Smith v. State

Decision Date17 December 2009
Docket NumberNo. SC06-747.,SC06-747.
Citation28 So.3d 838
PartiesJoseph SMITH, Appellant/Cross Appellee, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee/Cross Appellant.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Deborah K. Brueckheimer, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, FL, for Appellant.

Bill McCollum, Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, and Carol M. Dittmar, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, FL, for Appellee.


Joseph Smith appeals his convictions for first-degree murder, kidnapping, and capital sexual battery and his sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the convictions and the sentences imposed by the trial court.


On February 20, 2004, Joseph Peter Smith was charged with one count of sexual battery by a person over eighteen years of age upon a child less than twelve years of age and one count of kidnapping for the alleged abduction of and sexual battery upon Carlie Jane Brucia, an eleven-year-old female. That same day, Smith was also indicted on one count of first-degree murder for the killing of Ms. Brucia.

The trial court record reflects that on February 1, 2004, Carlie Brucia left the Sarasota home of a friend between 6:10 and 6:15 p.m. to walk home. The mother of the friend called Carlie's mother to verify that permission had been given for the young girl to walk home alone. The mother advised that she had not given permission and immediately sent Carlie's stepfather to transport Carlie. When the stepfather arrived at the house of the friend, Carlie had already left. At approximately 7:30 p.m., after attempts to locate Carlie failed, a 911 call was made to report her missing. Law enforcement officers canvassed the area where Carlie would have walked from her friend's house to her home until 3 a.m. and continued the search throughout the morning of February 2, 2004. At approximately 12 p.m., a bloodhound tracked the scent of Carlie to the area behind a car wash located on Bee Ridge Road, where the dog suddenly lost her scent.

The proprietor of the car wash was advised that police officers and dogs were outside the business, and that the police were securing the area. The proprietor spoke with law enforcement and learned that a young girl was missing. He informed law enforcement that he had motion-sensitive cameras installed around the car wash and offered to review them to see if anything of use had been captured. A recording from one of the cameras, which was located at the rear of the car wash, revealed that at approximately 6:21 p.m. a girl (subsequently identified as Carlie) was led away from the car wash by a man dressed in what appeared to be a mechanic's uniform. On the evening of February 2, 2004, a video of the apparent abduction was released to the media and an Amber Alert was issued for Carlie.

On the morning of February 3, 2004, the wife of a former business associate of Smith saw the video on television, recognized the man in the video as Smith, and asked her husband to also view the video. The husband watched the video a number of times and recognized the man in the video as Smith:

I worked with him at the shop, so I knew what he looked like. The sneakers, the back of his—the way his hair was cut, the way that he walked, his gait was just like Joe walking through the shop. I mean, he's got a different type of walk to him. And then when I watched him ... reach for the girl ... the way he reached for it was—I've seen him pick up tools like that, you know.... I knew it was him.

The husband called the police, spoke with Detective Vincent Riva, and provided Riva with Smith's current address.

Riva and his partner proceeded to the address in an unmarked vehicle and were met there by two other officers. After a neighbor advised that someone was in the residence, the detectives approached the front door and knocked, but when no one responded, a detective called his supervisor and was advised that Smith was on probation. He then called Smith's probation officer and asked her to respond to the address. After the officers had been at the residence for approximately forty-five minutes, Smith's sister arrived at the scene and advised that she would retrieve her brother.

When Smith exited the house, a detective interrogated Smith with regard to his activities on the day of the abduction without specifically asking whether he had been at the car wash. Smith provided a timeline of his actions on February 1, which did not place him at or near the car wash that day. When a detective requested permission to examine Smith's tattoos, Smith inquired as to the purpose of the visit by law enforcement. A detective advised that they were investigating an abduction, to which Smith replied that he had no knowledge of an abduction. When Smith was confronted with a still photo from the car wash video, Smith responded: "That looks like me, but it's not me." A detective requested permission from Smith to search both the room in the house that Smith rented and his car, which was parked at that location. Smith consented and signed a written consent form.

The search of Smith's room did not reveal anything of evidentiary value (although the detective did see a number of mechanic's uniforms in the closet). However, when Smith's vehicle was searched, a spoon was discovered under the front seat which appeared to have been used to melt or burn narcotics. A search of the trunk of the car revealed a cardboard box, which contained another spoon similar to the first and a syringe. When the probation officers arrived, the officers advised them of the items found in the car, and Smith was arrested for violation of probation and possession of drug paraphernalia.

As the vehicle search was being conducted, an owner of the house where Smith was living arrived in a yellow station wagon. When asked about Smith's whereabouts on February 1, she recalled that at around 6:30 p.m., Smith had engaged in a telephone call with his estranged wife from that residence. The detective explained that based on this information, the homeowner had basically established an alibi for Smith, he was "temporarily cleared" in the investigation, and the detectives left the residence to pursue other leads in the abduction case. However, later that day at approximately 6:30 p.m. (Tuesday, February 3), the husband of the woman with whom the detectives had interacted at the residence earlier that day appeared at the police station and informed the detective that his wife's recollection of the events from the evening of February 1 was inaccurate. The husband explained that Smith had borrowed his yellow station wagon at approximately 3 p.m. on February 1 and did not return it until approximately 7 a.m. on February 2.1 The husband also identified Smith as the individual on the car wash video and relinquished the station wagon to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office (SCSO). After receiving Miranda2 warnings from the detective assigned to the abduction case, Smith invoked his right to counsel.

During the evening of February 4, 2004, John Smith, the brother of the defendant, arrived at the SCSO and was interviewed by FBI agents.3 John informed them that although he was not on good terms with his brother, he had received a phone call from Smith at approximately 8 p.m. on Sunday, February 1, the night of the abduction. John refused to speak with his brother at that time. On Monday night, John and his girlfriend saw the abduction video on television. John recognized his brother in the video based upon the abductor's face and hair, and the fact that the abductor was wearing a mechanic's uniform. The girlfriend believed that the abductor was Smith because Smith had a distinctive walk due to prior back surgery. That same night, Smith appeared at John's house at approximately 11 p.m. Smith was apparently under the influence of drugs, and John sent his brother away.

When asked if he could identify that the abductor captured on video was his brother, John replied I don't have any concrete evidence[,] it's just, it looks like him, it walks like him, the more I look at that video, the more I look at him, the more I look at the video[,] it just well, total resemblance, if it's not him.

During the interview, the FBI agent asked, "Have you ever thought about going to see him and asking if he did this?" John replied that if Smith had abducted the child, he would not confess; instead, "he will die with that secret. If it's him. You won't get it out of him." John then suggested that the only way to obtain any information from Smith would be to engage in trickery. John advised that if someone informed Smith that he or she had engaged in improper conduct similar to that for which Smith was being investigated, Smith would most likely open up and provide details about his own actions.

Later that evening, after the interview concluded, John informed the FBI agent that he wanted to see his brother. SCSO personnel advised the FBI agent that Smith had retained counsel, and any meeting would need to go through Smith's attorney. The next morning, Thursday, February 5, 2004, the public defender arranged a meeting between Smith, John, and their mother. The mother exited the interview room after approximately forty-five minutes, and John remained with Smith for an additional thirty minutes. When he exited the interview room, John commented that Smith "came close, but he didn't say anything." After exiting the room, neither John nor his mother was debriefed by law enforcement, and no surveillance was placed upon them when they left the building.

On the evening of February 5, 2004, John called the FBI agent from his cell phone and stated: "I guess you heard, what do you want to do?" Although John's cellular phone had never been tapped by law enforcement, John apparently believed that it had, and the FBI...

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