Articles Posted in Sexual Battery

In Florida, as in all states, defendants need to be competent in order to stand trial. If a defendant is not sufficiently competent enough to meaningfully participate in their own defense, then they are not constitutionally allowed to stand trial. In a case that was recently heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida, a defendant argued that his conviction should be overturned because the court did not make a competency determination before trial.

Competency Hearings

A defendant’s qualified Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney can make a motion for a competency evaluation under Florida Rule 3.210. In this motion, the defense attorney explains the reasons behind asking for an evaluation, including expert reports, statements by family members, and any attorney observations. However, all parties, including the judge and prosecutor, have a responsibility to inquire into the defendant’s competence if they have reason to suspect that the defendant might not be fully competent.

Once a competency hearing is ordered, the court will appoint experts to interview and examine the defendant. The experts will then offer opinions of the defendant’s competency. If the defendant is not found to be competent to stand trial at that time, they are then moved to a locked facility. These facilities are specialized to help defendants regain competency so they are able to stand trial. Once the defendant’s competency is restored then the trial can proceed.

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Rape shield laws were created to help protect sexual assault victims from invasive inquiries into their sex life. Florida law prohibits the defense from entering into evidence any specific instances of consensual sex between the victim and anyone other than the defendant. In this case, the victim allegedly had consensual sex with her ex-boyfriend before going to a party with him. At the party she allegedly had too much alcohol and passed out. While her ex-boyfriend was gone getting more alcohol, three of the partygoers – including the defendant – allegedly sexually assaulted her. At trial, the defendant was convicted of sexual battery with specified circumstances by multiple perpetrators.

Evidence of Prior Consensual Sex

The defendant in this case alleged several grounds for appeal. One of the grounds for appeal was that the judge did not allow him to admit evidence of the victim’s consensual sex with her ex-boyfriend before the party. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal relied on the rape shield law explained above to uphold the conviction on this argument. The court explained that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser can come into play if there are unreasonable limits placed on a defendant’s right to cross examine witnesses.

The defendant here argued that he wanted to introduce this evidence to show that the victim wanted to get back together with her ex-boyfriend. Therefore, the defendant argued, she lied about the sex being consensual at the party in order to preserve her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. However, the appeals court here held that there was adequate other evidence that was introduced at the trial to show the relationship between the victim and her ex-boyfriend. Thus, on this ground the conviction could stand.

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A recent case heard by the Florida Supreme Court addressed the appealability of certain statutes of limitations. Statutes of limitations refer to the time period that someone has to bring a case in court. For criminal matters, the state is responsible for prosecuting certain crimes before a specific deadline that usually starts to elapse from the time the crime was committed. Generally, the more severe the crime, the longer the statute of limitations period. However, some kinds of crimes do not have statutes of limitations, such as murder and other life or capital felonies.

The purpose of statutes of limitations are threefold. First, to motivate the state to bring the charges sooner, as crimes should be prosecuted and the wrongdoer punished as soon as possible. Second, as the passage of time can affect the availability and quality of the evidence, a delay can prejudice the defendant because alibi witnesses may become unavailable. Finally, there is a belief that a defendant should not have to worry forever over a minor crime committed years ago.

Another important aspect of a statute of limitations for criminal charges is that the time does not run when the defendant is out of the state or does not have an ascertainable place to live or work. In other words, the state does not want to give a benefit to potential defendants who are hiding from prosecution. If the state has issued a summons or indictment against a defendant within the applicable period, it will usually suffice if there is no unreasonable delay. The court will look at the state’s attempts to locate the defendant and whether the defendant was actually in the state or not to determine what it “reasonable.”

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.”

State law allows the Florida government to ask a judge to force someone deemed a “sexually violent predator” to be committed to a secure facility without his or her consent, even if the person has finished serving a jail sentence for a Florida sex crime. A recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeal is a good example at how courts look at these requests.

State prosecutors in 2015 initiated proceedings to have a defendant involuntarily committed as a sexually violent predator. He had been convicted of various sex crimes after a 1992 incident in which he assaulted one woman and attempted to assault another, according to the court. The cops used DNA evidence to link him to two rapes from the previous year. In one of those incidents, he allegedly followed a restaurant employee to her home and raped the woman. Two days after that incident, he accosted a woman who was leaving a spa, pulled her down on an embankment, and held a knife to her throat while he sexually assaulted the woman, the court said. The defendant was released from prison in 2003, but he was sent back to jail four years later when he was caught peeping and masturbating outside a woman’s window.Prosecutors based the civil commitment case primarily on the testimony of one psychologist, Dr. Rapa. The psychologist told the trial court that the defendant had since the 1980s “cruised” around looking for people as objects of masturbation, engaged in voyeurism, and fantasized about rape. Dr. Rapa also asked the defendant 10 questions designed to determine whether he was likely to commit additional crimes if released. Based on his age, his criminal history, and his responses to the questions, Dr. Rapa said his chance of committing another offense was 28 percent in the next five years and 43 percent over the next 10 years. She said the defendant suffered from voyeuristic disorder and anti-social personality disorder and recommended that he be placed in a secure facility, or otherwise he would be likely to commit new crimes.

