In Florida, and elsewhere in the United States, the battle over what evidence is admissible and inadmissible is central to the vast majority of criminal disputes. Though — thanks to the popularity of police procedural shows and court dramas — many criminal defendants are at least vaguely aware that their statements can be used against them in a court of law, the complexities are not well understood by those who lack legal training.
If you make a statement that can be potentially related to an admission of guilt, then you can be sure that the prosecution will attempt to introduce that statement into evidence and develop a narrative in which the statement clearly implies guilt.
For example, suppose that you are involved in a drunk driving accident that could potentially give rise to criminal charges. At the accident scene, you tell bystanders, “Whoops.” Whether the statement is admissible into evidence (as proof of your guilt) could legitimately influence the success of your defense.
Let’s take a look at how courts in Florida determine whether to admit certain statements into evidence.
Statements of Guilt and the Hearsay Rule
The hearsay rule — in Florida and elsewhere — prevents the admission of statement evidence if it is used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, if you make a statement to bystanders claiming that you were drinking alcohol before you got into your car, then that statement would likely be covered by the hearsay rule (as the prosecution would want to introduce such evidence to prove that you were, in fact, drinking alcohol prior to driving your vehicle).
There are, however, exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow prosecutors to introduce statement evidence under certain limited circumstances. In the “statement of guilt” context, the three most important hearsay exceptions are: 1) spontaneous statements; 2) excited utterances; and 3) then-existing mental, emotional, or physical condition.
For example, suppose that you punch someone outside of a bar in self-defense. When you see blood, you spontaneously apologize and say, “I shouldn’t have hit you!” Though this qualifies as hearsay evidence, the spontaneous statement exception (or the excited utterance exception) would allow for its introduction, assuming that various other circumstantial factors do not apply.
Trustworthiness, Relevance, and Undue Prejudice
If the prosecution is attempting to introduce a statement of yours through one of the hearsay exceptions, you can prevent them from doing so by showing that — on balance — the introduction of such evidence is questionable due to its irrelevance, untrustworthiness, or risk of undue prejudice to your case. Further, if the statement evidence is likely to confuse the jury, then that may weigh in your favor.
For example, your statement in self-defense (“I shouldn’t have hit you!”) may confuse a jury, as it could indicate a recognition that you were not acting in self-defense, but it could also legitimately indicate an aversion to violence regardless of justification. Given these muddled circumstances, you might be able to prevent such evidence from being admitted.
Contact Our Experienced Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorneys for Comprehensive Assistance
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Florida, then chances are that you’re feeling somewhat nervous about the prospect of litigation. After all, the fundamental nature of criminal litigation is high-stakes — depending on the charges that have been brought against you by the prosecution, you could be exposed to significant penalties that include imprisonment. As such, it’s important that you work with a team of qualified attorneys who are capable of effectively representing your interests at trial and in negotiations with the State.
Fowler Law Group focuses entirely on criminal defense. Unlike many other firms, we are committed to the provision of focused, aggressive legal advocacy for our criminal defendant clients — it is our sincere belief that effective criminal defense advocacy demands specialized representation. We have more than 13 years of experience handling criminal disputes in Florida, and have tried more than 50 criminal jury trials.
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