Can Police Officers Give Opinions About Your Statements in a Criminal Trial?
In any criminal trial, the jury is the “trier of fact.” This means it is up to the jury to listen to all of the testimony and decide if the prosecution has met its burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To help protect the jury’s role, there are a number of rules in place as to what the prosecution–and its witnesses–can and cannot say during the trial.
For example, the Florida Supreme Court has said that a witness cannot testify as to what they “believed” a defendant’s statements meant. Put another way, it is not up to a witness, such as a police officer, to give opinion testimony as to the defendant’s guilt. A witness may offer an interpretation of “coded words” that may have been used in the course of an alleged criminal act, but ultimately, it is up to the jury to decide on its own whether certain statements are incriminating or not.
Second District Orders New Trial for Man Charged with “Attempted Deriving Support from Prostitution
Indeed, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently ordered a new trial in a criminal case where a detective did offer such improper opinion testimony. In McSweeney v. State, a judge placed a defendant on probation for a number of charges related to drugs and prostitution. This case began when an undercover Orlando vice detective answered an advertisement on a website frequently used to promote sex trafficking.
A woman responded to the detective’s call. The two arranged to meet. The detective admitted at trial that they did not “speak specifically about sex,” but she indicated “her hour is a hundred,” which the detective interpreted as her price for sex. The woman later arrived at a motel room rented by the detective. The defendant was with her.
There was then a brief exchange between the defendant and the detective. The detective testified at trial that the defendant asked for additional money upfront. When the detective resisted, the defendant said, “Give me half, you feel me. She can go in and do her thing.” The detective still would not pay the money. The woman still went into the hotel room with the detective and was arrested for attempted prostitution. The defendant was also charged with “attempted deriving support from proceeds of prostitution.”
Testifying under defense cross-examination, the defendant admitted he never told the defendant “that he planned to have sex with [the woman] or that it was a prostitution.” On redirect, the prosecutor invited the detective to interpret what he thought the defendant’s statement, “She can go in and do her thing” meant. The detective said it meant “she can go in and have sex with me.”
The Second District said the trial judge erred in not sustaining the defense’s objection to this testimony. It was up to the jury to decide for itself what the defendant meant. This was not a case, the appeals court observed, where the detective was explaining a “code word” to the jury, such as the street name of a drug. As such, the defendant was entitled to a new trial.
Speak with a Miami State Crimes Defense Attorney Today
There are strict rules governing the admissibility of evidence in all criminal trials. These rules help ensure the defendant receives a fair trial. An experienced Miami criminal lawyer will make sure these rules are followed. If you are facing a state criminal charge and need legal assistance, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305.676.9545.
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