The right to legal representation is a central part of any criminal defense. Judges take this right very seriously, as a recent decision in a murder case from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal shows.
The defendant’s girlfriend was found dead in her home in Bradenton in June 2012. When they went looking for the defendant, the cops found that he had been involuntarily admitted for psychiatric treatment at Manatee Memorial Hospital earlier the same day. He had been acting erratically while visiting his parents. He was nervous, pacing, and unable to relax or slow down, according to the court. His mother later told police that he had previously suffered from similar mental health problems. His mother was informed by hospital staff that his girlfriend had been found dead when the mother tried to visit him in the hospital later the same day. She was barred from seeing her son until the cops arrived.
The mother obtained a lawyer – a friend of a fellow church member – to represent her son before the police came to the hospital. Although the lawyer informed hospital staff that he was representing the defendant and did not want the defendant talking to police alone, he too was barred from seeing him. The lawyer and the parents left the facility late in the evening with plans to return the next day.
In the meantime, the police arrived at the hospital overnight. They proceeded to interview the defendant, despite being informed that he was represented by a lawyer. The detective who interviewed him did not inform him of his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney. The officer also didn’t tell him that he already had a lawyer. He originally said during the interview that he had not seen his girlfriend for days but later admitted he had seen her the morning of her death. He was later charged with murder. Prosecutors presented DNA evidence, text messages showing that the couple had argued, and cell phone location information showing that the defendant was in the area at the time the murder happened. He was eventually convicted.
The Second Circuit reversed the conviction on appeal, however. The appeals court said the trial judge should not have allowed prosecutors to use evidence obtained during the hospital interview.
“When an individual is being questioned in a non-public area, and an attorney retained on his or her behalf arrives at the location, the Due Process Clause of the Florida Constitution requires that the police notify the individual of the attorney’s presence and purpose,” the Court said, quoting the Florida Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McAdams v. State.
Although the defendant’s lawyer wasn’t physically present at the hospital when the cops arrived, the court said he still had the right to know he already had legal representation. And while there was other evidence against him in the record, the court said it wasn’t able to find that admitting the interview evidence was harmless.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa homicide defense lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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