Prejudicial Police Testimony Deemed Harmless Error in Florida Drug Case

In a criminal trial, there is only certain evidence that a prosecutor is allowed to present in order to prove that the defendant is guilty. One kind of evidence that judges may exclude from trial is evidence that will prejudice the jury. In this context, that means that the jury will be predisposed to find the defendant guilty whether or not the evidence is sufficient to prove guilt. This helps protect the defendant from being found guilty due to assumptions about the kind of person the defendant is, rather than their actual actions.Some evidence that is in danger of being prejudicial may be excluded before trial. For example, a previous alleged victim of the defendant can be barred from testifying. However, when the trial is happening sometimes things will happen in the moment. During the trial, sometimes a witness may say something prejudicial before the judge stops them. What happens then?

One option is for the judge to declare a mistrial. In Florida, if there is a reasonable possibility that prejudicial testimony influenced a guilty verdict, the defendant may be granted a new trial. There are many complicated rules about which evidence is and is not allowed into a criminal trial. That is why it is so important to contact a skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you or a loved one have been charged with a crime.

Facts of the Case

In this case, the defendant was accused of several drug crimes. At the trial, a police officer testified for the prosecution. During questioning, the police officer mentioned that he knew the defendant and “a lot” of the residents who lived in the area where the defendant lived. At the time, the defense attorney asked for a mistrial. The judge denied the request, and the defendant was subsequently found guilty. Based on this issue, the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida heard this appeal.

The defense argued that the police officer’s testimony was prejudicial and that the defendant should be given a new trial. They claimed that the police officer’s testimony could have led the jury to believe that the defendant had an extensive criminal record. Courts in Florida have overturned verdicts when police officers have testified in ways that led to a prejudicial inference of a criminal record. However, in order for this to be a reversible error, there has to be a reasonable possibility that the improper testimony affected the verdict.


The court here found for the prosecution. The majority held that the defendant was not entitled to a new trial for a couple of reasons. First, they found that the police officer’s allusion to knowing the defendant was a harmless error. The court explained that the defendant had admitted to selling drugs in a statement, so any inference by the jury of a prior criminal history would not have reasonably made a difference in their verdict. The majority also noted that the testimony of the police officer was not as harmful as the testimony in the cases that were later overturned. Thus, the appeals court upheld the verdict of the trial court.

Contact an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime in Florida, you should contact an experienced Clearwater drug crime attorney as soon as possible. Hanlon Law fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a crime. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our experienced attorneys about your case.

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