Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure offer numerous protections to defendants charged with sex crimes, including the right to appeal unjust convictions. While the law provides avenues for appeal, it also imposes strict deadlines that criminal defendants must comply with, to avoid waiving the right to appeal. A Florida district court of appeals recently discussed exceptions to the statutory deadlines for filing an appeal, in a case in which the defendant’s appeal of his conviction for sexual battery was denied as untimely.  If you are a Clearwater resident charged with a sex crime it is vital to retain a skillful Clearwater sex crime defense attorney to present a strong defense on your behalf to help you protect your rights.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is reported that the defendant was charged with sexual battery of an individual less than twelve years of age and lewd and lascivious molestation. The charges arose out of the defendant’s alleged digital penetration of his granddaughter while she slept in a bed with him. During the trial, the granddaughter also testified that the defendant molested her when she was approximately 7 years old when she visited him in Colorado. Additionally, another granddaughter and the defendant’s stepdaughter testified that the defendant had molested them on more than one occasion as well. The defendant was convicted on both counts and sentenced to life in prison. The second conviction was deemed to violate double jeopardy and was vacated.

Allegedly, within the two-year deadline, the defendant filed a Rule 3.850 motion for post-conviction relief arguing that his counsel was ineffective on multiple grounds, including for permitting the State to introduce collateral crime evidence. The court denied the motion with prejudice, finding that the defendant failed to prove the case was prejudiced or his counsel was ineffective. Then, one year later, the defendant filed a second motion for post-conviction relief.  The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed.

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A person accused of committing a sex crime has the right to a fair trial which includes the right to be represented by an attorney. A defendant who is charged with a sex crime is afforded the right to an attorney even if he or she does not have sufficient funds to hire an attorney, in which case one will be appointed. Even though a defendant may not choose an appointed attorney, the attorney still has an obligation to provide a thorough defense, and attorneys that have conflicts of interest must recuse themselves from representing the defendants they have been appointed to represent. A Florida appellate court recently discussed what constitutes a conflict of interest in a sex crime case.   If you live in Clearwater and are accused of committing a sex crime you should meet with a trusted Clearwater sex crime defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and your available defenses.

The Charges Against the Defendant

Allegedly, the defendant approached his victim while she was walking in her neighborhood, held a knife to her neck, and raped her. The victim went to the hospital where medical professionals examined her and gathered evidence that matched the defendant. The defendant was charged with sexual battery with a deadly weapon. He was found guilty following a jury trial, after which he appealed.

What Constitutes an Actual Conflict of Interest

In his appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to representation of counsel without conflict. Specifically, he argued that because it was discovered during the trial that his attorney was employed by the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (OCCCRC), and another attorney employed by OCCCRC was representing the victim in another matter. Upon learning this information, the judge placed the defendant under oath and asked whether he wished to waive any possible conflict, to which the defendant replied yes. The judge commented that no actual conflict had arisen but found that the defendant had knowingly and freely waived any potential conflict.
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A recent case of alleged exposure on a beach in North Florida is a good example of how Florida sex crime cases often come down to one person’s word against another’s. It also shows just how serious judges and juries take these cases and the criminal punishments that come with them.The defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious exhibition after he allegedly exposed himself to a girl on a beach in the Florida panhandle. The victim testified at trial that she was running along the beach when she heard the defendant call to her from a nearby condo apartment. When she turned her head, the victim said she saw the defendant staring at her and fondling himself with his pants down. The victim called the police and ran down the beach. She told her sister and mother about the incident and pointed the defendant out to them when he later drove by in a truck. The victim also identified the defendant to police officers when they arrived on the scene.

At trial, the defendant claimed that the incident was all part of a joke gone awry. He said a friend—an adult woman—had taken off her top and flashed him, so he responded by removing his pants. The defendant said he wasn’t aware that any children were in the area and he denied touching himself. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, followed by 10 years of sex offender probation.

