In Florida the rules of evidence provide a powerful tool to be used by a Sarasota defense attorney on behalf of his client. Rule 90.608(2) allows the defense lawyer to attack the credibility of a prosecution witness during cross-examination by showing the witness is biased. A witness’ bias can consciously or unconsciously influence a person’s perception of events or the truthfulness of the witness’ testimony. A witness’ interest, motive or animus are never collateral or irrelevant on cross-examination and are always proper. Morrison v. State, 818 So.2d 432 (Florida Supreme Court 2002). Disclosing a witness’ self-interest is a proper purpose of attacking the witness’ credibility “Morrison.”
Exposing a witness’ reason to color his testimony is the goal of cross-examination under this rule of evidence. Showing the witness had a relationship with the defendant involving family ties, sex, employment, business relations, money, drugs, friendship, enmity, or fear are all recognized areas for bias and motive cross-examination.
Further, evidence that a witness has a financial motive and is being paid by another witness or third person, has made a plea bargain for leniency with the state, is on probation and therefore subject to control by the state, has made prior false allegations against the defendant in the past, or has threatened to get the defendant or threatened to harm a representative of the defendant such as his attorney, have been found to be legitimate and proper grounds to challenge and dispute the honesty and credibility of the state’s witness.
Because a defendant has a constitutional right under both the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution to confront and cross-examine witnesses in a criminal case, it is harmful and reversible error for a trial judge to exclude defense counsel’s legitimate cross-examination of a key prosecution witness that would demonstrate the witness’ bias and motive. Livingston v. State, 678 So.2d 895 (4th DCA 1996; Lewis v. State, 623 So.2d 1205 (4th DCA 1993); Cipriano v. State, 883 So.2d 363 (4th DCA 2004).
This area of cross-examination is generally given wide latitude in criminal trials. For instance, a witness may be cross-examined as to bias regardless of whether that subject has been mentioned on direct examination. If the witness denies or refuses to admit the alleged interest, motive or animus on cross, defense counsel may introduce evidence to prove the bias or motive.
Many criminal trials turn on the testimony of one or two key prosecution witnesses. If defense counsel can show to the jury these witnesses are biased and have a motive to lie or slant their testimony against the defendant, a not guilty verdict may well result.
If you or a loved one is seeking representation in a criminal case in Sarasota or Manatee County, Florida, please give Mr. Dirmann a call and he will be happy to discuss the case with you.