810 So.2d 836 (Fla. 2001), SC92975, Ramirez v. State

Docket NºSC92975
Citation810 So.2d 836, 27 Fla. L. Weekly S 18, 27 Fla. L. Weekly S 221
Opinion JudgeThe opinion of the court was delivered by: Shaw, J.
Party NameJOSEPH J. RAMIREZ, Appellant, v. STATE OFFLORIDA, Appellee.
AttorneyBennett H. Brummer, Public Defender, and Christina A. Spaulding,
Case DateDecember 20, 2001
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

Page 836

810 So.2d 836 (Fla. 2001)

27 Fla. L. Weekly S 18, 27 Fla. L. Weekly S 221

JOSEPH J. RAMIREZ, Appellant,

v.

STATE OFFLORIDA, Appellee.

No. SC92975

Supreme Court of Florida.

December 20, 2001

An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Dade County, Ronald C. Dresnick, Judge - Case No. 83-29429

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Bennett H. Brummer, Public Defender, and Christina A. Spaulding, Assistant Public Defender, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Miami, Florida, for Appellant

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, and Sandra S. Jaggard, Assistant Attorney General, Miami, Florida, for Appellee

REVISED OPINION

SHAW, J.

We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court imposing the death penalty on Joseph J. Ramirez following his third trial for the first-degree murder of a night courier. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, ' 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We reverse the convictions and vacate the sentences for the same reason as before-i.e., the trial court erroneously admitted evidence based on the knife mark identification procedure of Robert Hart.

I. FACTS

This is an appeal following the third trial of Ramirez for a 1983 murder. 1 The prior reversals were based on the trial court's admission ("For the first time in the history of the Florida courts," as the first trial court put it) of testimony by Miami crime technician Robert Hart wherein he stated that, based on his knife-mark identification procedure, Ramirez's knife was the murder weapon to the exclusion of all others. The facts underlying the first trial are set forth in Ramirez v. State, 542 So.2d 352 (Fla. 1989) (Ramirez I):

The relevant facts are as follows. Early Christmas morning in 1983, the body of a twenty-seven-year-old woman was discovered in the Miami Federal Express building where she worked as a night courier. She had died of multiple stab wounds to her body and blunt trauma to her head. Additional injuries included cuts on her hands and back and one stab wound into her chest cartilage. At the scene, police found blood spatters and pools throughout the dispatch area and break room indicative of a struggle. A bloody paper napkin and bloodstained fragments of a missing sixty-seven-pound telex machine were also discovered. The hot water faucet in the women's restroom was turned on full force. One truck had been tampered with and one of the loading bay doors was unlocked. The desk of an employee who sold jewelry had been opened, and a mail bag containing approximately $430 was missing. A hair was discovered on the victim's hand. Experts compared hair samples taken from Ramirez with that hair and determined that the hair found on the victim's hand did not belong to Ramirez.

The police discovered a bloody fingerprint on a doorjamb near the victim's body. From a photograph of the patent

Page 840

partial left thumbprint, a technician found ten points of similarity. Despite the fact that only approximately ten percent of the fingerprint area was discernible, the technician positively identified the fingerprint as belonging to Ramirez, an employee of an independent janitorial company which serviced the Federal Express offices. Based upon the fingerprint identification, Ramirez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Police investigation established that Ramirez had cleaned the Federal Express office on the afternoon of December 24. A week earlier, on December 17, the victim was unable to locate her keys to the building and had duplicates made. The lost keys were never found. . . . Ramirez inquired about the amount of revenues coming in and was told by the supervisor that they had a good business. Several people including Ramirez were also working in the area that day when the money was counted and placed in the mail bag.

[Ramirez's] girlfriend testified that at approximately 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve Ramirez returned to their residence. She stated that Ramirez left at around 9:00 p.m. in her Renault automobile to visit the home of some friends and that he was wearing a navy blue sweater with a fox emblem on the front. He remained at his friends' home until approximately 11:00 p.m. The appellant's girlfriend testified that Ramirez had returned home at some time during the night, but that she had not noted the time. However, when she arose at 5:30 a.m., Ramirez was at home. From the time Ramirez left his friends' home until sometime in the early hours of Christmas Day, his whereabouts were unknown.

