final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit,
Palm Beach County; Dina A. Keever, Judge; L.T. Case No.
Haughwout, Public Defender, and Karen Ehrlich, Assistant
Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Luke R.
Napodano, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for
Ruben Israel Rentas appeals his criminal convictions for two
counts of sexual activity with a child, two counts of lewd or
lascivious molestation of a child over the age of twelve but
under the age of sixteen, one count of lewd or lascivious
molestation of a child under the age of twelve, one count of
sexual performance by a child, and one count of showing
obscene material to a child. He claims the trial court erred
in denying cause challenges to two prospective jurors based
on statements raising doubts as to their impartiality. He
also argues that the trial court erred by permitting the jury
to rehear a portion of the minor victim's testimony
without also rehearing the corresponding cross-examination.
We agree on both issues, and grant appellant's request
for a new trial.
appellant's defense theory was that he gave a false
confession. During voir dire, defense counsel asked the
prospective jurors, "Do you believe people confess to
crimes they did not commit?" The first three jurors to
answer each stated they believed that under certain
conditions, false confessions could occur. The fourth
prospective juror to speak on the issue, Juror 1-5, stated
that he did not believe a person would falsely confess to
committing such a serious offense and that the validity of an
involuntary confession was contingent on the severity of the
alleged crime. He explained, "If the person is accused
of a serious crime, I seriously doubt that they would say
they did it if they didn't think so." Juror 1-5
later reiterated his belief that an innocent person would not
confess to a crime he did not commit:
But I would say you know-- and I'll clarify that--
they certainly would have been involved in it. And I
think your question was would they agree to admitting to
a crime that they did not commit and my answer to that would
1-5 unequivocally said he would be fair and impartial, but
was not further questioned by the State or the trial court
concerning his views on false confessions. Defense counsel
challenged this juror for cause because he candidly expressed
difficulty accepting false confessions for serious crimes and
that a person who confessed was certainly involved in some
way. The State responded that Juror 1-5's opinions were
entirely reasonable and that his statements actually meant
false confessions were extremely unlikely, not that they did
not occur in serious cases. The trial court agreed with the
State and denied the challenge for cause to Juror 1-5.
the voir dire discussion, a second juror, Juror 3-7, was
asked for his thoughts about false confessions. Juror 3-7
also found it hard to believe that a person would falsely
admit to committing the charged crimes:
Well, it-- it's kind of hard for me to believe that
someone would admit guilt to a crime of this nature if they
were in fact innocent. I mean very
unreasonable. I mean anything's possible of course.
But something of this nature would just be very
unreasonable for someone to admit guilt to.
counsel tried to decipher whether Juror 3-7 would be fair and
impartial, and asked him if he would have difficulty
accepting an involuntary confession theory. Juror 3-7
answered that he "would look at everything evenly and as
fair as possible to make a fair decision." But when
defense counsel inquired further as to whether Juror
3-7's position was that involuntary confessions were
"possible" or "completely unreasonable, "
Juror 3-7 responded, "It's possible. ...