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Florida Appellate Court Reverses Parole Violation Conviction Based on Hearsay Evidence

Florida Appellate Court Reverses Parole Violation Conviction Based on Hearsay Evidence

In a recent case, the Florida Second District Court of Appeals considered Florida’s rule that a change of address during a parole period can constitute a violation of parole. In Mullins v. State, the defendant was convicted of parole violations on two separate grounds. First, the court concluded that the defendant failed to obtain his probation officer’s consent prior to changing his place of residence. Second, the court concluded that the defendant provided his probation officer with false information about the place where he actually lived. Both violations stemmed from the same event:  the defendant’s relocation.

The probation officer found out that the defendant had changed his address during a routine surprise home visit. When the probation officer showed up at the address listed for the defendant, the defendant was not at home. Although this is not a violation of parole, the owner of the home informed the parole officer that the defendant had moved out. 

During the parole violation hearing, the probation officer testified to the exchange she had with the home owner, which the court failed to exclude on the basis of hearsay testimony. Hearsay is a statement made out of court that is offered for the truth of the matter asserted. In this instance, the parole officer’s conversation with the home owner was hearsay because it was offered to prove that the defendant no longer lived at the address–information about which the parole officer had no independent, personal knowledge.

According to Florida law, this type of information is permissible during a probation hearing, although it cannot serve as the supporting basis for any determination that the defendant violated parole. During the defendant’s hearing, however, the parole officer’s hearsay testimony was the only supporting evidence offered.

After the parole hearing officer found the defendant guilty of violating parole by changing his place of residence, the defendant appealed. On appeal, the Massachusetts Second Circuit Court of Appeals first discussed the standard for determining whether a probationer has violated his or her probation willfully and substantially, which requires a finding that the prosecution proved the allegations by “the greater weight of the evidence.”

Next, the court concluded that “the hearsay testimony of the probation officer was insufficient to establish that [the defendant] had moved from his residence.” As a result, the court struck the lower court’s determination that the defendant had violated his parole agreement on two separate counts. Had the home owner testified that the defendant no longer lived at the residence, the court of appeal may have upheld the lower court’s determination.

If you are facing criminal charges or parole violations, the experienced criminal defense and probation violations attorneys at The Hoffman Firm can help. We have assisted many individuals in the North Miami area with defending against a wide variety of charges and ensuring that the prosecution is playing fairly. We understand just how stressful and devastating this time can be for your family and you. As a result, our team treats our clients with the personal attention and compassion that they deserve while guiding them through every step of the process. Call us now at (305) 249-0090 or contact us online to set up your free, confidential consultation today.

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