Although the defendant presented his own expert, who said he was unlikely to reoffend, the trial court tagged him as a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be committed.

In order to arrest a person without a warrant, police officers must have probable cause to believe that he or she committed a crime. If they don’t, anything the person says while under arrest – and any evidence obtained as a result of the arrest – must be excluded from the case against the person. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained how the probable cause requirement works in a sex crime case.A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation, sexual battery, and lewd or lascivious conduct, following an incident involving a girl under the age of 12. The victim’s aunt held a party at her home on the night in question and woke up to the sound of her niece screaming at 3:00 a.m. When the aunt went to where the victim was sleeping, she saw a man get up from next to the victim and take off running. She described the person as a black man in his 20s with dreadlocks.

The officers who arrived on the scene gave conflicting information about whether the aunt knew the suspect. One officer said she repeatedly referred to him by the defendant’s first name, while the other said she wasn’t sure who the person was. Both said the woman and others told them the man had been at the party and lived next door. The officers went to the next door house, where the owner allowed them to come in. They found the defendant sleeping on the couch and arrested him.

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The burden of proof required in any Florida criminal case is an important protection for people charged with sex and other crimes in the Sunshine State. Prosecutors bear the burden at all times of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the specific crime with which you have been charged. A simple hunch that you committed the crime – or even evidence showing that it’s more likely that not – is not enough to secure a conviction.In a recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, the court explained that there are some facts that prosecutors may not need to prove. In a child sex case, the court said the specific date on which the alleged crimes happened is one of them.

The defendant was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of capital sexual battery against two children under the age of 12. He later appealed the decision, arguing that the victims were unable to say when the alleged abuse happened. He also said the prosecutors were unable to show that he actually committed the crimes during the time alleged in the criminal complaint:  April 2010 to April 2012 for the first victim and December 2011 to April 2012 for the other victim.

The First District disagreed. It pointed out that both victims told investigators that the offenses took place while they were five years old and living with the defendant. The court said there was no requirement that the victims identify a specific day on which the crimes occurred. “The two-year date ranges alleged by the State were proper,” the court explained.

Florida sexual assault and battery cases often come down to one person’s word against another’s, especially in cases involving a victim and an alleged perpetrator who know each other. In a recent case, the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal took on just one of those cases, including some unique questions about the victim’s previous claims of sexual battery.

The defendant was charged with armed sexual battery against his ex-wife, with whom he had previously been married for 20 years. The victim said she had just returned to her apartment from dropping her children at school when the defendant showed up. He allegedly told the woman that he had a knife in his backpack, said “now you’re going to get it,” and warned her not to make a commotion. The woman didn’t scream or fight the defendant when he then had sex with her inside the home, according to the court. She did run to a neighbor’s house when the defendant moved to get his cell phone. She called the police, who arrested him.Some of the details of the couple’s stormy relationship became clear at trial. They were married for 22 years when they separated in 2008. In a deposition, the victim said the defendant had previously tried to rape her in 2001. She also testified at length about being sexually abused by her employer years earlier, according to the court. But the judge blocked the defendant’s lawyer’s attempts to later ask the victim about those allegations at trial. DNA evidence showed his DNA, and a nurse who examined the victim said her injuries were consistent with her version of the events. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the court said the previous allegations of rape against the defendant and the victim’s claims that she was raped by her employer weren’t relevant to the case. Although the trial judge wrongly found that the allegations were banned from being considered in court under the state’s rape shield law, the court said there was nevertheless no reason for the victim to be cross examined on her deposition testimony.

Anyone suspected of or charged with a sex crime in Florida should have an attorney by his or her side when talking to the police. As a recent case out of the state’s First District Court of Appeal shows, police interview statements can be later used against you in court.A defendant was arrested and charged with sexual battery on a person physically helpless to resist. The charge stemmed from an incident in which the defendant and a friend allegedly had sex with a female acquaintance at a party. The defendant denied having sex with the woman in an interview with a police officer. The officer explained that DNA tests would be performed to determine if he was telling the truth. The defendant, in response, told the officer that his DNA was likely on the sheets in the bed where the battery allegedly took place, and it could also be on the victim because she had been in the bed. He maintained, however, that he didn’t have sex with the woman. The officer responded as follows:

“Okay. So that’s what you’re gonna stick with. Because I’m going to find out probably if you did. I mean, I’m going to find—if you did, I’m going to find out. I don’t want to—I don’t want you to [mislead] me. One chance to tell me the truth. And that’s where we’re at. Final words.”

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