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Sims v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

December 26, 2019

Willie Sims, Appellant,
v.
The State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 17-9924 Marisa Tinkler Mendez, Judge.

          Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and James Odell, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Brian H. Zack, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Before EMAS, C.J., and FERNANDEZ, and MILLER, JJ.

          MILLER, J.

         Appellant, Willie Sims, challenges his conviction and sentence for burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, in violation of section 810.02(4)(b), Florida Statutes (2019). On appeal, Sims contends the lower tribunal reversibly erred in excluding testimony Sims was purportedly known to be homeless and restricting the scope of voir dire. For the reasons set forth below, we find no error and affirm.

         BACKGROUND AND LOWER COURT PROCEEDINGS

         On May 21, 2017, at approximately 3:30 a.m., while patrolling a residential neighborhood, Sergeant Paul Rodriguez of the South Miami Police Department observed an illuminated dome light in a pickup truck parked outside of a private residence. Rodriguez approached the vehicle and encountered Sims, partially concealed within the vehicle and dressed entirely in dark clothing. Sims was rifling through various papers located on the driver's seat.

         The owner of the vehicle was alerted and confirmed that Sims did not have permission to enter his truck. He further attested his items had been ransacked. Sims was arrested and an ensuing search yielded a knife and cash. Sims confessed to burglarizing the vehicle, post-Miranda.[1]

         On June 12, 2017, Sims was charged by information with one count of burglary of an unoccupied conveyance. The case was scheduled for trial before a jury. During voir dire, outside of the presence of the prospective jurors, the defense informed the court that Sims was known to the arresting officer as "a car burglar," and sought to exclude any reference to past arrests or the recovery of the knife or cash at trial. The court granted the motion.

         The defense queried the potential jurors concerning their feelings regarding homelessness. The State objected, and the court convened a sidebar conference. The defense proffered Sims was seeking refuge within the vehicle. Therefore, he lacked the requisite state of mind to commit burglary and was guilty of only a trespass. The defense further apprised the court that law enforcement officers knew Sims to be homeless, from prior encounters.

         The lower tribunal sustained the objection, as it determined the asserted defense was grounded upon a lack of intent, rather than financial status. Hence, it concluded that any minimally probative value derived from informing the factfinders that Sims was homeless was vastly outweighed by the highly prejudicial effect of such testimony.

         A jury was empaneled. In opening statement, the defense asserted Sims had "fallen on hard times," thus, he was merely seeking shelter within the vehicle. Later, the defense highlighted Sims's unkempt appearance upon his arrest. In closing argument, the defense reminded the jury that, on the evening in question, as the result of poverty, Sims was attired in ...


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