Ramroop v. State

Citation174 So.3d 584
Decision Date04 September 2015
Docket NumberNo. 5D14–1359.,5D14–1359.
PartiesGangapersad RAMROOP, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

James S. Purdy, Public Defender, and Jeri M. Delgado, Assistant Public Defender, Daytona Beach, for Appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Rebecca Rock McGuigan, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.



Following a jury trial, Gangapersad Ramroop (Ramroop) was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and knowingly discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1000 feet of a person. On appeal, he argues that the State's closing argument was improper and constituted fundamental error and that the trial court erred by admitting an inflammatory photograph into evidence. In addition, as to his conviction for attempted second-degree murder, he argues that the jury instruction pertaining to the jury's special finding that the victim was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duties at the time of the offense failed to also require the jury to find that Ramroop had knowledge of the victim's status. We agree that error was committed on all three grounds. However, we find only the last error to be reversible, and only as it affects Ramroop's sentence for attempted second-degree murder.

During the early morning hours of July 4, 2013, several officers of the Orlando Police Department attempted to pull over Ramroop's vehicle for a traffic violation. A chase ensued, whereupon Ramroop ran several red lights, and allegedly shot at one of the officers involved in the pursuit, Officer Christopher Brillant. Ramroop ultimately struck another vehicle in an intersection, causing the death of the driver of that vehicle, Robert Charles John Hunter. Hunter was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, and his body was ejected from the vehicle onto the pavement. Ramroop was apprehended at the scene of the crash and subsequently charged by information with (1) attempted first-degree murder of an officer engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty and (2) knowingly discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1000 feet of a person. Ramroop was also separately indicted for first-degree murder of Hunter.

At trial, the State and Ramroop entered into two stipulations pertaining to the death of Hunter. The first stipulation stated as follows:

The State and Defense have entered into the following joint stipulation regarding the location of impact between the vehicles being driven by Gangapersad Ramroop and Robert Charles John Hunter. The front of Gangapersad Ramroop's vehicle struck the driver's side of the vehicle driven by Robert Charles John Hunter. This is the only area of impact between Gangapersad Ramroop's vehicle and Robert Charles John Hunter's vehicle.

The second stipulation stated:

The State and Defense have entered into the following joint stipulation regarding the identity of the deceased, the cause of death, and the result of the traffic investigation. On July 4, 2013, Gangapersad Ramroop ran a red light at the intersection of State Road 50 (Colonial Drive) and Powers Drive and struck a vehicle driven by Robert Charles John Hunter, a 25 year old black male. Robert Charles John Hunter died as a result of injuries sustained during the crash after being ejected from his vehicle onto the sidewalk next to the roadway. The official cause of death by the medical examiner is blunt craniocerebral injuries

(trauma to both the skull and brain). The Florida Highway Patrol investigated this crash and determined neither driver was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, and that front and side curtain airbags did deploy in Robert Charles John Hunter's vehicle. Gangapersad Ramroop violated the right of way of Robert Charles John Hunter's vehicle and was faulted for the crash as a result of the Florida Highway Patrol investigation; speed and alcohol/drugs were not factors in the crash.

Both stipulations were read to the jury.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned stipulations, the State offered into evidence a graphic photograph of Hunter's body on the pavement of the intersection where the crash occurred. The photograph depicted Hunter's body covered in scrapes and wounds

with his pants around his knees and Hunter's head resting in a stagnant pool of blood. The photograph did not show Hunter's body in relation to either Hunter's or Ramroop's vehicle or the surrounding intersection; it was merely a still image focused on Hunter's lifeless body.

Ramroop immediately objected to the admission of the photograph. During a sidebar conference, Ramroop argued that the photograph was unnecessary due to the stipulations and would only serve to inflame the jury. The prosecutor responded that the photograph “shows how the victim's body was found after the crash and it shows tire marks on his body,” that it was the only photograph he was showing of the victim, and that he “need[ed] to show how [Hunter] was left.” The trial court acknowledged that the photograph showed “a good amount of blood” and even stated that it wished the photograph had less blood, but nevertheless overruled Ramroop's objection.

The primary issue at trial was whether Ramroop shot at Officer Brillant in the course of the pursuit.1 Ramroop testified at trial admitting practically everything except whether he shot at Officer Brillant. According to Ramroop, he fired his gun [i]nto the area ... [b]ecause that's what we do—like celebrating July 4th and New Years and stuff like that. I grew up around stuff like that.” Ramroop stated that he did not see any people or cars around when he was firing his gun and that he was not trying to shoot at Officer Brillant on July 4th, 2013.

At the conclusion of trial, Ramroop was found guilty of first-degree murder of Hunter, guilty of the lesser-included offense of attempted second-degree murder of Officer Brillant, and guilty of discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1000 feet of a person. In addition, the jury made a special finding that during the course of the commission of the attempted second-degree murder, Officer Brillant was a police officer for the city of Orlando engaged in the lawful execution of his legal duties. Ramroop was sentenced the same day to two life sentences for the first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder convictions. For the discharge of a firearm conviction, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. All sentences were to run concurrently.

