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.
“In order to sufficiently inform an accused of the allegations against him, due process requires the State to allege every essential element when charging a violation of law,” the appeals court explained. “The overriding concern is whether the defendant had sufficient notice of the crimes for which he is being tried.”
In this case, the court said the prosecutor charged the defendant with violating the Florida law that requires certain sex offenders to alert police within 48 hours of moving to a new address. It did not, however, identify that statute in the document or otherwise inform the defendant that he was being charged under it. Instead, prosecutors cited generally to a lengthy Florida statute that largely defines sexual predators over the course of more than seven pages.
“The information in this case did not allege the essential elements of the charged offense and it did not cite a specific subsection of the statute that included the missing elements or otherwise place [the defendant] on notice of the nature of his alleged criminal conduct,” the court said. “[He] was convicted of a charge that was not made in the information, and we therefore reverse [his] conviction for this reason.”
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, such as failing to register as a sex offender, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg sex crime 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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