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Tibbetts v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

July 18, 2018

DAROLD MOTLEY TIBBETTS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal of order denying rule 3.850 motion from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Glenn D. Kelley, Judge; L.T. Case No. 89CF006107AMB.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Logan T. Mohs, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Deborah Koenig, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          GERBER, C. JUDGE

         The defendant appeals from the circuit court's summary denial on the merits of his "motion to withdraw plea based on newly discovered evidence and request for evidentiary hearing." The defendant primarily argues that the circuit court erred in summarily denying his motion on the merits without first holding an evidentiary hearing. We disagree with the defendant's argument, and therefore affirm.

         Procedural History

         The defendant was charged in 1989 with first-degree murder and other crimes arising from the same incident. If convicted, he was facing the possibility of the death penalty. The state's evidence, from multiple witnesses placing the defendant at the scene of the crime, and showing the defendant's consciousness of guilt through his post-crime actions and statements, was overwhelming.

         In 1991, the defendant avoided the possibility of the death penalty by pleading guilty to second-degree murder and the other related crimes, in exchange for thirty-year concurrent sentences.

         In 2014, the defendant learned that one piece of evidence against him, a hair comparison analysis, which identified the defendant as the likely source of a pubic hair found on the victim, may not have been conducted according to scientifically acceptable practices, and it could not be presently determined whether support existed for the analysis.

         In 2016, within two years of learning of this information, the defendant timely filed his motion to withdraw plea based on newly discovered evidence and request for evidentiary hearing. The defendant claimed that withdrawal of his plea was necessary to correct a manifest injustice, because his decision to plead guilty was based on "look[ing] at each piece of evidence in his case and determin[ing] what weight, if any, the jury will give it," and the "microscopic hair analysis was critical to [his] decision whether to accept a plea of guilty."

         The state's response argued three reasons why no reasonable probability existed that the defendant would have gone to trial rather than plead, even if he had known that the hair comparison analysis was subject to question. First, the state detailed the evidence as to why it had a strong case against the defendant, even without the hair comparison analysis, and therefore the defendant was unlikely to be acquitted. Second, the state argued that the defendant's guilty plea was voluntary given what he knew at the time. Third, the state argued that the disparity between the possibility of the death sentence and the ultimate thirty-year sentence made it unlikely that the defendant would have proceeded to trial, even if the defendant had known that the hair comparison analysis was subject to question. For those reasons, the state requested the circuit court to summarily deny the defendant's motion without an evidentiary hearing.

         Per the state's request, the circuit court summarily denied the defendant's motion without an evidentiary hearing. In doing so, the court adopted the state's response to the defendant's motion, as well as the attachments, as its own findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court indicated its decision to deny the defendant's motion was on the merits.

         Our ...


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