Florida Court Shoots Down “First Complaint” Exception in Sexual Battery Case – Browne v. State

Sexual battery and assault cases are serious matters that should be investigated and prosecuted as such. That’s why it’s so important that both the applicable criminal laws and the evidentiary rules as to how they are enforced be followed strictly. In Browne v. State, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains one such rule – the general prohibition on hearsay evidence.

Dr. Browne, a physician, was charged with attempted sexual battery stemming from an incident in which he allegedly forced himself on a female college student. According to the Court, the victim had been shadowing Browne while studying to work in the field and the incident occurred in Browne’s car one evening after the two went to dinner. The victim claimed that Browne pushed up against her and began kissing her, despite her protests, and later exposed his penis and ejaculated. Browne then allegedly let the victim leave in her car, but began following her and made two calls to her cell phone. The victim later said that she went to a friend’s house immediately after the incident because she was shook up and nervous about being followed.

At trial, the prosecution introduced as evidence a recorded “controlled call” in which the victim confronted Browne about his behavior. After the victim made clear that she didn’t want him to force himself on her, Browne apologized and said he would “make sure it doesn’t happen again,” according to the Court. He also said “I didn’t listen to you, you know, and it all happened.” Browne later claimed that the encounter was consensual.

Over Browne’s objection, the trial court allowed prosecutors to question the victim’s friend about what the victim told her had happened when the victim arrived at the friend’s house on the night in question. According to the friend, the victim told her that Browne had pinned her down in the passenger seat of his car and forcibly kissed her, among other sexual behavior. Browne was ultimately convicted on the sexual battery charge.

Reversing the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial judge should not have allowed the friend to testify about what the victim said to her. “Hearsay” is a statement offered at trial by a person other than the one who made the statement and offered in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Although hearsay is generally inadmissible, there are a number of exceptions to this rule, including one for “excited utterances.”

The prosecution argued that the friend’s testimony fell under a separate “first complaint” exception to the hearsay rule available in sexual battery cases. They cited the Florida Supreme Court’s 1953 decision in Irvin v. State for the exception. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a sexual battery victim’s complaint about the crime is not inadmissible hearsay if made at the first possible moment that the victim had to make the complaint.

But the Fourth District said the “first complaint” and some other exceptions to the hearsay rule were eliminated when the state adopted a federal evidence code. The Court said it could only acknowledge those hearsay exceptions specifically identified in the evidence code. “The Irvin case was decided in 1953, before the adoption of the Florida Evidence Code in 1976,” the Court explained. “Furthermore, no provision of the Florida Evidence Code has specifically authorized the ‘first complaint’ exception to the hearsay rule, as set forth in section.”

If you or a loved one are facing a criminal charge in Florida, it is vital that you seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can aggressively defend your rights and interests. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have decades of experience handling gun possession cases and will work tirelessly to get your charges dismissed or reduced.

Related blog posts:

The Hearsay Rule and Corpus Delicti in Florida Criminal Cases – J.B. v. State

Florida Court OKs Evidence of Prostitution by Victim in Sexual Assault Case – Harrell v. State

Florida Court Prohibits Evidence of Previous Domestic Violence in Rape Case Against Boyfriend – Harden v. State