Richardson v. State

Decision Date31 March 1971
Docket NumberNo. 39692,39692
Citation246 So.2d 771
PartiesWilliam H. RICHARDSON, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Thomas J. Hanlon, Tampa, for petitioner.

Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., and Charles Corces, Jr., Asst.Atty.Gen., for respondent.

MASON, Circuit Judge:

We granted certiorari to the District Court of Appeal, Second District of Florida, to review the decision of that court which affirmed the judgment of the Hillsborough County Criminal Court of Record convicting the petitioner of the crime of arson following jury trial. Richardson v. State, Fla.App., 233 So.2d 868.

The State challenges this Court's jurisdiction to review the decision below, claiming that no conflict has been shown between the decision and a decision of another district court or of this court.

Petitioner contends there exists a conflict between the District Court's decision and a rule promulgated by this Court, viz, Rule 1.220(e) of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, 33 F.S.A. which became effective December 31st, 1967, and which was in effect when the case was tried in the trial court below. This rule requires the prosecution, upon written request filed in the cause by the defendant, to furnish to the defendant a list of all witnesses known to the prosecuting attorney to have information which may be relevant to the offense charged, and to any defense of the person charged with respect thereto. The rule requires that the list be furnished by the prosecuting attorney within five days after receipt by him of the defendant's offer to furnish to the prosecuting attorney his list of prospective witnesses with their addresses.

Paragraph (g) of the Rule provides that in the event either party fails to comply with any provision of the Rule the court may impose certain sanctions against such party, including the granting of a continuance or the prohibiting of such party from calling a witness whose name has not been disclosed, or it may enter such other order as it deems just under the circumstances.

The District Court held, in effect, that the record of the proceedings in the trial court disclosed that there was not strict compliance with the Rule by the prosecuting attorney in the disclosure of witnesses, as required by the Rule, but that the record further disclosed that the petitioner (Appellant below) was not prejudiced by respondent's (Appellee's below) noncompliance. By way of obiter dicta and as a guideline and warning for the future, the District Court went on to say that in the future it will expect the State to comply with the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, and that non-compliance 'could very well require reversal or a new trial.'

We have jurisdiction to review the decision below because of the provision contained in Section 4(2) of Article V of the Florida Constitution F.S.A., (1968) which confers jurisdiction upon this Court to review a decision of a District Court of Appeal 'which affects a class of constitutional or state officers.'

The decision below reviewed the failure of the prosecuting attorney of the Criminal Court of Record of Hillsborough County to comply with the discovery requirements of the Rule in question, and the effect of such failure upon the validity of the trial in which the petitioner was convicted. In doing so it also reviewed the exercise of the trial court's discretion in refusing to grant petitioner's motion for mistrial based upon the failure of the prosecuting attorney to disclose the name of a witness who, the petitioner claimed, had knowledge of facts 'relevant to the offense charged' and to the defense of the petitioner, and whose name was required, in the view of the petitioner, to be furnished him by the express provision of the Rule. Thus the decision of the District Court which holds that non-compliance with the discovery requirements of the Rule does not ipso facto constitute ground for reversal of a conviction even though it is made to appear that the Rule has not been strictly complied with, and that such reversal depends upon whether or not the person charged has been prejudiced by non-compliance, affects two classes of constitutional or state officers, viz, prosecuting officers and trial courts in the exercise of their respective powers and duties in the prosecution and trial of criminal cases.

It is true that the decision below was determinative only of the cause reviewed by the appellate court, but the ultimate effect of it affects all prosecuting attorneys and trial judges in the trial of criminal cases. This Court, in Florida State Board of Health v. Lewis, Fla., 149 So.2d 41, speaking of this particular provision of the Constitution, said:

'The obvious purpose of the subject constitutional provision was to authorize this Court to review decisions which, in the ultimate, would affect all constitutional or state officers exercising the same powers, even though only one of such officers might be involved in the particular litigation.'

