Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

criminal lawThe 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.

juvenile defendantThe American criminal justice system understands that due to their age, minors do not have the same decision making skills as adults do. Thus, if a juvenile is accused of a crime, there may be defenses they can use that may not be available for adults. Of course every case is different and the best defense will depend on your circumstances. If you are being investigated or charged with a sex crime you should contact a skilled St. Petersburg sex crimes attorney as soon as possible. They can look at your circumstances and use their extensive knowledge of case law to help make sure that your rights are preserved.

Davis Case

In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court decided the Davis case, which they applied to the instant case to find that the sentence given to the defendant here should be vacated and a new penalty phase hearing should be conducted. In Davis, a man was arrested on two counts of first degree murder. He was found guilty by the jury of these murders. During the penalty phase of the trial, his attorneys presented mitigating evidence, including testimony about his cognitive functioning and mental health issues. There was little evidence proffered that supported aggravating factors for the sentencing. The jury recommended that the defendant be given two death sentences by a vote of nine to three for one of the murders and a vote of ten to two for the other murder.

During a trial, there are many decisions that a defendant and their counsel need to make. One of the most important decisions in many trials is whether or not the defendant should take the stand and testify on their own behalf. Many of the aspects of a trial, such as legal strategy and specific arguments to make, are generally the decision of the attorney. However, defendants have an absolute right to take the stand on their own behalf, whether or not their lawyer thinks this is a good plan. If an attorney does not allow the defendant to act as a witness on their own behalf, and the defendant is convicted, under some circumstances, the conviction may be thrown out due to ineffective assistance of counsel. If you are charged with a sex crime in St. Petersburg or the surrounding areas, it is important that you contact a skilled St. Petersburg sex crime attorney as soon as possible to help you craft your legal strategy.Legal News Gavel

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In this case, the defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation, unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and capital sexual battery. During the trial, the state presented a witness who had also accused the defendant of sexual abuse. A Florida law called the “Williams” rule allows the trial court to permit evidence leading to the conclusion that the defendant had committed similar crimes in the past. Since there was no physical evidence in the case that was being tried, the testimony of the alleged victim of a similar crime by the defendant was a large part of the state’s case. The victim of the crime with which the defendant was charged testified, but due to his mental disabilities, the other witness’ testimony was considered especially illuminating.

Legal News GavelTaped phone conversations can go a long way in proving a state prosecutors’ case, but the discussions they reveal are often out of context, confusing and difficult to follow. That’s not to mention that they regularly include information that’s not relevant to the case and could even be prejudicial to the person charged with a crime. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained how judges way the value of such evidence against its possible prejudicial effect.

Defendant was charged with conspiracy to tamper with a victim, stemming from a recorded jail cell phone call between Defendant and his girlfriend. He was in jail at the time facing charges of molestation against a minor. During the phone call, Defendant asked his girlfriend to “get a hold of” the victim and “talk to her” and to “get a hold of” the victim’s mother “and let her know.” He also asked her to “let them know that somebody stole my phone” and to “call the investigator’s office tomorrow and find out who brought you that phone because you could go press charges on them.”

Prosecutors sought to enter a seven-minute clip of the 17-minute conversation as evidence at trial. They agreed, however, not to mention in court that Defendant was believed to have tampered in a molestation case. But Defendant’s attorney argued that entering the part of the conversation about the supposed stolen phone and in which he asked his girlfriend to contact investigators was irrelevant and prejudicial. He said it would allow the jury to speculate about the underlying charges in which he was charged with tampering.

Continue reading

Legal News GavelProbation is an alternative to prison time that in some cases allows a person convicted of a crime to spend less or no time behind bars. In Florida sex crime cases, judges generally have the power to impose various restrictions on people convicted of sex crimes. A recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains some limits on how those restrictions are imposed.

Defendant entered into a plea agreement after being charged with various sex crimes stemming from undisclosed allegations. He pled guilty to traveling to seduce, solicit or entice a child to commit a sex act and to transmission of material harmful to minors. A judge sentenced Defendant to more than two years in prison. Defendant was also designated as a sex offender, based on the traveling to seduce offense, and got sentenced to an additional six years of probation. As a condition of that probation, he was restricted from having contact with or being in proximity to children.

Defendant appealed the sentence, arguing that he shouldn’t have been given sex offender probation based on the circumstances. He pointed out that the plea agreement made clear that the victim was not a child. While the case was on appeal, the First District Court of Appeal held in a separate decision that a judge must orally pronounce the specific terms and conditions of sex offender probation. Those that the judge doesn’t pronounce are not enforceable, the First District said. But the Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed with that ruling in a separate case of its own. The appeals court said a judge that orders a person to serve sex offender probation “need not individually specify each item contained within the umbrella of sex offender probation conditions.”

Continue reading

A person who is charged with a Florida sex crime generally has the right to have his or her guilt decided by a jury. When these cases go to trial in Florida, closing arguments are an essential part of the process because they are the last chance for lawyers on both sides to make their cases to the people tasked with making a decision. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained that prosecutors have some leeway as to how they make those arguments.

legalnewsDefendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under the age of twelve. He allegedly molested his step-daughter’s friends while they were sleeping over at his home. One of the girls testified that Defendant touched her inappropriately while she was pretending to be asleep on one occasion and placed her hand on his penis on another occasion. The two other girls—called as witnesses to establish that Defendant had a penchant for this behavior—said they were similarly molested.

