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Miami Criminal Defense Attorney / Blog / Criminal Appeals / Will a Florida Court Vacate a Conviction If the Accuser Recants?

Will a Florida Court Vacate a Conviction If the Accuser Recants?


Many criminal convictions turn on accuser or eyewitness testimony. So what happens if the witness later recants? Is that enough to overturn a defendant’s conviction, or at least entitle them to a new trial?

The short answer is that a recantation, in and of itself, does not automatically guarantee a reversal or new trial. The defendant typically must file a motion for post-conviction relief asking for a new trial based on “newly discovered evidence.” A Circuit Court judge must then hold an evidentiary hearing to determine if the recantation is reliable and credible.

Victim’s Affidavit Justified Evidentiary Hearing

Florida’s appellate courts have long cautioned trial judges to treat witness recantations “with suspicion.” That does not mean, however, that a judge can simply refuse to consider a recantation without holding a proper hearing. Put another way, the judge needs the hearing to decide if the recantation is itself truthful, and if so, would the new testimony have changed the outcome of the original trial.

For example, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal recently held that a Miami-Dade judge improperly denied a defendant’s post-conviction motion without first conducting the required hearing. In this case, Palmer v. State, the defendant produced a signed affidavit from the victim in his case. The affidavit “recanted his trial testimony and his prior out-of-court identification” of the defendant and that “he never saw who committed the crime” against him.

The trial court refused to consider this new evidence. The Third District said that conclusion was premature. On its face, the victim’s affidavit “was neither inherently incredible nor conclusively refuted by the record” of the original trial. Indeed, the mere fact the recantation was inconsistent with the victim’s trial testimony helped prove the defendant’s point. It would be “circular reasoning” to deny the defendant a hearing, the Third District said, based on that inconsistency.

Work With an Experienced Miami Criminal Appeals Lawyer

It is important to note that post-conviction relief based on newly discovered evidence is just that. In other words, you cannot base such a motion on grounds that could have–or should have–been raised during the original trial or a direct appeal. And as the Palmer case illustrates, the defendant must provide a written affidavit from the recanting witness or other person whose testimony can help prove the defendant’s claim. The court will not simply take the defendant’s word for it that the key witness against them later changed their story.

The complexity of dealing with these types of post-trial motions demonstrates the critical importance of working with a skilled Miami criminal appeals attorney. Many criminal cases continue long after the jury’s verdict. So you want someone by your side who understands the intricacies of Florida’s judicial system and how to prepare and present an appeal or other motions for post-conviction relief.

If you need to speak with a qualified attorney, contact Asilia Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation.



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