Florida Court Rules Admission of Hearsay Necessitated Reversal of Conviction

One of the protections afforded criminal defendants is the prohibiting of hearsay testimony as evidence of a crime. While there are certain exceptions to the rule against hearsay, they are strictly construed. As shown in a recent case ruled on by a District Court of Appeal of Florida, if a trial court erroneously allows the admission of hearsay evidence, it can result in a conviction being overturned. If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you retain your rights.

Reported Facts

Allegedly, the defendant went to the apartment of his friend’s neighbors to question them about reportedly harassing his friend. It is undisputed that the neighbors’ door was knocked down, the defendant entered the apartment, a fight ensued, and a gun was discharged. The exact details of what happened after the defendant arrived at the neighbor’s apartment were disputed, however. Following the incident, the defendant was charged with multiple crimes.

At the trial, the defendant testified that he asked the neighbors to leave his friend alone, accidentally knocked the door down, and was pulled into the apartment, and one of the neighbors’ had a gun that discharged. In contrast, the neighbors testified that the defendant kicked in the door, pointed a gun at them, assaulted them, and discharged the gun. The defendant’s friend did not testify at the trial. The state admitted out-of-court statements made by the friend into evidence at the trial, despite objections by the defendant’s counsel that they constituted hearsay. The statements indicated the friend was going to send someone to “put a cap in” the neighbors and beat them up. The state argued these statements were evidence the defendant intended to assault the neighbors when he went to their apartment. The defendant was ultimately convicted of burglary of an occupied dwelling and assault, but the jury specifically found that the defendant did not use or possess a firearm or commit a battery. The defendant appealed, arguing the evidence regarding his friend’s out-of-court statements constituted inadmissible hearsay.

State of Mind Exception to Hearsay

On appeal, the state argued that the friend’s statements fell under the state of mind exception to the rule against hearsay that allows the admission of a statement that shows the state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made. The court held, however, that this exception only applies to the speaker’s state of mind, and not anyone else’s. Therefore, as the state attempted to use the statement to show the defendant’s state of mind, the exception did not apply. The court conceded that the state of mind of a victim may be relevant, but as the friend was not a victim, her state of mind was not pertinent. As such, the trial court erred in allowing the admission of the out-of-court statement of the friend.

The court then analyzed whether the error was harmless. In doing so, the court stated the focus should be on whether it is reasonably possible the error affected the verdict. Here, as one of the main issues at trial was whether the defendant intended to assault the neighbors, the court found it was possible the friend’s out of court statements may have swayed the jury to find the defendant meant to assault the neighbors. As such, the error was not harmless, and the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with a Knowledgeable Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you live in Clearwater and have been charged with a crime, it is important to the protection of your liberties to retain a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assist you in developing a plan to help you seek a favorable outcome. Contact our offices at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Appeals Holds Enough Evidence Showed Gun was Real November 14, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog

“Boogeyman” Can’t Get New Trial for Florida Prosecutor’s Inappropriate Name Calling  January 20, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog

Hearsay Questions Sink Conviction in Florida Sex Crime Case  January 18, 2018, Clearwater Sex Crimes Lawyer Blog

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