Werner v. State, No. 90-0686

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtGARRETT; WARNER; GLICKSTEIN; GLICKSTEIN
Citation590 So.2d 431
Parties16 Fla. L. Weekly D1973 Martin WERNER, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date31 July 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-0686

Page 431

590 So.2d 431
16 Fla. L. Weekly D1973
Martin WERNER, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Florida, Appellee.
No. 90-0686.
District Court of Appeal of Florida,
Fourth District.
July 31, 1991.

Page 432

Bruce S. Rogow of Bruce S. Rogow, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, and Joan Fowler, Asst. Atty. Gen., West Palm Beach, for appellee.

ON MOTION FOR REHEARING AND REQUEST TO CERTIFY QUESTION OF

GREAT PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

GARRETT, Judge.

We deny the state's motion for rehearing, but grant its request to certify a question to be of great public importance and substitute the following to clarify our March 27, 1991 opinion:

Appellant Martin Werner appeals his conviction and sentence for committing a lewd or lascivious act in the presence of a child. We reverse.

At about 5:30 a.m. appellant and his wife were sleeping when their thirteen month old daughter dressed in pajamas woke up. The wife asked appellant to take care of the child. Appellant picked up the child and after a few minutes took her into the bathroom. When appellant did not come out of the bathroom for half an hour, the wife knocked on the locked door. Appellant unlocked the door and the wife entered the bathroom and found the child sitting on the floor in diapers "covered with baby oil." Appellant told his wife he had been masturbating while caring for the child.

The state charged appellant with violating section 800.04(3), Florida Statutes (1987), which reads:

Any person who knowingly commits any lewd or lascivious act in the presence of any child under the age of 16 years without committing the crime of sexual battery is guilty of a felony of the second degree....

[Emphasis added.] For whatever reason, the state chose not to charge appellant under subsection (1) of the statute which makes it a crime for any person to handle or fondle a child in a lewd, lascivious or indecent manner.

The prosecutor and defense counsel both recognized that the main trial issue was

Page 433

whether the appellant's act of masturbation took place in the presence of his daughter. But they differed as to what the phrase "in the presence of" means. We note that no legislative history is available as to the meaning of that phrase which has been part of section 800.04 for over forty-five years.

At trial, the location of the daughter when appellant masturbated became a major issue. The state disputed appellant's statements to his wife and a psychologist that he placed his daughter in an enclosed shower so she would not see him masturbate.

At the hearing on appellant's motion for a judgment of acquittal, the prosecutor argued:

It's the State's position that the State does not have to prove in any way, fashion or form that the child perceived the act of masturbation. All the state has to prove was the fact that the [appellant] masturbated in front of the child.

The trial judge agreed and denied the motion. After appellant rested without calling any witnesses, defense counsel renewed the motion. In opposition, the state gave this example:

[If] what [defense counsel] is saying is true, any person can go and masturbate in front of children in the home, and because they can't see it, that's all right, they can go to a pediatric ward ... and that's all right because the person would not be able to perceive the act. It's not an element to this crime.

The trial judge also denied that motion. At the jury instruction conference, defense counsel noted that no standard jury instruction defined the phrase "in the presence of." The prosecutor seized on the absence of a definition and argued:

There is nothing in the jury instructions which indicate that the child has to see the act and/or perceive the act, and the state is going to ask that the defense not be able to argue that to a jury because that is not the law in the State of Florida. The law is that the defendant must do the act. 1

In response, defense counsel commented:

Unless the jury has some guidance as to what does that phrase mean ... we are going to leave a jury to speculate what does that phrase mean....

During closing argument, the prosecutor remarked:

Knowingly committing a lewd act in the presence of [the child].

The State has proven the element, but what some of you might be saying right now, is, [Ms. Prosecutor], he committed this crime in front of [the child] but come on, [the child] is only 13 months old. She could not perceive that act. How do we know she saw the act.

The State doesn't have to prove that to you. When [the trial judge] reads you the law, he is never going to say to you that the State has to prove that [the child] perceived what was happening or saw what was happening. What [the trial judge] is going to tell you is that the act must have been done, the lewd act, must have been done in the presence of [the child], and if you think about it, and use your common sense for a few moments, you'll understand why.

