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Wagner v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 6, 2017

KRISTEN ELIZABETH WAGNER, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Okaloosa County. Michael Flowers, Judge.

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Courtenay H. Miller, Assistant Public Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Robert "Charlie" Lee, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          WETHERELL, J.

         Appellant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder for shooting her husband in the back after an argument. She raises four issues on appeal, including a claim that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that she suffered from battered-spouse syndrome (BSS). We affirm because this evidence was immaterial to Appellant's defense that the shooting was an accident.

         I

         On the night of July 26, 2014, Appellant and her husband got into an argument that turned violent. Appellant had been drinking (she said she had two rum-and-cokes; he said she had as many as five), and the husband claimed that she was the aggressor. However, the husband admitted that during the argument, he held Appellant down on the bed, pushed her to the floor, and took her cell phone and threw it against the wall.

         After the husband's son intervened in the argument, Appellant left the house and went across the street to a neighbor's house. When the neighbor did not answer the door, Appellant went back to her house and demanded her keys from the husband who was standing on the front porch about 25 to 30 feet away from Appellant. The husband told her to come get the keys, but she pulled a gun (a Ruger .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol with a laser sight) from her shorts, pointed it at the husband, and told him to throw her the keys. The husband underhand-tossed the keys towards Appellant and they landed 3 to 4 feet in front of her. He then turned around and closed the glass front door behind him as he went back inside the house.

         Then, according to Appellant's testimony, as she bent down to pick up the keys with her left hand, the gun that she was holding in her right hand accidentally discharged. She could not remember if her finger was on the trigger, but she testified that she "absolutely [did] not" intentionally pull the trigger and that she was not aiming at anything when the gun went off. The bullet discharged from the gun went through the glass front door and struck the husband in the lower back. The husband made it to the son's room where he collapsed on the floor and told the son to lock the door and call 911.

         Meanwhile, Appellant retrieved the keys and went to her car. She put the gun in the center console of the car, but she did not immediately leave. Instead, she went back into the house (without the gun) to look for her glasses, wallet, and phone. When she was unable to find these items, she took the husband's phone and wallet from the master bedroom. Then, she left the house and drove away in her car. She was apprehended by the police a short time later.

         Appellant was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. She filed a notice of intent to rely on BSS evidence under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.201 and amended the notice three times. Although the trial court found the third-amended notice to be "legally sufficient, " the court granted the State's motion to strike the notice and precluded Appellant from presenting the BSS evidence at trial. The court did not explain its rationale for striking the notice, except to note that the notice contained unspecified "defects" that could not be cured through further amendment.

          At trial, Appellant's theory of defense was that she brandished the gun in self-defense, but that the shooting was an accident. The jury was instructed on both justifiable use of deadly force and excusable attempted homicide, and during closing argument, defense counsel repeatedly-at least 15 times-described the shooting as an accident.

         The jury apparently rejected Appellant's claim that the shooting was an accident because it found her guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced Appellant to 35 years in prison with a 25-year mandatory minimum based on the jury's finding ...


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