The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently took up the case of a Florida man convicted of acting as a pimp for a minor girl. The court’s decision is a good example of the serious consequences that can come with being charged with sex trafficking and the significant leeway that judges have in deciding whether a Florida criminal defendant is competent to stand trial.
Defendant was convicted of two federal crimes—sex trafficking of a minor child and inducing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction—for taking advantage of a 16-year-old girl who had ran away from home. He took sexually suggestive photos of the girl, according to the court, and uploaded them to an internet site for prostitution. The girl said Defendant made her have sex with four or five men per day and then give the money she earned to him. He also allegedly plied the girl with crack cocaine.
A presentencing report indicated that Defendant had been receiving Social Security Disability benefits since he was five years old because of “learning disabilities.” He told the court he could not read, write, or spell, and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. Defendant’s attorney also submitted an evaluation showing that Defendant had a very low IQ—equal to or better than only 0.1 percent of his peers—and that he suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The trial judge rejected a request from Defendant’s attorney to hold off on sentencing and conduct a hearing on whether Defendant was sufficiently competent to proceed. Prosecutors submitted tape recordings from calls that Defendant made from prison in which he said they were “trying to give him life.” They said that showed that Defendant understood the charges against him. The judge agreed, finding that Defendant “might not be the sharpest crayon in the box,” but that his demeanor suggested that he sufficiently understood the sentencing procedure.
Although the presentencing report recommended life in prison, the court ultimately sentenced Defendant to life behind bars. Affirming the decision on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit said the judge didn’t abuse his discretion by declining to hold the competency hearing and sentencing Defendant to three decades in prison.
“The statements by [Defendant]’s attorney that he did not believe his client to be competent were accompanied by no detail suggesting what led him to that conclusion,” the court said. “And [Defendant]’s statements that he did not understand the sentencing process were contradicted by the recording of his earlier phone call, during which he showed a firm grasp of that process.”
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. Clearwater 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.