When asked to produce the clothing he wore on Christmas Eve night, Ramirez told police the sweater he had worn was at Alvarez Cleaners, but the police were unable to locate a dry-cleaning establishment of that name. An inquiry of other dry cleaners in the area did not turn up the sweater. On December 28, Ramirez volunteered to the police a sweater he claimed to have worn Christmas Eve. The sweater was devoid of any emblem. Ramirez claimed the fox emblem had fallen off in the wash. When the police arrested Ramirez on December 28, they found a department store sales receipt in his wallet which indicated he had purchased the sweater that day. A store employee remembered selling Ramirez the sweater because she noticed his expensive watch. According to his girlfriend, Ramirez had purchased the watch on December 26. His old watch, found in the bedroom of his residence, appeared to have traces of blood on the band.

In the search of the Renault, police found a knife which Ramirez's girlfriend kept in the car for protection. The girlfriend testified that after Christmas she had found the knife in her kitchen sink and washed it. Her daughter returned the knife to the Renault when Ramirez, while cleaning the car, requested it to cut some string. Traces of some type of blood were detected on the knife, but in insufficient amount to determine their origin. No blood stains were detected on either Ramirez's sneakers or the pants he purportedly wore on the night of the murder. A police technician, who was qualified as a tool mark expert, testified that the knife found in the trunk of the Renault was the specific knife which produced the victim's chest wound.

Id. at 352-54.

Hart's specific knife mark identification evidence played a crucial role in the trial:

The trial court allowed the expert to state, "The result of my examination

Page 841

made from the microscopic similarity, which I observed from both the cut cartilage and the standard mark, was the stab wound in the victim was caused by this particular knife to the exclusion of all others." The technician explained that he had compared a piece of cut cartilage from the body of the victim to knife impressions, using the knife in question, but had made no comparisons with other knives.

Ramirez I, 542 So.2d at 354 (emphasis added). Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to death.

This Court reversed the conviction, ruling that while the knife itself was admissible, Hart's testimony that this particular knife was conclusively the murder weapon was "self-serving" and inadmissible:

In reviewing the record, we find that no scientific predicate was established from independent evidence to show that a specific knife can be identified from the marks made on cartilage. The only evidence received was the expert's self-serving statement supporting this procedure. The medical examiner testified that this type of knife could have made this type of stab wound. The trial judge expressed concern about this type of evidence when [the judge] stated, "FOR the first time in the history of the Florida courts . . . I have permitted into evidence knife prints, which the jury considered in the course of arriving at their verdict."

Ramirez I, 542 So.2d at 354-55.

Prior to the second trial, the court conducted a hearing wherein Hart testified concerning the reliability of his identification theory and submitted an article he had written on the subject; Ramirez was not allowed to present opposing evidence at the hearing. The court ruled the State's evidence admissible, and Ramirez again was convicted and sentenced to death. This Court again reversed:

Just as important as the burden of proof [at the hearing] is the fact that the hearing must be conducted in a fair manner. There is no question that a hearing on the admissibility of novel scientific evidence is an adversarial proceeding in which conflicting evidence is presented to the trial judge as the trier of fact. Without the testimony of experts presented by both parties, the trial judge is denied a full presentation of relevant evidence. This is especially important in a criminal trial where the defendant is guaranteed certain constitutional rights, not the least of which is the due process right to present witnesses in one's behalf.

Ramirez v. State, 651 So.2d 1164, 1168 (Fla. 1995) (Ramirez II).

Prior to the third trial, the court conducted a hearing wherein the State presented the testimony of six experts to support Hart's identification methodology. The defense presented one expert in rebuttal. The trial court again admitted the evidence, and Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to death based on four aggravating circumstances, 2 no statutory mitigating circumstances, and three nonstatutory mitigating circumstances, 3 overriding the jury's nine-to-three vote in favor of life

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imprisonment. 4 Ramirez raises nine issues on appeal, 5 but we find a single claim dispositive.

Ramirez asserts that the trial court erred in allowing the State's experts to testify that the knife found in Ramirez's car was the murder weapon to the exclusion of every other knife in the world. He contends that Hart's identification method is novel and untested and the State has failed to present sufficient proof of its reliability.

II. RELIABILITY

An expert witness is normally permitted to testify relative to generally accepted scientific theory...

