Court Says Prosecution in Florida Kidnapping Case Could Not Ask Witness About Prior Convictions - State v. Jouzdani

November 6, 2012

Florida criminal cases are often won or lost based on witness testimony. While not on trial, sometimes those witnesses aren't exactly choir boys. In State v. Jouzdani, Florida's First District Court of Appeal explains the rules for questioning a witness about his or her criminal history on the stand.

835820_hand_on_a_bible.jpgArman Jouzdani was convicted on charges of kidnapping, extortion and grand theft stemming from a botched marijuana sale. According to the Court, two men - Cameron Suarez and Tim Sommers - arranged to buy two pounds of the drug from a supplier on Jouzdani's behalf. According to testimony in the case, Jouzdani gave the men $1,800; Sommers took the money and went to make the buy, while Suarez remained at the auto shop where Jouzdani worked. Reportedly, Sommers later called Suarez at the shop, telling him that the supplier had robbed Sommers of the money.

Jouzdani reportedly became angry when he learned that his money had been stolen. According to testimony, he called his girlfriend and asked her to bring him his gun. The weapon allegedly arrived, along with Jouzdani's friend, Aaron Rollins. Suarez testified that both men pointed the gun at his head at various times, threatening to shoot him if he didn't come up with the $1,800.

Several hours later, Suarez reportedly offered to give Jouzdani a car in exchange for the lost money. He testified that he called his friend Jeremy Bisiaux and asked him to drive the car from Jacksonville to the auto shop where Jouzdani was being held in Gainesville. Police officers, who had reportedly been tipped off by Bisiaux, arrived on the scene as Jouzdani, Rollins, Suarez and Bisiaux were leaving the shop.

At trial, Jouzdani testified that he asked his girlfriend to bring the gun, but never actually possessed the weapon. Rather, it was Rollins holding the gun, according to Jouzdani. He also said that Suarez was not held against his will. Larry Pringley, a mechanic at the auto shop, also testified. Pringley, who was working on the night of the incident, said he did not see a gun at any point, nor did he see Jouzdani threaten or restrain Suarez at any time. According to Pringley, Suarez was mostly walking around, talking on his phone.

On cross-examination, the prosecution sought to impeach Pringley by asking him about six previous criminal convictions for receiving stolen property. Pringley admitted that he had been convicted on the six charges about 20 years ago and served jail time, but could not remember whether he had been actually adjudicated guilty (in certain situations, a judge may withhold adjudication, even where the defendant is sentenced to jail time).

The jury found Jouzdani guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

On appeal, the First District reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial, finding that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to ask Pringley about his prior convictions. Under Section 90.608, Florida Statutes, (2008), a party may seek to impeach a witness by attacking his or her character by showing that he or she had been convicted of a crime. "Impeachment is authorized under this statute only if the witness has committed a felony or a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, and only if the prior offense resulted in a conviction," the Court explained. That includes a requirement that the witness have been adjudicated guilty, according to the Court.

Here, the prosecution was unable to show that Pringley had been adjudicated guilty on the stolen property charges. Even where a defendant has plead guilty or been found guilty by a jury, the judge "may have withheld adjudication of guilt and in that event the resulting order would not qualify as a conviction," the court said. Because the prosecution could not show an adjudication of guilt, it should not have been permitted to ask Pringley about the prior convictions.

If you are facing criminal charges in Florida, you are well-advised to seek the counsel of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney right away. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have defended clients throughout the state in a wide range of criminal matters. We are known for aggressive, honest and effective representation on behalf of clients as well as commitment to helping clients achieve the best results possible.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Explains the Rules for Using Evidence of Previous Convictions in a Criminal Drug Trial - U.S. v. Ricketts

Florida Courts Split on Drug Testing, Weighing Issue in Trafficking Cases - Greenwade v. State

Court Sends Question of Cell Phone Search During Criminal Arrest to Supreme Court - State v. Glasco