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The Importance of the Rules of Evidence in Florida Armed Robbery Cases

What counts as relevant evidence that you committed an armed robbery? How about the fact that you own several guns? Is your answer the same if those guns weren’t used — and, in fact, weren’t even the same kind of guns as those used — during the commission of the crime? Does your answer change if the guns weren’t owned legally? These are the questions that the Florida Court of Appeals confronted this year in the case of Francois v. State. The court ultimately decided that the defendant’s ownership of other guns could not be used to prove that he’d committed an armed robbery. The reasons why touch on all the questions above, but the important part, for Mr. Francois, the defendant in the case, was that improper evidence couldn’t be used to show that he’d committed the robbery using a firearm. Holding the government to the rules of evidence, and ensuring that clients get a fair trial confined only to the legally relevant issues, is all in a day’s work for a seasoned criminal defense attorney.

The Court’s Decision

In Francois, several witnesses at the scene of the crime testified that the robbery was committed using a handgun. However, despite police efforts, no handgun was found. When the police entered Mr. Francois’ apartment, they found several automatic rifles tucked under the bed and under the mattress, none of which Mr. Francois owned legally. The prosecutors decided to try Mr. Francois for armed robbery even though the handgun used in the robbery had not been found, planning to rely on Mr. Francois’s possession of several other illegal firearms to show, at least, that he was the kind of person who would have owned a firearm. The trial court allowed the evidence in, and Mr.  Francois was found guilty. He appealed, however, to the Florida Court of Appeals, arguing that, because the guns found in his home were not the guns used in the robbery, his possession of them had no bearing on whether or not he used a gun during the commission of the crime. The state, he argued, was using unlawful character evidence to mount a smear campaign in an effort to make up for a glaring hole in its case — namely, the lack of a weapon. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that Mr. Francois’ possession of other weapons was not relevant to any of the issues in the case, and that the trial judge had therefore abused his discretion in deciding to admit them in evidence.

The rules of evidence serve an important function in a robbery trial: They keep both sides confined to what really matters, i.e., whether or not the particular person accused actually committed the acts that the state alleges he committed. An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik will protect your right to be convicted only by the fair weight of the evidence against you. If you’re facing a robbery charge, pick up the phone and call today.




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