Articles Posted in Sex with Minor

In many instances where a defendant is charged with a sex crime, the only evidence of the crime is the testimony of the alleged victim. In Clearwater sex crime cases where there is no other corroborating evidence of the alleged crime if the victim recants his or her prior testimony at trial, it is unlikely the State will be able to present evidence to support a conviction.

This was recently illustrated in a case decided by a Florida court of appeals, in which the defendant’s convictions for two sex crimes were overturned, due to the alleged victim’s repudiation of her prior statement at trial. If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a sex crime, you should retain a seasoned Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney as soon as possible, to analyze what defenses are available to the charges you face.

Alleged Sexual Battery

Reportedly, the defendant sexually battered his girlfriend’s 16-year-old mentally disabled sister. The victim’s mother took her to a hospital, where she gave a detailed account of the defendant’s actions. The State charged the defendant with three separate counts of sexual battery, for three acts of oral, penile, and digital penetration, based upon the victim’s account.

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In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a man challenged his conviction for capital sexual battery and lewd molestation. He argued that the convictions should be thrown out because the trial court improperly prevented evidence from being admitted. All convictions must be supported by evidence. However, there are strict rules about what can and cannot be admitted into evidence in a criminal trial. If the evidence that supported the conviction is thrown out, the conviction may also be overturned if there is not enough remaining evidence to sustain it. That’s why it’s common for Florida sex crimes defense attorneys to challenge the evidence admitted into court as they did here.

Abuse of Discretion Standard

The appeals court hears cases after they have already been decided by the trial court. In deciding whether or not to allow the decision of the trial court to stand, the appeals courts use different standards depending on the issue. For example, some elements are looked at “de novo,” which means the appeals court does not have to give any deference to the findings of the lower court and can instead make their own decision as if they are looking at it for the first time.

In this case, the appeals court used an abuse of discretion standard to determine whether the evidence should have been admitted or not. In other words, they need to allow the decision of the lower court to stand unless they find that the decision was not permissible under the law. Continue reading

A Florida appeals court recently said an Orlando priest doesn’t have to testify about what a local woman told him about being sexually abused when she was younger. The decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal attempts to draw a line between prosecutors’ needs in Florida sex crime cases and religious protections under state law.An Orlando man in 2017 was charged with four counts of sex crimes against a minor. Police initially launched an investigation after a 17-year-old girl told her mother that the man had abused her when she was between the ages of seven and 13. State prosecutors signaled ahead of trial that they intended to introduce out-of-court statements that the victim allegedly had made to a local Catholic priest when she was 15 years old. They said the girl disclosed to the priest that she had been abused while performing the rite of confession.

The priest didn’t want to testify, however. He asked a court to issue a protective order to keep him from being hauled into court. The priest argued that being forced to disclose the conversation would violate the “sacred seal of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation.” As a result, he argued that dragging him into court to blab about the discussion would violate his religious freedom rights under First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also said it would violate the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFRA).

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Plea deals are an important potential tool for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. They allow you to resolve the charges and move on with your life, often with a reduced punishment. It’s important to understand, however, that in most cases you can’t take back a plea deal once you’ve been convicted. One important exception to that rule is in cases in which new evidence tends to show that you didn’t commit the crime with which you were charged. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently explained how courts look at newly discovered evidence in Florida lewd and lascivious molestation cases.A defendant was charged with two counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act in 1997, stemming from allegations that he molested his stepdaughters. The girls were six and seven years old at the time. The defendant eventually reached a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded no contest to the charges in exchange for 10 years of probation with the opportunity for early termination after five years. He went back to court in 2015 and asked a judge to withdraw his conviction based on new evidence. He presented statements from the two victims, who said they lied to police about the incidents. Although the women also later testified at a hearing that they had lied to police during an interview, a trial judge denied the defendant’s request. The judge said he “ha[d] not demonstrated a manifest injustice based on actual innocence.”

But the Third District reversed the decision on appeal. The court said the trial judge used the wrong standard to consider the defendant’s request. It pointed to the Florida Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Long v. State. The high court in that case laid out a two-pronged test for considering a request to scrap a conviction based on new evidence.

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Florida sexual battery cases often focus on intricate legal arguments about whether what the person who is accused of the crime allegedly did qualifies as a crime. Those debates can have significant consequences. They can mean the difference between a conviction or acquittal and determine the type of punishment that a person faces in the event of a conviction. A recent case out of Florida’s Supreme Court, for example, focused on what state lawmakers meant when they included the term “unnatural” in the lewd or lascivious battery law.A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious battery stemming from an incident in which he allegedly had sex with a female victim between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. At trial, his lawyer asked the judge to instruct the jury that he could instead be convicted of an “unnatural and lascivious act,” a lesser offense that carries a less significant punishment. The judge declined, finding that prosecutors had not alleged that the defendant engaged in “unnatural” conduct. A jury eventually convicted him of lewd or lascivious battery.

The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal later overturned the conviction, finding that the judge should have instructed the jury on the lesser offense. The appeals court said the allegation that the defendant had sex with a minor qualified as “unnatural” under the law because “such conduct is not in accordance with nature or with normal feelings or behavior and are lustful acts performed with sensual intent on the part of the defendant.”

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In internet sex crime cases, the law puts the burden on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed the specific crime with which he or she has been charged. Trials and evidentiary hearings give prosecutors the chance to put forth the evidence to make that case and for the person charged to pick that case apart and offer defenses. Even if you are ultimately convicted of a crime, you have the right to continue to try to get that conviction vacated or overturned on appeal. A recent case out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal provides some detail about what is expected of a judge faced with a request to scrap a sex crime conviction.A defendant was charged with two federal sex offenses stemming from allegations that he arranged to pay an undercover officer for sex with a minor. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant used an internet chat room to communicate with the officer, who was posing as the father of a young girl with mental impairments. The defendant allegedly agreed to pay $70 and arranged to meet the undercover officer in a set location with the understanding that the officer would then drive him to the girl to have sex with her. He was arrested when he showed up at the meeting place with condoms and the $70, according to prosecutors.

The defendant was charged with attempting to use the internet to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity and committing that offense while required to register as a sex offender. He pleaded guilty to the first offense and not guilty to the second. He was convicted following a jury trial on the second charge. He later asked a federal judge to scrap his conviction on the first charge, however, saying that he unknowingly pleaded guilty because he did not understand the applicable law and his possible defenses. The judge declined the request without holding a hearing and allowing him to introduce evidence. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit said that might have been a mistake.

The appeals court said the judge wrongly treated the defendant as claiming that he didn’t commit the crime. Instead, the court said he actually argued that he was not made sufficiently aware of the law surrounding the charges against him and the possible defenses he could raise. As a result, the court sent the case back to the trial judge to reconsider the defendant’s request to vacate his conviction.