Puglisi v. State, SC11–768.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtQUINCE
Citation112 So.3d 1196
PartiesVincent J. PUGLISI, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. SC11–768.,SC11–768.
Decision Date11 April 2013

112 So.3d 1196

Vincent J. PUGLISI, Petitioner,
STATE of Florida, Respondent.

No. SC11–768.

Supreme Court of Florida.

April 11, 2013.

[112 So.3d 1197]

Philip Massa, Director and Melanie L. Casper, Assistant Regional Counsel, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Fourth District, West Palm Beach, FL, for Petitioner.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, Consiglia Terenzio, Bureau Chief and Sue–Ellen Kenny, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, FL, for Respondent.


Vincent Puglisi seeks review of the decision of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Puglisi v. State, 56 So.3d 787 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), on the ground that it expressly and directly conflicts with a decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Cain v. State, 565 So.2d 875 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990), on a question of law. The Fourth District subsequently certified conflict with the Fifth District's decision in Cain. See Puglisi, 56 So.3d at 794. We have jurisdiction. Seeart. V, § 3(b)(3), (4), Fla. Const.

The question before us is whether a criminal defendant has the ultimate authority to decide whether to present witnesses at trial when the defendant is represented by counsel. We answer this question in the negative and hold that defense counsel has the final authority as to whether or not the defense will call a particular witness to testify at the criminal trial. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we approve the decision of the Fourth District in Puglisi and disapprove the decision of the Fifth District in Cain. We also recede from our decision in Blanco v. State, 452 So.2d 520 (Fla.1984), to the extent that we held that the ultimate decision

[112 So.3d 1198]

rests with the defendant as to the presentation of witnesses.


Vincent Puglisi and Rex Ditto were both charged with the first-degree murder of Alan Shalleck.1 At Puglisi's trial, the State established that on February 7, 2006, the victim's body, wrapped in trash bags, was discovered on his residential driveway in Boynton Beach. There was a trail of drag marks between the victim's body and his carport door. Blood was “everywhere” inside the victim's bathroom. Both Ditto and a Michael Raber could not be excluded from a DNA mixture obtained from a bent, bloody knife found in the victim's home. Two broken, bloody knife blades were also found at the crime scene. None of Puglisi's DNA was discovered on the recovered knives. The victim's bedroom was in disarray. A large pool of blood was discovered on the bedroom carpet. The victim died from multiple stab wounds and blunt head trauma, having received eighty-three blunt force injuries and thirty-seven sharp force injuries.

Further investigation revealed that on the morning of February 5, 2006, Puglisi had placed a telephone call to the victim. Detectives met with Puglisi on February 8, 2006. Puglisi was informed by the detectives that they were conducting a homicide investigation. Puglisi agreed to go to the police station with the detectives, where Miranda2 warnings were given. Puglisi told the detectives that he and the victim were friends, although they had engaged in a sexual relationship in the past. Puglisi maintained that he had not seen the victim for one to two months, but admitted to having the telephone conversation with the victim on February 5, 2006. In accounting for his whereabouts on February 5, 2006, Puglisi said that he went out to dinner with Ditto, the man he was dating, and then went home.

After the interview concluded, Puglisi was told that the crime scene had been described as gruesome. Puglisi was then asked if he thought Ditto was capable of doing something like that to the victim. Puglisi responded: “You know what, he's the kind of guy that could do something like that to him.” Puglisi added that he observed Ditto cleaning the front seat of Puglisi's vehicle with bleach in the early morning hours of February 6, 2006. Puglisi also said that he saw Ditto burning clothing, documents, and other items in the backyard of Puglisi's home.3

In a second interview with law enforcement, Puglisi admitted that he and Ditto went over to the victim's home on February 5, 2006. While there, Puglisi observed the victim performing oral sex on Ditto in his bedroom. Ditto “freaked out” and strangled the victim. Ditto said to Puglisi, “come on, let's do it,” and asked Puglisi for help. Ditto beat the victim on his head with a paddle. In an effort to hold the victim down, as it was requested by Ditto, Puglisi placed a pillow over the victim's face.4 Ditto retrieved a knife from the

