If you watch enough TV cop-and-lawyer shows, then you’ve likely heard one or more of the police characters talk about “the right to remain silent,” and the lawyer characters speak about “hearsay.” That’s because these are legitimately very big deals. If a piece of prosecution evidence qualifies as hearsay, then it is probably not going to be admissible under the rules of evidence. Similarly, if the police improperly coaxed a statement out of you after you invoked your right to remain silent, then the potentially incriminating things you said after invoking your rights may also be excluded. A skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney has extensive experience in making – and winning – these kinds of arguments on behalf of the accused.
These issues of hearsay evidence and improper police questioning were on display in a recent felony case from Charlotte County. According to a 911 call, the alleged victim (who was also J.T.’s ex-girlfriend) was hiding from J.T. inside a camper when J.T. decided to hitch the camper to his vehicle and start driving it down a rural Charlotte County road.
Law enforcement caught up to J.T., and the alleged victim told the officers that J.T. had sent her threatening text messages. A detective reviewed the messages on the alleged victim’s phone.
Officers doggedly tried to get J.T. to give a statement, telling him they would “love to hear” his “side” of the story. Before saying anything incriminating, J.T. stated, “I don’t got nothing to say to y’all.” Later, in response to a question about whether he’d like to give his “side of the story,” J.T. flatly said, “No, sir.” Later still, J.T. told law enforcement that “I have nothing to say, sir.”
The detectives kept questioning J.T., though, eventually coaxing a statement, parts of which the prosecution used in J.T.’s trial on kidnapping and attempted arson charges. Also, part of the state’s case was testimony from the detective who looked at the alleged victim’s phone. That detective testified that the alleged victim had received threatening text messages and that they came from J.T.
J.T. was convicted but later got that conviction overturned and was granted a new trial.
The accused’s statement to police wasn’t admissible because the police violated J.T.’s right to remain silent. One of the most important things to know about your right to remain silent is that you can invoke it at any time and, once you’ve meaningfully invoked your rights, the police are required to stop questioning you. You can waive your right to remain silent, talk to the police for a while and then later say, “I refuse to say anything else,” and the police have to stop.
Invoking his rights with ‘sufficient clarity’
In J.T.’s case, he did initially waive his rights, which meant that the detective was acting permissibly to start questioning him. J.T., though, later told police three times he didn’t want to give his side of the story. He also told them, “I don’t got nothing to say” and “I have nothing to say.” These clear statements by J.T. “constituted an unequivocal and clear indication that [he] did not wish to talk to the detectives about the offenses and that he wished to invoke his right to remain silent.”
At that point, the detectives were required to stop questioning J.T. They didn’t, and that made the subsequent statements J.T. made inadmissible due to the Fifth Amendment violation.
The testimony from the detective who testified about the text messages on the alleged victim’s phone was also improperly allowed before the jury. Hearsay evidence generally isn’t admissible unless it falls within one or more of the exceptions carved out by the law. Here, when the detective testified about reading on the phone texts from J.T. threatening to burn the alleged victim alive and telling the alleged victim to say “hello” to her deceased grandmother, that was hearsay. None of the law’s exceptions applied, so the trial judge should have granted the defense’s request to exclude the detective’s testimony.
To get justice, you must receive a trial in which the only evidence the jury considers is legally admissible evidence. One way you can reduce your odds of having to face evidence that should have been excluded, and thereby enhance your chances of a fair trial in your violent crime case, is to have a skilled legal advocate representing you. Count on the diligent and knowledgeable at Blake & Dorsten P.A. to provide you with that sort of effective legal representation. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.