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Exception to Hearsay When Evidence Offered to Prove Defendant's Intent

The case of Camerlengo v. State, 989 So. 2d 740 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) involved the issue of admission of a document, which the state contended was hearsay.

Camerlengo was convicted of grand theft of a trailer. His defense was that he believed he was not stealing the trailer because the person who asked him to take the trailer said it had been transferred to her, and that person was the true owner and had asked Camerlengo to help her retrieve the trailer.

At trial, the defendant testified as to the conversation with the alleged owner,

Ms. Anderson. He testified that Ms. Anderson told him that she was going through a divorce with her husband and that the husband had given her the trailer, and she showed him a transfer of title document.

Camerlengo was allowed to testify about this conversation, and then offered to introduce the title application, however, the state objected on the grounds that it was hearsay. The court excluded the title application. The jury twice asked to see the application during its deliberations. The appellate court reversed, saying that it was error for the court to not accept the title application into evidence over the hearsay objection on the grounds that the document was not being introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted, i.e. that the application was legitimate and/or correct, but rather that the document was introduced on the issue of the defendant's intent.

The court cited to Alfaro v. State, 837 So. 2d 429 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). In that case, the trial court excluded testimony of a witness who had testified that the passenger told the witness, in appellant's presence, that he was the owner of the van that the defendant was accused of stealing. The court found the testimony was not hearsay because it was offered to show that, after having heard the statement, the appellant had a good faith belief that the passenger owned the van and had lawful permission to drive it. The court noted that the statement had been used to disprove the element of intent required to prove theft.

The court also considered Buchanan v. State, 743 So. 2d 59, 61 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999). Buchanan was charged with burglary and petit theft. The trial court refused to admit statements of the victim's former girlfriend to the defendant that she and the victim had broken up, and that she was afraid to get her belongings from the victim's home, and she wanted the defendant to get her belongings. The Second District held that the statements were not hearsay and thus were admissible because they were not offered to prove that the property actually belonged to the girlfriend, but to demonstrate that the defendant did not possess the requisite intent to knowingly deprive the victim of the right to property or a benefit therefrom.

The court in Camerlengo stated that the Alfaro and the Buchanan cases supported the admission of the title application.

The state also argued that the title application was not admissible because the evidence was a document and therefore, the defendant was required to establish proper authentication through a public officer who could testify to its genuineness. The defendant in Camerlengo, however, had testified that he viewed that very document the night of the incident. The court noted "[F]or the purposes for which he sought to admit it, this was sufficient. He did not offer it as a public document or for the truth of its contents, merely that the document existed and he viewed it."Camerlengo at 743. The court ruled that the error was harmful and, therefore, reversal was required.