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State v. Jones

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

November 1, 2019

STATE of Florida, Petitioner,
Ruben Allen JONES, Respondent.

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          Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court for the Tenth Judicial Circuit for Polk County; sitting in its appellate capacity.

         Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Elba Martin-Schomaker, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa; and Brian W. Haas, State Attorney, Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida, and Victoria J. Avalon, Assistant State Attorney, Bartow, for Petitioner.

         Philip Averbuck of Highland City, for Respondent.


         SALARIO, Judge.

         Ruben Allen Jones has been charged in the county court with driving on a suspended license. Relying on Florida’s statutory accident-report privilege, § 316.066(4), Fla. Stat. (2017), the county court suppressed statements of identity Mr. Jones made to police at the scene of an accident. The State took an appeal to the circuit court, which affirmed the county court’s order. The State now seeks review in this court by way of second-tier certiorari of the circuit court’s affirmance. Although the rationale underlying the circuit court’s decision is not entirely clear, under any interpretation of its reasoning its affirmance departed from the essential requirements of law and results in a miscarriage of justice. We therefore grant the State’s petition.



         It is helpful to know a little statutory background before diving into the specifics of this case. Sections 316.062 and .066 impose a duty upon a driver involved in an automobile accident involving damage to another vehicle to provide, among other things, information that identifies the driver for use in preparing a crash investigation report. See also State v. Marshall, 695 So.2d 719, 721 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996). The legal question in this case arose because the State wants to use a driver’s statement of his identity made pursuant to this statutory duty to give information relevant to an accident in an otherwise unrelated criminal prosecution of the driver, who appears to have had no valid driver’s license when the accident happened. The answer derives in part from section 316.066(4), which creates the accident-report privilege. It provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Except as specified in this subsection, each crash report made by a person involved in a crash and any statement made by such person to a law enforcement officer for the purpose of completing a crash report required by this section shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting. Such report or statement may not be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal. However, subject to the applicable rules of evidence, a law enforcement officer at a criminal trial may testify as to any statement made to the officer by the person involved in the crash if that person’s privilege against self-incrimination is not violated.

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§ 316.066(4) (emphasis added). Under the statutory privilege, then, statements made by a person involved in a crash for purposes of completing a crash investigation report are generally inadmissible in any trial, subject to a specific exception that law enforcement officers can testify about such statements in criminal cases if doing so does not violate the person’s privilege against self-incrimination. See also Vedner v. State, 849 So.2d 1207, 1213 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).


         In this case, there was a multivehicle accident during which a car Mr. Jones was driving was rear-ended. A deputy arrived at the scene and began a crash investigation. He did not administer Miranda [1] warnings. He asked Mr. Jones for his license. Mr. Jones said he did not have one. The deputy then asked for his name, date of birth, and social security number. Mr. Jones complied.

          The deputy used that identifying information to check on the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) maintained by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. He learned that Mr. Jones’s license had been revoked. He asked Mr. Jones whether he knew that his license was revoked, and Mr. Jones responded affirmatively. Mr. Jones was arrested and, after further questioning not relevant here, charged with driving on a suspended license. The case proceeded in the county court for Polk County.

         Mr. Jones moved to suppress his statements of identity arguing, among other things, that their admission would violate his privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the accident-report privilege under section 316.066(4).[2] The State opposed the motion, arguing that under the Supreme Court’s decision in California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424, 91 S.Ct. 1535, 29 L.Ed.2d 9 (1971), statements of identification made pursuant to a statutory duty to provide such information after an automobile accident are not subject to the privilege against self-incrimination. It also argued that the statutory accident-report privilege did not apply because section 316.066(4) authorizes law enforcement officers to testify to any statement during a crash investigation so long as the privilege against self-incrimination is not violated.

         At a hearing on the motion, Mr. Jones agreed with the State that under Byers, the Fifth Amendment did not require suppression of his statements of identity, telling the county court that "it’s quite true that there’s no Fifth Amendment right to remain silent at a traffic crash investigation." He clarified that he was not basing Mr. Jones’s argument on the Constitution but rather on the statutory accident-report privilege, asserting that the statute protects the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination in crash investigations by prohibiting statements made during such investigations in court. He argued (1) that under the accident-report privilege, when a law enforcement officer "switches hats" from ...

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