Posted On: January 22, 2012 by Jim Jenkins

Hearsay Statements offered to Explain Subsequent Conduct

In Walker v. State, the Florida Second District Court of Appeals issued an opinion on January 20, 2012, reversing a conviction in a case involving very serious charges because the trial court had allowed the prosecution to admit "hearsay" statements pertaining to why law enforcement officers developed Mr. Walker as a suspect. Hearsay is definined in Florida as an out of court statement offered in court for the truth of the matter asserted. There are certain exceptions that allows hearsay to be admitted such as when a statement is made spontaneously or in an excited fashion. The policy for allowing hearsay is determined by whether the statement is made under circumstances where it is reliable. On the other hand, the reason why it is generally not admissible is because it gives the accused no opportunity to confront the witness making the statement in violation of confrontation clause of the U.S. Constitution. To not allow someone accused to cross exam the witness making the statement, the accused would not have the ability to challenge the credibility or motivation of the witness for the statement.

The Florida appeals court held specificially: “[I]t is impermissible for the State to have the benefit of statements from mystery witnesses or sources without the defendant having the right of confrontation and cross-examination.” Keen v. State, 775 So. 2d 263, 273 (Fla. 2000). To come within this rule, the testifying witness need not repeat the exact statements of the mystery witnesses or sources but need only give testimony from which such statements may be inferred. Wilding v. State, 674 So. 2d 114, 119 (Fla. 1996). Where the inference from a statement of a mystery witness is that the witness has furnished evidence of the defendant's guilt, the testimony is hearsay and violates the defendant's right of confrontation. Id.

The Florida Supreme Court has rejected the argument that such statements are admissible to explain the police investigation or to establish a sequence of events. Keen, 775 So. 2d at 271. “ ‘[T]he prejudice of out-of-court statements used to relate accusatory information but offered simply to establish the logical sequence of events outweighs the probative value of such evidence, rendering it inadmissible.' ” Id. (quoting Caruso v. State, 645 So. 2d 389, 395 (Fla. 1994)).

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