Florida Court Discusses Newly Discovered Evidence in Criminal Matters

In Florida criminal matters, defendants typically only have one chance to demonstrate set forth evidence in support of their innocence or point out flaws in the prosecution’s arguments. There are exceptions, though, such as when new evidence is discovered after a conviction that would have changed the outcome of the case. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes newly discovered evidence for the purposes of vacating a criminal conviction in a case in which the jury convicted the defendant of sex crimes. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to speak to a St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to evaluate your possible defenses.

History of the Case

It is alleged that in 2001, a jury convicted the defendant of charges related to lewd and lascivious acts with a child. Subsequently, in 2014, the defendant filed his first postconviction motion, alleging that his trial counsel had misadvised him to reject a plea offer from the State. The postconviction court denied relief, and this decision was affirmed on appeal.

Reportedly, in 2020, the defendant filed a second postconviction motion, alleging newly discovered evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel based on an affidavit from the judge who presided over the defendant’s 2001 trial. In the affidavit, the judge claimed that he had heard a plea offer in open court that was not conveyed to the defendant. The post-conviction court granted the defendant’s motion without holding an evidentiary hearing, concluding that the defendant did not receive a fair trial. The state then appealed.

Newly Discovered Evidence in Criminal Matters

Upon review, the court found that the post-conviction court’s order lacked necessary factual findings and did not explicitly conclude that ineffective assistance of counsel was established. The court explained that to succeed in a postconviction claim based on newly discovered evidence, the defendant must prove that the evidence was unknown to the court, the defendant, or counsel at the time of trial and that it would likely result in an acquittal on retrial.

In the subject case, the defendant had previously raised an ineffective assistance of counsel claim regarding a plea offer made in a hallway, and the court noted that a second or successive motion may be dismissed if it raises claims decided on the merits in a prior proceeding. Therefore, the defendant needed to demonstrate that the open court plea offer was different from the hallway offer, as this would constitute newly discovered evidence.

The court found that the defendant had failed to prove that the two plea offers were distinct. While he presented speculative possibilities that they might have been different, all the evidence suggested they were the same. Moreover, the court noted that the defendant’s own arguments and evidence during the earlier postconviction proceedings supported the conclusion that the offers were identical. Therefore, the court determined that the defendant did not meet his burden of establishing newly discovered evidence or ineffective assistance of counsel, and his claim was successive. Consequently, the court reversed the order granting his postconviction motion and directed the postconviction court to dismiss his claim.

Talk to a Skilled Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

Sex crimes can result in lifelong punishments, but in many cases, the prosecution will lack sufficient evidence to sustain a guilty verdict. If you are charged with a sex crime, it is wise to confer with an attorney about your rights. The skilled St. Petersburg sex crime defense lawyers of Hanlon Law can inform you of your options and aid you in pursuing the best legal result possible under the facts of your case. You can contact us to set up a meeting by calling us at 727-897-5413 or using our online form.

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