Thompson v. State, 70401

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation14 Fla. L. Weekly 379,548 So.2d 198
Decision Date20 July 1989
Docket NumberNo. 70401,70401
Parties14 Fla. L. Weekly 379 Charlie THOMPSON, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender, and Stephen Krosschell, Asst. Public Defender, Bartow, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Davis G. Anderson, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Tampa, for appellee.


Charlie Thompson appeals his conviction and sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. We reverse and remand for new trial.

Charlie Thompson was grounds keeper and gravedigger for the Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Tampa. In May 1986, he pulled a muscle digging a grave and filed a worker's compensation claim. Apparently he never received a final $150 check on the claim and called Myrtle Hill's treasurer and bookkeeper, William Swack, about the missing check. Swack told him to come to the cemetery the next day.

On August 27, Thompson arrived at the cemetery and confronted Swack and an assistant, Nancy Walker. At that time, Swack mistakenly wrote Thompson a check, not for $150, but for $1500. For reasons not clear in the record, a fight erupted. Thompson contended in a taped statement that Walker slapped him, he pulled a gun, and forced Swack to drive him and Walker to a nearby park.

At the park, Swack supposedly hit Thompson with a tree branch and, in return, Thompson slapped Swack on the neck. Thompson then made both Swack and Walker strip to their underclothes, but later he permitted Walker to put her clothes back on. There was no allegation of sexual battery. Finally, Thompson shot Swack and then Walker.

On the afternoon of August 27, 1986, a passerby found the bodies of Swack and Walker in the woods at the park. Swack had been stabbed several times and then shot, and Walker had died of a bullet wound to the back of the head. Police arrived and prepared the evidence. They noted that Swack was dressed only in underwear, shoes and socks. A pair of trousers lay next to the body, and a shirt covered the face. Evidence indicated that a watch and other jewelry may have been removed from Swack's body. Walker was entirely clothed.

Later, police learned that Thompson had sold a watch and ring to a man and a woman on August 28, 1986. Between August 27 and 29, 1986, Thompson also attempted unsuccessfully to cash the $1500 check at various businesses. Police arrested him on August 29, 1986, at a used car lot.

After a jury trial, Thompson was found guilty and the jury then returned an advisory verdict of nine to three in favor of death. The court concurred and imposed the death sentence.

On this appeal, Thompson raises eighteen issues. We confine our review to two issues dispositive of the case.

Despite repeated objections by defense counsel at trial, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to excuse all eight blacks sitting on the initial panel at voir dire. 1 Thompson now argues that at least four of those challenges were exercised contrary to our holding in State v. Neil, 457 So.2d 481 (Fla.1984), clarified, State v. Castillo, 486 So.2d 565 (Fla.1986), and clarified, State v. Slappy, 522 So.2d 18 (Fla.), cert. denied, 487 U.S. 1219, 108 S.Ct. 2873, 101 L.Ed.2d 909 (1988).

As we explained in Slappy,

the appearance of discrimination in court procedure is especially reprehensible, since it is the complete antithesis of the court's reason for being--to insure equality of treatment and evenhanded justice.

Slappy, 522 So.2d at 20. Based on this principle, in Slappy we expressly reaffirmed the test established in Neil. Under that test, parties alleging that group bias 2 is the reason for the excusal of any distinct class of persons from a venire must (a) make a timely objection, (b) demonstrate on the record that the challenged persons are members of that group, and (c) show that there is a strong likelihood these persons have been challenged because of impermissible bias. Neil, 457 So.2d at 486.

In Slappy, we extended the principles of Neil by holding that "broad leeway" must be accorded to the objecting party, and that any doubts as to the existence of a "likelihood" of impermissible bias must be resolved in the objecting party's favor. Slappy, 522 So.2d at 21-22. Whenever this burden of persuasion has been met, the burden of proof then rests upon the state to demonstrate "that the proffered reasons are, first, neutral and reasonable and, second, not a pretext." Id. at 22. Thus, in Slappy we expressly found that the state's use of four of its six peremptory challenges to exclude blacks who had indicated no partiality was sufficient of itself to shift the burden of proof to the state. Id. at 23.

The record before us contains several exchanges regarding the excusal of blacks. When the state first excused a black peremptorily, the trial court denied the defense's Neil motion without requiring any explanation from the state. The following exchange then occurred:

THE COURT: ... There's been no showing of any systematic preemptorily [sic] challenging of blacks on this jury, and the Court recalls that [the black juror] Mr. Brooks said that he was arrested and charged a couple of months ago, and although he said that wouldn't affect him--

MR. ALLDREDGE: Wait a second, Judge.

THE COURT: I'm saying that the State does not have to give its reasons for exercising a preemptory [sic] challenge. I'm saying that, as the Court, I heard that and I'm not going to force the State to state its reasons for exercising a preemptory [sic] challenge at this stage.

There's been no showing that the State is systematically striking blacks.

