Little v. State

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Citation302 So.3d 396
Docket NumberNo. 4D18-3128,4D18-3128
Parties Scott LITTLE, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date19 August 2020

302 So.3d 396

Scott LITTLE, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.

No. 4D18-3128

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.

[August 19, 2020]

Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Breanna Atwood, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Heidi L. Bettendorf, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.

Forst, J.

The circumstances presented in this case are familiar and of the "torn from the headlines" genre. The legal issues, on the other hand, are novel, due to two amendments to Florida statutes affecting self-defense claims: Chapter 2017-72, § 1, Laws of Florida (shifting the burden of proof at pretrial Stand Your Ground ("SYG") immunity hearings from the defendant to the State), and Chapter 2014-195 § 6, Laws of

302 So.3d 398

Florida (extending the "use of" deadly and non-deadly force defenses to "threatened use of" such force).

Scott Little ("Defendant") was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery. Following a SYG hearing, his motion to dismiss these charges was denied. A jury trial followed, and Defendant was convicted on both charges. He raises several issues on appeal. We write to address Defendant's arguments that: (1) his counsel was ineffective on the face of the record for failing to argue, at the pretrial SYG hearing on Defendant's motion to dismiss, that Defendant's actions constituted non-deadly force, as opposed to deadly force; (2) the trial court fundamentally erred in giving the deadly force jury instruction (in addition to the non-deadly force instruction) at trial because the instruction was not supported by the facts of this case; and (3) because the trial court improperly placed the burden of proof on Defendant at the SYG hearing pursuant to the pre-2017 version of section 776.032, Florida Statutes (2017)—which was in effect at the time of the incident and Defendant's arrest, rather than the amended statute, which became effective nine months before the SYG hearing—this case needs to be remanded for a new hearing notwithstanding an affirmance of the trial court with respect to the aforementioned arguments on appeal. On these and all other issues raised on appeal, we reject Defendant's arguments and affirm.


We reference both the SYG hearing which resulted in the denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss, and the subsequent trial which resulted in Defendant's convictions.

Hearing on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

Defendant filed a pretrial motion to dismiss pursuant to section 776.032, Florida Statutes (2017), which provides for immunity from criminal prosecution for justifiable use or threatened use of force. At the SYG hearing on the motion to dismiss, the defense presented the testimony of Defendant and two neighbors (who did not observe the confrontation at issue). After the defense rested, the State requested a "ruling based on the insufficient evidence that has been provided by the defense."

Defense counsel argued "a person is justified in threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent the commission of a forceble [sic] felony, in this case, being the burglary of his car." Defense counsel also contended that, as a result of the Florida Legislature's 2017 amendment to section 776.032(4), Florida Statutes, the State was required to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that Defendant was not entitled to self-defense immunity. The trial court noted that the change to the statute became effective after the alleged crime but before the pretrial hearing, and it held that the amended statute did not apply to this case. Thus, the trial court determined that Defendant bore the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to demonstrate entitlement to SYG immunity.

Having reached this decision regarding the burden of proof, the trial court made the following findings and conclusions:

Defendant was a member of an unofficial neighborhood "crime watch" group, which was formed after several burglaries in the neighborhood that occurred at least 6 months prior to this incident. Defendant was sitting on his porch when he observed a young black male approach a neighbor's mailbox. He had never seen this individual before and did not believe he was a resident of the neighborhood. This individual had his back to Defendant so he could not see
302 So.3d 399
what happened, if anything, at the mailbox. The young man then walked over to [Defendant's] truck and attempted to open the door using the handle. Fearing his property might be stolen or damaged, Defendant yelled for the individual to get away from his truck, pulled out his firearm, pointed it at him, and ordered him to get face down on the ground while he called police. The individual attempted to roll over to speak to him, but Defendant placed his foot on his back to prevent him from moving. Defendant never pat down the individual[,] so he does not know if this individual had a weapon. Defendant held this individual at gunpoint until police arrived. Defendant was subsequently arrested.

Having carefully weighed the testimonies of Defendant and the two additional witnesses, this Court finds the testimony of Defendant less than credible and the testimony of the other two witnesses generally credible, however only Defendant was present to witness the critical portion of time surrounding the incident at issue here. This Court concludes that the facts here do not support the application of immunity under Florida's "Stand-Your-Ground" Law. Defendant has not established by a preponderance of the evidence that he possessed a reasonable belief that his actions in brandishing and pointing his firearm and holding this individual at gunpoint here were necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.

