Can Prosecutors Introduce Evidence of My Alleged “Prior Bad Acts” at My Criminal Trial?
If you are tried for a crime in Florida, the prosecution is generally banned from introducing any evidence that is solely designed to paint you as a “bad character” to the jury. In other words, most evidence regarding your “prior bad acts” are inadmissible, unless those acts are similar to the one you are on trial for, and they occurred in reasonably close proximity to each other.
Second District Reverses Sex Crimes Conviction After Prosecution Relies on Inadmissible Testimony
A Florida appeals court recently reversed the sex crimes conviction of a Polk County man precisely because the prosecution improperly relied upon such inadmissible character evidence. The defendant worked as a school custodian. Prosecutors alleged that one day, the defendant engaged in illegal “lascivious conduct” with a child by rubbing a kindergarten student’s leg “up towards her thigh and under her skirt.”
At trial, the prosecution called the school’s principal as a witness. The principal testified that several months prior to the incident alleged above, the defendant had been seen “hugging some students and sitting down at the lunch table with some students.” The principal then had a conversation with the defendant, instructing him not to “interact so much with the students.” The principal had a second conversation a few weeks later, this time ordering the defendant “not to interact with the students at all.” The principal clarified, however, that these were “informal” conversations and he had not observed the plaintiff engaging in the same sort of conduct as he was now on trial for.
The defendant’s attorney objected to the principal’s testimony, arguing it was an attempt to introduce inadmissible character evidence unrelated to the actual charges. The judge overruled the defense’s objection. The prosecution went on to introduce additional witnesses regarding these alleged prior acts–and even referred to such evidence in their closing statements. The jury proceeded to find the defendant guilty and sentence him to 15 years in prison.
The Florida Second District Court of Appeal, however, agreed with the defense that none of this testimony should have ever made it before the jury. The principal’s prior concerns related to acts that occurred “two to three months” before the incident charged in the indictment. More to the point, they involved acts “completely dissimilar from the charged crime.” And the fact the prosecutor referred to the principal’s prior warnings during closing only compounded the legal error, the appeals court said. Whatever “probative value” this evidence may have had, it was “outweighed by the prejudicial effect” on the jury.
Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Prosecutors often try to make a criminal case about the defendant’s character rather than the actual charges before the court. As the decision above illustrates, this is both unfair and unconstitutional. No matter the charge, you have the right to a fair trial that complies with the well-established rules for the admission of evidence.
If you have been charged with a felony and need representation from an experienced Miami criminal attorney, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today at 305.676.9545.