Proposed Florida Bill to Order Pretrial Detention Based on Hearsay

March 19, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

A bill recently introduced to Florida legislators could change the requirements for detaining a defendant until their trial.

The Senate bill would allow hearsay statements from an alleged victim when a judge is determining whether a defendant should be released or detained until their trial. This page will cover the details of the bill and what will change in terms of pretrial detention hearings if it passes into law.

SB 7068

The proposed bill titled “Pretrial Detention Hearings” was introduced to Florida legislators in February 2024. If the bill passes, it will amend Florida Statute Section 907.041 to allow the court to base an order of pretrial detention solely on hearsay.

The bill would authorize a judge to order a defendant to pretrial detention if they are accused of a dangerous crime. Before, these types of hearings often required victim testimony to prove the arrested person should remain behind bars until their trial. However, this new bill would allow the judge to use hearsay instead of an immediate witness statement.

In legal terms, hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement offered as evidence to prove the truth of whatever is being asserted. Typically, hearsay is not taken as admissible evidence due to the quoted person not being present and making it difficult to establish credibility. However, SB 7068 would change that, allowing hearsay for the “court to make the best decision” for a pretrial detention hearing without making a victim testify.

Hearsay would be allowed only in cases of a pretrial detention hearing for a defendant accused of a dangerous crime. Dangerous crimes are listed under Florida Statute Section 907.041(5):

  • Arson;
  • Aggravated Assault;
  • Aggravated Battery;
  • Illegal use of Explosives;
  • Child Abuse / Aggravated Child Abuse;
  • Abuse of an Elderly Person or Disabled Adult;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Homicide;
  • Manslaughter;
  • Sexual Battery;
  • Robbery;
  • Carjacking; and
  • Any other serious offense codified under this section.

The provisions under this bill would reduce the requirements to keep a defendant in jail before trial. However, the Tallahassee Democrat specified that the bill would only allow hearsay for dangerous first-degree felonies.

Responses to the Proposed Legislation

The proposed SB 7068 is already receiving backlash from criminal defense attorneys who claim that expanding pretrial detention could result in more plea deals being accepted to get out of a jail cell.

Aaron Wayt, a representative with the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (FACDL), gave the following statement regarding the proposed legislation:

“Your trial is months you haven’t seen your kids in months, you haven’t seen your family in months, your job is maybe not going to be held for you, but you’re being held, still presumed innocent on a charge where you haven’t had your day in court…Sometimes a tactic from the prosecutor’s office is to offer you a reduced plea to get you out of jail, get you on probation, if you just accept this. And sometimes, unfortunately, people are forced to take those pleas just to get out of jail.”

However, State Attorney Jack Campbell held that if the bill passes, it could prevent any further traumatization for victims who would be requested to testify. “They might have just left the hospital, still be trying to come to grips on whether they even want to go through the criminal justice system,” Campbell said during Tuesday’s legislative meeting. “We’ve got to trust our judges, and sometimes that needs to be able to be done on hearsay evidence.”

New Pretrial Detention Laws Under HB 1627

A separate bill, HB 1627 passed into law in May 2023. Also focused on pretrial detention hearings, the law requires defendants accused of a first-degree felony, a life felony, or a capital felony to be sentenced to jail without bail prior to their trial. Additionally, the passed legislation now requires any State Attorney who is seeking pretrial detention to schedule the hearing within five (5) days of their first appearance.

Contact a Florida Panhandle Defense Attorney 

While pretrial detention is enforced to maintain public safety, pushing a bill to allow more pretrial detention for defendants accused of serious crimes could result in overly crowded jails, along with defendants who are unable to return to their normal life in between their trial. If you or someone you love has been accused of a criminal offense in Northern Florida, consider hiring a defense lawyer with Pumphrey Law Firm.

Our attorneys can review your case details in a free case evaluation. We can strategize a defense plan, aim to get you released prior to trial, and fight against a conviction. Contact our office today at (850) 681-7777 or fill out our online form.

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