I. The Prosecutor's Comments during Closing Argument

Ramroop makes several arguments concerning the prosecutor's closing argument. However, because Ramroop did not object to many of the allegedly improper comments discussed below, save two, the standard of review is fundamental error. See Brinson v. State, 153 So.3d 972, 975 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) (citing Thomas v. State, 748 So.2d 970, 985 n. 10 (Fla.1999) ). Moreover, only one of those arguments merits discussion.

Ramroop argues that the prosecutor engaged in demeaning personal attacks on defense counsel and disparaged his theory of defense. “A prosecutor may not ridicule a defendant or his theory of defense.”2 Servis v. State, 855 So.2d 1190, 1194 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (citing Riley v. State, 560 So.2d 279, 280 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990) ); see also Davis v. State, 136 So.3d 1169, 1203 (Fla.2014). Ramroop points to several comments made by the prosecutor, arguing that the prosecutor “used excessive sarcasm and disparaged defense counsel and defense theory throughout closing argument.” According to the prosecutor, Ramroop's testimony that he did not intend to shoot at Officer Brillant was inconsistent with a key piece of evidence at trial: the fact that a bullet was lodged in the passenger doorframe of Ramroop's vehicle. Ramroop specifically testified that he did not know how the bullet became lodged in his vehicle. However, a crime scene technician testified that Ramroop's gun went off when he crashed into Hunter's vehicle, passing through the windshield. During closing argument, Ramroop's counsel argued that it was possible, contrary to the prosecutor's version of events, that the bullet “could have ricocheted, and as the car is spinning[,] lodged in that door.”

In open court, the prosecutor analogized the defense's theory to a “magic loogie” story in the sitcom, Seinfeld, stating that the theory that the bullet “for some reason [ ] turns in midair and spins around ... makes about as much sense—that makes about as much sense as Mr. Ramroop's story.”3 Further, during his rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor even apologized for his sarcasm and implied that Ramroop's “story” is “so fictional” that it makes it hard for him to hold back the sarcasm. In addition, without objection, the prosecutor stated that Ramroop's theory of defense was “absolutely ludicrous” and “incredible.” Lastly, the prosecutor questioned defense counsel's candor and integrity by stating, “You know, [Defense] Counsel has to argue what she has and that's what she has.” Ramroop objected to that comment and the objection was overruled. The prosecutor continued his argument by stating, “As I was saying, defense counsel has to make the best argument she can based on what she's given. And she's done her job and that's what she's here to do.”

Taken together, these comments undoubtedly served to belittle, sarcastically or otherwise, Ramroop's theory of defense and Ramroop's counsel. The prosecutor admitted as much during a bench conference when he evidenced his belief that he could properly disparage the defense, stating, “I have every right to disparage the defense. I have every right to disparage the credibility of the defendant's story.... And I am disparaging this defense and this defendant's testimony and I have every right to.” As stated above, the prosecutor also acknowledged his sarcasm to the jury. Similar to Servis, where we reversed the defendant's conviction based on the cumulative effect of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Mincey v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • July 28, 2020
    ...Whitfield v. State, 923 So. 2d 375, 379 (Fla. 2005). Attempted second degree murder is a general intent crime. Ramroop v. State, 174 So. 3d 584, 595 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) (citing State v. Brady, 745 So. 2d 954, 957 (Fla. 1999)). Therefore, Defendant's voluntary[]y intoxication could not be us......
  • Ramroop v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • March 30, 2017
    ...that includes as an essential element that the defendant knew that the victim was a law enforcement officer. In Ramroop v. State , 174 So.3d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that section 782.065, titled "Murder; law enforcement officer, correctional officer, ......
  • Panchoo v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • January 22, 2016
    ...by the number of cases that continue to come before this court involving improper argument by prosecutors. See, e.g., Ramroop v. State, 174 So.3d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) ; Brinson v. State, 153 So.3d at 972 ; Crew v. State, 146 So.3d 101 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014). Nor is this a recent phenomena. ......
  • Mitchell v. State, Case No. 5D16–1022
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • December 22, 2016
    ...an unpreserved error, the error must be "fundamental"—it must "reach down into the validity of the trial itself." Ramroop v. State, 174 So.3d 584, 589–90 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) (quoting Randolph v. State, 853 So.2d 1051, 1068 (Fla. 2003) ). Fundamental error applies only to those "rare cases .......
1 books & journal articles
  • The trial (conduct of trial, jury instructions, verdict)
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • April 30, 2021
    ...in the context of the entire trial, the comments, although troubling, did not rise to the level of fundamental error. Ramroop v. State, 174 So. 3d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) The prosecutor may not argue in closing that the state has no interest in convicting anyone other than the guilty party,......

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