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Dunbar v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 1, 2017

ALVIN DUNBAR, Appellant,

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Paul L. Backman, Judge; L.T. Case No. 12014154CF10A.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Emily Ross-Booker, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Cynthia L. Comras, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.


         The defendant appeals his conviction and sentence for robbery. He raises four grounds to reverse his conviction and remand for a new trial: (1) the trial court committed reversible error in admitting the lead detective's testimony that he spoke to the victim's homeless shelter case manager who verified that the victim was employed and regularly drug tested; (2) the trial court committed fundamental error in giving the standard jury instruction 3.10, which implied the possibility of a light sentence; (3) the trial court committed reversible error in sentencing the defendant within the lawful sentencing range but failing to articulate its reasons for imposing the sentence; and (4) the Prison Release Reoffender statutory scheme is unconstitutional. Finding merit on the first issue, we address the first issue only and do not address the remaining issues.

         We find that the trial court erred in admitting the victim's case manager's statements through the lead detective's testimony because the statements were inadmissible hearsay not subject to any hearsay exception. On appeal, the State conceded that it was error to admit the inadmissible hearsay but contended that the error was harmless. We find to the contrary. Because the State's case was entirely dependent upon the victim's credibility, and these hearsay statements corroborated and bolstered the victim's testimony, the State cannot establish that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, we reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The State charged Dunbar and his co-defendant with one count of robbery.

         At trial, the victim testified that he had been living at the Salvation Army homeless shelter for four to five months and that he had two jobs to pay his rent. On the night in question, the victim's friend drove the victim from work to the homeless shelter at approximately 11:00 p.m. and dropped him off behind the building. The victim entered the homeless shelter to get gas money to pay his friend for the ride. After the victim paid his friend, the victim counted his remaining funds. At that point, two men approached the victim. One of the men, the co-defendant, told the victim that he was "holding, " which the victim understood to mean that the co-defendant had drugs for sale.

         According to the victim, he was not interested in purchasing drugs and responded: "Okay." However, the defendants kept repeating, "I got that" and "I'm holding." Next, a verbal altercation between the victim and the defendants ensued. The defendants told the victim to "give [them his] loot." After the victim refused, the co-defendant hit the victim's face. The victim defended himself against the co-defendant's attack and a physical confrontation erupted with the defendant ultimately joining in the fight. Ultimately, the defendant and the co-defendant found and took the victim's fifty-dollar bill, a one-dollar bill, loose change, a money order and four bus passes, but they did not take his cell phone. After the defendants took the victim's money, they stood nearby while the victim called 911. The victim informed the defendants that he was calling the police. The defendants began to walk away.

         When the police arrived, the defendant and the co-defendant ran. The victim, still on the phone with 911, yelled "that's him" as the officer approached. The officer saw two men running in different directions. The officer spoke to the victim who was very animated and upset. The police officers on scene did not believe that the victim was intoxicated or high on crack cocaine.

         Finally, the officers were able to capture the defendant and the co-defendant. The officers recovered the fifty-dollar bill, the one-dollar bill and the bus passes from the co-defendant, and returned these items to the victim. After interviewing the defendant and the co-defendant, the lead detective believed that both men were high on crack cocaine. In addition to their intoxicated appearance, both men admitted smoking crack cocaine that evening. As the interview proceeded, the defendant changed his version of the events. However, the defendant maintained his claim that he and the co-defendant had been smoking crack cocaine with the victim. The defendant claimed that the group had been on their way to the homeless shelter so that the victim could get more money to buy more crack cocaine. The defendant's statement to the officers was played during the trial.

         The victim denied asking the defendants for drugs. The victim explained that, as a homeless shelter resident, he was not permitted to use drugs or alcohol. To ensure compliance with the policy, the homeless shelter drug tested residents about once a week. The victim stated he was drug tested more often than other residents due to his late night work schedule and ...

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