Is Evidence of a Prior Felony Admissible During Penelty Phase of a Capital Trial ?

In Rhodes v. State, 547 So. 2d 1201 (Fla. 1989), the Court noted that evidence concerning the circumstances of a prior felony conviction involving the use or threat of violence is admissible during the penalty phase of a capital trial. See id. at 1204-05; see also Duncan v. State, 619 So. 2d 279, 282 (Fla. 1993). However, this Court cautioned that there are limits on the admissibility of such evidence, emphasizing that "the line must be drawn when evidence of the circumstances of the prior offense is not relevant, gives rise to a violation of a defendant's confrontation rights, or the prejudicial value outweighs the probative value." Rhodes, 547 So. 2d at 1205. The relevant question is whether the trial judge abused his discretion in admitting the photographs. See Nixon v. State, 572 So. 2d 1336, 1343 (Fla. 1990). This Court has previously held: "The test for admissibility of photographic evidence is relevancy rather than necessity." Rivera v. State, 859 So. 2d 495, 510 (Fla. 2003) (quoting Pope v. State, 679 So. 2d 710, 713 (Fla. 1996)); see also Provenzano v. Dugger, 561 So. 2d 541, 549 (Fla. 1990) ("Photographs must only be excluded when they demonstrate something so shocking that the risk of prejudice outweighs its relevancy."). In concluding the error was harmless, the Court stated that once admitted, no further reference was made to the photograph, the photograph was not urged as a basis for a death recommendation, the photograph was not otherwise made a focal point of the proceedings, and the jury was well aware of the fact that Duncan had previously been convicted of the brutal attack and murder of another person. See: Duncan, 619 So. 2d at 282.