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 Appellants apprehension
and burglary charges. The Victims 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
Appellants arrest, a checkbook belonging to a third party,
entirely unconnected to the charged crime, was found inside
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 defendants 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 defendants 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
Appellants unexplained possession of somebody elses
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 elses 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 strangers 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 backpacks owner.
Contrary to the States contention, its presence makes it
neither more likely nor less likely that either the Appellant
or Victim is ...