There are very specific rules about which kinds of evidence can be presented to the jury during a criminal case. If evidence is admitted that should not be, the evidence can be suppressed. If evidence crucial to the prosecution’s case is deemed to be inadmissible, the charges may be thrown out. Evidence that is admitted, but is later found to be improper, may result in the conviction being thrown out as long as it meets certain criteria. It is important to have a skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney working on your case to make sure that any improper evidence is not admitted.
Chain of Custody
The chain of custody refers to the handling of evidence. In order to help authenticate evidence as being genuine, anyone who had access to or custody of the evidence should offer a sworn statement about their possession and handling of the evidence. Florida law requires that evidence be authenticated before it can be admitted. However, the threshold for this evidence is “relatively low.” All that is required is a prima facie showing that the evidence is authentic. In other words, almost any direct or circumstantial evidence can be used to show that the evidence is authentic.
Facts of the Case
Here, the defendant was charged with murder, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and arson. The police spoke with the person who drove the defendants to the home where the crimes occurred, and she identified them. The police also found evidence in the defendant’s home, including a bloodstained jacket with the victim’s DNA on it. The driver of the vehicle also testified against the defendant.
When someone is arrested and booked into jail, their personal belongings are collected and stored. At the time the defendant was brought to jail, his wallet and shoes were taken from him. Both of those items had blood on them. While no one could testify that they were the ones who removed the items from the victim, the wallet did have the defendant’s identification in it. This evidence was offered during trial.
Consideration by the Appeals Court
On appeal, the defendant argued that it was an error for the wallet and shoes to be admitted because the chain of custody was flawed. He stated that the state did not meet their burden of making a prima facie case of authenticity. The Florida First District Court of Appeal held that this argument was irrelevant. In order for chain of custody issues to be relevant, there must be some kind of evidence that the items were tampered with or inauthentic. In other words, without a reasonable suspicion of some kind of irregularity, the state has no affirmative burden to prove authenticity.
Here, the wallet had the defendant’s identification and credit cards in it, which the appeals court found was enough to make a prima facie case of authenticity. The state also had testimony from a police officer, who said he removed the defendant’s shoes but forgot to write it down on the receipt. Furthermore, the appeals court stated that even if the evidence was improperly admitted, it would have been a harmless error. They reasoned that the state had plenty of evidence, and it would not have changed the outcome if this evidence was not admitted.
Contact An Experienced St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one has been charged with a violent crime, you should contact a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Hanlon Law, we fight aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a crime. Contact us online to speak with us about your case, or call our offices at (727) 897-5413.
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