Articles Posted in Competency

A person charged with a sex crime in Florida has a few options when it comes to entering a plea in court. In addition to pleading “guilty” or “not guilty,” the person can also plead “no contest.” This option means the person is not saying that he or she is guilty, only that he or she won’t contest the charges. As a recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal shows, it is important to be fully aware of the potential penalties you’re facing before you enter a plea.

prison wireDefendant was charged with various counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under 16 years of age, lewd and lascivious exhibition to a victim under 16 years of age, battery, possession of child pornography, and use of a computer server to seduce, solicit, or entice a child. He eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. Defendant later appealed the convictions, arguing that he wouldn’t have pleaded no contest if the trial judge had adequately explained to him that he was facing as much as 101 years in prison on the charges.

Although the judge may have told Defendant about the maximum penalty for each of the offenses, he said he wasn’t aware that those penalties could be imposed consecutively (back-to-back) rather than concurrently (at the same time). The trial judge sided with state prosecutors, who argued that the judge met his responsibility by simply informing Defendant of the maximum penalties per offense. The judge rejected Defendant’s request to withdraw his plea.

Florida sex crime cases often raise questions about the mental health of the person charged with a crime. That’s why judges in many of these cases will hold a hearing to determine whether a defendant has the competence to understand the charges against him, consult with counsel, and participate in the trial. If not, the person may be sent to a facility to receive mental health treatment and later re-evaluated. In a recent decision, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explained that judges are free to base competency determinations largely on the input of mental health experts.

solo guyA defendant was charged with various crimes stemming from an incident in which he allegedly filmed and took photos of young girls while they were sleeping. “Questions quickly arose concerning his competency to proceed” at trial, the court said. The trial judge ordered a competency hearing and appointed two mental health experts to evaluate him. Both experts eventually concluded that he was sufficiently competent to stand trial.

The experts’ reports were admitted into evidence during the competency hearing, but no witnesses were called. Although the judge ordered the defendant’s lawyer to prepare a draft order finding the defendant competent to stand trial, the Second District said any such order wasn’t included in the record brought to the appeals court. The defendant eventually pleaded guilty. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation.

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