As in this instance, the trial court refused to require the state to give any explanation for the excusal of the next several blacks it peremptorily challenged. However, when the state challenged Juror Bell, the following exchange occurred between the trial judge and prosecutor Benito:

THE COURT: If the Court had heard Mr. Bell vascillate [sic] as to any particular matter in this case, I may recognize that the State has the right to exercise a preemptory [sic] challenge.

But when Mr. Bell says that he knows two of the State witnesses and has not shown any reason for being prejudice [sic] for or against the State or for or against the defense, and we are about to run out of all black persons in this panel, I will force the State to explain, on the record, why you are exercising a preemptory [sic] challenge ...


MR. BENITO: First of all, I don't have to make a showing unless the Court is finding there is a systematic exclusion of blacks.

THE COURT: I've so found.

(Emphasis added.) The prosecutor, however, continued to challenge the judge's finding:

MR. BENITO: ... That's not what the Neal [sic] case says. The Neal [sic] case says if I start systematically excluding blacks from the jury panel, you got [sic] to make a finding of that, and I've got to explain my reasons for doing that. There's a black seated on the jury.

How can I be systematically excluding blacks when you got a black sitting on the jury after I excuse Mr. Bell?

THE COURT: Is there any case to that effect, Mr. Benito, other than, as you say, common sense shows you're not systematically because there's one left?

MR. BENITO: Certainly.


THE COURT: The Court finds that the State is not systematically excluding blacks from this jury. State has exercised a preemptory [sic] challenge as to Mr. Bell.

(Emphasis added.) The trial court then permitted the state to continue exercising peremptory challenges against black jurors without explanation. However, when the state attempted to strike Juror Tyler, defense counsel Alldredge objected and the following exchange occurred:

MR. ALLDREDGE: The objection is that you are systematically excluding blacks from the jury.

THE COURT: The Court so finds unless you have valid, cogent reasons for excusing Mr. Tyler in this case.


MR. BENITO: Tyler has been in jail. I'm very uncomfortable even though he said he could try to be fair and impartial. I think I have a right to exercise a preemptory [sic] challenge regarding Mr. Tyler having been in jail at one time back in the '50's, when my recollection and my school work in college was they were hanging black people back then for spitting on the sidewalk. So this man's view of law enforcement regarding what's happened to him in the past and going to jail, I think may taint his ability to be fair to the State in this particular case.

(Emphasis added.) As the state continued to exercise its peremptory to strike blacks, it then offered explanations for each. 3 However, at no time did the state give, or the trial court require, reasons for the excusal of Juror Brooks.

The record reflects that the trial court below clearly entertained serious doubts as to whether the state was improperly exercising its peremptory challenges. Accordingly, the court should have resolved this doubt in favor of the defense and conducted an inquiry as to the state's reasons for all the challenged excusals. Slappy, 522 So.2d at 21-22. These reasons must be supplied by the prosecutor. Here, the trial court conducted an improper inquiry because it failed to question the state as to each and every peremptory challenge exercised against blacks once it became clear that the state might be improperly exercising its peremptory challenges. For this reason alone, we must reverse.

Moreover, the entire course of voir dire recounted here reflects a serious misunderstanding of our holdings in Neil and Slappy, as well as the related federal case law. In Slappy we found

the number [of challenged peremptories] alone is not dispositive, nor even the fact that a member of the minority in question has been seated as a juror or alternate. Indeed, the issue is not whether several jurors have been excused because of their race, but whether any juror has been so excused, independent of any other.

Slappy, 522 So.2d at 21 (citations...

To continue reading

Request your trial
60 cases
  • Ramirez v. State, 89,377
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • July 8, 1999
    ...of proving that the waiver of the Miranda rights was knowing, intelligent and voluntary. See Sliney, 699 So.2d at 667; Thompson v. State, 548 So.2d 198, 204 (Fla.1989). Moreover, where a confession is obtained after the administration of the Miranda warnings, the State bears a "`heavy burde......
  • Taylor v. Sec'y, Case No. 8:10-cv-382-T-30AEP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • June 1, 2011
    ...inquiry into the state's reasons for challenging juror Farragut.In support of his second contention, Taylor relies on Thompson v. State, 548 So. 2d 198 (Fla. 1989). In Thompson, defense counsel raised timely Neil objections when the state exercised several peremptory challenges against blac......
  • Kalisz v. State, SC12–580.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • October 17, 2013
    ...the evidence that the confession was voluntarily provided and the defendant knowingly waived his rights. Id. (citing Thompson v. State, 548 So.2d 198, 204 (Fla.1989)). This Court added that “[w]hen evidence adequately supports two conflicting theories, our duty is to review the record in th......
  • Marshall v. State, 89-01760
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 12, 1992
    ...rejected. State v. Slappy, 522 So.2d 18 (Fla.1988), cert. denied, 487 U.S. 1219, 108 S.Ct. 2873, 101 L.Ed.2d 909 (1988); Thompson v. State, 548 So.2d 198 (Fla.1989); Smith v. State, 571 So.2d 16 (Fla.2d DCA 1990). While the acceptance of one black juror may be relevant to the overall determ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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