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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > Challenging the Evidence in a Criminal Case

Challenging the Evidence in a Criminal Case


Evidence, or the lack thereof, is critical in a criminal case. The prosecutor must prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. A hit-and-run case illustrates the difference between the burden of proof in criminal court and the burden of proof in civil court which is a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

In criminal court, a credible witness must testify that the defendant was, in fact, driving the car at or near the time of the accident. Or, the defendant must have voluntarily and credibly confessed to the crime. However, in civil court, an attorney usually only needs to identify the vehicle’s owner. It’s more likely than not that the owner was driving at the time of the wreck.

The math is quite simple. If a Tampa criminal defense lawyer chips away at the state’s evidence, even slightly, prosecutors will be unable to convict the defendant. At that point, the defendant is in the driver’s seat. The defendant might elect to go to trial, or the defendant could decide that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and accept a favorable plea bargain agreement.


All other questions aside, irrelevant evidence is inadmissible in criminal cases. The state cannot use such evidence at trial or in any other proceeding.

The defendant’s criminal record is a good example. Prior arrests, and even prior convictions, are usually inadmissible for guilt/innocence purposes. Juries convict defendants based on what they did, not because they did bad things in the past.

A prior record could be admissible during sentencing procedures. It could also be admissible if a character witness testifies on the defendant’s behalf.

Legally Inadmissible

Physical evidence, like drugs, is inadmissible if officers violated the Fourth Amendment. Under this provision in the Bill of Rights, physical evidence is only admissible if officers had a valid search warrant or a narrow search warrant exception applied.

Search warrants must be based on probable cause affidavits. An officer’s “hunch” is not probable cause. The uncorroborated testimony of a paid informant, especially if the informant has a poor track record or an axe to grind with the defendant, is not probable cause either.

The owner’s consent may be the most common search warrant exception. Consent must be voluntary. Officers cannot bully or threaten owners until they consent. Furthermore, only legal owners or apparent owners, like a driver who doesn’t own the car, can consent to searches. Officers cannot keep asking occupants until someone says yes.

Testimonial evidence, like a confession, is only admissible if police officers adhered to the Fifth Amendment. Before they give statements of any kind, officers must warn defendants of the right to remain silent.

Incidentally, the right to remain silent also extends to other activities, like posing for a photograph or appearing in a lineup.


We mentioned biased witnesses above. Usually, a Tampa criminal defense lawyer doesn’t have to prove actual bias. Possible bias is enough to cast a shadow of doubt over such evidence. Evidence could also be unreliable because the witness is incompetent in some other way, perhaps due to a failure to wear eyeglasses.

Furthermore, in most cases, witnesses can only testify about what they saw and heard. They cannot repeat what someone else told them, they cannot speculate, and they cannot give their opinions. Once again, a lawyer doesn’t have to completely invalidate such evidence. A lawyer must only create a reasonable doubt as to its reliability.

 Count on a Detail-Oriented Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. We routinely handle matters throughout the Sunshine State.

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