Under Florida law, a "forcible felony" "means treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; carjacking; homeinvasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual." § 776.08, Fla. Stat. Here, Defendant never entered the vehicle and the vehicle was unoccupied, therefore the act of trying the door handle or reaching around the hood, without more, does not constitute the imminent commission of any forcible felony including carjacking or burglary. Additionally, the act of looking into a neighbor's mailbox does not constitute a forcible felony. As such, Defendant was not justified in using deadly force by brandishing and pointing his firearm and holding this individual at gunpoint to protect his property and Defendant is not entitled to stand your ground immunity under the circumstances here.

After the trial court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss, the case proceeded to a jury trial.

The Jury Trial

At trial, the alleged victim testified that he was a seventeen-year-old high school senior at the time of the incident. On the night of the incident, he went on his normal evening jog around 10:30 p.m., after his mother got home from work. At the beginning of his run, he noticed that he had money in his pocket. Near the end of his run, several blocks from his apartment, he noticed the money was missing. At this point, he began to search for his money in the grassy areas along the route he had just run. After searching around several mailboxes, he crossed the street towards a white truck, which happened to belong to Defendant. Upon reaching the truck, he put his hand on the vehicle and bent down to look underneath it for his money. As he bent down, he heard a voice yell out—although he could not hear it clearly over the music playing through his headphones. When he turned toward the voice, Defendant

302 So.3d 400

was approaching him with a gun drawn, yelling for him to get on the ground while he called the police.

Pursuant to a pretrial ruling, the State was not permitted to introduce any evidence of Defendant's alleged racist statements in its case in chief. Defendant, however, advanced a theory of self-defense at trial, which allowed the State to put on a rebuttal case. On rebuttal, the State recalled the alleged victim, who testified that when Defendant approached, he said, "get on the f****** ground n*****." On cross-examination, the defense questioned the alleged victim about why he did not tell the police about this statement on the night of the incident. The alleged victim explained that he does not curse.

Two officers responded to Defendant's call that evening and both testified at trial. Officer #1 testified he arrived at the scene to find Defendant with a pistol in one hand and flagging him down with the other hand. When Officer #1 approached, Defendant immediately put down the pistol and indicated that he had called 911. Officer #1 noticed the alleged victim lying on the ground crying and shaking. The officer separated Defendant and the alleged victim and took their statements. Defendant complained to Officer #1 about insufficient police...

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7 cases
  • Holland v. State, 4D19-1365
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 16 Diciembre 2020
    ...probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.’ " Little v. State , 302 So. 3d 396, 401 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) (quoting Strickland , 466 U.S. at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052 ).Here, Appellant stated that his counsel was ineffective for......
  • Burns v. State, 4D22-3247
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 24 Mayo 2023
    ...firearm by his side and continued to engage in a verbal confrontation demanding that the workers leave."[2] Relying on Little v. State, 302 So.3d 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020), the trial court denied Burns' motion on grounds that his "menacing" act of chambering a round in the firearm, coupled wi......
  • Bethea v. State, 4D21-98
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 2 Junio 2021
    ...burden 319 So.3d 670 of overcoming the defendant's self-defense immunity claim by clear and convincing evidence." Little v. State , 302 So. 3d 396, 407 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) (quoting Boston v. State , 296 So. 3d 580, 583 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020), rev. granted , SC20-1164, 2020 WL 5946341 (Fla. Oct......
  • Valdes v. State, 3D19-0570
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 14 Abril 2021
    ...beyond a reasonable doubt." Boston, 296 So. 3d at 583; see also Scheel v. State, 305 So. 3d 831 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020); Little v. State, 302 So. 3d 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020); Hart, 308 So. 3d at 658. By contrast, following Love II, the Second District determined that a defendant was entitled to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Pretrial motions and defenses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • 30 Abril 2021
    ...of § 776.031, the threat of discharging one’s firearm is a threat of deadly force regardless of the intent behind it. Little v. State, 302 So. 3d 396 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) In “Stand Your Ground” cases, three things are true: First, immunity is granted statutorily in the context of both deadly......

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