Thomas v. State, 1D20-2260

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtNORDBY, J.
PartiesDeontrae Thomas, Appellant, v. State of Florida, Appellee.
Docket Number1D20-2260
Decision Date22 November 2022

Deontrae Thomas, Appellant,

State of Florida, Appellee.

No. 1D20-2260

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

November 22, 2022

Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331. No extensions of time will be granted for the filing of such motions.

On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. Mark Borello, Judge.

Michael Ufferman of Michael Ufferman Law Firm, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellant.

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Miranda L. Butson, Assistant Attorney General, and Sharon S. Traxler, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.


Deontrae Thomas appeals his criminal judgment and sentence. He argues that the trial court erred by failing to hold a competency hearing, denying his motion to suppress, denying his motion to compel discovery, committing cumulative error, improperly imposing fees, using an incorrect scoresheet, and failing to file an amended restitution order. We reverse and remand for a nunc pro tunc competency evaluation, vacate the sentencing order as to the imposition of certain fees, and remand for entry of a corrected restitution order. We affirm on all other issues.



This murder case began in the early morning hours of May 27, 2017. Eighteen-year-old Z.B. was at home sleeping. His sixteen-year-old sister S.B. and four other children were also in the house asleep. A crashing noise from the kitchen awakened the occupants, and they all gathered in the living room to find that a sliding glass door had been broken with a rock. Someone outside then began shooting into the house, and everyone tried to take cover. Thomas walked into the house holding a gun. S.B. recognized him; she had communicated with him over social media and seen him in a music video on YouTube. Although S.B. had never met Thomas in person, she knew him as "Trae Shorty," which was his Facebook name.

Thomas walked into the living room, fired his gun multiple times, and then left. Z.B., S.B., and one other child had been shot. The police and paramedics arrived soon after. Z.B. died from multiple gunshot wounds, S.B. had gunshot wounds to her leg and foot, and the third victim had gunshot wounds throughout her body.

S.B. told the police that "Trae Shorty" was the shooter and showed an officer his Facebook profile. The police obtained an arrest warrant for Thomas and arrested him the next day. After his arrest, Thomas was taken to a homicide office where detectives conducted a video-recorded interview.

At the start of the interview, Thomas told the detectives that he was nineteen years old, he was in twelfth grade, he could read and write English, he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he was not taking any medications, he did not need glasses or contacts, and he had never seen a mental health counselor. The detectives then showed Thomas a form listing his constitutional rights. To prove that Thomas could read English, the detectives asked him to read the form's first sentence aloud, at which point Thomas read out, "You have the following rights under the United States Constitution." The detectives then went through the form with Thomas:

THE DETECTIVES: Okay. I'm going to read the rest of it out loud to you. Just give me a verbal yes that you
understand. Okay? You do not have to make a statement or say anything. You understand
THE DETECTIVES: Okay. Anything you say can be used against you in court.
THE DETECTIVES: All right. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before you make a statement or before any questions are asked of you and to have them with you during any questioning. Understand?
THE DETECTIVES: Okay. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish. If you do answer questions, you have the right to stop answering questions at any time and consult with a lawyer.
THE DETECTIVES: You understand? All right. Just sign right there for me, if you mind.

Thomas signed the form certifying that he understood his constitutional rights.

Thomas then answered the detectives' questions about his activities over the past several days, whether he had a Facebook page, how he found out about the shooting, and whether he knew Z.B. Eventually, the detectives asked Thomas if they could take a sample of his DNA. Thomas said they could. But less than a minute later, Thomas changed his mind and said he did not want to give a DNA sample. Even after the detectives said that a DNA sample could help clear things up, Thomas refused. The detectives then asked Thomas if they could look through his backpack, which he had told them was in his mom's car. They told Thomas that they


were asking for his consent to search his backpack and gave him a consent form, but Thomas refused. The detectives later asked Thomas for his cell phone password, but Thomas did not provide it.

The detectives then confronted Thomas about several lies he had told them during the interview, including his statements that he did not have a Facebook page and that he was at his girlfriend's house at the time of the shooting. As a detective was saying that they knew he was not at his girlfriend's house, Thomas interrupted to say, "I don't wanna talk no more." The detectives immediately got up and left.

Nearly two years later in March 2019, while Thomas was awaiting trial, his defense counsel deposed S.B. Just a couple of months later, in May 2019, S.B. became the victim of a second shooting. While S.B. and several friends were sitting in a car parked outside her house, someone fired a gun into the car, injuring S.B. and one of the other passengers. S.B. was shot fourteen times, but she survived after multiple surgeries. She at first identified the shooter as Caleb Sheffield, who was friends with Thomas. But after learning that Sheffield was out of town at the time, she could not identify the shooter.

During this time, Thomas was in jail but used a tablet to exchange messages with people. Messages he sent between March and June 2019 suggested Thomas arranged the shooting after S.B.'s deposition to prevent her from testifying at trial. Based on these messages, the State added a charge of witness tampering.

After the addition of the witness tampering charge, Thomas moved to compel discovery of information related to the 2019 shooting. He requested all statements S.B. gave to law enforcement about Caleb Sheffield and the identity of the other victim. He also made a broader request for the State to turn over all information about its investigation into the 2019 shooting because it was related to the witness tampering charge. He


explained that the information constituted Brady[1] material that the State had to disclose.

The trial court held a hearing on the motion. The crux of the issue was that the defense wanted to cross-examine S.B. about her misidentification of Caleb Sheffield in the 2019 shooting based on a theory that she had identified Sheffield because of his friendship with Thomas. The purpose was to impeach S.B. by showing that she was biased against Thomas, thus casting doubt on her identification of Thomas as the 2017 shooter.

By that point, the defense had deposed S.B. two times: in March 2019 (before the second shooting) and then again in August 2019 (after the second shooting). During S.B.'s second deposition, she told defense counsel the names of the other people in the car during the shooting, including the one who was injured. Although S.B. said that she did not see who the shooter was, the other victim told her it was Caleb Sheffield. Based on that, S.B. told the police that Sheffield was the shooter, and she selected his photo from a photo lineup.

Even after S.B.'s second deposition, Thomas wanted more information from the State about its investigation in order to more effectively impeach S.B. The State opposed admitting any evidence that S.B. had identified Caleb Sheffield as the 2019 shooter because it was not relevant to her identification of Thomas two years earlier. The State also opposed Thomas's discovery request because the investigation into the 2019 shooting was still ongoing.

The trial court ultimately ruled that the defense was allowed to question S.B. about her identification of Caleb Sheffield in the 2019 shooting. But the trial court also ruled that the defense could not introduce extrinsic evidence because it was impeachment on a collateral matter. The defense would simply have to accept S.B.'s answers.

The trial court then denied Thomas's request for additional discovery. The trial court reasoned that the defense had


questioned S.B. about the 2019 shooting and Caleb Sheffield in her second deposition, which gave the defense the information it needed. The trial court said that other information about the investigation was not relevant to impeaching S.B. and was unlikely to lead to admissible evidence.

Defense counsel also filed two other pretrial motions. The first was a motion to determine competency. The trial court granted the motion and appointed an expert to evaluate Thomas. But the trial court never held a competency hearing or issued a competency order.

Thomas also moved to suppress all statements he made to the police during his interview, arguing that he had not validly waived his Miranda[2] rights. At a hearing on the motion, the State called just one witness: a detective from the Clay County Sheriff's Office. The detective testified that he conducted an interview with Thomas in an unrelated case in 2015, during which he went over Thomas's Miranda rights. Thomas said he understood his rights but agreed to talk to the detective anyway. Other than that, the parties relied on the video recording of the interview....

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