County Criminal Court : CRIMINAL LAW – Jury Trial/Evidence – Prior bad acts – Inquiry of a witness about the defendant’s prior bad acts was proper where the defendant opened the door to the line of questioning and the witness’s answers would have left the jury with incomplete and misleading information.  Resulting testimony was not inadmissible character evidence in violation of §90.404(1) Fla. Stat.  Trial court’s judgment and sentence affirmed.  Satiny v. State, No. CRC08-00048APANO (Fla. 6th Cir.App.Ct. March 4, 2009).

 

 

 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY

 

 

MANES SATINY

 

            Appellant,

 

v.                                                                                                                                          Appeal No. CRC 08-00048 APANO

                                                                        UCN522007MM033797XXXXNO

 

STATE OF FLORIDA

            Appellee.

__________________________________/

 

 

Opinion filed March 4, 2009.

 

Appeal from a judgment and sentence

entered by the Pinellas County Court

County Judge Robert G. Dittmer

 

Kimberly Nolen Hopkins, Esquire

Attorney for Appellant

 

James Earl Peterson, Esquire

Attorney for Appellee

 

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            PETERS, Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Appellant, Manes Satiny’s, appeal from a conviction, after a jury trial, of Battery, a first degree misdemeanor, in violation of § 784.03 (1) Fla. Stat. (2008).  After review of the record and the briefs, this Court affirms the judgment and sentence.

Factual Background and Trial Court Proceedings

            On December 11, 2007, a Misdemeanor Information was filed charging the Appellant with Battery, in violation of Chapter 784.03 (1), Florida Statutes.  The Information alleges the offense occurred on July 24, 2007.   On that date, June Renee Gage was working as an assistant manager at an apartment complex.  The Appellant, Manes Satiny came into the office where Ms. Gage was working and as she was leaving for the day, the Appellant grabbed her arm under the elbow, and had asked to give Ms. Gage a kiss.  Appellant wanted to kiss Ms. Gage and tried to restrain her from letting herself out the door.  This went on for one to three minutes, during which time she tried to get away from the Appellant.  She repeatedly asked him to stop and he didn’t stop.   Ms. Gage had previously given her employer two weeks notice that she was terminating her employment.

On June 29, 2008 a jury trial was conducted.  At trial, on direct examination, the State asked Ms. Gage “before this incident, you had put in your two weeks notice, correct?”  Ms. Gage responded “correct”.  Appellant objected on the basis of relevancy.  The State responded by arguing that it was relevant to show motive.  That is, she did not create this incident as a reason to terminate her employment.  The Court began to suggest that the question be rephrased in a certain way and was interrupted by Appellant’s trial counsel restating the objection of relevancy.  The court then overruled the objection.  At that point the State said, “I’ll leave it alone. If you open it up on cross then.”  At that point, the Court interrupted and said, “(y)ou ask it however you want to. Go ahead. Overruled.”  The State then said, “(i)f you open the door on cross, then I’ll readdress it.”   The State made no further inquiry on that issue in direct examination.

On cross-examination, Appellant’s trial counsel questioned Ms. Gage about the reasons for posting her two week’s notice.  In response to this questioning, Ms. Gage stated that she had some other issues involving her employer.  Appellant’s trial counsel asked, “(a)nd that was one of the reasons why you placed your two week’s notice to leave this property?”  Ms. Gage answered, “(t)hat is correct.” 

On redirect examination, the State asked the Court for permission to further inquire as to why Ms. Gage had given her two weeks notice to her employer.  The State argued that Appellant’s trial counsel had opened the door to such inquiry.  Appellant’s trial counsel objected stating that it was the State that had been allowed to get “into the two weeks notice”.  Further counsel argued, “I don’t believe we did open the door”.  “And if the Court does find that we did open the door, I think the probative value is outweighed by the prejudicial effect on my client”.   The Court responded by stating that Appellant’s trial counsel was the first to ask why the two week notice was given.  After more argument by the parties, the Court allowed the State to ask if there were other reasons Ms. Gage decided to give the two week’s notice.  In the ensuing inquiry, Ms. Gage testified that another reason Ms. Gage had given two week’s notice was because the Appellant had made inappropriate romantic overtures toward her in the past and had tried to take pictures of her with his cell phone.  Ms. Gage then confirmed on re-cross that the reason that she filed her two week’s notice to terminate her employment was because of the situation involving management as well as the incidents involving Appellant.

