Huff v. State, 59989

Decision Date01 September 1983
Docket NumberNo. 59989,59989
Citation437 So.2d 1087
PartiesJames Roger HUFF, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Robert Q. Williams and Christopher J. Smith of Williams & Smith, Tavares, for appellant.

Jim Smith, Atty. Gen. and Mark C. Menser, Asst. Atty. Gen., Daytona Beach, for appellee.


This is an appeal from a final judgment of the trial court imposing two sentences of death. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 3(b)(1), Florida Constitution, and we reverse.

On April 21, 1980 Norman and Genevieve Huff were found shot to death in a remote area of Sumter County, near Wildwood, Florida. The victims' son, James Roger Huff (the appellant), was the first person to report the killing of his parents to a nearby resident. Appellant told the resident that some men had run their car off the road, knocked him unconscious, robbed and then murdered his parents. At the time, appellant appeared upset and had sand on his forearms but no blood was visible on his person. Appellant was taken into custody at the crime scene and transported to the Sumter County jail. On the drive to the jail, the deputy sheriff observed Huff rubbing his hands but saw nothing unusual about these actions. A gunshot residue test was administered at the jail but was inconclusive.

No murder weapon was ever found. Cause of death of Mr. Huff was a gunshot wound to the left side of the head, in addition to other bullet wounds to the left eye and right hand. Cause of death of Mrs. Huff was a combination of blunt trauma injury to the back of the head and a bullet wound in the neck, in addition to two other bullet wounds to the head.

Huff was indicted for the first-degree murder of his parents on June 2, 1980. Trial began on October 2, 1980 and the jury found appellant guilty on both counts. The jury recommended death on both counts. The trial judge sentenced appellant to death on both counts.

Appellant asserts five grounds for error in the trial phase. He first claims that the trial court erred in not granting his motion for directed judgment of acquittal where the only evidence of guilt was circumstantial and where he says the circumstantial proof adduced at trial did not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. There is no merit in this contention. Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to convict in a capital case in the absence of a reasonable alternative theory. McArthur v. State, 351 So.2d 972 (Fla.1977); Davis v. State, 90 So.2d 629 (Fla.1956). The state's evidence was clearly sufficient to have the case taken to the jury. The evidence that appellant was seen in the back seat of the death car with his parents an hour and a half before the murders were reported, the evidence that the killer had to be positioned in the back seat, the evidence that this car had been moved sometime subsequent to the murders, and the testimony of witness Joyner that he saw appellant alone driving a car immediately after the time of the murders, is evidence inconsistent with appellant's story and inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence. In light of the state's evidence, the jury could properly have found appellant's story to be unreasonable beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt. The trial court correctly denied appellant's motion for acquittal.

Appellant's second issue likewise lacks merit. He claims that the trial court erred by prohibiting him from introducing character evidence of his lack of propensity for violence. At trial, appellant proffered the testimony of witness Spence who was to testify concerning appellant's character by the use of negative testimony. While it is permissible to develop this line of evidence by the use of negative testimony, see Herring v. State, 114 Fla. 156, 154 So. 187 (1934), in this instance appellant failed to do this properly. His proffered testimony was not directed at a pertinent trait of his character, as required by section 90.404(1)(a), Florida Statutes (1979), but was instead directed to appellant's general character. At no time during the proffered testimony was the witness questioned about appellant's specific character trait of propensity or lack of propensity for violence. It was thus not error for the judge to rule the proffered testimony inadmissible.

Appellant's third point is the basis for this Court's reversal of the murder convictions. Appellant claims and we agree that the trial court erred by denying a motion for mistrial when the state attorney implied in his closing argument that appellant had forged his deceased father's name to a guarantee agreement, where the state had offered no evidence at trial regarding the forgery of documents. Within the confines of this trial, this was reversible error.

The facts surrounding the raising of this issue are somewhat lengthy and a recitation of same is necessary. The State's Response to the Defendant's Discovery Demand listed "Handwriting Analyst, FDLE Crime Laboratory." That document also indicated that a handwriting analysis report was to be mailed to appellant upon receipt by the state attorney's office. In September 1980, appellant served upon the state a Motion to Strike wherein it was alleged that the state had failed to provide appellant with the handwriting analysis referred to in the State's Response to Discovery. During a hearing on the motion, the state attorney told the court that he did not believe that the crime lab in Tallahassee would be able to perform the handwriting analysis prior to trial. The state attorney also mentioned that if the analysis were not done, then the state couldn't introduce it as evidence. In October 1980, appellant served upon the state a Motion to Compel wherein it was requested that the court compel the state to produce the handwriting analysis referred to in the previous document. At a hearing on this motion, the state informed the court that it had not sent handwriting samples to the crime lab to be analyzed. Defense counsel then stated to the court that it believed that the state intended to call an Orlando attorney named Foster to testify that appellant had told Foster that he, appellant, had forged his deceased father's signature to a guarantee agreement. To dispute this claim, defense counsel volunteered to have appellant give handwriting samples to the state for purposes of analysis. Defense counsel requested the court prohibit Foster from testifying if the state did not want to analyze appellant's handwriting. Since the conversation was an admission against interest, the court refused.

During the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
21 cases
  • Huff v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • August 28, 1986
    ...counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death for the killing of his parents, Norman and Genevieve Huff. In Huff v. State, 437 So.2d 1087 (Fla.1983) (Huff I), we reversed the convictions and sentences and remanded for a new trial. This appeal is from the new trial where appellant......
  • Fryer v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • May 14, 1997
    ...Just as defense counsel must object to improper comments of the prosecutor in order to preserve them for appellate review, Huff v. State, 437 So.2d 1087 (Fla.1983); Sanders v. State, 638 So.2d 569 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994); Adams v. State, 585 So.2d 1092 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991); Thompson v. State, 318 ......
  • Scala v. State, s. 3D11–1979
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • March 15, 2017
    ...Just as defense counsel must object to improper comments of the prosecutor in order to preserve them for appellate review, Huff v. State , 437 So.2d 1087 (Fla.1983) ; Sanders v. State , 638 So.2d 569 (Fla. 3d DCA 1994) ; Adams v. State , 585 So.2d 1092 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991) ; Thompson v. State......
  • Williams v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • January 19, 2017
    ...with a sexual offense, and courts condemn arguments suggesting a defendant is guilty of an uncharged crime. See Huff v. State , 437 So.2d 1087, 1090–91 (Fla. 1983) (reversing a conviction where the prosecutor suggested in closing that the defendant was guilty of an uncharged crime); Jackson......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT