Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

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.

Continue reading

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.

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.)

Continue reading

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.

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 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.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.

During the trial, the defendant stated that he knew he had a right to testify but chose not to testify. The defendant was later arguing that he had ineffective assistance of counsel because he was not allowed to testify. The trial court denied the post-conviction motion. Here, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida held that the appropriate rule was two-pronged. The first part was whether the defendant was able to testify if they wanted. The appeals court held that the affirmations made by the defendant during the trial were sufficient to conclude that he was aware of his right to testify and chose not to use it. However, the court here also looked at the second part of the test, which allows a claim for ineffective assistance to go forward if it was unreasonable for the attorney to not let the defendant testify.

Taped 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

Probation 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.Defendant 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