final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Suwannee County. David W.
Thomas, Public Defender, and Kevin Steiger, Assistant Public
Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.
Moody, Attorney General, and Tabitha Rae Herrera, Assistant
Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.
Sharrit, Michael S., Associate Judge.
Appellant, Stephen Trahan, challenges his burglary
conviction, and contends the trial court improperly admitted
evidence of a "collateral crime" or "other bad
act." We agree, and accordingly reverse and remand for a
morning of August 16, 2017, the victim in this case
(hereinafter "Victim") discovered that his truck
while parked in his driveway had been broken into and
ransacked. He quickly determined his backpack, left in the
vehicle overnight, had been taken. A few days later, the
Victim fortuitously saw the Appellant walking through his
neighborhood wearing what he believed to be his stolen
backpack. He confronted the Appellant and demanded he
relinquish the backpack. The police were summoned, and an
investigation ultimately led to the Appellant's
apprehension and burglary charges. The Victim's asserted
ownership of the backpack became the dispositive fact issue
and if proven would be the link between Appellant and the
vehicle burglary. During the trial, the State introduced
evidence that upon Appellant's arrest, a checkbook
belonging to a third party, entirely unconnected to the
charged crime, was found inside the backpack.
of other crimes or conduct is inadmissible where its only
purpose is to show bad character or propensity to commit bad
acts. Williams v. State, 110 So.2d 654, 663 (Fla.
1959); §90.404(2)(a), Fla. Stat. (2017) (codifying
Williams rule). Evidence of other crimes or bad acts
may however, be admitted only if relevant to prove a material
issue such as motive, opportunity intent or identity.
Williams, 110 So.2d at 659.
while presenting their case at trial, the prosecutor and
State witness carefully avoided making the overt assertion
that Appellant had stolen the checkbook, they might just as
well have. The Williams rule is not limited to the
exclusion of explicit crimes. Rather, the rule more broadly
precludes evidence of other crimes, wrongs or
misdeeds. § 90.404(2)(a), Fla. Stat. When the jury was
told that in the course of a criminal investigation, the
Appellant, an accused thief, was found to be in possession of
a checkbook belonging to somebody else, the inescapable
implication was that he stole it, and was a person prone to
well established that gratuitous evidence of collateral
conduct which may bear adversely on a defendant's
character should be excluded. This Court has consistently
held possession of even potentially incriminating
items, not relevant to the charged crime, to be inadmissible.
See e.g., McCuin v. State, 198 So.3d 1066, 1068
(Fla. 1st DCA 2016) (fact that car burglar happened to be in
possession of wallet belonging to person unrelated to charged
crime constituted inadmissible collateral crime evidence);
Jackson v. State, 570 So.2d 1388, 1389 (Fla. 1st DCA
1990) (in cocaine possession prosecution, evidence of cash
found with defendant, improperly invited conjecture that he
was engaged in other bad acts or criminal conduct);
Slocum v. State, 219 So.3d 1014, 1015 (Fla. 1st DCA
2017) (in possession of cocaine trial, error to allow
evidence regarding cash found in defendant's bedroom
where not relevant to any issue); Richardson v.
State, 528 So.2d 981, 982 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988) (evidence
of matchbox containing cocaine residue found on defendant,
but unrelated to charged crime - possession and sale of
cocaine - was improperly admitted). Here, as in each of the
cases above, the natural inference to be drawn from
Appellant's unexplained possession of somebody else's
checkbook is that he is involved in other illicit activity
and is therefore probably guilty of the charged crime.
Appellant being in possession of somebody else's
checkbook was probative of any material issue, then the
evidence would have been relevant and properly admitted.
Evidence tending to prove or disprove a material fact is
relevant and is admissible. §§ 90.401, 90.402 Fla.
Stat. Here, the fact that Appellant was incidentally in
possession of a complete stranger's checkbook held no
probative value to the jury trying to discern ownership of
the backpack. The checkbook had no inherent nexus to the
Appellant nor his burglary victim (nor to anybody or anything
associated with either of them). Furthermore, the rightful
owner of the checkbook has no interest or claim on the
backpack, nor any connection whatsoever, to the charged
crime. Likewise, the checkbook was not a personalized
accessory or identifying feature of the backpack's owner.
Contrary to the State's contention, its presence makes it
neither more likely nor less likely that either the Appellant
or Victim is the backpack's legitimate owner. It is just
as likely as not that a thief might legitimately own or
acquire a backpack, and then proceed to fill it with stolen
if, assuming arguendo, it could be said that the
presence of the third-party's checkbook somehow made
Appellant owning the backpack less likely, any ostensible
probative-value would be slight and easily outweighed by the
substantial risk of inferences based on propensity and undue
prejudice or confusion. See § 90.403 Fla. Stat.
Here, the prejudice and confusion introduced into the trial
by the checkbook is apparent in the jury's question to
the court during deliberation. After retiring to consider its
verdict, the jury issued a hand-written note to the court
with the following question: "How is the owner of the
checkbook in the backpack connected to the Defendant or
Plaintiff?" Understandably, the jury was unduly occupied
with attempting to discern the elusive relevance of the
red herring checkbook.
introduction of the collateral checkbook evidence cannot be
deemed harmless error. It was put squarely before the jury
and referenced in the prosecutor's closing argument.
Other evidence presented was largely circumstantial or
controverted. We cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that
the not so subtle implication that Appellant committed the
uncharged crime of stealing a checkbook did not contribute to
the guilty verdict. See McCuin v. State, at 1068)
(explaining that erroneous admission of irrelevant collateral
crimes evidence is presumed harmful error because of
the danger the jury will interpret bad character or
propensity for crime as evidence of guilt of the crime
charged) (emphasis added) (citing Robertson v.
State, 829 So.2d 901, 913- 14 (Fla. 2002).
regard to the remaining issue on appeal involving the State
impeaching its own witness, we find no abuse of discretion or
error and approve the ...