Court Examines Evidence of Prior Crimes in Florida Criminal Trials

In federal criminal trials, the prosecution bears the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution can rely on direct or circumstantial evidence to establish its case. Generally, however, it cannot introduce evidence of a defendant’s prior convictions to demonstrate they committed the offense they currently are charged with, as demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling in which the court granted the defendant’s motion in limine to preclude evidence of his prior convictions in a carjacking case. If you are charged with a theft offense, it is wise to meet with a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to discuss what evidence the government may be permitted to use against you.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with brandishing a firearm during a carjacking. Prior to trial, the prosecution indicated that it intended to introduce evidence of the defendant’s three prior convictions: a 2009 conviction for carrying a concealed firearm and possession of other weapons and two convictions from 2018 and 2022 for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The prosecution argued that these prior convictions were admissible in the current case to demonstrate that the defendant’s alleged brandishing of a firearm during the offense was done “knowingly and intentionally” and was not a result of a mistake or accident.

Evidence of Prior Crimes in Florida Criminal Trials

Reportedly, in response, the defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude such evidence on the grounds that it only served to portray the defendant as having a bad character. The defendant noted that in United States v. Gray, a similar case, the district court allowed the introduction of the defendant’s prior convictions for armed carjacking, armed robbery, and car burglary. However, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence under a “lack-of-accident-or-mistake theory.”

Further, he argued that, like in the Gray case, his defense as not that he accidentally brandished a firearm while committing a carjacking but rather that he was not the person who committed the carjacking. Therefore, he contended that the prior convictions should not be admitted as they would invite propensity reasoning that the Federal Rules of Evidence prohibit.

The court noted that the prosecution cited cases in which the Eleventh Circuit upheld the admission of prior firearm-related convictions in subsequent firearm-related prosecutions. Those cases, however, dealt with charges of “being a felon in possession of a firearm” and whether such possession was knowing, which was not the issue in the subject case. Thus, the court ultimately adopted the defendant’s reasoning and granted his motion in limine, barring the prosecution from introducing evidence of his prior convictions.

Talk to a Seasoned Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

A defendant’s criminal history should not be used to establish their guilt in a subsequent criminal proceeding, and if it is, the defendant may have grounds for vacating their conviction. If you are charged with a theft offense, it is smart to talk to an attorney about your options. The seasoned Sarasota theft crime defense lawyers of Hanlon Law have ample experience helping people protect their rights in criminal matters, and if you hire them, they will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can reach Hanlon Law by calling 941-462-1789 or using the online form to set up a meeting.

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