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Hunt v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 20, 2019

JOEL HUNT, Appellant,

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Edward H. Merrigan Jr., Judge; L.T. Case No. 16-5155 CF10A.

          Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Gary Lee Caldwell, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Jonathan P. Picard, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

          Levine, C.J.

         Appellant was convicted of aggravated battery with a hate crime. At trial, the victim and his friend both testified to appellant stabbing the victim. Appellant's wife and son testified that the victim hit appellant before the stabbing. Appellant's defense was that his actions were self-defense. The state introduced the testimony of a detective who interviewed the victim at length. During the detective's testimony, the state directly asked whether, based on his training and experience, "there [was] self-defense used in this case by the defendant." The detective responded, "[N]o." The trial court erred in admitting this opinion testimony.

         The detective testified that, based on his training and experience, there was no self-defense legitimately available for appellant. If there was no self-defense, then appellant was effectively left with no defense. The credibility of appellant's claim of self-defense was exclusively within the province of the jury. The deputy's testimony invaded this exclusive province. Thus, we reverse and remand for a new trial.[1]

         The victim, an African American, was visiting his friend when appellant, a neighbor of the friend, came to sit on a bench next to the victim. The victim asked appellant why he was sitting so close, and appellant stated that it was his bench. Appellant was drinking alcohol and appeared intoxicated. Both the victim and friend declined appellant's offer of alcohol. At that point, appellant talked about killing his wife because she was having an affair with an African American, using a racial epithet. The friend then asked appellant if he was a racist. Appellant said his parents were racists, and then proceeded to use the same racial epithet over and over. The victim repeatedly asked appellant what appellant had just said. Appellant told the victim that he would not "f---ing win." The friend heard the victim state, "Say that s--t again." The victim also heard appellant say to appellant's son, "Boy. Boy. Get him, boy. Attack."

         The victim then felt something "pop," at which time he told his friend that he had been stabbed and to call the police. According to the victim, appellant tried to stab him again and ran after him saying, "I'm going to f---ing kill you, n----r." The victim ran away, with appellant saying, "Come here, n----r. Let me finish the job." Appellant's son and wife denied that appellant chased the victim following the stabbing.

         The police then arrived at the scene and ordered appellant, who had returned to his house, to exit the house and put his weapon down. Appellant later gave a statement to Detective Huertas. Appellant claimed that the victim hit him and broke his glasses. At trial, appellant's wife and son testified that the victim was hitting appellant in the head before appellant stabbed the victim. The victim's friend stated that he saw the victim standing over appellant, but that the victim did not put his hands on appellant.

         During the trial, the detective testified about his investigation. The detective had spoken at length with the victim and appellant. The state introduced the following statement appellant gave to the detective:

I had a bench, a nice little bench and I sit there. One of the gentleman was the neighbor. The other black has been sitting out doing drug deals all god damn day, we see them all the time. We haven't seen him since the other black guy moved two weeks ago. He came up and started trying to make me buy drugs. So I'm sitting there drinking and all that and we're standing-the conversation gets a little sh--ty. The neighbor guy gets up and walks away. The guy from next door, he doesn't live there anymore. It was his mother-in-law that owned the place but she sold the place now so we have a new landlord, all right. And this guy starts, I mean, I don't know how to explain-I'm sitting there and he's right here. There's-he's pushing at me and he started to slap me in the head. Everything I can f---ing do.
[T]his guy started slapping me in the head, and I drove him in the f---ing ...

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