In a case recently heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, a defendant who was convicted of first degree murder with a firearm appealed his case. His argument rests on his contention that he should have been able to speak directly with his attorney during a ten-minute break between his direct testimony and being cross-examined by the prosecutor. The assistance of counsel is an integral part of the American justice system. In fact, this right is so fundamental that defendants who are not able to afford attorney will have one provided for them. However, defendants can still use their own skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney if they so choose.
Evidence at Trial
During the trial, the evidence showed that the defendant had called 911 from a hotel room where the victim was lying dead with gunshot wounds. Analysis from the crime lab showed that the deadly shot had come from the defendant’s firearm. Initially, the defendant claimed that the woman had shot herself. During a later part of the videotaped interview, he changed his story and said that he the victim after voices from the TV commanded him to kill her. He explained that he lied at first because he was worried about going to prison.
During the trial, the prosecution played the video of the defendant’s police interview. Then the defendant testified on his own behalf. In his testimony he explained that he did shoot the victim, but that it was an accident. He said that they tussled and the gun went off. He said that he gave different stories before because he thought that the police would not believe him if he told this story. During his testimony the defendant stated that he had “never been in trouble before.”
The court held a sidebar and the prosecutor argued that the defendant had opened the door to his prior arrests. The court told the defense attorney to “clean it up” because the defendant lied and the defense attorney said he would come back to it. The issue was never brought up again. After the defendant was finished testifying on direct, but before cross-examination, the court asked to take a ten minute break. The judge told the defendant not to speak to anyone, including his attorney. After the judge resumed court the defense attorney entered an objection to not being able to speak with their client. The defendant was later found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison with a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence.
Defendant’s Argument on Appeal
In this appeal, the defendant is arguing that he should have his conviction reversed because the judge denied him the ability to meet with his counsel during the recess. The state agrees that it was error, but believes the error was harmless and this court agreed.
It is clear that Florida law gives defendants the right to meet with their attorney during recess, including when they are on the stand. Even though the judge erred at the original trial, this court holds that the error was harmless. The court states that there was no reasonable possibility that meeting with counsel would have changed the verdict in any way, thus the defendant’s conviction was upheld.
Contact an Experienced St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Today
The St. Petersburg violent crimes criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm zealously and knowledgeably defend clients charged with a crime. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our skilled attorneys about your case.
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