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A person charged with a sex crime in Florida has a few options when it comes to entering a plea in court. In addition to pleading “guilty” or “not guilty,” the person can also plead “no contest.” This option means the person is not saying that he or she is guilty, only that he or she won’t contest the charges. As a recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal shows, it is important to be fully aware of the potential penalties you’re facing before you enter a plea.

Defendant was charged with various counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under 16 years of age, lewd and lascivious exhibition to a victim under 16 years of age, battery, possession of child pornography, and use of a computer server to seduce, solicit, or entice a child. He eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. Defendant later appealed the convictions, arguing that he wouldn’t have pleaded no contest if the trial judge had adequately explained to him that he was facing as much as 101 years in prison on the charges.

Although the judge may have told Defendant about the maximum penalty for each of the offenses, he said he wasn’t aware that those penalties could be imposed consecutively (back-to-back) rather than concurrently (at the same time). The trial judge sided with state prosecutors, who argued that the judge met his responsibility by simply informing Defendant of the maximum penalties per offense. The judge rejected Defendant’s request to withdraw his plea.

There are a number of potential defenses available to a person charged with a Florida sex crime. That includes arguing that he or she should at most be convicted of a lesser crime that isn’t considered a sex offense. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained how judges weigh requests to instruct a jury about lesser offenses.A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under the age of 12, stemming from an incident with his stepdaughter at a local movie theatre. Moments into the movie that he had taken the girl to see, he allegedly asked the girl if he could touch her breasts. The girl consented, according to the court, and he proceeded to touch her breasts. The girl told her mother about the incident roughly one year later, after the mother asked the girl specifically if he had ever touched her inappropriately.

The defendant admitted to the incident and reported himself to the Department of Children and Families. He later testified at trial that he touched the girl’s breasts for approximately two to three minutes and told her that she was “growing up” and “becoming quite the woman.” The trial judge declined the defendant’s request to instruct the jury that he could be convicted of battery – a lesser offense – instead of lewd or lascivious molestation. The court did, however, instruct the jury that the defendant could be convicted of attempted lewd and lascivious molestation instead. He was eventually convicted on the actual molestation charge.

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Florida sex crime cases often raise questions about the mental health of the person charged with a crime. That’s why judges in many of these cases will hold a hearing to determine whether a defendant has the competence to understand the charges against him, consult with counsel, and participate in the trial. If not, the person may be sent to a facility to receive mental health treatment and later re-evaluated. In a recent decision, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explained that judges are free to base competency determinations largely on the input of mental health experts.A defendant was charged with various crimes stemming from an incident in which he allegedly filmed and took photos of young girls while they were sleeping. “Questions quickly arose concerning his competency to proceed” at trial, the court said. The trial judge ordered a competency hearing and appointed two mental health experts to evaluate him. Both experts eventually concluded that he was sufficiently competent to stand trial.

The experts’ reports were admitted into evidence during the competency hearing, but no witnesses were called. Although the judge ordered the defendant’s lawyer to prepare a draft order finding the defendant competent to stand trial, the Second District said any such order wasn’t included in the record brought to the appeals court. The defendant eventually pleaded guilty. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation.

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State law allows the Florida government to ask a judge to force someone deemed a “sexually violent predator” to be committed to a secure facility without his or her consent, even if the person has finished serving a jail sentence for a Florida sex crime. A recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeal is a good example at how courts look at these requests.

