The Admissibility of Hidden Recordings
A man who was recently convicted of sexual abuse will receive a new trial based on a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. The decision, though unpopular, goes a long way to promote the rights of the accused in a criminal matter. In America, an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Presenting that proof is the responsibility of the state, but prosecutors must work within the parameters of the law when trying a case. Statutes and precedents determine what proof is acceptable. When improper evidence is presented to the judge or jury, an appeals court can remedy the error by throwing out a conviction and ordering a new trial.
According to a report by the Miami Herald, a jury in Lee County found the defendant guilty of five charges, to include two counts of sexual battery against his minor stepdaughter. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. His lawyers filed an appeal, but the conviction was upheld by the 2nd District Court of Appeal. A further appeal was heard by the Florida Supreme Court, where justices considered the admissibility of recorded conversations. As reported in the article, the defendant’s stepdaughter used a hidden device to intercept conversations between herself and the defendant. The recordings allegedly confirm the stepdaughter’s allegations that the defendant sexually assaulted her in the past and continued to regularly ask her for sexual favors. Defense lawyers fought to suppress the recordings during the initial trial, but their request was denied by the presiding judge.
What The Law Says
The state of Florida generally prohibits the recording of conversations without the agreement of all recorded individuals. It is a two party consent state, which means that both parties must agree to have the conversation recorded whenever there is an expectation of privacy. On appeal, the Supreme Court made the following determinations regarding the application of the law:
- The contents of an improperly recorded conversation cannot be used as evidence within a court of law;
- None of the law’s exceptions are relevant to this case;
- None of the established exceptions allow the victim of a crime to intercept conversations;
- Creating a new exception is the responsibility of the legislature and not the courts; and
- The defendant’s expectation of privacy is reasonable and acceptable by society.
The Implications for this Case
The defendant in the case is currently in prison and he may remain incarcerated through the duration of the new trial. When it commences, the taped recordings will not be presented to the jury for consideration. The anticipated outcome is questionable, because there was reportedly no DNA or other physical evidence to support the allegations of the accused. Without the tapes, the prosecution might not secure another guilty verdict. This situation exemplifies the value of an experienced defense lawyer. The appeals process is challenging and it essentially starts before the initial trial even begins. Without the assistance of a capable lawyer, a defendant may inadvertently give up certain arguments for appeal.
If you or a loved one are facing serious criminal charges, our Florida lawyers can help. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at (305) 330-3905 for a confidential and free consultation.