Sunday, May 01, 2011

DUI Appeal - Florida Bars Use of Prior Conviction for Impeachment

In Hayward v. State of Florida, --- So.3d ----, 2011 WL 1485608 (Fla.App. 2 Dist.) the defendant was found guilty of DUI by a jury.

When Mr. Hayward took the stand in his own defense, his counsel asked him why he refused the arresting officer's requests that he take a breath alcohol test. He testified, “I've heard from people, and I've seen breath tests go wrong. You could have three Mountain Dews and blow a 0.01. I've seen it happen before, and—.” The State objected to Mr. Hayward's reference to Mountain Dews, and the trial court struck that portion from the record but allowed the first sentence to remain. Later, the State sought to impeach Mr. Hayward's comments with evidence regarding his 1992 DUI conviction, where he allegedly did take a breath test and the results were used against him. The defense objected, arguing that Mr. Hayward's comments did not “open the door” to prior crime testimony and that the potential for undue prejudice outweighed the evidence's minimal probative value. The trial court allowed the questions over the defense's objections, so the jury heard that Mr. Hayward was previously convicted for DUI. On appeal the defendant claimed that introducing the prior was in error.

Generally, in Florida evidence of unconnected crimes is inadmissible:

[I]it is generally harmful error “to admit evidence of other or collateral crimes independent of and unconnected with the crime for which the defendant is on trial.”
An exception exists if the defense opens the door so to allow for introduction. As stated by the Florida appeals court herein:

“Opening the door” is an evidentiary concept that permits the admission of otherwise inadmissible testimony in order to qualify, explain, or limit previously admitted testimony or evidence. Overton v. State, 801 So.2d 877, 900 (Fla.2001). The normally inadmissible evidence is allowed when fairness and the search for the truth require a fuller explication of evidence that otherwise would have been incomplete and misleading. Hudson v. State, 992 So.2d 96, 110 (Fla.2008). Thus, a party “opens the door” when it elicits misleading testimony or makes a factual assertion that the opposing party has a right to correct so that the jury will not be misled. Robertson [ v. State ], 829 So.2d [901,] 913 [ (Fla.2002) ]. For example, a defendant's evidence of his good character may open the door to impeachment with evidence of the defendant's bad character. Robertson, 829 So.2d at 912."
The court of appeals court found that the defendant's remarks did not "open the door:"

"Mr. Hayward's testimony, at that point, did not “open the door” to questions regarding the details of his 1992 DUI conviction. He did not place the nature of his prior felony at issue. See, e.g., McCrae v. State, 395 So.2d 1145, 1152 (Fla.1980) (holding that prosecution was allowed to ask about details of defendant's prior conviction because defendant's testimony, without clarification through questions by the State, “could have deluded the jury into equating appellant's conviction of assault with intent to commit murder with his previous misdemeanors”); Burst v. State, 836 So.2d 1107, 1109 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003) (holding that defendant opened the door to cross-examination about the nature of two prior convictions when he volunteered, during questioning by his own counsel, that he had two prior convictions for possession and two prior convictions for grand theft but, in actuality, one of the possession convictions was for possession with intent to sell and one of the grand theft convictions was for grand theft auto). Essentially, Mr. Hayward's testimony was that he did not trust breath testing machines. The statement was not misleading or incomplete, nor was it a small part of a story that required further explanation in consideration of fairness to both sides. He only provided his subjective state of mind, his opinion or his belief of the equipment's unreliability.
The court also held that evidence may become inadmissible, even if the door is opened, where the prejudice outweighs its probative value:

"Even had Mr. Hayward's limited testimony “opened the door,” the potential for undue prejudice far exceeded the probative value of the testimony. See § 90.403, Fla. Stat. (2008) (“Relevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice”). The issue of Mr. Hayward's refusal to take a breath test was minimally relevant at best. Informing the jury that Mr. Hayward had previously been convicted of the exact crime he was on trial for was extremely prejudicial. Consequently, the trial court also abused its discretion by failing to exclude the evidence on the basis that the potential for unfair prejudice outweighed its minimal probative value."
In finding the error harmful, thus requiring a new trial, the court stated:

"The jury's verdict rested largely upon weighing the credibility of the officer and Mr. Hayward. The improperly admitted evidence of Mr. Hayward's prior DUI conviction gave the State, through the officer's testimony, an unfair advantage in that credibility contest."

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