            The Appellant was found guilty by the jury of the charge contained in the Misdemeanor Information.

 

The Admission of Evidence of Prior Inappropriate Conduct

A. Standard of Review.   A trial judge's rulings on the admission or exclusion of evidence are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard.  LaMarca v. State, 785 So.2d 1209, 1212 (Fla.2001).   Under the abuse of discretion standard, discretion is abused only when the judicial action is arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable, which is another way of saying that discretion is abused only where no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court.  Frances v. State, 970 So.2d 806, 813 (Fla. 2007).

B. Argument and Analysis.  The Appellant argues the trial court erred by permitting the alleged victim to testify that she resigned from her job partly because of romantic overtures Appellant had made toward her prior to the incident giving rise to the instant charge.  Appellant argues such testimony was inadmissible character evidence in violation of Florida Statute § 90.404 (1) and similar fact evidence relevant only to prove bad character or propensity in violation of Florida Statute § 90.404 (2)(a). 

The difficulty with this argument is that the disputed testimony was allowed only after Appellant, with knowledge that the State would pursue the point, asked the victim the reasons for submitting her two week employment termination notice.  In doing so, Appellant invited and opened the door to the inquiry by the State.[1]  Hudson v. State, 992 So2d 96 (Fla. 2008); Alcantar v. State, 987 So2d 822 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2008).

“[T]he concept of ‘opening the door’ allows the admission of otherwise inadmissible testimony to ‘qualify, explain, or limit’ testimony or evidence previously admitted.”    Lawrence v. State, 846 So.2d 440, 452 (Fla.2003) (quoting Rodriguez v. State, 753 So.2d 29, 42 (Fla.2000)). “The concept of ‘opening the door’ is ‘based on considerations of fairness and the truth-seeking function of a trial’ ” and without the fuller explication, the testimony that opened the door “would have been incomplete and misleading.”    Lawrence, 846 So.2d at 452;   see also  Overton v. State, 801 So.2d 877, 900-01 (Fla.2001) (agreeing that the State is permitted to fill in the gaps in the testimony to correct a false impression left by the defendant).

 

 Hudson v. State, 992 So2d at 110.  In the present case, Appellant was first to ask the victim the reasons for submitting her two week employment termination notice.  The testimony that was received in response to this inquiry was incomplete.   Ms. Gage stated only that she had some other issues involving her employer.  If the State had not been allowed to ask if there were other reasons Ms. Gage decided to give the two week’s notice the trial testimony would have remained incomplete and misleading.  To accede to the Appellant’s request would be to deliberately leave the jury with a false impression.  The trial court ruling was consistent with fundamental fairness and necessary to discharge the truth-seeking function of the trial.  Moreover, the actions of the trial court were lawful and appropriate.   There was no error.

Conclusion

            For the reasons set forth above, this court concludes that the issue raised by the Appellant is without merit.  The judgment and sentence of the trial court were lawfully entered and should be affirmed.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the judgment and sentence of the trial court is affirmed.

            ORDERED at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ____ day of February, 2009.

 

 

Original opinion entered by Circuit Judges Michael F. Andrews, Raymond O. Gross, & R. Timothy Peters.  

 

 

 

           

cc:        Honorable Robert G. Dittmer

            Office of the State Attorney

            Kimberly Nolen Hopkins, Esquire     

                                                                                                                       



[1] An issue that was not raised in this case and is not part of this appeal, but which is noted is that the disputed testimony in the present case arguably was not similar fact evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts in violation of Florida Statute § 90.404(2)(a).  This rule of evidence, called the “Williams rule”, is limited to “similar fact evidence.” Thus, evidence of uncharged crimes which are inseparable from the crime charged, or evidence which is inextricably intertwined with the crime charged, is not Williams rule evidence. If such evidence is admissible, it is admissible under Florida Statute § 90.402 because “it is a relevant and inseparable part of the act which is in issue....  [I]t is necessary to admit the evidence to adequately describe the deed.”   Griffin v. State, 639 So2d 966, 970 (Fla. 1994) (citations omitted). 

“Evidence is inextricably intertwined if the evidence is necessary to (1) adequately describe the deed, (2) provide an intelligent account of the crime(s) charged, (3) establish the entire context out of which the charged crime(s) arose, or (4) adequately describe the events leading up to the charged crime(s).” Scott v. State, 957 So2d 43, 44 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007); Dorsett v. State, 944 So.2d 1207, 1213 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006) (en banc) (citations omitted).