Hearsay Questions Sink Conviction in Florida Sex Crime Case

The rule against hearsay generally bans one person from testifying in court about what another person said outside court, if it’s being used to prove a fact. In other words, an alleged rape victim’s friend generally can’t testify in court that the victim told the friend that the person charged with the crime raped the victim. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, however, including one for statements made out of court by a minor describing a sex crime. As Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained, however, a judge has to perform a specific factual analysis before allowing hearsay evidence into the record.

judge gavelA defendant was charged with unlawful sexual activity, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly had sexual contact with a girl under the age of 18. At trial, the victim’s mother testified that her family was visiting Florida on vacation when the crime occurred. They were visiting with extended family at the time, and at least nine people were in the house. After the victim asked her mother three separate times to leave the home, she eventually told her mother that the defendant had touched the victim on her breasts and vagina while she was sleeping in her grandmother’s bed upstairs. When the mother asked the victim what she meant, the victim said “I don’t think I’m a virgin anymore,” according to the mother.

The victim told a police officer in a recorded interview that the defendant entered the bedroom, lay down next to her, and started fondling her breasts. She said he eventually had sex with her.

The trial judge ruled that testimony from the victim’s mother and the police officer who interviewed the victim was admissible as evidence against the defendant. The judge said specifically that both witnesses could testify about what the victim told them, despite the rule against hearsay.

The Second District disagreed on appeal. The panel said the judge didn’t perform the sort of factual analysis necessary to determine if the testimony fell under the exception to the ban on hearsay evidence for statements made by a child describing a sex crime. That exception applies only when a court finds that “the time, content, and circumstances of the statements provide sufficient safeguards of reliability,” and there is no other reason to believe that the statements may not be trustworthy.

In this case, the Second District said the trial judge seemed to disregard the testimony of another witness, who was also at the house at the time of the alleged incident. This witness testified that there was bad blood between the victim’s mother and her ex-husband, who was also at the house. She also testified that the mother was angry with the defendant earlier in the day.

More importantly, the court said the judge didn’t consider certain inconsistencies in the victim’s statement to the police officer. That included what the Second District called the victim’s inability to recall various details and her surprising use of a clinical term at one point in the interview.

“The court did not conduct the necessary factual analysis considering the totality of the circumstances, nor did it consider all of the testimony presented at the hearing,” the Second District concluded. As a result, the court vacated the conviction and sent the case back to the trial judge.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. Clearwater statutory rape defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

More blog posts:

Double Jeopardy in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Proving Intent in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Constructive Possession in Florida Child Pornography Cases