Florida Court Discusses Improper Jury Instructions in Sex Crime Cases

In any criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving each element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the court will instruct the jury as to the elements of the crime a defendant is accused of committing, so that the jury may assess whether the evidence produced is sufficient to meet the State’s burden. If the jury is improperly instructed regarding the elements of the charged offense, however, it may result in an improper conviction. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida appellate court case in which the defendant’s conviction for sexual battery was reversed due to an improper jury instruction. If you are charged with committing sexual battery or any other sex crime, it is important to meet with a skillful Sarasota sex crime attorney to assess your options for seeking a favorable result.

Procedural Background

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous sex offenses, including attempted sexual battery, by attempting to penetrate the victim’s genitals with his genitals. He was convicted on all counts, after which he appealed on several grounds. The court deemed the majority of the defendant’s arguments meritless but addressed the issue of whether the trial court committed a fundamental error by issuing an improper jury instruction.

Fundamental Errors Due to Incorrect Jury Instructions

In most cases, a defendant must object to a jury instruction prior to when the jury retires for deliberation to preserve the right to appeal based on an improper jury instruction. In the subject case, the defendant did not make any objection to the instructions. As such, the court was required to determine whether the improper instruction given to the jury constituted a fundamental error. In other words, whether the error affected the validity of the trial as a whole, to the extent that the jury would not have reached a guilty verdict without the assistance of the error.

Here, the instruction given to the jury defined a sexual battery as the sex organ of the defendant having a union with or penetrating the sex organ of the victim. The information charging the defendant, however, only charged him with attempted sexual battery through penetration. The court noted that prior cases in Florida established that a fundamental error is committed when a jury is instructed on the elements of a crime that the defendant was not charged with in the charging document. Further, the court clarified that under Florida law, a fundamental error will not be found where the State does not rely on the improper instruction and does not present any evidence in support of the instruction. In the subject case, however, the State presented evidence in support of a crime the defendant was not charged with and argued that the jury could convict him of the crime. Thus, the court found there was a fundamental error and reversed the defendant’s conviction on the sexual battery charge.

Discuss Your Charges with a Proficient Sex Crime Defense Attorney

If you reside in Sarasota and faced with charges that you committed sexual battery or another sex crime, it is prudent to meet with a proficient Sarasota sex crime defense attorney to discuss your case and what defenses you may be able to argue. Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a sex crime defense attorney who is adept at aiding people charged with sex crimes in the pursuit of a favorable outcome. You can reach Mr. Hanlon at 941-462-1789 or through the online form to set up a complimentary and confidential consultation to discuss your charges.

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