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Collateral Crime Evidence in Florida Criminal Cases

Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, like the Federal Rules, allow for the introduction of collateral crime evidence against the defendant at trial; “when it is relevant to prove a material fact at issue, including but not limited to prove motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence mistake or accident, but it is inadmissible when the evidence is relevant solely to prove bad character or propensity.” Fla. Stat. 90.404(2) (a). The criminal cases that practicing criminal trial lawyers find this issue of collateral crimes most often popping up is in child sex crimes and violent crimes.

The general rule of collateral crimes has been modified in Florida, when the defendant is charged with a crime involving child molestation. In criminal cases of child molestation, “prosecutor may set forth evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts of child molestation to the jury for their consideration on any matter which it is relevant.” See Fla. Stat. 90.404(2) (b) (1). These presumptions about a defendant’s prior incident are very nasty and have come under much scrutiny, by the Appellate Courts, through the years.

The scrutiny by the Appellate courts, many times focus their policy and argument towards the preconceived notion created by the presumption of guilt, contained within the “presumptions of prior crimes” that run amuck with the “presumption of innocence” contained within the Florida and United States Constitutions, which is afford to every criminal defendant, as they stand trial and answer the government’s charges or indictment.

In Florida, the trend of the Appellate courts is to only allow the “collateral crime” presumptions, when it is corroborated by the testimony of a witnesses, other than the defendant. An example likely becomes the testimony of the victim, when collateral crime evidence is allowed.

Like in McLean v. State, the Florida Supreme Court reasoned that under the applicable statute and its language it is constitutional for the admission of collateral crime evidence to be presented to the jury, when used to corroborate the victim’s evidence, but not to prove the identity of the defendant. 934 So. 2d 1248 (Fla. 2006). Additionally, “collateral crime” evidence must be proven by clear and convincing evidence, by the State Prosecutor before it can be admitted into the trial; and should not become the “feature” of the trial in gaining a conviction of the defendant. See McLean pgs. 1251-1256.

Lastly, the trial court must always determine whether or not the collateral crime evidence presented by the prosecution is unfairly prejudices and thus, outweighs the defendant’s right to a fair trial. This is a balancing test the trial court must make, before it admits the collateral crime testimony. And has been the Florida trend, a ripe area for appeal.

With the above principles of law in mind, and knowing that most prosecutors will do anything to gain a conviction, the Appellate courts have been closely scrutinizing all collateral crime cases for error. The 4th District Court of Appeal, serving as the immediate Appellate Court for Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee Counties just again handed down a decision that not only smacked the judge for his lack of legal knowledge but also spanked the Assistant State Attorney for their abusive behavior during a child molestation trial.

In Jose Luis Lopez v. State of Florida, the 4th DCA on May 6, 2015 in case number 4-D-13 1859, specifically held that the trial court improperly provided the jury with wrong instructions for deliberation as to collateral crimes; and that the prosecutor stepped across the line of civility and court standards by calling the defendant a “child molester” throughout the trial. The appellate court overturned the jury’s verdict and sent the case back for re-trial.

The reasoning of the appellate court in Lopez, is simply that these types of cases, child molestation issues, are very emotional to begin with and when you have judicial error during jury instruction, as to collateral crime evidence being improperly allowed; coupled with a prosecutor whose actions of calling a presumed innocent man a “child molester” during his trial, simply prejudice the accused right to a fair trial. Therefore, the case must be overturned and a re-trial ordered.

The prosecutor’s behavior of calling the defendant a “child molester” over and over again, coupled with the collateral crime evidence of prior wrongs or bad acts by the defendant unlawfully allowed by the trial judge, was to paint the accused as a leopard whose spots will never change and thus, he must be guilty! Prosecutors and Assistant State Attorneys who move on to private practice in criminal defense are truly the leopards, and like this prosecutor in Martin County, should never be trusted to defend anyone accused of a crime, because they have been truly tainted with the presumption that the accused is guilty as oppose to innocent and are the true leopards!

If you or a loved one has been arrested, indicted, or is accused of any crime in West Palm Beach, FL or throughout South Florida telephone Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine, at 561 832 1170. Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer Andrew D. Stine has always defended those accused of crimes and has never sat at the prosecutors table. Since the 1990’s serving as an intern in Pennsylvania and then as a clerk and intern in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office, Attorney Andrew D. Stine has always stood up for those facing criminal prosecution. Let West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer, Andrew D. Stine, stand between you and the government, when you or a loved one are facing prosecution! Hire Stine or Do the Time!

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