Taped phone conversations can go a long way in proving a state prosecutors’ case, but the discussions they reveal are often out of context, confusing and difficult to follow. That’s not to mention that they regularly include information that’s not relevant to the case and could even be prejudicial to the person charged with a crime. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained how judges way the value of such evidence against its possible prejudicial effect.
Defendant was charged with conspiracy to tamper with a victim, stemming from a recorded jail cell phone call between Defendant and his girlfriend. He was in jail at the time facing charges of molestation against a minor. During the phone call, Defendant asked his girlfriend to “get a hold of” the victim and “talk to her” and to “get a hold of” the victim’s mother “and let her know.” He also asked her to “let them know that somebody stole my phone” and to “call the investigator’s office tomorrow and find out who brought you that phone because you could go press charges on them.”
Prosecutors sought to enter a seven-minute clip of the 17-minute conversation as evidence at trial. They agreed, however, not to mention in court that Defendant was believed to have tampered in a molestation case. But Defendant’s attorney argued that entering the part of the conversation about the supposed stolen phone and in which he asked his girlfriend to contact investigators was irrelevant and prejudicial. He said it would allow the jury to speculate about the underlying charges in which he was charged with tampering.
The trial judge disagreed. Defendant was eventually convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison as a habitual offender.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the First District said the value of the evidence outweighed any prejudice to Defendant. It explained that Defendant had used another inmate’s calling card to make the phone call, so the tape initially identified him as the other inmate. The court said the part about the stolen phone was necessary because Defendant identified himself in that section of the tape.
“Jurors had no reason to speculate regarding underlying facts relating to a cell phone, and further redaction would have improperly prevented the State from presenting evidence establishing [Defendant’s] identity,” the court said.
As a result, the court upheld Defendant’s conviction.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in the state of Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg sex crime 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.
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