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State v. Lee

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 15, 2017

STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellant,
v.
ALEXANDER LEE, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; David A. Haimes, Judge; L.T. Case No. 14-17168CF10A.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Joseph D. Coronato, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Karen E. Ehrlich, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          LEVINE, J.

         The state appeals the trial court's entering a judgment of acquittal after a jury found appellant guilty of possession of cocaine. We find that, when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the state, the trial court erred in granting the judgment of acquittal and, as such, we reverse.

         Police stopped appellee's car after seeing him park at a house, whereupon a man entered the passenger side of the car for a few minutes and then left. The officers' subsequent search of the car revealed a small rock of crack cocaine on the sliding track under the driver's seat. The evidence at trial established that the car's registration "came back to" appellee, but there was no evidence as to whether he owned the car or whether anyone else drove or rode in the vehicle regularly.

         The jury returned a guilty verdict. The trial court then granted appellee's motion for judgment of acquittal, stating:

And I'm surprised the jury came back the way they did. But under these facts, there is definitely zero evidence to show that [appellee] was reaching that way, had thrown something that way, had made no statements. The only evidence in this case was he was driving the vehicle.
. . . .
You go rent a car, you borrow somebody's car, you have to start searching now all the different crevasses to be sure there's not a crack rock there. I don't think that's what the law is designed for.

         The state is permitted to appeal a judgment of acquittal entered after a jury verdict. See § 924.07(j), Fla. Stat. (2009); Fla. R. App. P. 9.140(c)(1)(E). No double jeopardy issue arises because, if there is a reversal, all that is necessary is a reinstatement of a verdict, not a retrial. State v. Rincon, 700 So.2d 412, 414 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997).

         We review de novo whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support the trial court's granting of a judgment of acquittal. State v. Konegen, 18 So.3d 697, 698 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009). We apply the competent substantial evidence standard considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the state to decide whether a judgment of acquittal is proper. Id. at 699.

         "In moving for a judgment of acquittal, a defendant admits not only the facts stated in the evidence, but also every reasonable conclusion favorable to the State that the fact finder might fairly infer from the evidence." State v. Odom, 862 So.2d 56, 59 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003). A trial court should not grant a motion for judgment of acquittal "unless the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the State, fails to establish a prima facie case of guilt." Id. If the ...


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