Florida Supreme Court Clarifies Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 In Battery Case Involving Ophthalmology Expert


Ophthalmology Expert

Court – Supreme Court of Florida
Jurisdiction – State
Case NameState v. Lucas
Citation – 183 So. 3d 1027

This case involves a motion filed pursuant to Rule 3.850 alleging that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult or present an expert in a named field of expertise in a criminal matter. The court held that a defendant need not, in every case, name a specific expert witness and attest that the specific expert would have been available to testify at trial in order to render a Rule 3.850 motion legally sufficient.

Facts

While the defendant, Eric Lucas, was assaulting his girlfriend, he broke into the apartment of Lewisha Freeman and assaulted Freeman as well. Lucas hit Freeman on her face and body and only ceased hitting her when the apartment manager intervened. Lucas was convicted of burglary, battery, and aggravated battery, and sentenced to life in prison.

Post-Conviction Motion Under Rule 3.850

The defendant filed a post-conviction motion under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. Lucas argued that the trial counsel failed to consult an expert ophthalmologist to rebut the state’s claim regarding the victim’s permanent eye damage secondary to aggravated battery. The motion did not discuss any specific expert nor did it state that a specific expert would have been available to testify at trial.

The state’s oral maxillofacial surgeon expert witness testified that eye sockets fracture very easily, but that the victim did not need eye surgery for this injury. The expert also recommended that an ophthalmologist would be in a better position to examine Freeman. The motion alleged that an ophthalmologist had examined Freeman and had stated that she would be okay but that she should see a specialist if she faced any further visibility issues.

The plaintiff contested that the prosecutor used this testimony to argue for permanent injury in support of the crime of aggravated battery. The state argued the issue concerning counsel’s failure to present an expert ophthalmologist was improperly pleaded because it did not name any witness that should have been called nor did it set forth the testimony that the witness would present. The trial court issued an order striking the motion. Lucas appealed.

The district held that although the defendant was usually required to identify fact witnesses by name, they were not aware of any authority that requires the defendant to provide the name of a particular expert.  The district court did not agree that the defendant’s postconviction claim was facially insufficient.

The state sought review of the district court decision, contending the district court’s decision was against the Supreme Court’s decision given in Nelson, 875 So. 2d at 581.

The Court’s Discussion

“Nelson case was silent on whether the motion must name a specific expert when counsel failed to consult or present an expert.” The allegations by the defendant demonstrated the specificity required to show why an ophthalmology expert was allegedly necessary which based on the elements of the aggravated battery charge, the expert testimony presented by the state, and the portions of the record which supported that an ophthalmology expert could have shown the eye injuries were not permanent or disfiguring.

Held

The court held that a defendant need not, in every case, name a specific expert witness that would have been available to testify at trial in order to render a Rule 3.850 motion legally sufficient. The case was not dependant upon the expertise of any particular individual because the necessary expert witness opinion and testimony could have been provided by any number of experts in that field.

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