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Piccinini v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

June 21, 2019

JOHN PICCININI, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Orange County, Lisa Munyon, Judge.

          Elizabeth Siano Harris, of Harris Appellate Law Office, Mims, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kristen L. Davenport, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.

          COHEN, J.

         Following a jury trial, John Piccinini was convicted of two counts of animal cruelty pursuant to section 828.12(2), Florida Statutes (2015).[1] The allegations were that on two separate days, Piccinini intentionally inflicted excessive and unnecessary pain and suffering on a dog, the latter of which resulted in the dog's death.[2]

         Piccinini raised a number of issues on appeal related to the conduct of the trial. We find no reversible error in the trial court's handling of the trial nor in the denial of Piccinini's motions for judgment of acquittal. Piccinini provided at least three different stories in an attempt to explain the dog's injuries and death, all of which were inconsistent with the testimony of the treating veterinarian as well as the veterinarian who performed a necropsy on the dog. Contrary to Piccinini's position, the State presented compelling evidence sufficient to rebut any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Thus, we affirm his conviction.

         However, we find that during the sentencing proceedings, the trial court erred in considering Piccinini's failure to accept responsibility for the dog's injuries and death. Prior to sentencing, Piccinini moved for a nonstate prison sanction or, alternatively, to empanel a jury for sentencing.[3] He argued, in part, that section 775.082(10), Florida Statutes (2015), established a presumptive nonstate prison sentence for defendants like him, who scored 22 points or less under the sentencing guidelines, from which a trial court could deviate up to the statutory maximum of imprisonment in a state correctional facility upon a finding that the defendant presented a danger to the public.[4]

         At the sentencing hearing, Piccinini presented evidence addressing his future dangerousness through the testimony of an expert witness, Dr. Robert Cohen, who performed a psychological evaluation on Piccinini. As to his evaluation, Dr. Cohen testified:

Well, I-I looked at several things. When I do a forensic evaluation, I allow the person I'm evaluating a lot of leeway to tell me all about themselves, to-I give them the opportunity to sort of tell their story the way they want to tell the story, and I see the way that they take responsibility, don't take responsibility, the way they empathize with people in-in the -the case.
I also did an evaluation looking at features of psychopathy. And psychopathy are, you know, features that we see sometimes in antisocial personality disorder, people who have very low sense of morality, or a low sense of self-consciousness or consciousness of other people. They step on other people, they manipulate other people, they lie pathologically, they don't take responsibility, they live a parasitic lifestyle.

         Dr. Cohen concluded that there was no evidence of psychopathy and that Piccinini did not present a danger to the community.

         Although the trial court rejected Dr. Cohen's testimony, it did not impose a Department of Corrections sentence. On count one, the court sentenced Piccinini to fifty-one weeks in Orange County Jail with credit for time-served, followed by one year of community control and three years of probation. On count two, the court imposed four years of probation consecutive to the one year of community control.[5] In pronouncing the sentence, the court recounted the evidence presented at trial and then stated:

The other thing is that, Mr. Piccinini has taken no responsibility for any of the injuries. Although [the veterinarian] indicated that some of the injuries were fresh and some of them were old injury, but there were multiple injuries, and they were caused from blunt force trauma and-but all of the treatments, all-both times, when the animal required medical treatment or ...

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