Jury instructions are a key part of any Florida sexual battery case. They can mean the difference between a conviction and a not guilty decision. In a recent case out of the Fifth District Court of Appeals involving an attempted sexual battery in Central Florida, the court explained how improper instructions can create lots of confusion.The defendant was charged with attempted sexual battery on a physically helpless person, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly attempted to have sex with a female coworker who had passed out from drinking. He was at a bar with colleagues when the victim passed out in a grassy area outside the bar, according to the court. The defendant and others took the woman to another coworker’s van and returned to the bar. He later went back to the van, claiming that he was going to check on the woman. When the van’s owner went to the vehicle, however, she allegedly found the defendant with his pants down, standing over the victim. The victim’s pants and underwear were down.
At trial, the jury heard taped phone conversations between the defendant and the victim. The defendant, who did not testify at trial, said in those conversations that he “attempted and probably did try to have sex with” the victim, according to the court. He was convicted. He later appealed the decision, arguing that the jury received improper instructions at the close of trial. Specifically, the jury was instructed that he was charged with attempt to commit attempted sexual battery. That crime doesn’t exist. As a result, the jury was wrongly told that he could be convicted if he attempted to attempt sexual battery on the victim.
The Fifth District reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the trial court because of the instructions error. “A literal reading of the erroneous instructions in this case lessens the State’s burden of proof,” the court said. To find someone guilty of attempted sexual battery, a jury has to find that the person charged would have committed the crime but was stopped from doing so. In this case, however, the instructions “would permit the jury to convict if it somehow believed that any of [the defendant]’s acts, such as buying the victim and her friends several drinks, one of which they all thought may have been spiked,” was enough to convict, 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 rape defense 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.
More blog posts: