In many criminal cases, the State will lack direct evidence that a defendant committed a crime and will rely on circumstantial evidence to demonstrate the defendant’s guilt. While circumstantial evidence is generally permissible, hearsay evidence is typically not. As such, if a conviction is based on hearsay evidence, it may constitute grounds for reversal, as demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling in a case in which the defendant was convicted of numerous counts of possession of child pornography. If you are accused of possessing child pornography or any other crime, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned Florida criminal defense attorney to assess your rights.
The Defendant’s Trial
It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with three hundred counts of possessing child pornography. His arrest arose out of evidence obtained from his home computer via a search warrant. At his trial, the digital forensic technician that examined his device explained that hash values are used to identify pornographic images of children that are contained in a national database. Using this technology, three hundred pornographic images of children were identified on the defendant’s computer.
Allegedly, the digital forensic technician testified that he was able to identify most of the images as child pornography without reference to the hash values assigned to them but noted that in one image, he could not tell if the individual depicted was a child. Nonetheless, the State relied on his conclusion that a hash value assigned to the image designated it as child pornography in charging the defendant. The defendant was convicted on all three hundred counts, after which he appealed, arguing that his conviction was based on a hearsay statement that the image in question constituted pornography.
Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence
On appeal, the court ultimately agreed with the defendant. The court stated that it was not the digital forensic technician that determined that the image depicted child pornography but an unknown person working in law enforcement that submitted the image to the national database. In other words, the digital forensic technician was merely advising the jury what the unidentified individual had communicated to the database.
The court noted that there was no exception to the rule against hearsay that would permit the court to allow this out-of-court statement. The court rejected the State’s assertion that the statement was admissible because it came from a trustworthy source and was extremely accurate. In sum, the court ruled that the hearsay statement that an image that has a particular hash value is child pornography is not admissible simply because it is relied on by forensic technicians who identify images for law enforcement. Thus, the defendant’s conviction based on the photo in question was reversed.
Speak to a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney in Florida
A conviction for possession of child pornography can have lifelong consequences, and it is prudent for anyone charged with a sex crime involving minors to speak to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Florida criminal defense attorney Genine Ann Mejia can advise you of your rights and help you to pursue the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach Ms. Mejia via the form online or at (386) 463-0849 to set up a conference.