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When a defendant is charged with a crime, at trial the only evidence that should usually be put forward by the state is evidence related to those crimes charged. However, sometimes there are circumstances for the crimes alleged that require explanation. In some of those situations, the state will need to bring in evidence of other crimes that were committed in order to help the jury understand the circumstances in which the charged crimes were committed. This may seem confusing, and it can be, which is why you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you understand whether it is proper for collateral crimes evidence to be introduced during your trial.

Collateral Crimes

An example may help make the concept of collateral crimes more understandable. In a case that was recently heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, a man appealed his conviction for attempted second-degree murder with a deadly weapon, witness tampering, and criminal mischief. One of the errors he alleges is that the court impermissibly admitted evidence of a collateral armed robbery allegedly committed earlier in the day by the defendant.

The prosecution alleges that the defendant went to the home of his ex-girlfriend a few hours before the incident that the charges came from. He is alleged to have held her up at gunpoint and demanded her phone from her. The defendant returned to her house with her phone a few hours later, and then began shooting. The attempted murder and other charges that he was convicted of all stem from this shooting.

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In the United States, once a defendant has been adjudicated on a charge, they cannot be tried for the same crime again. It’s an extremely important principle, but one that you may not think about that often. Like many elements of the law, it is not quite as straightforward as it might appear. For example, double jeopardy also applies to situations where someone is charged twice for the same offense when one is a lesser included offense in another. Once again, this analysis can get tricky.

Lesser Included Offenses

In criminal law, every crime has certain elements that the state needs to prove in order to convict a defendant of the crime. Someone cannot be charged under two different statutes when one of the crimes is a lesser included offense of the crime. For example, let’s say a defendant is charged and convicted for murdering a victim. They cannot then also be brought to court for attempted murder with the same victim during the same course of events. Another example would be the crime of possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. That charge requires possession of the drugs as part of the offense. Thus, a defendant cannot (usually – the law gets tricky) be convicted of both possession of drugs and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute when it is the same drugs. At first glance the case here may seem to contradict this rule, but with further inquiry the court’s reasoning behind not finding double jeopardy violations here make sense.