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

In J.B. v. State, The Fourth District Court of Appeals explains two important protections for criminal defendants in Florida: the hearsay rule and the corpus delicti requirement.

J.B., a juvenile, was arrested and charged with the theft of “fashion jewelry” from a Florida JCPenney store following an incident in which she allegedly put a bracelet on her wrist and left the store without paying for it. A security guard allegedly saw the theft occur and, along with another security guard, approached her and brought her back to the store. The guards then called the police and an officer later arrived on the scene and arrested J.B.

Neither the store manager nor the one security guard who allegedly witnessed J.B. steal the bracelet were still employed at the store at the time trial rolled around, and neither individual testified as witnesses during the proceedings. Instead, the second security guard, who didn’t actually observe the alleged theft, testified that he joined the other guard to apprehend J.B. after the other guard told him that J.B. had put a bracelet on her wrist and left the store.

The prosecution also attempted to introduce as evidence an “acknowledgment of guilt” form that the other guard completed and signed after returning to the store with J.B. On cross-examination, the testifying guard admitted that J.B. didn’t sign the form and that he couldn’t recall the circumstances surrounding the drafting and signing of the form.

J.B. argued that the “acknowledgement” form was inadmissible because there was no evidence, other than hearsay, to show that she actually committed the theft. The trial court overruled the objection. She was later convicted of petit theft.

Reversing the decision on appeal, the Fourth District found that the security guard’s testimony was hearsay and that the “acknowledgement form” should not have been admitted as evidence because there was nothing showing that she had actually committed the crime. “The store officer’s recitation of his co-worker’s statement that J.B. took the store bracelet is classic hearsay,” the Court explained.

In legal terms, “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. Here, the security officer relayed his colleague’s statement that J.B. had stolen the bracelet. The prosecution offered the statement to prove that J.B. had stolen the bracelet. As a result, the court deemed the testimony inadmissible hearsay.

That meant that the “acknowledgement form” was also inadmissible, according to the Court. Under Florida law, “[t]he state must present evidence of the corpus delicti of a crime, namely the legal elements necessary to show a crime was committed, before the defendant’s confession to that crime may be admitted,” the Court said. In this case, there was no evidence showing that J.B. had actually committed the crime.

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 juvenile 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.

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When Is It Legal For Police To Stop You On The Street? – Mackey v. State

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Court Reverses Gun Theft Charge for Florida Minor – L.S. v. State