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behind barsIn 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

telephoneThere are specific laws regarding what evidence prosecutors are allowed to use to prove their case in court. As will be discussed in more detail below, the state can present relevant evidence as long as its probative value is not outweighed by the prejudicial effects on the defendant.

In this case, a man was charged with conspiracy to commit the felony of tampering with a victim. Originally, the defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation. While he was in jail on those charges he called his former girlfriend (and co-defendant). The phone call was recorded. At the beginning of all calls from the jail there is a recording stating that calls are recorded and subject to monitoring.

In this recording, the defendant is heard asking his former girlfriend to talk to the victim and her mother. He also is heard saying that she should tell the police that the phone was stolen and he did not have it at the relevant time, even though he mentioned that the ex-girlfriend was currently in possession of the phone. The original 17 minute phone call was redacted down to seven minutes for the jury to hear. There was no mention of the underlying Florida sex crime charges in the recording that they heard.

deadline dateA 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.”

Legal News GavelIn the United States, once a defendant has been adjudicated on a charge, they cannot be tried for the same crime again. It’s an extremely important principle, but one that you may not think about that often. Like many elements of the law, it is not quite as straightforward as it might appear. For example, double jeopardy also applies to situations where someone is charged twice for the same offense when one is a lesser included offense in another. Once again, this analysis can get tricky.

Lesser Included Offenses

In criminal law, every crime has certain elements that the state needs to prove in order to convict a defendant of the crime. Someone cannot be charged under two different statutes when one of the crimes is a lesser included offense of the crime. For example, let’s say a defendant is charged and convicted for murdering a victim. They cannot then also be brought to court for attempted murder with the same victim during the same course of events. Another example would be the crime of possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. That charge requires possession of the drugs as part of the offense. Thus, a defendant cannot (usually – the law gets tricky) be convicted of both possession of drugs and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute when it is the same drugs. At first glance the case here may seem to contradict this rule, but with further inquiry the court’s reasoning behind not finding double jeopardy violations here make sense.

Legal News GavelThe 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.”

Under the laws of the United States, defendants have a right to act as their own counsel if they so choose. However, the state still has a responsibility to make sure that the defendant is competent enough to make these choices. In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a defendant who refused to cooperate with his counsel and then represented himself appealed his conviction for sex crimes. If you or a loved one is charged with a sex crime, you should contact a skilled Clearwater sex crime attorney as soon as possible.Legal News Gavel

Facts of the Case

The defendant in this case was charged with three counts of sexual battery. The prosecutors provided DNA evidence that corroborated the testimony of the victim. He decided to represent himself during most of the proceedings. However, the judge did appoint his public defender to be his standby counsel during the proceedings. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, he alleged that the trial court’s verdict should be overturned. The defendant argued that the court should have performed a competency hearing to make sure that he was competent to waive his right to counsel. He also argued that the standby counsel was ineffective.

Legal News GavelIf you are convicted of a crime in Florida, the state has many different options regarding punishment for that crime. For example, states can force people to pay restitution or fines, and give people probation or jail time. However, there are laws around the kind of sentence someone gets. These laws include principles based on the Constitution, like fundamental fairness. In a case recently heard by the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida, a sentence given to a defendant was found to violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of fairness. This case helps to illustrate why it is so important to contact a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime.

Plea Bargains

The vast majority of defendants who are charged with a crime will end up pleading guilty. Prosecutors will frequently offer a reduced sentence to defendants who are willing to plead guilty to some or all of the charges against them. However, just because a defendant agrees to the guilty plea does not mean that it relieves the state from having to follow the laws around sentencing. In other words, if the sentence violates the Constitution, it is illegal whether or not the defendant agreed to it.

Legal News GavelIn many cases, a person convicted of a Florida crime Florida may have the option to stay out of prison on parole, probation or another form of supervised release. State judges, however, have some significant leeway to put people behind bars if they are deemed a threat to the public. A recent decision out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal sets some limits on that authority.

Defendant was charged with multiple counts of providing false information to law enforcement in a missing child investigation. He shared a home with the child’s mother and allegedly made a number of false statements about the child’s whereabouts when she went missing. That included telling a police officer that the child was with her grandmother, and later that she had been taken to a local fire station. He eventually admitted to the cops that he believed the child was dead. Defendant said he’d left the home for a couple months after having a fight with the child’s mother. When he returned, Defendant said the mother told him, “If you love me, you will forgive me,” but refused to say what she had done wrong.

Defendant eventually told officers to look for the child’s body in the backyard of the home he had shared with the mother. The child’s skeletal remains were eventually found in the backyard. Defendant said he initially lied to the police because he “was in love and being stupid.” He was eventually convicted on the counts of providing false information to the police officers.

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Legal News GavelThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently took up the case of a Florida man convicted of acting as a pimp for a minor girl. The court’s decision is a good example of the serious consequences that can come with being charged with sex trafficking and the significant leeway that judges have in deciding whether a Florida criminal defendant is competent to stand trial.

Defendant was convicted of two federal crimes—sex trafficking of a minor child and inducing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction—for taking advantage of a 16-year-old girl who had ran away from home. He took sexually suggestive photos of the girl, according to the court, and uploaded them to an internet site for prostitution. The girl said Defendant made her have sex with four or five men per day and then give the money she earned to him. He also allegedly plied the girl with crack cocaine.

A presentencing report indicated that Defendant had been receiving Social Security Disability benefits since he was five years old because of “learning disabilities.” He told the court he could not read, write, or spell, and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. Defendant’s attorney also submitted an evaluation showing that Defendant had a very low IQ—equal to or better than only 0.1 percent of his peers—and that he suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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behind barsA Florida sex crime conviction is a serious situation that can have significant and lasting consequences. If you get arrested again, you may be looking at more severe penalties. As a recent decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit shows, a court has the right to impose penalties related to the original sex crime, even if they are not directly related to the second conviction.

Defendant was convicted of car-jacking and sentenced to federal prison following an undisclosed incident. He was eventually given a supervised release. As part of the terms of that release, a federal judge ordered Defendant to participate in a sex-offender treatment program and to refrain from having unsupervised contact with minors. The judge noted that Defendant had previously been convicted of sex crimes against a child under the age of 12 and that he’d undergone psychological treatment for about two years prior to the car-jacking offense. The court also noted that Defendant didn’t tell his psychologist about the sex offenses during that treatment.

Defendant appealed the decision, arguing that the terms of his release were not reasonably related to the car-jacking offense for which he was convicted. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision. The court said the treatment and other requirements were sufficiently related to Defendant’s overall criminal history and could be considered reasonable for public safety purposes. It also said the forced treatment and restrictions on contact with minors were justified based on the “heinous nature” of Defendant’s sex offenses.

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