Saffor v. State, No. 82531

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtGRIMES; ANSTEAD; SHAW, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with an opinion, in which WELLS; ANSTEAD; SHAW; WELLS
Parties20 Fla. L. Weekly S335 Ramon SAFFOR, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 82531
Decision Date13 July 1995

Page 668

660 So.2d 668
20 Fla. L. Weekly S335
Ramon SAFFOR, Petitioner,
v.
STATE of Florida, Respondent.
No. 82531.
Supreme Court of Florida.
July 13, 1995.
Rehearing Denied Sept. 20, 1995.

Page 669

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and Glen P. Gifford and David P. Gauldin, Asst. Public Defenders, Tallahassee, for petitioner.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., James W. Rogers, Bureau Chief, Criminal Appeals, and Wendy S. Morris, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for respondent.

GRIMES, Chief Justice.

We review Saffor v. State, 625 So.2d 31 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc), in which the district court of appeal certified the following question of great public importance:

WHAT IS THE CORRECT STANDARD TO BE UTILIZED IN DETERMINING THE ADMISSIBILITY OF COLLATERAL CRIMES EVIDENCE IN CASES INVOLVING SEXUAL BATTERY WITHIN THE FAMILIAL CONTEXT?

Id. at 36. We have jurisdiction under article V, section 3(b)(4) of the Florida Constitution.

Saffor was convicted of sexual battery on a child under twelve years of age. The testimony presented at Saffor's trial revealed that ten-year-old Jason was the son of Saffor's girlfriend. Jason was living with his mother and Saffor at the time of the offense. Saffor had fathered two children with Jason's mother. On the night of the offense, Saffor and Jason were sleeping in the same bed. Jason asserts that Saffor woke him up, pulled down his pants, and sodomized him.

Collateral crime testimony by Saffor's niece was admitted over his objection regarding an incident that had occurred four years earlier when the niece was twelve years old. Saffor was convicted of attempted lewd assault for this incident. Defense counsel objected to the admission of the niece's testimony on the basis of the difference of the sex of the children, the disparity of the sexual acts involved, and the fact that Saffor failed to complete the attack against the niece. The trial court found the niece's testimony admissible. The niece testified at trial that the incident occurred one night when she was staying at her aunt's house. The niece was awakened when Saffor came into the bedroom where she was sleeping and put his hands under her pajamas towards her vagina. Saffor withdrew his hand when the niece asked him to leave.

On direct appeal, Saffor argued that the trial court erred by admitting the Williams rule 1 testimony regarding the attempted

Page 670

lewd assault. He asserted that the collateral sex crime was not sufficiently similar to the charged offense to constitute similar-fact evidence under section 90.404(2). A majority of the en banc panel found that the charged offense and the collateral sex crime both involved sexual attacks on children approximately the same age who had a familial relationship with the perpetrator, and that both attacks occurred while the children were asleep in bed. The district court majority therefore concluded that the similarities between the methods of attack outweighed any dissimilarities and affirmed the trial court's decision to admit the niece's collateral crime testimony. However, the district court certified the question set forth above, noting that while Beasley v. State, 518 So.2d 917 (Fla.1988), and Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 (Fla.1987), indicate that a different standard for the admissibility of collateral crime evidence may be used in familial context cases, this standard has never been specifically addressed.

We first address the issue of whether the sexual abuse in this case occurred in a familial context. The majority opinion noted that Jason's relationship with Saffor was tantamount to that of a stepson and held that there was sufficient evidence of a familial relationship to support admission of the collateral crimes evidence. Judge Ervin's concurring and dissenting opinion maintained that the record below failed to establish the existence of a familial type relationship.

In today's society, the parameters of the traditional family have become much less clearly defined. Many children live in situations involving broken homes, where multiple residences and step-parents or live-in partners are the norm. We most recently addressed the issue of what constitutes a familial relationship in State v. Rawls, 649 So.2d 1350 (Fla.1994). In Rawls we held that:

[T]he determination of whether a familial relationship exists must be done on a case-by-case basis. Consanguinity and affinity are strong indicia of a familial relationship but are not necessary. Also, the defendant and the victim need not reside in the same home. The relationship must be one in which there is a recognizable bond of trust with the defendant, similar to the bond that develops between a child and her grandfather, uncle, or guardian.

