Florida Court Discusses Fundamental Errors Arising out of Improper Jury Instructions in Sex Crime Cases

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.

It is alleged that the parties discussed the jury instructions prior to the close of trial. Regarding the elements of the crime, the instructions stated that the defendant committed an act upon the victim in which his sexual organ penetrated or had union with the butt of the victim. Union was described as contact. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, after which he appealed.

Errors in Jury Instructions

The defendant argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the elements of sexual battery using the word “butt” rather than “anus,” which amounted to a fundamental error. A fundamental error is an error that affects the validity of the trial, to the extent that the verdict could not have been reached absent the assistance of the alleged error. In cases where an instruction relates to a disputed element of the offense, and the error is material to what the jury must weigh to convict, a fundamental error occurs.

Here, the court noted that sexual battery is defined, in part, as the anal penetration of another person. The court held that the distinction between “anus” and “butt” was critical in the jury’s determination of whether the defendant committed sexual battery. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

Meet with a Seasoned Sarasota Sex Crime Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Case

If you are a resident of Sarasota and are facing charges of sexual battery it is essential to meet with a seasoned Sarasota sex crime defense attorney to discuss your case and to develop a plan for your defense.  Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an adept Sarasota sex crimes defense attorney who will work diligently to  help you protect your liberties. You can contact Mr. Hanlon at 941-462-1789 or via the online form to set up a meeting to discuss your charges.

 

 

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