Proving Intent in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Intent is a central part of many criminal cases in Florida, including those related to sex crimes. The trouble is that it can be tough to get inside a person’s head and determine what exactly he or she was thinking at a particular time. That is why cases such as these often revolve around communications evidence–emails, text messages, phone calls, and the like–to establish intent. A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit involving alleged sex crimes in Central Florida is a good example of how judges view that evidence.D.W. was arrested and charged with two counts of attempting to induce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity back in 2015. Both of the charges stemmed from encounters with an undercover FBI agent who D.W. believed was offering to arrange for him to have sex with the man’s (fictional) daughter. D.W. responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a father and daughter seeking a sexual encounter north of Orlando. The undercover officer (going by the initials B.B.) responded to D.W.’s email and claimed that he was a 50-year-old man who was willing to arrange sex with his 12-year-old daughter. D.W. agreed to pay $40 for oral sex and asked to meet immediately, but B.B. told him that they had a prior engagement.

Three months later, D.W. responded to a similar post seeking to arrange sex with a 12-year-old girl. He was arrested after agreeing to pay for oral sex with the girl and arriving at a suggested meeting place. In total, D.W. sent 88 messages to the undercover officer in relation to the two internet posts. He was convicted on both counts and sentenced to roughly 18 years in prison.

D.W. later appealed the convictions, making the argument that prosecutors had failed to prove that he intended to try to induce a minor into sex and that he took “substantial steps” toward doing so, as required under the law. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. Although the fictional young girls who were the subjects of D.W.’s conversation with the undercover officer didn’t actually exist, the court said that D.W.’s communications “plainly were intended” to get the girls to have sex with him, which was all that the prosecutors had to establish. “By eliciting testimony of the extensive negotiations between [D.W.] and the fictional father over the cost and logistics of [D.W.’s] desired sexual encounters,” the court explained that the government had proven that D.W. had taken substantial steps in the direction of commissioning both of the crimes.

As a result, the court upheld D.W.’s conviction.

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.

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