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Denton v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

May 2, 2018

KENEIL O. DENTON, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Laura S. Johnson, Judge; L.T. Case No. 50-2016-CF-005299-AXXX-MB.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Stacey Kime, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Georgina Jimenez-Orosa, Senior Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Levine, J.

         The primary issue in this case was identity. After the victim's house was burglarized, fingerprints and DNA samples were taken from the crime scene. Eventually, appellant-then in custody for unrelated offenses-was charged with the burglary. At trial, the evidence connecting appellant to the burglary consisted of a fingerprint found at the crime scene and the victim's identification of appellant as someone he had seen in the neighborhood on several occasions. Based on this evidence, appellant was found guilty of burglary.

         Appellant appeals his conviction. He raises three issues, but we address only one: whether the state's untimely production of an exculpatory or impeaching crime scene DNA report warrants reversal. Here, the state's production of the initial letter referencing a DNA test conducted by a third-party lab, its untimely production of the report containing the results of that third-party test, and the state's actions regarding the DNA report lulled appellant into inaction. Because this rose to the level of a Brady violation, we reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial.

         Roughly two weeks before trial, the state filed a supplemental witness list identifying a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office ("PBSO") forensic scientist as a potential trial witness. Attached to this notice was a letter from the forensic scientist explaining that a DNA analysis had been conducted and a third-party DNA report forwarded to PBSO for review and entry into its database.

         After receiving this notice and the attached letter, defense counsel emailed the prosecutor to ask whether there was any DNA tested in the case linking appellant to the robbery. The prosecutor responded that she did not know whether any testing had been done. Defense counsel did not receive the DNA report referenced in the letter at this time.

         The issue of DNA reports arose again at trial. There, the state reiterated that it had "no report as to any DNA whatsoever." The state did not introduce any DNA reports into evidence, nor did it call the PBSO forensic scientist to testify. Instead, it relied primarily on fingerprint evidence and the victim's testimony to establish appellant as the burglar. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the burglary charge.

         Alleging a Brady violation, defense counsel moved for a new trial. At the hearing on appellant's motion for new trial, the PBSO forensic scientist testified regarding the report referenced in her letter. She explained that the report did not contain allele matches consistent with appellant's DNA. Rather, the genetic profile from the scene returned a "major profile" consistent with the victim and a second, "minor profile" that did not contain alleles matching appellant's profile.

         Maintaining that no discovery violation had occurred, the trial court denied appellant's motion and adjudicated him guilty on the burglary charge. This appeal follows.

         We conduct independent appellate review of whether a Brady violation has occurred. Geralds v. State, 111 So.3d 778, 787 (Fla. 2010). In doing so, we defer to the trial court on questions of fact, review de novo the application of the law to those facts, and independently review the cumulative effect of any evidence that was suppressed. Id.

         The seminal case of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), requires the state to disclose material information within its possession or control that is favorable to the defense. A Brady violation occurs when the defendant can show that the state suppressed evidence and "(1) the evidence was either exculpatory or impeaching; (2) the evidence was willfully or inadvertently suppressed by the State; and (3) because ...


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