Articles Posted in Sexual Battery

Many criminal cases are resolved prior to trial. If a criminal case proceeds to trial, however, it is vital that the jury is correctly instructed on the precise elements of the crime, as the failure to do so can result in an unjust conviction. This was demonstrated in a recent case in which a Florida appellate court reversed the defendant’s conviction for sexual battery, due to the fact that the jury was improperly instructed on the elements of the crime. If you are a Sarasota resident facing charges of a sex crime, including sexual battery on a person under twelve years old, it is crucial to engage a skilled Sarasota sex crime defense attorney to develop persuasive arguments on your behalf to help you seek a favorable result under the facts of your case.

Factual and Procedural Background

Reportedly, the victim lived wither her father and her stepmother during the week, and her mother and the defendant on the weekends. On one occasion when the stepmother picked up the victim after a weekend with her mother and the defendant, the victim was acting strangely. The stepmother asked the victim if anything happened, after which the victim began to cry and reported that the defendant had touched her inappropriately.

It is alleged that the stepmother told the father, who called the police. They then took the victim to a clinic to be examined. The defendant was charged with sexual battery on a person less then twelve years old. In the amended information charging the defendant, the State alleged the defendant committed two acts of sexual battery by causing his genitals to penetrate or have union with the “butt” of the victim. The case proceeded to trial, and during the trial the victim, who was ten at the time, testified that the defendant had contact with her “butt.” She had difficulty remembering things and testified inconsistently as to the precise acts that occurred.

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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.”