Articles Posted in Sex Offender Registration

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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A sex offense conviction in Florida can come with severe consequences, including the possibility of significant time behind bars. Sex offenders are also required to register as such in the Sunshine State, a designation that renders your conviction and your address publicly available. For anyone previously convicted of a sex crime, a new conviction can also bring a new registration requirement as a sexual predator. That means additional registration requirements and a much more difficult process for removing yourself from the registration. It also means more public scrutiny. A recent decision from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal shows just how difficult it can be to fight a sexual predator designation, and just how important it is to have an experienced attorney in your corner.J.F. was charged with 19 counts of possession of child pornography, in violation of Florida state law. He eventually pleaded guilty to all 19 counts, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison as well as 25 years of probation. J.F. was also designated as a sexual predator under state law based on his prior criminal history.

J.F. later appealed the decision, arguing that he should not have been tagged as a sexual predator. He said he had previously been found delinquent as a juvenile in a separate sex offense case, but wasn’t actually convicted. J.F. argued that delinquency alone wasn’t enough to justify classification as a sexual offender. His lawyer asked to be dropped from the case.

The First District affirmed the conviction and sexual predator designation. The court said J.F. could not raise the delinquency argument at trial. Nor, according to the court, did he mention it after the conviction and during a sentencing hearing. As a result, the court said J.F. waived his right to appeal the conviction based on the delinquency argument.

Florida law allows a person convicted of a sex crime as a minor to later ask to be removed from the sex offender registry under certain circumstances. Those circumstances often have to do with the nature of the crime for which the person was convicted, but judges also have the authority to consider the person’s record since that conviction. A recent case out of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal is a good example of how later, unrelated Florida sex crime convictions can keep you on the sex offender list.The defendant was under the age of 18 when he was convicted in 2000 for lewd and lascivious battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 16. Florida law makes it a crime for a person to engage in any kind of sexual activity with a child between those ages. It also makes it a crime to encourage or entice a child to participate in sexual activity, prostitution, and other related behavior. The defendant was placed on probation and ordered to register as a sex offender. His probation was revoked the following year when he was convicted on new charges for selling cocaine and trespassing. He was eventually sentenced to 18 years in jail after additional convictions for robbery, resisting arrest, and battery on a law enforcement officer.

The defendant eventually argued that his sentence on the lewd and lascivious battery charge was illegal because it required him to register as a sex offender. The trial court said the original sentence was legal, and instead it treated his petition as a request to be removed from the sex offender registry. A person seeking removal from the sex offender registry has to meet several criteria, including the requirement that he or she was under 18 at the time of the offense and no more than four years older than the victim. The law also requires that the victim not have been less than 13 years old at the time of the offense.

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Florida law requires sex offenders deemed sexual predators to keep local law enforcement closely apprised of their whereabouts. It also imposes strict penalties for those who fail to inform the cops within two days of moving. But, as Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently pointed out, prosecutors who want to charge a person with breaking that law have to specify what it is that the person did wrong.A defendant was arrested and charged with failure to register as a sex offender in Pinellas County in 2014. Although he had registered with local law enforcement, prosecutors said he didn’t properly update his address. He had listed his permanent address as his girlfriend’s home in St. Petersburg. After the two were in a car accident in April 2014, however, he started staying there only once a week. At least that’s what the girlfriend told the cops when they came looking for him in June of the same year. When they caught up with the defendant, he told the cops that he was now staying primarily at a different address in St. Petersburg with his new girlfriend.

The defendant was convicted and sentenced to nearly six years in jail, despite telling the judge at trial that he was still staying at the first girlfriend’s house. He later appealed the decision. He argued that prosecutors failed to properly file the criminal information, the legal document formally charging him with the crime. He said that document left out essential elements of the crime, which meant that he wasn’t adequately informed about the charge against him prior to trial. The Second District agreed.

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Florida and federal laws generally require a person charged with a sex crime to register as a Florida sex offender with the local sheriff’s office. A person who fails to do so faces significant criminal penalties, including jail time. Those penalties increase for people who commit another sex crime during the time that they should have been registered. A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is a good example of how judges look at evidence of those crimes.The defendant was staying at a friend’s home in Central Florida in 2012 when the woman woke in the middle of the night and found him standing at the front of her 12-year-old daughter’s bedroom. The woman went into the bedroom and noticed that her daughter was in a state of distress. The daughter told her mother that the defendant had groped her. The police arrived on the scene and arrested him. He was originally charged with lewd or lascivious molestation and later convicted of felony battery, a lesser offense. He also later pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender (based on a previous conviction) and was sentenced to an additional stint in prison of up to 57 months.

The defendant later appealed the sentence, arguing that the judge wrongly increased his time behind bars after finding that he committed a sex offense against a minor during the time he was supposed to be registered as an offender. He argued specifically that the finding was based on inadmissible hearsay, which refers to statements that are offered at trial by a person other than the one who made the statement and are offered in order to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Hearsay is generally inadmissible, but there are a number of exceptions. That includes the sentencing stage, at which hearsay can be admitted as evidence as long as it is found to be reliable.

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