Court in Burglary Case Disapproves Evidence of Defendant's Previous Crimes - Nshaka v. State

April 13, 2012

In a recent post, this blog discussed how the "double jeopardy" rule prevents a person from being charged with the same offense twice for the same act. In Nshaka v. State, the Fourth District Court of Appeals explains another important protection for a person charged with a crime in Florida, which limits the prosecution's ability to introduce evidence of other crimes or "bad acts."

351760_old_ball_and_chain_series_1.jpgAppellant Pharaoh Nshaka was convicted on charges of burglary and robbery and sentenced to 30 years in prison after being deemed a habitual offender. On appeal, he challenged the trial court's decision to allow the jury to hear evidence pertaining to other burglaries committed by Nshaka.

Nshaka allegedly robbed and assaulted the victim outside of a preschool in Hollywood. He then broke into her car and stole the victim's purse and a DVD player. He was arrested after the victim notified police that she saw her assailant driving in the neighborhood where the crime occurred and provided the license plate number of the car he was driving. The victim later identified Nshaka as the assailant in a photograph line-up.

In Florida, evidence of a criminal defendant's previous "crimes, wrong or acts" is admissible in a criminal trial where the evidence is relevant to prove a material fact in the case, such as motive, knowledge or intent. It is not admissable, however, solely for the purpose of proving the defendant's bad character or propensity for wrongdoing. Citing the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Robertson v. State, however, the court noted that "admission of evidence of other crimes is presumptively harmful because the evidence from the other cases, which is irrelevant to the current case, could be used by a jury to charge a defendant." Thus, a court considering whether to allow evidence of prior bad acts must determine: 1) whether the evidence is relevant to a material fact in the case; and 2) whether the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect.

In this case, the prosecution presented evidence that Nshaka had committed two other burglaries within a five-week span of the crime at issue. The court held that evidence of these crimes should not have been presented to the jury because "the current robbery charge did not occur close in time with the collateral crimes and the crime occurred in a very different manner than the two previous burglaries." According to the court, other crimes "must have some special character or be so unusual as to point to the defendant," in order for evidence regarding them to be admissable.

Here, the court found that the only similarities in the crimes was that each occurred outside a Broward County preschool and a black male was identified as the suspect. This was not enough, the court ruled, to establish a "signature feature" among the crimes. As a result, the court remanded the case for retrial.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine, P.A. are pleased to help. Anidjar & Levine are prepared to aggressively defend your rights and help achieve the best outcome possible.

Related blog posts:

Florida Battery Case Poses Double Jeopardy Question - Green v. Florida

Sentencing and the Armed Career Criminal Act - U.S. v. Brown

Can Police Use Your Silence Against You? Supreme Court Decides not to Decide