Criminal prosecutions in Florida often rely upon the testimony of law enforcement officers to convince the jury of a defendant’s guilt in cases where the other evidence isn’t very strong. Many jurors have a belief that police officers are inherently more credible than other witnesses, and this may result in jurors affording inappropriate weight to the testimony of a law enforcement officer. In reality, law enforcement officers work closely with prosecutors, and their testimony can be less reliable than an unbiased witness. A Florida appellate court recently reversed a man’s domestic violence conviction after finding that inappropriate testimony of a police officer was admitted at trial, which may have tainted the jury’s guilty verdict.
The defendant from the recently decided case was arrested and charged with domestic violence battery against his ex-girlfriend after the two had an altercation near her apartment while the defendant was moving his belongings. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the police were called to the scene after the two were reported to be fighting in the parking area of the apartment complex where the alleged victim lived. The police officer who responded to the scene noticed injuries on both the defendant and the alleged victim and interviewed witnesses about what happened. In the incident report, the officer noted the defendant as the primary aggressor, and prosecutors later pursued the charges against him.
At trial, the defendant claimed self-defense. Under Florida law, a person is justified in using nondeadly force to address a threat if they were not the primary aggressor during the incident. The prosecutors called the responding police officer as a witness at trial, and he was asked who was the primary aggressor. Against a defense objection, the officer was permitted to testify that based on the victim’s injuries and the eyewitness accounts that the defendant was the primary aggressor. The jury rejected the defendant’s self-defense claim, and he was found guilty as charged.