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Bell v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

May 10, 2018

Christopher Maurice Bell, Appellant,
v.
State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. James Daniel and Jack Schemer, Judges.

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Kathryn Lane and Jasmine Russell, Assistant Public Defenders, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Samuel B. Steinberg, Holly N. Simox, and Daniel Krumbholz, Assistant Attorneys General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         Christopher Bell was charged in three separate cases with three separate burglaries. He had three separate trials and got three separate guilty verdicts. He then filed three separate motions for new trial, each raising the same two arguments: (1) that the trial court erred in denying motions for judgment of acquittal and (2) that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. The presiding judges denied the motions, discussing only the sufficiency-of-the-evidence arguments. In his three appeals, which we consolidate for disposition, Bell argues that the judges erred by applying the wrong legal standard. We review this issue de novo. See Fergien v. State, 79 So.3d 907, 908 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012).[*]

         Motions for judgment of acquittal and motions for new trial are decided under different standards. Compare Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.380(a) (directing a court to enter a judgment of acquittal in response to a defense motion when "the court is of the opinion that the evidence is insufficient to warrant a conviction") with Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.600(a)(2) (directing a court to grant a new trial if "[t]he verdict is contrary to law or the weight of the evidence"). While the former tests the sufficiency of the evidence, the latter requires the trial court to weigh the evidence and determine credibility just as a juror would. See Fergien, 79 So.3d at 908. This Court has previously reversed the denial of a new-trial motion when the trial court applied, or appeared to apply, the wrong legal standard. See Palmer v. State, 196 So.3d 1289 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) (reversing after trial court applied a sufficiency-of-the-evidence standard instead of weight-of-the-evidence standard); Spear v. State, 860 So.2d 1080 (Fla. 1st DCA 2003) (reversing because "the trial court's findings indicate that the court may have applied" the incorrect standard).

         Here there is nothing to indicate the trial judges applied the wrong standard. Bell raised both sufficiency-of-the-evidence and weight-of-the-evidence arguments in his new-trial motions. While the judges' oral rulings only addressed the standard for the sufficiency arguments, it does not follow that the judges applied the sufficiency standard to the weight-of-the-evidence arguments. Cf. Adams v. State, 417 So.2d 826, 828 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982) ("Although the motion for new trial raised the weight of the evidence issue, the order denying the motion is worded in such a way as to indicate the trial court may have limited itself to the sufficiency of evidence standard."). The judges had separate legal issues before them, and the record does not suggest that they applied the same standard to both. In other words, Bell has not met his burden to demonstrate error on appeal.

         Affirmed.

          Osterhaus and Winsor, JJ, concur Wolf, J., dissents with written opinion.

          Wolf, J., dissenting.

         While I agree that reversal is not required if a trial judge rules on a motion for new trial and "there is nothing [in the record] to indicate the trial judge applied the wrong standard, " here it is at the very least unclear what standard the trial court used. In such cases reversal and remand for clarification are required by precedent. See, e.g., Adams v. State, 417 So.2d 826, 828 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982) (reversing where the order denying the motion for new trial was "worded in such a way as to indicate the trial court may have limited itself to the sufficiency of evidence standard") (emphasis added).

         In this case, appellant made a motion for a new trial, arguing: (1) the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence; and (2) the court erred in denying ...


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