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.
Reversing the decision on appeal, the Second District said Defendant should have been given an opportunity to prove that he was harmed by not being informed about the maximum consecutive sentence, whether it should have been by the judge or his own attorney. It noted that Defendant would have been looking at 15 years behind bars if the judge had imposed the sentences concurrently.
“Nothing in our record reflects that [Defendant] knew that his sentences could be imposed consecutively or that he faced a maximum possible penalty of 101 years’ imprisonment.”
As a result, the court sent the case back to the trial judge. It also instructed the trial court to give Defendant adequate time to amend his petition to withdraw his plea so that he can assert that he was prejudiced by the lack of information.
“The postconviction court may, again, summarily deny ground three if [Defendant]fails to allege the requisite prejudice or the postconviction court attaches those portions of the record that conclusively refute the claim,” the Second District said. “Otherwise, it must hold an evidentiary hearing.”
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime such as child pornography 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.
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