Trial Judge's Ability to Filter the Evidence Considered for His Decision

In Jalbert v. State, 95 So. 2d 589 (Fla. 1957), the Supreme Court of Florida reviewed a trial court's admission of an accomplice's uncorroborated testimony and restated the principles established in Prince and First Atlantic as a rebuttable presumption: "This Court will presume the trial judge properly considered the accomplice's testimony with due caution, since the trial judge is presumed to have committed no error and that presumption has not been overcome by the defendant." Id. at 591. Two decades later, in Alford v. State, 355 So. 2d 108 (Fla. 1977), this Court identified and gave deference to a trial court's ability to filter the evidence considered for a decision. In considering the imposition of the sentence, the trial judge's discretion is guided and channeled by statute and case law. He may be "aware" of other factors, but he does not "consider" these factors in the exercise of his discretion. For example, the judge may be "aware" of inadmissible evidence after a proffer has been made, but this evidence is never "considered" by the judge. Id. at 109. More recently, in Guzman v. State, 868 So. 2d 498 (Fla. 2003), this Court relied on First Atlantic and the Third District's decision in State v. Arroyo, 422 So. 2d 50 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982), to hold that a claim of prosecutorial misconduct failed where the trial court excluded certain inadmissible evidence. The Court articulated the rule that in a non-jury trial, "the judge as finder of fact is presumed to have disregarded any inadmissible evidence or improper argument" and "even where a judge erroneously admits improper evidence, the judge as factfinder is presumed to disregard it." Guzman, 868 So. 2d at 510-11. The Guzman Court applied the presumption and held as follows: Here, the judge did not err, but appropriately excluded inadmissible evidence. Given these evidentiary rulings, the judge a fortiori may be presumed to have disregarded the inadmissible evidence. Therefore, assuming arguendo that the prosecutor's attempts to introduce the evidence were improper, the attempts were harmless. Id. at 511.