If you are charged with a crime in Florida, you have the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. A recent murder case in Miami tested the bounds of fairness and prejudice when the Third District Court of Appeal was asked to decide whether a jury should be able to see a video of a person confessing to a crime while wearing a prison uniform and handcuffs.
The defendant was charged with a 2002 murder during a botched robbery in Miami. The case remained unresolved for some 10 years before police had a breakthrough using fingerprint tracing technology. They eventually matched prints from the crime scene to another man by using a national database. This other man implicated the defendant, and the son of the person killed in the robbery picked the defendant out of a photo lineup. The cops tracked the defendant down to a prison in Pennsylvania, where he was serving time on unrelated charges. He agreed to do a video interview and waived his rights to an attorney. He confessed to committing the robbery, but he said it was the other man who pulled the trigger.
The defendant was eventually charged with first-degree murder. Before the trial began, he asked the judge to allow the jury only to hear an audio version of his prison interview with the police. He argued that he would be unfairly prejudiced if the jury saw him giving the interview in handcuffs and prison garb. The judge disagreed. The defendant was convicted, based on the confession, the victim’s son’s identification, and DNA evidence taken from a baseball cap left at the crime scene.
Affirming the conviction on appeal, the Third District said the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by allowing the jury to see the video version of the defendant’s confession.
“All evidence tending to prove or disprove a material fact is admissible, unless precluded by law,” the court explained. The Third District added, however, that state law “provides for the exclusion of relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”
In this case, the court said there was no question that the video confession was clearly relevant. It also agreed with the judge that the value of the video outweighed any possible danger of prejudice to the defendant. The confession was critical because the DNA evidence showed only that he was at the scene of the crime, and the defense attorneys may have been able to poke holes in the son’s recollection of the events a decade earlier, according to the court. There was also a benefit to having the jury see the confession, rather than hear it, the court said.
“Our adversarial system isn’t a test of competing affidavits because a critical part of the jury’s decision-making process is watching, as well as listening, for cues to decide which evidence and testimony is reliable and credible (and which is not).”
If you or a loved one has been charged with homicide or another violent 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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