Cassaday v. State

Citation289 So.3d 915
Decision Date15 January 2020
Docket NumberNo. 4D18-3066,4D18-3066
Parties Donald Lee CASSADAY, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Gregory Salnick of the Law Offices of Salnick & Fuchs, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellant.

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Jeanine Germanowicz, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

Levine, C.J. Appellant was convicted of sexual battery on a helpless person, pursuant to section 794.011(4)(b), Florida Statutes. Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by limiting the time for questioning during voir dire. The trial court initially gave each side 45 minutes, but allowed appellant to continue questioning prospective jurors for closer to 70 minutes, and then gave appellant an additional 5 minutes after appellant requested more time, for a total of 75 minutes. We find that under the circumstances of this case, the 75 minutes given to appellant was not an abuse of discretion. We also reaffirm this court's position that there is no mathematical formula that determines how much time the trial court should allocate for voir dire and reiterate that this determination is made on a case-by-case basis. Thus, we find that the time given for voir dire in this case was not an abuse of the trial court's discretion and affirm. We also find the other issue to be without merit and we affirm that issue without further discussion.

The victim attended a funeral reception where the attendees, including the victim, consumed alcoholic drinks. After the funeral reception, a group from the reception, including the victim's son and appellant, went to the victim's home. The victim was put to bed due to her intoxicated state. Later the victim's son went to check on the victim and found appellant in the victim's room. The victim's son saw appellant with his pants half down, trying to have sex with the victim. The victim remained unconscious throughout. The victim's son told appellant to get out, and appellant left the house. The victim's son followed appellant and punched him when he caught up to him. Appellant then jumped a fence and ran away. The victim did not remember being assaulted.

Law enforcement then interviewed appellant and asked him the following:

DETECTIVE VAUGHAN: You had a little too much to drink and had a lapse of judgment?
DONALD CASSADAY: That is what happened.
DETECTIVE VAUGHAN: That's the way it happened? You just said "that's what happened." So what happened?
DONALD CASSADAY: That is—that is what happened.
DETECTIVE VAUGHAN: What; that you had a lapse of judgment?
DETECTIVE VAUGHAN: So tell us what happened.
DONALD CASSADAY: Exactly. I went in there and uhm—I tried to have sex with her and that wasn't happening.

Detectives interviewed appellant a second time where he spoke about the physical interaction he had with the victim with greater specificity.

Before the trial, the trial court informed the parties that "[t]he Court will conduct general questioning during jury selection and the parties will have 45 minutes for additional questioning." Defense counsel filed an objection stating that the defense needed more time to question the jurors due to recent increased media coverage of sexual battery cases in general as well as appellant's intent to offer a false confession defense. Defense counsel requested 2 hours instead of 45 minutes to question the 40 jurors. The trial court denied the request.

At the outset of voir dire, the trial court explained to the prospective jurors basic concepts including presumption of innocence, witness credibility, burden of proof, and a defendant's right not to testify. The trial court also asked the prospective jurors whether they had been on juries before and whether they could be fair jurors.

The parties then questioned the prospective jurors. When defense counsel asked a prospective juror about her ability to judge the credibility of witnesses, the trial court sustained the state's objection to the defense pre-trying the case. Defense counsel also asked the prospective jurors whether they thought law enforcement could make mistakes, whether police would plant or mishandle evidence, whether people could be falsely accused of crimes, and finally, whether they believed people might confess to crimes they did not commit. The state made another objection to the defense pre-trying the case when defense counsel asked a prospective juror whether she could accept a false confession defense. The trial court overruled the objection. The trial court then clarified that defense counsel could ask if the potential jurors would consider a false confession defense, but could not tell the prospective jurors the reasons that someone would give a false confession.

Defense counsel continued by asking the prospective jurors whether they thought different factors would cause someone to make a false confession and whether law enforcement officers should be allowed to lie in order to get a confession. Defense counsel also asked how the prospective jurors would balance the credibility of civilian witnesses against law enforcement witnesses. Defense counsel asked whether the prospective jurors had ever been falsely accused and whether they could fairly evaluate a false confession defense.

At this juncture, defense counsel asked for another 20 minutes. Defense counsel claimed that he needed the additional time to discuss whether individual jurors believed that officers commit misconduct and how they would weigh the credibility of law enforcement witnesses. The trial court thought that defense counsel had already covered those areas and told defense counsel that he had "asked general questions of all of them" already and that the jurors had raised their hands accordingly. Defense counsel then said that he wanted to question individual jurors about media coverage and whether the jurors were ever falsely accused. Once again, the trial court reminded defense counsel that he had already asked about these topics and no jurors had raised their hands. The trial court told defense counsel, "You've spent your entire jury selection on what the Court feels is pretrying your case; you have not hit any of the constitutional things that one normally does in jury selection."

Despite that, the trial court gave the defense another 5 minutes for voir dire so that defense counsel could ask the prospective jurors about the burden of proof and how they felt about whether appellant testified. Defense counsel objected again to the time limit. This 5 minutes was in addition to the nearly 70 minutes already utilized by the defense. Thus, the original 45 minutes had expanded to approximately 75 minutes to question the prospective jurors.

After the jury selection, defense objected again to the "time limitations" and refused to accept the jury panel. The trial court seated the panel over defense counsel's objection and stated the following:

All right. And noting the objection for the record. I want the record to also reflect that this Court gave previous notice that there would be a time limitation of 45 minutes on each side. The Court did see the objection and we discussed it this morning where Defense counsel asked for an additional 2 hours; that request was denied.
However, we did spend over an hour and 20—almost 25 minutes on jury selection.
I find that the entire time that the Defense did the questioning that you spent asking questions primarily intended to plant seeds about your theory of the case. A lot of the questions were pre-trying the case which is not the purpose of voir dire.
It should be noted that the Court exercised its discretion to allow for my [sic] questioning than originally allotted based on the nature of some of the responses.
At one point I even cautioned that I believed that some questions were designed to pre-try, but Defense chose to use their allotted time to continue that course of questioning. There was no objections by State, so that questioning was permitted.
The Court also gave you a brief extension to cover any other important grounds. As such; the time allotted was reasonable and I will seat this panel over Defense objection. However, it will be objected to for the purposes of the appellate record.

The jury selection was then completed and the jurors were sworn in. No additional requests for time were made by the defense at this time.

The jury found appellant guilty as charged for sexual battery on a helpless person. Appellant appeals this conviction.

We review the trial court's imposition of a time limit on voir dire under the abuse of discretion standard. Hopkins v. State , 223 So. 3d 285, 286 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).

Appellant argues that ...

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  • Preliminaries
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Trial Objections
    • May 5, 2022
    ...justice . See, e.g. People v. Burney , 47 Cal. 4th 203 (Cal. 2009). PRELIMINARIES §200 Trial Objections 2-6 FLORIDA Cassaday v. State , 289 So. 3d 915 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020). There is no mathematical formula that determines how much time the trial court should allocate for voir dire. Th......

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