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There are many types of sex crimes under Florida law. One of those is video voyeurism. Video voyeurism is when someone secretly records another person in an intimate state, generally for the sexual gratification purposes. Your skilled St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorney can help you understand what the potential penalties may be for a video voyeurism conviction.

Requirements for a Video Voyeurism Conviction

Like all criminal laws, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions met all the elements of the statute in order to get a conviction. In order to prove that the defendant committed video voyeurism, one thing the prosecution must show is that the offense was committed with the aid of an imaging device. It also requires that the defendant intentionally used the imaging device to secretly view someone taking off their clothes or privately exposing their body in a place where the person being recorded had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is also video voyeurism when a defendant uses a recording device to took under or through someone’s clothes.

Video Voyeurism and Evidence

In order to prove that a defendant is guilty of video voyeurism, like with all other charges, the prosecution must use evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are specific laws that police and the court must follow in order for evidence to be admissible at trial. If evidence is obtained illegally, it is not permitted to be shown to the jury. A case recently heard by the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, the court looked at video evidence in a video voyeurism case.

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The defendant in this case was allegedly driving a vehicle when the police attempted to pull him over. There was also a passenger in the car. According to the police, the car sped off when the officer tried to approach it. The driver was speeding at up to 90 miles an hour and committed many traffic infractions, including running red lights and stop signs. Another officer testified that he saw someone jump out of the driver side of the car and go into a house.

The officers followed the suspect into the house and the defendant later emerged from the room sweaty and out of breath. The home belonged to the defendant’s mother, though she testified that he was at home with her all evening. The passenger in the car also testified that the vehicle was not being driven by the defendant but was instead being driven by the passenger’s cousin. Nonetheless, the defendant was convicted of high speed or wanton fleeing and resisting an officer without violence. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The defendant argues on appeal that his counsel was ineffective. His argument centers on the failure of his attorney in objecting to the prosecutor’s impeachment of defendant’s witness. Specifically, during the trial, the prosecutor questioned the passenger about his pending charges. These charges included robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a firearm, and grand theft.

The Sixth Amendment includes what is referred to as the “Confrontation Clause.” The Confrontation Clause gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers. Generally this means that defendant’s counsel can cross examine any witnesses for the state. However, there are some cases where an accuser may be permitted to testify remotely instead of being in the courtroom. One situation where this is somewhat common is in sex crimes cases. Your experienced St. Petersburg sex crimes attorney can help you understand how the Confrontation Clause applies in your situation.

Confrontation Clause

As noted above, the Supreme Court has interpreted the confrontation clause to mean that there is a preference for face-to-face testimony. However, this preference will occasionally be set aside when there are significant public policy and/or other reasons for a victim not to appear in person. For example, child witnesses where the trauma of facing their alleged assailant in court would make their testimony unreliable.

The jury is one of the cornerstones of the American justice system. Though most cases end with a plea deal rather than a trial, these decisions are often made on the basis of what the jury is likely to do. Juries are only allowed to be exposed to certain things during the trial, and the rules around what juries are allowed to see, examine, and ask for are very specific. Your skilled St. Petersburg violent crimes criminal defense attorney can help you to understand what evidence the jury may be allowed to see in your case. This can help you decide together whether or not you should go to trial or accept a plea offer. The rules for what juries can see and hear don’t end when the trial is over. There are specific laws around what juries can have access to during deliberation as well. This case involves just those issues.

Facts of the Case

The defendant here was charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm upon a woman and her fiancé. Specifically, the defendant is alleged to have stabbed the woman with a knife that injured the victim badly enough to require stitches. During the trial, the woman who was stabbed testified that the defendant was the person who stabbed her with the knife.

During the jury deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge. The note asked what the victim’s answer was when she was asked who stabbed her. In response, the court located the transcript of the trial testimony and read that portion back to the jury. The defense objected to the read-back, and argued that the jury should have been told to rely on their memory of the testimony. The trial court overruled the objection of the defense and allowed the court reporter to read back the victim’s response to the question “who stabbed you?” The jury resumed deliberating and found the defendant guilty of simple battery of the woman and her fiancé.

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In 1998, the Florida legislature passed the “Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act” (“Ryce Act”). This is a mechanism for Florida courts to use civil commitment for individuals who have been designated as sexually violent predators. In other words, after someone has been convicted of a Florida crime and served their sentence, this law allows a way for the state to keep them isolated from the community.

Requirements for Sexually Violent Predator Status

In order for the state to take away someone’s right to be in the community beyond the time they are sentenced to, they need to prove that the defendant meets certain criteria. The purpose of this law is to keep the community safe from sex offenders who are likely to continue to commit sex crimes in the future.

The process for a defendant to be deemed a sexually violent predator (“SVP”) is not a criminal proceeding, but a civil proceeding. That means that defendants do not have all of the same rights that a defendant would have in a criminal trial. However, due to the significant liberty interests at stake, defendants are afforded many protections. (I am using the word “defendant” though it is not entirely accurate for the sake of simplicity as at one time the individual was a defendant from the original sex crime charges.)

