The rule against hearsay essentially bans a person from testifying in court about what another person said outside of court if the testimony is meant to prove that the out-of-court statement is true. As Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently pointed out in a murder case, however, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. That includes certain statements made by a person shortly before he or she dies.
Defendant was charged with first degree murder and an assortment of related criminal offenses, stemming from the killing of a Florida man during what prosecutors described as a drug deal gone wrong. Defendant was visiting Miami from New York when he and a friend bought $5 worth of marijuana from M., according to the court. M. then arranged for Defendant to buy $1,500 in cocaine and marijuana from V., the court said. Defendant allegedly coaxed M. to his hotel room, where he and his associate claimed to be police officers, threatened M. with a gun, beat him, and forced M. to set up a meeting with V..
V. eventually met with Defendant and got in the back of his car. Defendant’s associate showed V. a police ID card. V. tried to get out of the car when he realized Defendant didn’t have money for the drugs he said he wanted to buy. A struggle ensued, during which Defendant allegedly shot V. three times as V. was getting out of the car. Defendant and his associate drove off with M. still in the back of the car. A police officer who arrived on the scene asked V. who shot him. V. told the officer that it was “a black man with dreads.” He died shortly after making the statement.
At trial, prosecutors asked the officer to testify about what V. told the officer before V. died. They also called Defendant’s associate to testify against him after she plead guilty to related crimes. M. also identified Defendant as the person who shot V. Defendant was eventually convicted. Although that testimony was hearsay, the court said it was admissible at trial under an exception for “dying declarations.”
Affirming the conviction on appeal, the Third District said the trial judge properly allowed the prosecutors to ask the police officer about what V. said to the officer before V. died.
“In order for the dying declaration exception to apply, ‘the deceased must have known and appreciated his condition as being that of an approach to certain and immediate death,’” the court explained. “The evidence showed that immediately after being shot three times, [V.] was in agony, was struggling to move, he was bleeding profusely, and he died within minutes of being shot.”
If you or a loved one has been charged with murder or another crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa criminal 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.