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Grimes v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

June 6, 2018

MARLON JOEL GRIMES, 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; John S. Kastrenakes, Judge; L.T. Case No. 50-2015-CF-004186-AXXX-MB.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Tom Wm. Odom, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kimberly T. Acuña, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          CIKLIN, J.

         Marlon Grimes contends that his conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon should be reversed because the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the state to introduce multiple certified judgments of prior felony convictions into evidence in order to establish Grimes' legal status. On the record before us, we find no error and we affirm.

         As the parties were preparing to begin voir dire, Grimes moved to exclude all but one of the certified judgments the state sought to enter into evidence to prove Grimes was a convicted felon. Grimes argued that only one judgment was necessary and that admission of more than one would be "overly prejudicial." The state explained that it sought to admit six certified judgments encompassing eight felony convictions: three sales of cocaine, three possessions of cocaine, a fleeing and eluding, and resisting an officer with violence.

         The trial court noted that Grimes did not stipulate to the legal status element of the offense and that it was not apparent as to whether Grimes would dispute that element of the charged crime. Based on Harris v. State, 449 So.2d 892 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984), the trial court fashioned a compromise: the state could introduce four certified judgments encompassing up to six convictions. The trial court believed that any more than that would be cumulative and unduly prejudicial. During trial, four certified judgments were entered into evidence. They reflected convictions for two sales of cocaine and three possessions of cocaine.

         In moving for exclusion of all but one certified judgment, Grimes acknowledged the relevance of any one of the prior convictions. He focused on the cumulative and overly prejudicial effect of the other certified judgments. Thus, his objection was lodged pursuant to section 90.403, Florida Statutes (2016), which provides that "[r]elevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence."

         The Florida Supreme Court has elaborated on the balancing inquiry of section 90.403:

"Unfair prejudice" has been described as "an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one." Brown v. State, 719 So.2d 882, 885 (Fla. 1998) (quoting Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172, 117 S.Ct. 644, 136 L.Ed.2d 574 (1997)). This rule of exclusion "is directed at evidence which inflames the jury or appeals improperly to the jury's emotions." Steverson v. State, 695 So.2d 687, 688-89 (Fla. 1997). In performing the balancing test to determine if the unfair prejudice outweighs the probative value of the evidence, the trial court should consider the need for the evidence, the tendency of the evidence to suggest an emotional basis for the verdict, the chain of inference from the evidence necessary to establish the material fact, and the effectiveness of a limiting instruction. Taylor v. State, 855 So.2d 1, 22 (Fla. 2003). The trial court is obligated to exclude evidence in which unfair prejudice outweighs the probative value in order to avoid the danger that a jury will convict a defendant based upon reasons other than evidence establishing his guilt.

Wright v. State, 19 So.3d 277, 296 (Fla. 2009) (emphases in original) (quoting McDuffie v. State, 970 So.2d 312, 327 (Fla. 2007)).

         The trial court relied on Harris, 449 So.2d at 896-98, which involved the application of section 90.403 to the admission of more than one prior conviction in a prosecution for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In Harris's first trial, which ended in a mistrial, the parties stipulated to his status as a convicted felon. Id. at 894. During the second trial, certified copies of four of Harris's prior felony convictions were introduced into evidence over his objection. Id. at 895.[1]

         Harris argued on appeal that the trial court erred in allowing the state to introduce documentary evidence of his four felony convictions, as the probative value was substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect. Id. at 896. The First District rejected the argument, first recognizing that a prior conviction is a substantive element of the offense. Id. But the court also recognized that even if the introduction of more than one prior felony conviction was not necessary, "the test for admissibility of evidence of such prior convictions is one of relevancy, not necessity." Id. (emphasis in original). The court explained that not all relevant evidence is admissible under the balancing test of section 90.403. Id. at 897. The court affirmed that a trial court has discretion to determine whether the probative value of evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or the needless presentation of cumulative evidence: "The court must weigh the proffered evidence against the other facts in the record and balance it against the strength of the reason for exclusion." Id. (quoting C. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence § 403.1 at 62-63 (1977)). The court also recognized that "most evidence that is admitted will be prejudicial to the adverse party, " and it is only "evidence which inflames the jury or appeals strongly to the jury's prejudice" that triggers the protections of section 90.403. Id. (quoting C. Ehrhardt, Florida Evidence ยง 403.1 at 62-63 (1977)). The court ...


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