When you’ve been accused of a crime, there are several things that can potentially make the prosecution’s case much weaker and your defense position much stronger. One of those is compelling evidence that the alleged victim or another of the state’s key witnesses has a very real reason to lie about you on the stand. If that’s a factor in your case, you need to make sure you have a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney advocating for you because the difference between getting an acquittal versus a conviction may rest on whether or not you get that evidence of bias before the jury.
Although there are limits to the evidence of bias you can use, the law generally gives you wide latitude in presenting this part of your defense. Recently, a man from Hillsborough County, V. A.-C., was on trial for sexual battery and believed he had strong evidence of bias. The man lived with several other people, including V. A.-C.’s girlfriend, the girlfriend’s sister and the sister’s boyfriend. The sister was also the alleged victim of the sexual battery.
At his trial, the accused man sought to put his girlfriend on the stand to testify about the accuser’s bias. The accuser had a former husband who had been jailed and later deported based on an allegation of sexual battery made by the daughter of V. A.-C.’s girlfriend. The accused man’s theory was that his accuser was bitter about that deportation and developed resentment and bias against her sister (a/k/a V. A.-C.’s girlfriend) and, by extension, V. A.-C as well.
Sounds pretty persuasive, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the trial judge said that V. A.-C. couldn’t use it. Fortunately for this man, that wasn’t the end of the story.
Florida law gives criminal defendants a lot of latitude when it comes to bringing in proof of a witness’s biases. Basically, you can use most anything that points to a “motivation to testify untruthfully.” One thing that is not allowed, however, is evidence of a “specific instance of misconduct.”
What is and isn’t a ‘specific instance of misconduct’
According to a recent ruling from the Second District Court of Appeal, V. A.-C.’s bias evidence should have been allowed. The “specific instance of misconduct” exception covers things like a witness’s prior bad act. So, hypothetically, if V. A.-C. had wanted to use an instance from three years ago where the accuser told police another man attempted to rape her, but she later admitted the allegation was false, that would be a “prior bad act” and a “specific instance of misconduct,” which would not have been admissible as proof of bias.
That, as the appeals court noticed, was not what V. A.-C. was doing. He was not using the past incident with the accuser’s husband as a specific instance where the accuser engaged in any kind of bad act; rather, his theory was that a bad thing happened due to (what the accuser believed was) another person’s dishonesty, and the results of that incident led the accuser to develop a bias against a group of people, of which V. A.-C. was one. That, by contrast, is well within the bounds of what Florida law allows when it comes to proof of a witness’s bias.
Putting on a strong criminal defense case involves many things. It may involve proof that you didn’t do the crime alleged. It may also involve evidence that the witnesses accusing you simply aren’t believable. Whatever evidence your sexual assault or other criminal case requires, you need a skillful advocate to obtain that evidence, to get it before the jury and to use it to its maximum effect. Rely on the knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. to be that sort of powerful and effective advocate for you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.