Let's take an example. Say you have a person that goes to a children's home. The children's home is a kind of a home where none of the children can see. A man comes and masturbates in front of that home, in front of those children, and they can't see. They cannot perceive the masturbation. Do we let that person go? That's not a crime?

It's still a crime in the State of Florida, so just because [the child] could not perceive that act, doesn't mean that you all come back with a verdict of not guilty because that is not the law, and the State is going to ask you to follow the law.

As long as the lewd act was done in the presence of [the child], it doesn't

Page 434

matter whether she was in or outside that bathroom--or that bathtub.

Defense counsel argued that no crime occurred because the daughter did not "perceive anything, she didn't see anything...."

We hold that the trial judge should have granted appellant's motion for judgment of acquittal. We conclude that in the presence of means more than a child merely being in the vicinity where a lewd or lascivious act occurs. Other legal usages of the phrase support our conclusion. Rule 3.830 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure deals with direct criminal "contempt committed in the actual presence of the court" and states that such contempt may be punished "if the court saw or heard the conduct." [Emphasis added]. Numerous cases hold that contemptuous conduct that the judge does not see or hear is committed outside the presence of the court and must be prosecuted as indirect criminal contempt. Also, Black's Law Dictionary 1065 (5th ed. 1979) includes "within sight" as part of its definition of the word "presence" and defines "presence of the court" as follows:

A contempt is in the 'presence of the court,' if it is committed in the ocular view of the court, or where the court has direct knowledge of the contempt.

It also defines two other examples:

Presence of an officer. An offense is committed in 'presence' or 'view' of officer ... when [the] officer sees [an] act ... or when circumstances within his observations ... or when he hears disturbance created by offense....

Presence of the testator. Will attested in presence of testator if witnesses are within range of any of testator's senses.

Id. Further, section 732.502(1)(b), Florida Statutes, provides that a testator must sign the will " 'in the presence of' at least two attesting witnesses." This court has interpreted that section to mean that "each witness must see the testator sign." In re Estate of Charry, 359 So.2d 544, 545 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978) (emphasis added). Both the...

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3 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Padillo-Reyes, PADILLA-REYE
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • April 11, 2001
    ...the age of sixteen and that the defendant knowingly committed a lewd or lascivious act that the child saw or sensed. Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431, 435 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1991). And, for example, if the violation is a sexual battery on a female child under sixteen, the elements required to b......
  • Jozens v. State, No. 92-3533
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • January 26, 1995
    ...the age of sixteen years and the defendant knowingly committed a lewd or lascivious act in the presence of the victim. Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431 (Fla.1991). As to the lewd and lascivious act alleged to have been committed by appellant, the general description of "a sexual battery" is s......
  • State v. Werner, No. 78371
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • November 5, 1992
    ...Bar, N. David Korones, Chairman and Wayne Boyer, Chairman, Amicus Curiae Committee. PER CURIAM. We have for review Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431, 435 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991), in which the Fourth District Court of Appeal certified the following question to be of great public DOES THE STATE HAVE......
3 cases
  • U.S. v. Padillo-Reyes, PADILLA-REYE
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • April 11, 2001
    ...the age of sixteen and that the defendant knowingly committed a lewd or lascivious act that the child saw or sensed. Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431, 435 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1991). And, for example, if the violation is a sexual battery on a female child under sixteen, the elements required to b......
  • Jozens v. State, No. 92-3533
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • January 26, 1995
    ...the age of sixteen years and the defendant knowingly committed a lewd or lascivious act in the presence of the victim. Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431 (Fla.1991). As to the lewd and lascivious act alleged to have been committed by appellant, the general description of "a sexual battery" is s......
  • State v. Werner, No. 78371
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • November 5, 1992
    ...Bar, N. David Korones, Chairman and Wayne Boyer, Chairman, Amicus Curiae Committee. PER CURIAM. We have for review Werner v. State, 590 So.2d 431, 435 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991), in which the Fourth District Court of Appeal certified the following question to be of great public DOES THE STATE HAVE......

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