Florida Court Discusses Downward Departure Sentences

In some cases in which a person is charged with a sex crime, the person can avoid a conviction or obtain a lesser sentence if the evidence demonstrates that the alleged victim willingly participated in sexual activity with the defendant. Recently, a Florida court discussed when evidence that a victim was a willing participant can be used to justify a downward departure of a sentence in a case in which the defendant was convicted of multiple crimes involving sex with a minor. If you are accused of having sex with a minor or any other sex crime, it is advisable to speak to a trusted Clearwater sex crime defense attorney to assess what defenses you may be able to set forth.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant, who was 52-years-old, became involved in a sexual relationship with the victim, who was his 17-year-old niece. The defendant’s behavior became aggressive, and he began threatening to accuse the victim’s brother of a crime if she ended their relationship. The victim ultimately told her mother about her involvement with the defendant, and the defendant was arrested and charged with multiple crimes involving sex with a minor.

It is reported that the defendant pleaded no contest to the charges. During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution presented testimony regarding the defendant’s grooming of the victim and an impact statement from the victim. The trial court also stated that the case appeared to be a classic representation of grooming. The court imposed a downward departure from the minimum sentence of 264 months in prison, however, and only imposed a five-year sentence, based on a finding that the victim was a willing participant. The State appealed, arguing the court erred in granting a downward departure.

Grounds for a Downward Departure of a Sentence in a Sex Crime Case

In Florida, a court weighing whether to impose a downward departure sentence must engage in a two-part process to determine if a reduced sentence is appropriate. First, the court must determine whether there is both a legal ground for the departure and adequate evidence in support of the ground for departure.  The facts supporting the ground for the departure must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to be considered adequate. The court must only engage in the second step, determining whether it should depart from the guidelines, if the first step is met. In the second step, the court must evaluate the totality of the circumstances in the case.

The Florida Statutes further provide that a downward departure from a minimum sentence in a felony case is prohibited unless there are circumstances that warrant a departure, such as evidence that the victim was the initiator or willing participant of an incident. In the subject case, the appellate court noted that the evidence of record showed that the defendant made advances towards the victim despite her rejections, gave her alcohol and professed his love for her, and otherwise coerced her into engaging in a sexual relationship. Thus, the appellate court found that the trial court erred in deeming her a willful participant and reversed the sentence.

Speak to a Skillful Clearwater Defense Attorney

If you are a resident of Clearwater currently faced with charges that you committed a sex crime, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney regarding what evidence the State may introduce against you. Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skillful Clearwater sex crime defense attorney with the knowledge and experience needed to help you strive for the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Hanlon through the form online or at 727-897-5413 to set up a confidential and free meeting.

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