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State v. Lincoln

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

September 25, 2019



          Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court for Highlands County; Peter F. Estrada, Judge.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Elba Caridad Martin, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Petitioner.

          Daniel K. Payne of Kemper Payne Law P.A., Sebring, for Respondent.

          SILBERMAN, Judge.

         The State seeks certiorari review of a pretrial order denying its request to offer Williams[1] rule evidence in its prosecution against Robert Lincoln for lewd molestation and child abuse. We conclude that the circuit court departed from the essential requirements of the law by applying a standard that was abrogated by section 90.404(2)(b), Florida Statutes (2001). This would result in the State suffering irreparable injury by depriving the State of crucial evidence that would have corroborated the victim's testimony. Accordingly, we grant the petition.

         A. The Williams rule before the enactment of section 90.404(2)(b)

         Under the Williams rule as established in 1959, "[R]elevant evidence will not be excluded merely because it relates to similar facts which point to the commission of a separate crime." McLean v. State, 934 So.2d 1248, 1255 (Fla. 2006) (alteration in original) (quoting Williams v. State, 110 So.2d 654, 659-60 (Fla. 1959)). However, similar fact evidence of a collateral crime is prejudicial because it creates the risk of a jury convicting the defendant based on his propensity to commit crimes instead of his guilt of the charged offense. Id. (citing Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122, 124 (Fla. 1987)). Thus, similar crime evidence is generally subject to "a strict standard of relevance." Id. (quoting Heuring, 513 So.2d at 124).

         In cases where collateral crime evidence is relevant to establish the identity of the perpetrator, the supreme court has required " 'identifiable points of similarity' between the collateral act and charged crime that 'have some special character or be so unusual as to point to the defendant.' " Id. (quoting Drake v. State, 400 So.2d 1217, 1219 (Fla. 1981)). " '[S]ubstantial similarity' is also required 'when the [collateral crime] evidence is sought to be admitted for the specific purpose of establishing absence of mistake or accident.' " Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Robertson v. State, 829 So.2d 901, 909 (Fla. 2002)).

          Of course, in considering the admissibility of collateral crime evidence under the Williams rule, courts must also determine whether "its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence" as required by section 90.403. McLean, 934 So.2d at 1256 (quoting § 90.403). "Thus, the similarity of the collateral act and charged offense goes to both the preliminary determination of relevancy and to the evidence's probative value." Id. at 1255.

         In 1987, the supreme court held that in cases involving sexual battery within a familial setting, collateral crime evidence of a prior sexual battery within a familial setting is relevant to corroborate the victim's testimony. See id. at 1256-57 (citing Heuring, 513 So.2d at 124). The Heuring court had discussed a relaxed standard of admissibility for collateral crime evidence in such cases. See id. at 1257.

         In describing this relaxed standard of admissibility, the supreme court explained as follows:

[W]hen the collateral sex crime and the charged offense both occur in the familial context, this constitutes a significant similarity for purposes of the Williams rule, but . . . these facts, standing alone, are insufficient to authorize admission of the collateral sex crime evidence. There must be some additional showing of similarity in order for the collateral sex crime evidence to be admissible. The additional showing of similarity will vary depending on the facts of the case and must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Thus, we do not eliminate the requirement of similarity which undergirds the Williams rule. However, the strict similarity in the nature of the offenses and the circumstances surrounding their commission which would be required in cases occurring outside the familial context is relaxed by virtue of the evidence proving that both crimes were committed in the familial context.

Id. at 1257-58 (emphasis added) (quoting Saffor v. State, 660 So.2d 668, 672 (Fla. 1995)). In 1994, the court extended Heuring to allow for the admission of collateral crime evidence in sexual battery cases outside the familial context when there is no issue regarding the defendant's identity. Id. at 1257 (citing State v. Rawls, 649 So.2d 1350, 1354 (Fla. 1994)). But it ...

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