Confidential informant evidence can make or break a criminal case in Florida. This evidence often includes secretly taped conversations between an informant and a person charged with a crime. Although there are a number of safeguards and defenses available to a person who is caught on tape talking about a potential crime, a recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal shows that such evidence may very well be admissible in court.A defendant was charged with a number of criminal offenses related to an armed burglary in a recreational vehicle park. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant and another man tried to rob a couple (Husband and Wife) for whom the defendant worked. The wife told the cops that two men – one of whom she recognized as the defendant – accosted her outside the couple’s RV. She said the other man hit her multiple times with a gun and demanded that she tell him where the couple kept their jewelry. The other man caught her and forced her to lie on the ground when the woman attempted to run away. Meanwhile, the defendant went back to the couple’s home, where a fight ensued with the husband. At some point, the husband chased the defendant back to the community entrance, where both of them fled the scene without any of the couple’s jewelry.
Police apprehended the defendant later the same day. He told the cops that the defendant and he had planned to go to the RV park to steal the victim’s Segway. He claimed he didn’t know that the other man had a gun until he took out the weapon and told the defendant they were going to take the jewelry. A police informant who first met the two men in jail approached the cops with information about the crime and later agreed to tape a conversation with the defendant. That conversation – which took place while both men were in a car, using drugs – was later played for the jury. In it, the defendant described participating in the burglary, according to the court. He was convicted, classified as a habitual offender, and sentenced to life in prison.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court properly allowed the defendant’s taped conversation with the confidential informant to be introduced as evidence. The court rejected his claim that the use of the tape violated his constitutional right to an attorney because the cops didn’t tell him that he had the right to a lawyer before the informant taped the conversation. Although statements made to an informant in jail may be covered by the right to counsel, the court noted that the defendant “was not in custody nor had he even been arrested for the charges when he confessed.”