Chat Room Evidence Winds Up In Florida Child Pornography Case

Evidence and procedural issues can make or break a Florida criminal case. One protection that anyone charged with a sex or other crime in Florida has is that the judge and jury in your case are generally not supposed to consider “other bad acts” when determining whether you have committed the crime with which you have been charged. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule, however, including some related to the sentencing phase of a trial. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently considered one of those exceptions in a child pornography case.

hands on keyboardA defendant was charged with 10 separate counts of possession of child pornography, a second-degree felony. He eventually pleaded “no contest” to the charges and was convicted. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and another 30 years of sex offender probation. Although the sentence was within the bounds set by state law, he later appealed the decision. He argued that the trial judge improperly took into account unsubstantiated claims that he was interested in a sexual relationship with a child. Specifically, he said a police officer testified at trial that the defendant said in an online chat room that he would like to have sex with a 14-year-old boy. He argued that the judge wrongly held that evidence against him in sentencing him on the child pornography charges.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the court said the judge acted properly in imposing the sentence. “Although a sentence within statutory limits ‘is generally unassailable on appeal,’ there is an exception when a trial court bases its sentence on impermissible factors, like unsubstantiated allegations of other crimes,” the court explained. In this case, however, the court said there was no reason to believe that the judge based the sentence even partly on the defendant’s statements about wanting to have sex with a minor. The court said the defendant was not charged with any crime related to that comment and was convicted solely on the evidence showing that he had possessed child pornography.

Perhaps more importantly, the court said it would not have been wrong for the judge to consider the defendant’s comment anyway. Although there was a dispute about the specific words that he said during the chat room conversation, his lawyer eventually accepted the officer’s version as true instead of requiring that a transcript be produced. As a result, the comment was not necessarily unsubstantiated, the court said. The comment also contradicted the defendant’s claim that he should have gotten a lesser sentence because he was a low risk to commit another sex crime. He denied having a sexual interest in children during the sentencing phase, according to the court.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg child pornography attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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