A state prosecutor addressed the jury in closing statements at the end of trial. The prosecutor told the jury that he’d recently been watching a documentary on lions, who attack their prey in the dark, and that it reminded him of Defendant. That is exactly what the defendant did, the prosecutor said. “He came in when they were supposed to be sleeping and he … did what he wanted to do to them, touching them” in an inappropriate way. The defendant was eventually convicted of the charges.

Continue reading

The mental stability of the person charged with a crime is often at the center of Florida sex crime cases. Generally, a court may determine that a defendant doesn’t have the mental capacity to adequately understand the charges against him. In these situations, a judge may postpone or scrap criminal proceedings against the person. But the judge also has the authority to order that the defendant be committed to a secure facility in the meantime. A recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal is a good example of some of the legal issues that can come up in these types of cases.

Legal News GavelDefendant was charged in 1996 with committing two counts of lewd and lascivious acts in the presence of a child. A court eventually deemed him incompetent to stand trial on those charges because of an intellectual disability. The charges were later dropped when Defendant was civilly committed to a secure residential facility. Defendant eventually went back to court, asking to be released from the facility. He argued that the court no longer had jurisdiction over the case because the maximum penalty he could face for the charges was 15 years and he had spent more than that time in the facility. The trial court disagreed.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the First District agreed with Defendant that he couldn’t be forced to spend more time in the facility than the maximum possible penalty for the crimes with which he was charged. But it also agreed with the trial judge that Defendant could get up to 15 years for each offense. At the time the state legislature passed a law limiting secure facility detention, the court said there was already a separate statute in place allowing judges to sentence criminal defendants to consecutive (running one after the other) instead of concurrent (running at the same time) jail stretches for each offense.

Continue reading

Probation is often an attractive alternative to prison time for anyone convicted of a Florida sex crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Supreme Court, however, makes clear that probation sentences can come with some fairly restrictive terms and conditions.

Legal News GavelDefendant was arrested in 2009 and charged with lewd computer solicitation of a child and traveling to meet a minor for unlawful sexual activity. He pleaded guilty to both charges. He also asked the judge for sex offender probation and house arrest instead of prison time. The judge rejected that request, sentencing Defendant to four years behind bars, followed by 11 years of sex offender probation.

The judge also made clear as a term of Defendant’s probation that he was barred from accessing the internet, possessing a computer or smartphone that has internet access, and having an email address. Defendant went back to court after serving his prison time. He appealed the probation portion of the sentence, arguing that the judge imposed additional terms on the probation, including a mandatory curfew, a ban on living within 1,000 feet of a school, child care facility, park, playground, or other place where children regularly congregate, and the completion of a sex offender treatment program. Defendant said the court couldn’t impose those restrictions because the judge didn’t announce them orally at the original sentencing hearing.

Continue reading

A federal appeals court recently took up a case in which a trial court sought to effectively put a man convicted of various child pornography offenses in Florida behind bars for life. The appeals court said that sentence might have been overly harsh, given the unique circumstances of the case. It also shed some light on search and seizure issues in Florida sex crime cases.

Defendant was charged with various crimes related to the possession and distribution of child pornography, stemming from his use of a smartphone application messaging board called Kik. He allegedly used false names to send nude photos of girls to young boys and asked them to send nude photos of themselves in return. At least some of the boys responded by providing the photos of themselves, according to the court. When some tried to end the conversations with Defendant, he allegedly threatened to post the photos on Instagram and other social media platforms unless they sent more photos. Defendant also allegedly traded the photos with another online user in exchange for various child pornography photos and videos.Legal News Gavel

The FBI began monitoring Defendant’s Kik account after receiving complaints. FBI agents eventually traced the account to the home where Defendant lived with his parents and sister. They determined that he was the most likely user of the account in the house. They interviewed Defendant, who eventually admitted to using the account to trade the nude photos. He also agreed to allow the agents to search his electronic devices. When he was later charged with various federal crimes, Defendant asked a judge to keep out from trial his confession to the agents and all of the evidence obtained during the searches. Defendant argued that the agents intimidated Defendant and his family in a way that made him feel he had no choice but to admit that he was using the account and consent to the search. A trial judge disagreed. He was convicted and sentenced to 139 years in prison.

Continue reading

The Florida Supreme Court in 2015 clarified its position on when a person can be charged with soliciting sex and traveling after soliciting sex without running afoul of the rule against double jeopardy, which bans multiple convictions for the same crime. In a recent case, Florida’s First District offered some important insight into how appeals courts are interpreting that ruling. Essentially, multiple text or other messages can be considered different solicitations under Florida sex crime laws.

A defendant was charged with two crimes after exchanging sexually explicit text messages with an undercover police officer who he thought was a 14-year-old girl and then traveling to Tallahassee to meet the person for sex. He was convicted of traveling for sex with a child after using a computer to solicit a child for sex and using a computer to solicit a child for sex. He argued on appeal that the convictions violated the rule against double jeopardy by punishing him twice for the same crime.

Legal News GavelThe First District initially rejected the double jeopardy argument but decided to take another look at the case after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a case called State v. Shelley. The high court in that case said solicitation and traveling after solicitation cannot be treated as separate crimes if they are “based upon the same conduct.” But the First District said that ruling didn’t change the outcome of this defendant’s case.