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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Happiest Place On Earth?: Grandmother Convicted Of Battery In Mad Party Tea Ride Line At Disneyworld

Alabama grandmother Victoria Walker has been convicted of misdemeanor battery in connection with an attack on another woman, Aimee Krause, at Disney World.  Prosecutors alleged that Walker got angry when Krause's kids cut in front of her at the Mad Party Tea Ride and thus elbowed Krause and jerked her head backward by the hair.  Expert witnesses testified that Krause suffered permanent brain damage from a concussion she suffered from the attack and also injured both of her knees.  Walker could have been convicted of aggravated battery and sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment for the beating, but the jury instead found her guilty of misdemeanor battery, which is punishable by up to one year imprisonment in county jail.

Did the judge, however, improperly preclude jurors from hearing evidence which supported Walker's contention that Krause attacked her first?  Walker sought to have Cynthia Kinat and Tricia Murphy, the principal and assistant principal  at Pine Ridge Elementary in Clermont, where Krause's two children are students, testify on her behalf.  Walker's attorney hoped that the women would be able to testify about Krause's reputation for truthfulness in her community, but, after Judge Jose Rodriguez heard the information that they had to offer, he refused to allow them to appear before the jury, saying that the women did not know enough people who interact with Krause to be able to comment on the opinions of a "community."  Murphy also told Rodriguez that Krause had behaved aggressively on Pine Ridge's campus, but Rodriguez found that since Murphy could only point to examples of Krause's verbal aggression, her testimony wasn't relevant in Walker's case.  Both of these rulings seem correct to me.

First, with regard to Murphy's proposed testimony about Krause's aggressive behavior, Florida Evidence Code Section 90.404(1)(b) allows a criminal accused to offer evidence of a pertinent character trait of an accused, but Florida Evidence Code Section 90.405(1) limits the method of proof to reputation evidence.  Murphy's proposed testimony thus had two flaws:  (1) it was specific act evidence, not reputation evidence, and (2) as Judge Rodriguez noted, it went to a non-pertinent character trait:  verbal, rather than physical, aggression.

Second, with regard to the testimony about truthfulness, Florida Evidence Code Section 90.609, witnesses can impeach the testimony of a witness by indicating that the witness has a reputation for being untruthful.  Before such testimony can be rendered, however, it must be established that these witnesses now enough people who interact with the witness to be impeached to know their reputation. See, e.g., Morrison v. State, 818 So.2d 432, 449 (Fl. 2002).  Here, Judge Rodriguez found the prospective witnesses lacked this knowledge and thus properly excluded their testimony.

-CM

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