Have you tried watching a cable news channel recently? I can’t do it. There’s always two to four talking heads arguing, and you can’t even understand the point they’re trying to make because they’re talking over each other (at least “Around the Horn” on ESPN utilizes a MUTE button, very effective). Good luck trying to glean any sort of useful analysis from a cable news program. But, if you’ve never checkout out a real life debate, you should. Debates are organized, and often informative. The structure of a debate facilitates the digestion of difficult material in a short period of time (assuming, of course, that the debate organizers have selected the proper panel). One of my favorite sites for debates is Intelligence Squared. Most of these debates are well organized, and both sides are well represented.
Our criminal justice system has similar rules to these debates. Even though we criminal defense lawyers waive the Constitution every chance we get, our First Amendment right to free speech doesn’t apply when a jury is listening. Under Florida’s evidence code, a jury may only be told certain things regarding the evidence, certain things regarding the potential sentence (death penalty, for example), and certain things regarding the rules governing the jury’s decision (reasonable doubt, weighing witness testimony, etc.).
We criminal lawyers don’t get to say what we want to a jury. We don’t get to tell the truth. We don’t get to tell the jury that our client will go to prison for a minimum of three years for possessing $100 worth of pills. No free speech whatsoever. But, leave it to some prosecutors to attempt to circumvent the rules of evidence, and try to sneak a few lies in the back door. And, telling the jury lies is exactly what today’s case study involves (ok, maybe the term “lie” is too strong of a word, read on, and you decide).
In Mitchell v. State, the defendant was convicted of animal cruelty. 118 So. 3d 295 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013). You’re not going to like the facts of this case, but that’s never stopped me from laying it out there. Mitchell and a few friends were eating some steaks, drinking some beer. So far, so good. One friend fed Mitchell’s dog a piece of steak. Mitchell freaked out, and attempted to grab the steak back from the dog. Good luck with that, right? Right. The dog bit Mitchell–after all, we’re talking about steak here, how did you expect the dog to react?