By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - The Florida Supreme Court decided to grant a new trial in a sexual abuse case after ruling that a state law prohibiting conversations from being secretly recorded makes no exception for crime victims gathering proof of an offense.
The court unanimously ordered a new trial for a man sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing his teenaged stepdaughter, who had secretly recorded two of the incidents.
In its ruling, the court noted that state law “contains a general prohibition on the interception of any wire, oral or electronic communications” without the consent of the people being recorded.
Although there are some exceptions, the court noted, “none of the exceptions allow for the interception of conversations based on one’s status as the victim of a crime.”
The case focused on Richard McDade, who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse and battery after the 2011 recordings.
The victim was his stepdaughter, who had came to United States from Mexico in 2001, according to court documents.
The girl said he began molesting her when she was 10 years old. Court records show that she told her mother, a doctor and two ministers, but recanted her complaint because her mother didn’t believe her and she feared being sent back to Mexico.
In April of 2011, the court said, she borrowed a recording device from her boyfriend and met with McDade in his bedroom at their home.
The Florida Supreme Court also concluded that testimony by the boyfriend, who gave the girl an MP-3 player to hide in a shirt pocket, was inadmissible as hearsay.
Justice Charles Canady acknowledged that an argument could be made for creating a legal exception to the recording prohibition when used to provide evidence of criminal activity.
“But the adoption of such an exception is a matter for the Legislature," he wrote. "It is not within the province of the courts to create such an exception by ignoring the plain import of the statutory text.”
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)