence concerning a victim's character is inadmissible. Grace v. State, 832 So.2d 224, 226 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002). However, in cases where a claim of self-defense is raised,

evidence of the victim's reputation is admissible to disclose his or her propensity for violence and the likelihood that the victim was the aggressor, while evidence of prior specific acts of violence by the victim is admissible to reveal the reasonableness ...

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