[112 So.3d 1199]

kitchen which he used to stab the victim. While breaking two knives in the process, Puglisi estimated that Ditto stabbed the victim close to one hundred times. Maintaining that he was afraid, Puglisi said that he refused to stab the victim. After he could no longer handle being there, Puglisi went into the living room while Ditto continued to stab the victim. Puglisi did admit to throwing glass candle holders at the victim. After the attack, Puglisi and Ditto both dragged the victim's body out to the front of the house.5

During the interview, Puglisi disclosed that Ditto had plans to rob, knife, strangle, “bash” the victim's head in, and kill the victim. The plans also included taking the victim's body to Alligator Alley. Puglisi said that he did not think Ditto was going to do “this,” and even had tried to talk Ditto out of it. Puglisi also told the detectives:

I would never do or plan anything like this. It's no excuse, but I was in love with [Ditto] and went along with his plan because of the fact that I cared about him and I did not realize the seriousness of the consequences ... I'm sorry and I think it's a horrible crime. I'll always be sorry and regret this. I really f* * *ed up my life ... I'm sorry I did that. It's not even worth it.6

After the State rested on a Friday, counsel for Puglisi informed the trial judge that the defense still had a possible witness that they were going to speak with. When counsel returned to court on Monday, the following discussion transpired regarding Ditto:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: [O]ver the weekend we learned that Mr. Ditto is prepared to testify that Mr. Puglisi did nothing, that he—Mr. Ditto is the sole one responsible for the death of Mr. Shalleck and that he lied in the past because of his fear of the death penalty.


[We] have not had an opportunity to do what we would need to do to determine whether we were going to call Mr. Ditto or not as a witness to really even make that determination plus I'm not sure what he would say from day to day and would need to re-depose him, discuss it at greater length his reason for lying in the past, if that's what he's maintaining at this point....


STATE: When I saw Mr. Ditto, I confronted him with what [a cellmate of his] told me which was essentially that Ditto had told him that he had done all of the acts resulting in the death of Mr. Shalleck and Mr. Puglisi had done none and he says, yes that's true. I said that to him. And I said, well, is that true? He says yes, it is. I said what about all the statements that you made. He said, well previously I lied to avoid the death penalty and I said well, what if you are called by either side to testify in the trial, what are you going to say at that point in time and his response to me was, I'm probably going to lie and testify consistently with my previous statement.


DEFENSE COUNSEL: I agree Mr. Ditto has made various statements. What concerns me is that at this point he is saying his prior statements were

[112 So.3d 1200]

involuntarily [sic] because of the threat of the death penalty.... So one of the things, of course, that we are concerned about should we be—if we were to call him, we first would have to litigate admissibility of his prior inconsistent statement.... [T]here is all sorts of other evidence that would come in as prior statements that would impact his, you know, our decision about him testifying without litigating those issues first.7

THE COURT: So what about defense witnesses. Does defense intend to call witnesses?


THE COURT: Okay. Because I'm prepared to allow you to continue to decide whether or not you wish to call Mr. Ditto.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Judge, I think we need to explore-Mr. Ditto may be taking a formal deposition, see what he has to say.


THE COURT: I am going to grant the continuance but deposition, will obviously have to be expedited.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: [W]e were never going to call Mr. Ditto.

Ditto was then deposed where he indicated that he “told a variety of people that Mr. Puglisi was not involved in this.” When counsel returned to court later in the day, counsel for Puglisi said, “Since February of [2008] when we took [Ditto's] deposition, we had no information that [Ditto] would ever say anything different than what he said in his deposition until this weekend.” Defense counsel articulated to the trial court the predicament faced by the defense:

[T]he obvious concern is that if we were to call Mr. Ditto at this point, State would impeach him with a prior inconsistent statement which would then make any prior consistent statement be admissible and in order to pursue what those statements are, we have to interview all of these people.


[W]e're really in a ... catch–22 and our hands are tied in being able to present a defense for Mr. Puglisi in that ... obviously a very significant witness in this case has exculpatory testimony that we are unable to present without being able to have the opportunity to properly investigate the statement, the surrounding circumstances and his surrounding circumstances.

The trial court denied the defense's renewed motion for mistrial, but gave the defense until the next day to bring in witnesses who allegedly heard Ditto make these prior consistent statements.

The following day, defense counsel sought more time to investigate, but ultimately rested after stating...

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