State prosecutors in 2015 initiated proceedings to have a defendant involuntarily committed as a sexually violent predator. He had been convicted of various sex crimes after a 1992 incident in which he assaulted one woman and attempted to assault another, according to the court. The cops used DNA evidence to link him to two rapes from the previous year. In one of those incidents, he allegedly followed a restaurant employee to her home and raped the woman. Two days after that incident, he accosted a woman who was leaving a spa, pulled her down on an embankment, and held a knife to her throat while he sexually assaulted the woman, the court said. The defendant was released from prison in 2003, but he was sent back to jail four years later when he was caught peeping and masturbating outside a woman’s window.Prosecutors based the civil commitment case primarily on the testimony of one psychologist, Dr. Rapa. The psychologist told the trial court that the defendant had since the 1980s “cruised” around looking for people as objects of masturbation, engaged in voyeurism, and fantasized about rape. Dr. Rapa also asked the defendant 10 questions designed to determine whether he was likely to commit additional crimes if released. Based on his age, his criminal history, and his responses to the questions, Dr. Rapa said his chance of committing another offense was 28 percent in the next five years and 43 percent over the next 10 years. She said the defendant suffered from voyeuristic disorder and anti-social personality disorder and recommended that he be placed in a secure facility, or otherwise he would be likely to commit new crimes.

Although the defendant presented his own expert, who said he was unlikely to reoffend, the trial court tagged him as a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be committed.

In order to arrest a person without a warrant, police officers must have probable cause to believe that he or she committed a crime. If they don’t, anything the person says while under arrest – and any evidence obtained as a result of the arrest – must be excluded from the case against the person. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained how the probable cause requirement works in a sex crime case.A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation, sexual battery, and lewd or lascivious conduct, following an incident involving a girl under the age of 12. The victim’s aunt held a party at her home on the night in question and woke up to the sound of her niece screaming at 3:00 a.m. When the aunt went to where the victim was sleeping, she saw a man get up from next to the victim and take off running. She described the person as a black man in his 20s with dreadlocks.

The officers who arrived on the scene gave conflicting information about whether the aunt knew the suspect. One officer said she repeatedly referred to him by the defendant’s first name, while the other said she wasn’t sure who the person was. Both said the woman and others told them the man had been at the party and lived next door. The officers went to the next door house, where the owner allowed them to come in. They found the defendant sleeping on the couch and arrested him.

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The burden of proof required in any Florida criminal case is an important protection for people charged with sex and other crimes in the Sunshine State. Prosecutors bear the burden at all times of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the specific crime with which you have been charged. A simple hunch that you committed the crime – or even evidence showing that it’s more likely that not – is not enough to secure a conviction.In a recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, the court explained that there are some facts that prosecutors may not need to prove. In a child sex case, the court said the specific date on which the alleged crimes happened is one of them.

The defendant was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of capital sexual battery against two children under the age of 12. He later appealed the decision, arguing that the victims were unable to say when the alleged abuse happened. He also said the prosecutors were unable to show that he actually committed the crimes during the time alleged in the criminal complaint:  April 2010 to April 2012 for the first victim and December 2011 to April 2012 for the other victim.

The First District disagreed. It pointed out that both victims told investigators that the offenses took place while they were five years old and living with the defendant. The court said there was no requirement that the victims identify a specific day on which the crimes occurred. “The two-year date ranges alleged by the State were proper,” the court explained.

Witness evidence is often key in Florida sex crime cases. In a recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, the court examined some of the common legal questions that come up related to witness credibility.The defendant was charged with sexual battery on a victim less than 12 years old. The charge stemmed from an incident in which he allegedly molested a family friend. The court said the defendant was close with the victim’s family and often visited her home. He told a judge that on the morning in question, he arrived at the home high on drugs and lay down next to the victim in the living room. The victim’s father testified that he entered the living room and saw the victim with the defendant’s penis in her mouth.

The defendant told the judge that he fell asleep on the couch and woke up to find that the victim was performing oral sex on him. He said the victim’s father walked in just as he woke up. The victim gave a different account of the incident. She told the judge that the defendant woke her up, grabbed her by the head, and forced her to put his penis in her mouth. But the victim told her mother only that her father walked into the room and saw the victim with the defendant’s penis in her mouth. She didn’t tell her mother that the defendant forced himself on her. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The jury returned the verdict in 12 minutes.

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