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Williams v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

April 25, 2018


         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Charles E. Burton, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502016CF006004AMB.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Ian Seldin, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Matthew Steven Ocksrider, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          WARNER, J.

         Appellant challenges a final judgment finding him to be a sexually violent predator and committing him to custody and treatment pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act. He contends that the trial court erred in allowing the State to present hearsay evidence of prior, unproven allegations of sexual conduct, including allegations from two cases on which the State did not file charges and one in which appellant was acquitted of the charges of a sexual nature. We agree that the court abused its discretion in allowing the State to use these incidents, as they were unreliable. Their use was not harmless. We therefore reverse.

         The State filed a petition for involuntary commitment of appellant as a sexually violent predator pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act, section 394.914, Florida Statutes (2016). It alleged that: appellant had been convicted in 1997 for two counts of a sexually violent offense, namely lewd and lascivious acts on a minor; he was currently incarcerated but set for release; had multiple personality disorders and suffered from pedophilia; and would be likely to commit other sexually violent acts unless he was subject to long term custody and treatment.[1] The court found probable cause, as is required under section 394.915(1), and appellant was held in custody.

         Prior to trial, appellant moved in limine to exclude evidence of any unproved criminal conduct, namely two incidents of molestation of a person twelve or older, one in 2004 and one in 2008. In each, although he was arrested, the State did not file any charges against him. Appellant also moved to exclude evidence of a 2010 case in which he was charged with attempted sexual battery but found guilty of simple battery, a lesser offense. Appellant never admitted the allegations against him in any of these cases. The trial court denied the motion in limine.

         At the jury trial on the petition, the State presented a psychologist as its sole witness. The psychologist testified that he relied on the arrest reports for the above cases, pre-sentence investigation reports, past judgments, and other Department of Correction records to evaluate the appellant. Appellant had refused to speak with the psychologist, so the psychologist relied on appellant's prison record and prior criminal history in determining that he was a sexually violent predator in need of treatment.

         The psychologist first provided the details of the original 1997 incident which amounted to lewd acts on a nine-year old girl. Appellant entered a negotiated plea to those allegations and was designated a sexual offender. Over appellant's renewed objection, the psychologist was allowed to relate the details of the 2004, 2008, and 2010 incidents, which he had gleaned from the various police reports on the incidents. The 2004 incident involved a lewd and lascivious act on a female child between twelve and eighteen; the 2008 incident constituted an arrest for a sexual battery on a "mentally retarded" boy who was twelve year old at the time of the incident; and in the 2010 incident, the victim was a girl between twelve and sixteen years old who reported that she had awakened to find her pants pulled down and appellant kissing her buttocks and vagina. For the 2010 incident, he was charged and tried for attempted sexual battery, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser offense of simple battery. The probable cause affidavits on all the incidents, the final judgment of the 1997 case, the state's filing of a "no information" on the 2004 and 2008 incidents, and the final judgment of conviction in the 2010 incident were entered into evidence.

         The psychologist explained that appellant had been screened for commitment as a sexually violent predator in 2002 prior to his release from prison for the 1997 conviction, but he did not meet the criteria for a face-to-face interview when he had only one conviction. In 2016, however, with four sexually violent offenses, he now qualified for commitment. Thus, the three incidents in 2004, 2008, and 2010 were the significant qualifying factors for the psychologist's opinion.

         The jury found that the appellant was a sexually violent predator. In its order, the court committed the appellant to the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Appellant filed this appeal, challenging the admission of the three prior incidents.

         Appellant contends that the court abused its discretion by allowing admission of the 2004, 2008, and 2010 incidents because the evidence was unreliable. A trial court's ruling on the admissibility of evidence in this civil commitment proceeding is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Delgado v. State, 125 So.3d 180, 183 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013).

         The Jimmy Ryce Act applies the Florida Rules of Evidence but contains a specific provision with ...

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