The Nuts and Bolts of Hearsay in the Tampa Criminal CourtsDavid C. Hardy
What Is Hearsay? How is Hearsay Defined in the Tampa Criminal Courts?
In Tampa, Florida criminal trials, the Florida Rules of Evidence apply. The Florida Rules of Evidence are laid out in Chapter 90 of the Florida Statutes.
One of the most important of Florida’s evidentiary rules deals with hearsay. Hearsay in court statements can be a deciding factor in a Tampa jury’s decision to acquit or convict a defendant.
Florida law defines hearsay as “a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” However, that definition is not so easy to understand. Think of it like this – if a witness in court testifies about something that they heard another person say, there could be a hearsay problem.
What Is An Example of Hearsay?
There are plenty of hearsay examples that help explain the subject. Let’s say that Mr. Snoopy is walking near the park, when he sees an ambulance headed toward the hospital with its lights and sirens activated. When Mr. Snoopy approaches Mr. Woodstock and asks him what happened, Mr. Woodstock answers: “That monster Lucy Van Pelt pulled a football away from poor Charlie Brown as he was trying to kick it, and Charlie Brown flew through the air and hurt his back.”
If Mr. Snoopy were called to testify at trial as to the cause of Mr. Brown’s back injury, his testimony would be hearsay, as it was not based on Mr. Snoopy’s personal observations, but rather what he heard Mr. Woodstock say.
Why is Hearsay Generally Inadmissible in the Tampa Criminal Courts?
The general rule is that hearsay evidence is not allowed at trial because the law considers it untrustworthy. That’s because it is difficult to test the accuracy of a witness’s statement unless that witness can be cross-examined. For example, using the example above, perhaps Mr. Woodstock previously dated Ms. Van Pelt but she ended the relationship, and Mr. Woodstock is still furious over the breakup. Mr. Woodstock might be falsely implicating Ms. Van Pelt out of spite and vengeance. If Mr. Snoopy testifies in the place of Mr. Woodstock, then Ms. Van Pelt’s attorney will never get to attack Mr. Woodstock’s statement as the lie of a bitter ex-boyfriend.
Similarly, perhaps Mr. Woodstock had been drinking beer at the park all day, and that all the beer made his vision blurry. In this case, Mr. Woodstock may think he is telling the truth but might be mistaken due to his drunkenness. If Mr. Snoopy testifies in the place of Mr. Woodstock, then Ms. Van Pelt’s attorney will never get to attack Mr. Woodstock’s statement as a misperception caused by excessive beer drinking.
What is the Excited Utterance Exception? How is it Applied in the Tampa Criminal Courts?
There are, however, many exceptions to the hearsay rule. For example, there is an exception to the hearsay rule called the “Excited Utterance Exception.” The Excited Utterance Exception applies to a statement about a startling event, made while the person making the statement was still under the excitement of the startling event.
The idea behind the Excited Utterance Exception is that when an event is startling, that the person making a statement is so surprised that they don’t have time to think about what they witnessed so that the statement is less likely to be a lie. The problem with the Excited Utterance Exception is that although the statement may not be a lie, the statement could still be untrue because the person making the statement might be mistaken.
For example, let’s suppose that Mr. Snoopy was present at the park, but that he was sitting on a bench texting on his iPhone. Suddenly, he hears Mr. Brown scream, then he hears a thump, and then he hears Mr. Woodstock scream out: “That monster Lucy Van Pelt pulled a football away from poor Charlie Brown as he was trying to kick it, and Charlie Brown flew through the air hurt his back.” When Mr. Snoopy looks up from his iPhone, he sees Mr. Brown lying flat on his back, and Ms. Van Pelt walking away.
If Mr. Brown’s attorney can prove to the judge that the Mr. Van Pelt’s pulling the football away and Mr. Brown flying through the air was a sufficiently startling event to Mr. Woodstock and that Mr. Woodstock was still under the influence of that startling event, then the Judge may allow Mr. Brown to testify as to what he heard Mr. Woodstock say. The idea is that Mr. Woodstock, even if he hates Ms. Van Pelt, would not have had time to think up a lie about her.
However, as stated above, the Excited Utterance Exception’s weakness is that although Mr. Woodstock might have actually believed that Ms. Van Pelt pulled the football away, it’s possible that Mr. Woodstock was just plain wrong – in our example, perhaps because he was so drunk that he could not tell the difference between Ms. Van Pelt and Ms. Peppermint Patty.
Are You Looking for An Expert Hearsay Attorney In Tampa Florida?
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime such as hearsay in Tampa, Florida, contact Attorney David C. Hardy.
Attorney David Hardy specializes in Tampa criminal defense and is a former prosecutor. He now represents persons accused of crimes in both Tampa state and Tampa federal courts. Attorney Hardy is Board Certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as an Expert in Criminal Trial Law. Fewer that one percent of all Florida attorneys are board certified in criminal trial law.