Florida Court Clarifies Evidentiary Standards in Supervised Release Revocation Hearings

Florida law sets forth the evidentiary standards that apply in both criminal and civil proceedings. An important rule of evidence that is often invoked is the prohibition of hearsay evidence at a criminal trial. The standards applicable at a criminal trial may not be the same as those that apply at a supervised release revocation hearing, however.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District of Florida recently clarified this issue, in a case where the defendant appealed the revocation of his supervised release, arguing that the state improperly relied on hearsay evidence in obtaining the revocation.  If you are a Clearwater resident currently facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to retain a seasoned Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you formulate a defense.

Prior Conviction and Subsequent Alleged Violation 

Allegedly, in 2009, the defendant pled guilty to possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense and was sentenced to 111 months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release. His supervised release began in 2016. Approximately one year later, the district attorney sought a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, alleging he violated the terms of his supervised release by committing a multitude of crimes, including aggravated battery.

Revocation Hearing

The state indicated it intended to produce three witnesses at the revocation hearing; the reported victim, the officer who responded to the call and interviewed the victim, and the defendant’s probation officer, who also interviewed the victim. The officer who responded to the call testified that the victim said a man named T.J. assaulted him, which the defendant’s attorney objected to as hearsay. The officer also testified that a composite sketch later revealed that T.J. was the defendant. The defendant’s probation officer also testified that the victim told her that T.J. assaulted him, which the defendant’s attorney objected to as hearsay as well. Lastly, the victim testified that the defendant attacked him and took his cell phone and car keys from his car.

Following the hearing, the court found that the defendant violated the terms of his release and sentenced him to 51 months’ imprisonment. The defendant appealed, arguing the state violated his due process rights by admitting hearsay testimony. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Evidentiary Standards for Parole Hearings

The court noted that a district court may withdraw supervised release if it finds the majority of the evidence indicates that a defendant violated the terms of his or her release. The court stated that although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to hearings to determine whether the supervised release should be revoked, hearsay testimony is not automatically admitted. At such a hearing, the defendant is entitled to certain rights, such as the right to confront witnesses. Thus, a court weighing whether to admit hearsay testimony must balance the defendant’s right to question a witness with the grounds set forth by the state for denying confrontation. If a court fails to conduct a balancing test, it constitutes an error. The court noted, however, that if the evidence indicates a violation of the terms of release, the failure to engage in a balancing test is harmless.

Here, the court found that the officers’ testimony did not constitute hearsay, because the victim was at the hearing and was cross-examined. As such, the court found that the statements set forth by the police were prior consistent statements. Further, because the witness was present at the hearing and was cross-examined, the balancing test for weighing hearsay evidence against the state’s reasoning for not producing the witness was not required.

Consult a Seasoned Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

If you live in Clearwater and are facing criminal charges, you should consult a seasoned criminal defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and develop a plan for your defense.  William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you try to retain your rights. Call our offices at 727-897-5413 or contact us through the online form to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Explains Independent Act Doctrine December 17, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Court in Florida Looks at Probation Violations when Affidavit is Missing November 12, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Court in Florida Looks At Probation Violations October 1, 2018, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

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