Id. at 1353.

We find that there was a recognizable bond of trust between Jason and Saffor and hold that the relationship between them was familial. As is pointed out in Judge Miner's concurring opinion, the record in the instant case revealed that Jason and his mother had previously resided with Saffor during the time period when Jason's mother gave birth to Saffor's daughters (Jason's half-sisters). Saffor, 625 So.2d at 36 (Miner, J. concurring). We agree with Judge Miner that Saffor must have had continuing contact of a familial nature with Jason during his mother's previous residence with Saffor, and that absent a family-type relationship, Saffor would not have allowed Jason and his mother to move in when they showed up on Saffor's doorstep, uninvited, with no place to stay. Id. at 37 (Miner, J., concurring). The fact that Saffor and Jason slept in the same bed was a further indication of a familial relationship.

Having determined that the charged offense occurred within the familial context, we now address the certified question. Saffor argues that the niece's testimony was inadmissible under the Williams rule because the collateral crime was insufficiently similar to the charged offense and that such evidence only proves depraved sexual propensity. Section 90.404(2)(a), Florida Statutes (1993), which codifies the Williams rule, provides:

Similar fact evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is admissible when relevant to prove a material fact in issue, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or accident, but is inadmissible when the evidence is relevant solely to prove bad character or propensity.

In Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 (Fla.1987), we expanded the Williams rule in cases involving sexual battery committed within the familial context. We recognized in Heuring that situations involving sexual

Page 671

battery committed within the familial context present special problems:

The victim knows the perpetrator, e.g., a parent, and identity is not an issue. The victim is typically the sole eyewitness and corroborative evidence is usually scant. Credibility becomes the focal issue.

Id. at 124. We therefore determined that similar fact evidence arising out of the familial context is relevant to corroborate the victim's testimony and that the probative value of such evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect. Id. at 125. In essence, our holding in Heuring enlarged the list of instances where similar fact evidence is admissible (i.e., as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident) to also include admission of similar fact evidence to corroborate a familial sexual battery victim's testimony. 2 We recently expanded...

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51 practice notes
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...v. State, 625 So.2d 31 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995); Orange County Sch. Bd. v. Perkins, 619 So.2d 1 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...v. State, 625 So.2d 31 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 660 So.2d 668 (Fla. 1995); Orange County Sch. Bd. v. Perkins, 619 So.2d 1 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of pane......
  • Evans v. State, No. 96-726
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • May 21, 1997
    ...Page 1101 requirement albeit one that is not as rigorous as that necessary for proof of identity by modus operandi. Saffor v. State, 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995); Feller v. State, 637 So.2d 911 (Fla.1994); Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 Where evidence of collateral crimes is offered to prove m......
  • McLean v. State, No. 2D02-1322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 5, 2003
    ...in enacting section 90.404(2)(b), the legislature was attempting to overrule or modify the supreme court's rulings in Saffor v. State, 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995), and Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 (Fla.1987). It also concluded that the legislature intended section 90.403, Florida Statutes (......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
51 cases
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...v. State, 625 So.2d 31 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995); Orange County Sch. Bd. v. Perkins, 619 So.2d 1 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel......
  • Childers v. State, No. 1D03-2154.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 28, 2006
    ...v. State, 625 So.2d 31 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of panel decision), quashed by 660 So.2d 668 (Fla. 1995); Orange County Sch. Bd. v. Perkins, 619 So.2d 1 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (en banc decision released without antecedent publication of pane......
  • Evans v. State, No. 96-726
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • May 21, 1997
    ...Page 1101 requirement albeit one that is not as rigorous as that necessary for proof of identity by modus operandi. Saffor v. State, 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995); Feller v. State, 637 So.2d 911 (Fla.1994); Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 Where evidence of collateral crimes is offered to prove m......
  • McLean v. State, No. 2D02-1322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 5, 2003
    ...in enacting section 90.404(2)(b), the legislature was attempting to overrule or modify the supreme court's rulings in Saffor v. State, 660 So.2d 668 (Fla.1995), and Heuring v. State, 513 So.2d 122 (Fla.1987). It also concluded that the legislature intended section 90.403, Florida Statutes (......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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