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Joseph v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

July 25, 2019



          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Marion County, Jonathan D. Ohlman, Judge.

          James S. Purdy, Public Defender, and Thomas J. Lukashow, Assistant Public Defender, Daytona Beach, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Allison Leigh Morris, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.

          EVANDER, C.J.

         Sylvester Joseph appeals his convictions for burglary of a conveyance while armed and grand theft. He argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions. We agree and reverse.[1]

         On December 22, 2016, the victim drove her car to the Humane Society in Ocala to drop her dogs off. The dogs were to be kenneled while the victim went out of town. The victim's car was burglarized during the short time that the victim was inside the building.

         The Humane Society surveillance video revealed that immediately prior to the burglary a dark-colored Chrysler 300 backed into the parking space next to the victim's vehicle. An unidentified man was seen exiting the rear door of the Chrysler 300. Moments later, the victim's vehicle's lights were flashing. Shortly thereafter, the Chrysler 300 exited the parking area. When the victim returned to her car, she discovered that two of the windows had been "smashed" and multiple items had been stolen. Among the stolen items were a handgun, two Coach purses, Coach and Armani perfume bottles, a distinctive red designer dress, a large amount of cash, and some credit cards. The victim provided police with photos of some of the stolen items.

         Twelve days later, on January 3, 2017, an investigating officer went to Justine Wilkerson's Ocala residence. Wilkerson is the mother of Joseph's child. Joseph was alone inside Wilkerson's apartment at the time of the officer's arrival. When Wilkerson arrived, she granted the officer permission to search her apartment. During the ensuing search, the officer found the two stolen Coach purses and the stolen red designer dress in the spare bedroom closet. Wilkerson testified that she had never previously seen these items. On the bed in the spare bedroom, police found receipts including one with Joseph's fingerprint on it. In Wilkerson's bedroom, the officer found the two stolen bottles of perfume.

         Police investigators determined that Joseph had rented a dark-colored Chrysler 300 from Enterprise Rent-a-car in Tampa on December 10, 2016. The vehicle was returned to Enterprise in Ocala on January 2, 2017. Police searched the vehicle after it was returned and located one of the victim's credit cards. Police also found a Walmart receipt dated December 21, 2016, and a Toys "R" Us receipt dated December 24, 2016, in the Chrysler 300. Thereafter, Joseph's fingerprint was determined to be on the Walmart receipt and Corey Rutledge's fingerprint was determined to be on the Toys "R" Us receipt. Rutledge is Wilkerson's brother.

         At trial, the State presented the testimony of several witnesses, including Wilkerson. Wilkerson testified, inter alia, that Joseph lived in the Tampa area. He would stay in her spare bedroom when he visited. However, Wilkerson also testified that her brother, Rutledge, as well as two other individuals, would sometimes stay in the spare bedroom. Finally, Wilkerson testified that in the month of December 2016, both Joseph and Rutledge had driven the Chrysler 300 and, in fact, she believed that Rutledge had been arrested while driving the car on December 31st.

         Notably, the State did not present any direct evidence placing Joseph at or near the Humane Society at the time of the burglary or directly linking him to any of the stolen items. Notwithstanding, the State argues that the circumstantial evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to support Joseph's convictions. We disagree.

         A special standard of review of the sufficiency of the evidence applies where, as in the instant case, a conviction is wholly based on circumstantial evidence. State v. Law, 559 So.2d 187, 188 (Fla. 1989). "Where the only proof of guilt is circumstantial, no matter how strongly the evidence may suggest guilt, a conviction cannot be sustained unless the evidence is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence." Knight v. State, 186 So.3d 1005, 1009 (Fla. 2016) (quoting Jaramillo v. State, 417 So.2d 257, 257 (Fla. 1982)). Here, Joseph's hypothesis of innocence was that he was not involved in the burglary or theft that were the subject of the charges against him.

         As previously noted, the State presented no direct evidence connecting Joseph to the burglary or the stolen items. Although the State's evidence was sufficient to establish that a vehicle rented to Joseph was involved in the burglary, and that his fingerprints were found on papers located in the vehicle and in Wilkerson's spare bedroom, the uncontroverted evidence was that Joseph was not the only individual who used the car during the rental ...

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