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43 practice notes
  • 841 So.2d 532 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2003), 1D01-1609, Sybers v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) First District
    • February 28, 2003
    ...or "if the expert has a personal stake in the new theory or is prone to an institutional bias." Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 844, 844 n.13 (Fla. 2001) (Ramirez III). As our supreme court has emphasized, "general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial e......
  • 47 So.3d 872 (Fla.App. 3 Dist. 2010), 3D09-746, Lewis v. Sun Time Corp.
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) Third District
    • October 20, 2010
    ...cannot find the trial court abused the discretion it is said to have: (1) in the admission of evidence in general, see Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 852 n. 51 (Fla.2001); Fla. Inst. for Neurologic Rehab., Inc. v. Marshall, 943 So.2d 976, 978 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006); LaMarr v. Lang 796 So.2d 1......
  • 880 So.2d 1234 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2004), 1D03-1658, Roeling v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) First District
    • August 30, 2004
    ...or "if the expert has a personal stake in the new theory or is prone to an institutional bias." Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 844, 844 n. 13 (Fla.2001) (Ramirez III). As our supreme court has explained, "general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial ex......
  • Containing Canakaris: tailoring Florida's one-size-fits-most standard of review.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 78 Nbr. 4, April 2004
    • April 1, 2004
    ...all evidentiary questions are treated in Florida as matters of pure judicial discretion. A rare exception appears in Ramirez v. State, 810 So. 2d 836 (Fla. 2001), where the Florida Supreme Court noted that rulings on the admissibility of novel scientific evidence (Frye (33) orders) are subj......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
38 cases
  • 47 So.3d 872 (Fla.App. 3 Dist. 2010), 3D09-746, Lewis v. Sun Time Corp.
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) Third District
    • October 20, 2010
    ...cannot find the trial court abused the discretion it is said to have: (1) in the admission of evidence in general, see Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 852 n. 51 (Fla.2001); Fla. Inst. for Neurologic Rehab., Inc. v. Marshall, 943 So.2d 976, 978 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006); LaMarr v. Lang 796 So.2d 1......
  • 880 So.2d 1234 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2004), 1D03-1658, Roeling v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) First District
    • August 30, 2004
    ...or "if the expert has a personal stake in the new theory or is prone to an institutional bias." Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 844, 844 n. 13 (Fla.2001) (Ramirez III). As our supreme court has explained, "general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial ex......
  • 841 So.2d 532 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2003), 1D01-1609, Sybers v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) First District
    • February 28, 2003
    ...or "if the expert has a personal stake in the new theory or is prone to an institutional bias." Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 844, 844 n.13 (Fla. 2001) (Ramirez III). As our supreme court has emphasized, "general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial e......
  • 33 So.3d 727 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2010), 1D08-4366, Harrison v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Court of Appeal of Florida (US) First District
    • March 25, 2010
    ...time of appeal, rather than the time of trial." Bevil v. State, 875 So.2d 1265, 1268 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (citing Ramirez v. State, 810 So.2d 836, 844-45 (Fla.2001)). The expert testimony counsel described below in her spoken proffer would have been highly relevant. Page 732 " Any ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • Challenging expert witness testimony in Florida products liability cases under Frye.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 81 Nbr. 3, March 2007
    • March 1, 2007
    ...a trial court should consider in determining the admissibility of scientific expert witness opinions under Frye. In Ramirez v. State, 810 So. 2d 836 (Fla. 2002), the court stated that a trial court is not required to accept only a "nose count" of experts in determining whether a m......
  • Containing Canakaris: tailoring Florida's one-size-fits-most standard of review.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 78 Nbr. 4, April 2004
    • April 1, 2004
    ...all evidentiary questions are treated in Florida as matters of pure judicial discretion. A rare exception appears in Ramirez v. State, 810 So. 2d 836 (Fla. 2001), where the Florida Supreme Court noted that rulings on the admissibility of novel scientific evidence (Frye (33) orders) are subj......
  • Firearm microstamp technology: failing Daubert and Federal Rules of Evidence 702.
    • United States
    • Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal Vol. 38 Nbr. 2, September 2012
    • September 22, 2012
    ...supra note 25, at 9-14. Krivosta, supra note 30, at 44-47. (123.) See Extracting Ballistic, supra note 18. (124.) See Ramirez v. State, 810 So. 2d 836, 851 (Fla. 2001) ("In applying the Frye criteria, general scientific recognition requires the testimony of impartial experts or scienti......
  • Dueling doctors: an argument for specialized medical testimony.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 78 Nbr. 11, December 2004
    • December 1, 2004
    ...of any litigation requiring medical evidence hinges on the admission or exclusion of an expert in a Frye hearing. (1) Ramirez v. State, 810 So. 2d 836, 843 (Fla. 2001). (2) Id. at 843 n.8. (3) Ga. Soc. of Plastic Surgeons, Inc. v. Anderson, 363 S.E. 2d 140 (Ga. 1987). (4) Catron v. Bohn, 58......

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