In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant committed all the elements of the crime. Specifically, the prosecution has the burden to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case recently heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the court reversed a conviction after the prosecution was found to have impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to the defendant. Your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you understand exactly what the court needs to prove in your situation.
Facts of the Robbery
A woman was walking home from the grocery store when she was hit from behind. She turned around and was hit again. The man who hit her took her cell phone and ran off. A couple of weeks later when she was walking home from her son’s school, the woman saw the man that she believes robbed her. The defendant in this case testified that he was at school in band practice when the assault happened.
During the trial the prosecutor cross examined the defendant about his whereabouts on the day in question. The prosecuting attorney asked whether the band director was there to testify or whether any of the defendant’s band friends were there to testify that the defendant was in band. The defendant answered that they were not in the courtroom that day. The defense attorney objected, stating that this line of questioning shifted the burden of proof. However, the trial judge overruled the objection. Now the appeals court holds that the judge erred by overruling the objection.
Shifting the Burden
The court’s reasoning in this case was based on previous case law. The previous cases held that prosecutors using similar lines of questioning improperly shifted the burden of proof, because it may lead the jury to believe that the defendant has a duty to produce exculpatory evidence. The court in this case ordered a new trial because they found this error to be a potentially harmful one.
In this case, the only evidence was the victim’s testimony identifying her alleged attacker. Even that evidence had some inconsistencies though as the defendant does not have “spotted or stained” skin as the victim stated her attacker did. The appeals court stated that they could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the improper questioning did not affect the verdict. In other words, without the improper questions the judge may have not found the defendant guilty.
The court also held that it did not matter that this case was heard by a judge and not a jury. They quotes case law from the Florida Supreme Court that explained that the assumption is that the judge relies on all the evidence that they have found admissible. Further, if there is a piece of supposedly admissible evidence that the judge discarded they need to specifically state that on the record. Thus, this case was reversed and remanded back to the lower court for a new hearing.
Contact an Experienced Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney Today!
If you don’t have a skilled criminal defense attorney on your side, they may not notice when the prosecutor and judge make mistakes like this one. The attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm have experience in criminal law and will fight on your behalf to make sure that your rights are protected. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys today.
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