Florida Court Reverses Sex Crime Conviction on the Basis of Mental Incapacity Instruction

The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently reversed a man’s conviction for sexual battery because of an improper jury instructions. Before a jury goes to deliberate, they may be given instructions related to the charges against the defendant or other circumstances of the case. Sometimes the instructions will include content that the defense attorney objects to. If the instructions are still included, it may be the basis for an appeal, as here. If you are charged with a sex crime it is extremely important that you contact a knowledgeable Clearwater sex crimes attorney as soon as possible. They may be able to help you get your charges reduced or thrown out.

The Instructions at Issue

In this case, the defendant was charged with one count of sexual battery. There are standard jury instructions in Florida that apply to sexual battery charges. However, there are also instructions that will only be included in some cases, or “if applicable.” One of the “if applicable” instructions that was included in the jury instructions in this case involves “evidence of victim’s mental incapacity or defect.” The defense attorney objected to inclusion of this instruction at trial, but the objection was overruled. Thus, the jury was instructed to consider it. “Evidence of (victim’s) mental incapacity or defect, if any, may be considered in determining whether there was an intelligent, knowing, and voluntary consent.”

Appeals Court Holding

The Florida appeals court that heard this case agreed with the defendant that this instruction was improper. Their argument, which the court agreed with, was that consent is already an aspect of the crime of sexual battery. In other words, in order to prove that the defendant was guilty of the crime charged, the State already has the burden to prove that the victim did not consent to the sexual activity. The court reasoned that as consent is always an issue that needs to be proven, if the instruction was meant to be read in all cases, then it would not be “if applicable,” it would be mandatory. Put another way, unless there was evidence of the victim’s mental incapacity, then this instruction is improper.

In this case, there was no evidence of the victim’s mental incapacity as defined by Florida law. Florida law defines mentally incapacitated to mean that “a person is rendered temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling his or her conduct due to the influence of a(n)…intoxicating substance administered to that person without his or her consent.” Thus, in this context Florida law only considers mental incapacity when intoxicating substances are involuntarily consumed by the victim. Here, there was no evidence that the victim consumed intoxicating substances against her will. In fact, the evidence shows that the victim had voluntarily consumed multiple alcoholic drinks. Thus, the mental incapacity of the victim was not an issue as defined by Florida law and the instruction should not have been given. The appeals court reversed and remanded the conviction back to the lower court.

Contact a Skilled Clearwater Sex Crimes Defense Attorney As Soon As Possible!

If you are charged with a sex crime it is especially important that you are represented by an attorney that will fight aggressively on your behalf in court. The Clearwater sex crimes defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm fight zealously on behalf of all clients charged with a crime. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our skilled attorneys about your case.

See Related Posts:

Sexually Violent Predator Status in Florida

Probably Cause Requirement in Florida Sex Crimes Cases


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