A Florida man who was sentenced to four decades behind bars when he was 14 years old is getting a new chance at freedom after a recent decision from the Second District Court of Appeal.
Defendant was charged with first degree murder, stemming from an alleged 2010 robbery. One man was shot and three others were robbed during the incident. Witnesses told police officers the perpetrator—who made off with only a few dollars—was wearing a dark bandanna, possibly black, and carrying a black bag. Defendant went to a local police station two days later and confessed to the shooting. He said, however, that he didn’t rob the men and was simply acting in self-defense. Police officers later found a black bag with gun residue in it in Defendant’s home.
Defendant changed his story before trial. He said he was taking the blame for an older friend who committed the robbery and shot the man. The friend talked Defendant into making the false confession and even walked him to the police station, according to Defendant. But a neighborhood man testified at trial that he saw and briefly spoke with a person wearing a red bandana and carrying a black bag shortly after the shooting and near the place where the crime happened. The man wasn’t able to identify the person, but he said he was certain that it wasn’t the friend that Defendant said committed the crime. The man said he knew the friend, and was sure that he would have recognized the friend’s voice.
The trial court denied Defendant’s request to offer testimony from another man, who said the friend confessed to committing the murder one night while the two were in a bar. The friend also allegedly told the witness that he and his aunt had talked Defendant into taking the blame. Because the judge didn’t allow him to call the witness to testify, Defendant’s lawyer also decided not to call the friend to testify. As a result, the Second District said the judge’s decision effectively denied Defendant his right to a fair trial.
“The defense should be allowed to call [the friend] as a witness and impeach him with his statements because they are central to the defense theory,” the court said.
The court further explained that the out-of-court statements that the friend allegedly made to the witness were likely hearsay, which is generally inadmissible. Hearsay refers to out of court statements offered at trial to try to prove what was said in the statement. Still, “a trial judge may be required to admit a third-party confession under constitutional principles, even if it does not qualify” as one of several specific exceptions to the hearsay rule. In this case, the court found that the bar discussion appeared to be spontaneous and could be sufficiently corroborated to at least be considered at trial.
As a result, the court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of crimes. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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