The Florida Supreme Court reversed the denial of a Rule 3.850 motion and ordered a new trial for Merrit Sims, who was prosecuted for killing Miami Springs Officer Charles Stafford in June of 1991 during a traffic stop.
The opinion is here: OPINION
At issue was the admissibility of a K9 alert to drugs in a car in which no drugs were found. The Prosecution was represented by Former Prosecutor Gary Rosenberg, who also ran for State Attorney in the last election. The theory of prosecution was that Sims, who was on parole, had killed Stafford because there were drugs in the car and Sims did not want his parole violated.
Sims was represented at trial by two veteran defense attorneys, Clinton Pitts, and Arthur Carter.
The holding of the case is that Pitts was ineffective for failing to object at trial to the introduction of the testimony of the K9 officer. Judge Carney had previously ruled that the testimony was admissible, and Pitts testified at the evidentiary hearing that he was surprised he had not objected at the time the testimony was introduced.
Rumpole says: First off, trials are difficult businesses, and the defense of a person alleged to have killed a police officer is as difficult as it gets. No negative aspersions should be cast against Mr. Pitts. Sometimes, in the heat of battle, lawyers neglect to do what they need to do. By that we mean that often times several things are occurring at once: the lawyer is listening to the testimony, listening to his client, reviewing his notes, and otherwise trying to think two steps ahead of the other side. While the issue is technically framed as "ineffective assistance of counsel" the record otherwise indicates that Mr. Pitts and Carter did a very good job in defending their client.
The real issue we think is this ridiculous concept of preserving the objection at trial after a pre-trial motion was denied. The record is clear that Mr. Pitts argued against the introduction of this evidence prior to trial. The mere fact that Pitts either didn't object ( or that the court reporter did not report it, which is in our opinion just as likely) should not have stopped this issue from being litigated during the direct appeal. If that was done, then this matter would not have to be reopened 16 years after Officer Stafford was murdered.
See You In Court, objecting, objecting, objecting.