Florida Appeals Court Hears Sixth Amendment Sexual Battery Case

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 a previous case, the Florida Supreme Court determined that satellite testimony is allowed when it is justified by the individual circumstances of the case and the witness. The testimony also has to be reliable meaning that it needs to be under oath, gives the jury a chance to observe the witnesses demeanor, and the witness is subject to cross examination. Some of the reasons that the court identified that would justify satellite testimony is when the witnesses live beyond the subpoena power of the court, witnesses are in poor health, and the witnesses are essential to the case and there is an important state interest in resolving the case.

Witness Availability in This Case

Here, the defendant was charged with two counts of sexual battery on a person less than 12 years of age involving one victim. The victim reported the crimes to law enforcement in 1998, but the defendant fled and was not arrested until 2009. In 2007 the victim, now an adult, moved to Australia. At the time the issue of testimony was first being discussed, the witness had not been granted a return visa to Australia, so the court allowed her to testify via satellite. The jury found the defendant guilty.

On appeal, the defendant noted that by the time the victim testified, she had been granted her return visa so she could have testified in person. He alleged that under these circumstances, the victims refusal to testify in person violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause. While the victim acknowledged that she was granted the visa, she stated that she refused to come to the U.S. to testify in part because she could not afford it and she would lose her job.

The court here upheld the conviction. They identified three factors that supported the use of satellite testimony. These were that the witness lived beyond the subpoena power of the court, there is a state interest in prosecuting child sex offenders, and the testimony of the victim was essential to the case.

Contact an Experienced St. Petersburg Sex Crimes Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

When you or a loved one are charged with a sex crime, you may not know where to start. Your first call should be to an experienced St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorneys. The skilled attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will zealously defend you. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case today!

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