To like effect is State v. Robinson, Fla., 132 So.2d 156.

The decision below in the ultimate affects all prosecuting attorneys insofar as it interprets their duties in connection with compliance with Rules of Criminal Procedure promulgated by this Court, and all trial judges when called upon to interpret the effects of non-compliance by such prosecuting attorneys. Its pronouncement presents to this Court the duty to determine if the District Court of Appeal has properly interpreted the respective duties, powers and obligations of such officers under such Rules, and particularly Rule 1.220.

We thus have jurisdiction, and now turn to the merits of the cause before us. In so doing we hold that the violation of a rule of procedure prescribed by this Court does not call for a reversal of a conviction unless the record discloses that non-compliance with the rule resulted in prejudice or harm to the defendant. All of the four District Courts of Appeal have now so held and we now place our stamp of approval upon this principle. See Howard v. State, Fla.App., 239 So.2d 86; Wilson v. State, Fla.App., 220 So.2d 426, 427; Buttler v. State, Fla.App., 238 So.2d 313; Rhome v. State, Fla., 222 So.2d 431; Ramirez v. State, Fourth District Fla., 241 So.2d 744, Opinion filed October 14, 1970. This is particularly true in view of the purpose of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. As stated in Rule 1.020 of the rules themselves: 'These rules are intended to provide for the first determination of every criminal proceeding. They shall be construed to secure simplicity in procedure and fairness in administration.' Furthermore, the Rule in question must be considered by an appellate court in pari materia with the provisions of our harmless error statute, viz, F.S. 924.33, F.S.A. which provides that rulings or proceedings in criminal cases that are not prejudicial or harmful do not require reversal. As stated in Howard v. State, supra:

'The cited statute is but a codification of the 'harmless error' doctrine which has been developed by judicial decision to avoid reversal in cases where it appears that justice has been served and that in all probability a new trial with the same admissible evidence would not alter the end result.'

See Urga v. State, 155 So.2d 719, Fla.App., 1963, and cases cited therein.

Therefore, petitioner's contention that the State's non-compliance with the Rule entitles him, as a matter of right, to have a non-listed witness excluded from testifying, or to have a mistrial where it becomes evident during the trial that there existed a witness who probably had knowledge of facts relevant to petitioner's defense, is not tenable. The Rule was designed to furnish a defendant with information which would bona fide assist him in the defense of the charge against him. It was never intended to furnish a defendant with a procedural device to escape justice. Yet such a result would be inescapable if the State's non-compliance with the rule necessarily required the exclusion of the non-listed witnesses from testifying, or a mistrial under the circumstance just stated. See Ramirez v. State, supra.

On the other hand, if it is evident from the record that the non-compliance with the Rule by the State resulted in harm or prejudice to a defendant through failure to furnish the names of witnesses, and such witnesses were permitted to testify in behalf of the State, or if it should affirmatively appear that the State failed to furnish to the defendant the name of a witness known to the State ot have information relevant to the offense charged against the defendant, or to any defense of the defendant with respect thereto, and the latter situation resulted in harm or prejudice to the defendant, an appellate court reviewing his conviction must reverse. The trial court has discretion to determine whether the non-compliance would result in harm or prejudice to the defendant, but the court's discretion can be properly exercised only after the court has made an adequate inquiry into all of the surrounding circumstances. We think that the District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District has succinctly stated the burden that the Rule places both upon the prosecuting attorney and upon the trial court in the following quoted extract from its opinion in Ramirez v. State, supra:

'The point is that if, during the course of the proceedings, it is brought to the attention of the trial court that the state has failed to comply with Rule 1.220(e) CrPR, the court's discretion can be properly exercised Only after the court has made an adequate inquiry into all of the surrounding circumstances. Without intending to limit the nature or scope of such inquiry, we think it would undoubtedly cover at least such questions as whether the state's violation was inadvertent or wilful, whether the violation was trivial or substantial, and most importantly, what effect, if any, did it have upon the ability of the...

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