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Part of why it is so important to have a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney on your side is that they may know about plea options that most people don’t know about. In other words, they may be able to ask the prosecutor for a plea deal that can help a defendant avoid some of the most harmful consequences of a conviction. Asking the judge to withhold adjudication is one of these potential options.

Withholding Adjudication

Florida law has a statute that allows judges to withhold adjudication in some circumstances. When adjudication is withheld, the defendant will usually have some kind of penalty, but since it is not a conviction it will not be on their record. The penalties vary but frequently include some kind of diversion program, counseling, probation, and/or community service hours. Of course the defendant needs to complete all of the requirements imposed by the court or else they will be convicted.

The main benefit of a withholding of adjudication is that the defendant will still have a clean record if this is their first offense. This can be a huge benefit when looking for employment, as many employers will ask applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime. If your adjudication has been withheld, you can honestly answer “no.” However, applicants should read the question closely because sometimes potential employers will ask instead whether applicants have been arrested, which defendant would then have to answer “yes” even if the conviction was withheld.

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After a jury finds a defendant guilty, it does not necessarily mean that the process ends there. Defendants are given an opportunity to appeal their conviction, sometimes several opportunities depending on the circumstances. In order to be successful on appeal, the defendant needs to prove that there was an error during the trial. In other words, the defendant is essentially claiming that there was something unfair or erroneous that happened during the trial that makes the jury verdict invalid. Depending on the circumstances and specific grounds the defendant is basing their appeal on, if the defendant is successful in their appeal the charges may be thrown out completely or the defendant may get a new trial. Your knowledgeable St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorney can tell you what is likely to happen in your case if you are successful in your appeal.

The Case At Issue

In a case recently heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a man was convicted of three counts of sexual battery of a child under twelve. The alleged victim is the defendant’s daughter. In his appeal he argued that he should get a new trial because he was not able to confront the witnesses against him. He also argued that he did not have meaningful assistance of counsel.

In Florida there is a classification called “habitual felony offender,” or “HFO.” Florida law specifically defines who can be sentenced as an HFO. In this case the defendant was sentenced as an HFO but he argues that he should not have been classified as an HFO, because according to him the court lacked neutrality since they were looking for the alleged victim to appear and testify. In order to be classified as an HFO, defendants must meet certain requirements.

HFO Statute

Florida law requires that the court find three things in order for a defendant to be classified as an HFO. First, the state needs to prove that the defendant has previous separate felony convictions. These convictions cannot have been set aside or pardoned. The defendant must have two or more felony convictions in Florida or convictions for other qualified offenses.

The second prong of the test to determine who qualifies as an HFO requires that the defendant have committed the most recent felony while incarcerated or under supervision for a prior felony. Alternatively, the defendant can be considered an HFO if it has been five years or less since their last felony conviction or five years since they were released from prison or other confinement or monitoring. Finally, the statute makes clear that the felonies cannot be for purchase or possession of a controlled substance. Continue reading

The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in Florida. Immediately below the Florida Supreme Court are the Florida Appeals Courts. There are five different districts in Florida that each have their own courts of appeal. Sometimes these courts will rule on cases in ways that conflict with each other. When this happens, then the Florida Supreme Court will often agree to hear the cases to make a decision on the issue. Then, the lower courts are required to follow the Florida high court’s ruling. The different levels of courts can be confusing, but your experienced Florida sex crimes defense attorney can help you to understand how your case will move through the courts and whether it is possible to appeal to a higher court.

Underlying Facts

While this case involves several lower court cases, it is centered on one particular case from the Fourth District Court of Appeal. In the case, a defendant was charged with burglary of a dwelling with an assault or battery while armed and masked, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon while masked, and attempted sexual battery using great force or a deadly weapon. He was found guilty on all of the charges.

The defendant in this case was convicted for the first-degree murder of a correctional officer while he was an inmate in a correctional institution. He was sentenced to the death penalty. This appeal was based on a case that was decided after the defendant was convicted. In a case called Hurst, it was found unconstitutional for defendants to be sentenced to death when the sentence is not reached by a unanimous jury verdict. It also addressed the use of aggravating factors. This case relies on that precedent to argue that the defendant here should also not be sentenced to death.

Aggravating Factors

Florida death penalty laws are somewhat complicated. As part of the decision to penalize someone with death, the jury must consider certain aggravating and mitigating factors. Obviously, aggravating factors weigh toward a sentence of death and mitigating factors do not. Here, the court gave five different aggravating factors great or very great weight. They were: that the defendant was convicted of a felony before, and the felony involved violence, the crime was intended to disrupt a lawful governmental function, it was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and it was cold, calculated, and premeditated. Conversely, the court found no statutory mitigating factors and eight non-statutory mitigating factors that were given little to some weight.