Hearsay Defense Doesn’t Work for Florida Man in Failure to Register as Sex Offender Case

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.

In this case, the judge relied on statements from the girl’s mother and the officer who arrived on the scene – rather than the girl herself – to find that the defendant committed the crime while he was supposed to be registered as a sex offender. Still, the Eleventh Circuit said the evidence was reliable enough for the purposes of enhancing the defendant’s sentence. “While the district court did not explicitly state that it found the hearsay reliable, the consistency of the child’s statements to both her mother and the investigator, along with their testimony that the child was visibly upset that night, make the reliability of her statements apparent from the record,” the court said.

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 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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