Fla. Stat. § 90.404(2)(b) (2001) broadly provides that evidence of a defendant's commission of other acts of child molestation is admissible in a child molestation prosecution regardless of whether the charged and collateral offenses occurred in the familial context or whether they share any similarity. However, the statute goes on to qualify this general statement by specifying that evidence of other acts of child molestation may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant. Thus, relevancy remains the threshold question. Moreover, where possible, courts must give full effect to all statutory provisions and construe related statutory provisions in harmony with one another. Under Fla. Stat. § 90.403 (2005), relevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence. Evidence that is admissible under Fla. Stat. § 90.404(2)(b)(2001) remains subject to weighing under Fla. Stat. § 90.403 (2005).
Defendant was convicted in the trial court of child molestation. On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal (Florida) held that Fla. Stat. § 90.404(2)(b) (2001), which allowed evidence of a prior molestation by defendant in a child molestation prosecution regardless of whether the charged and collateral offenses occurred in the familial context or whether they share any similarity, did not violate due process and was properly applied. Defendant sought further review, and the appellate court certified a question of great public importance.
Does section 90.404(2)(b), Florida Statutes (2001), which allowed the admission of prior acts of child molestation, violate due process when applied in a case in which identity is not an issue?
In so holding, the Supreme Court of Florida concluded that due process is satisfied by weighing the probative value of the evidence of prior acts of child molestation against its potential for unfair prejudice, which is compelled by section 90.403, Florida Statutes (2005). Application of section 90.403 in determining admissibility ensures that section 90.404(2)(b) does not open the door to introduction of any and all propensity evidence in sexual molestation cases. Where necessary to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial, the trial court should either exclude the evidence or substantially limit its presentation so that it does not become a feature of trial. Further, under section 90.404(2)(c)(2), Florida Statues (2005), when such evidence is admitted, the trial court shall, if requested, give an appropriate cautionary instruction and shall repeat the instruction in its final charge to the jury. Because the trial court carefully and conscientiously followed these steps, the Supreme Court of Florida agreed with the appellate court that the defendant was not denied due process of law.
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