Articles Posted in Lewd and Lascivious Offenses

Plea deals are an important potential tool for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. They allow you to resolve the charges and move on with your life, often with a reduced punishment. It’s important to understand, however, that in most cases you can’t take back a plea deal once you’ve been convicted. One important exception to that rule is in cases in which new evidence tends to show that you didn’t commit the crime with which you were charged. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently explained how courts look at newly discovered evidence in Florida lewd and lascivious molestation cases.

gavelA defendant was charged with two counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act in 1997, stemming from allegations that he molested his stepdaughters. The girls were six and seven years old at the time. The defendant eventually reached a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded no contest to the charges in exchange for 10 years of probation with the opportunity for early termination after five years. He went back to court in 2015 and asked a judge to withdraw his conviction based on new evidence. He presented statements from the two victims, who said they lied to police about the incidents. Although the women also later testified at a hearing that they had lied to police during an interview, a trial judge denied the defendant’s request. The judge said he “ha[d] not demonstrated a manifest injustice based on actual innocence.”

But the Third District reversed the decision on appeal. The court said the trial judge used the wrong standard to consider the defendant’s request. It pointed to the Florida Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Long v. State. The high court in that case laid out a two-pronged test for considering a request to scrap a conviction based on new evidence.

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Florida sexual battery cases often focus on intricate legal arguments about whether what the person who is accused of the crime allegedly did qualifies as a crime. Those debates can have significant consequences. They can mean the difference between a conviction or acquittal and determine the type of punishment that a person faces in the event of a conviction. A recent case out of Florida’s Supreme Court, for example, focused on what state lawmakers meant when they included the term “unnatural” in the lewd or lascivious battery law.

police handcuffsA defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious battery stemming from an incident in which he allegedly had sex with a female victim between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. At trial, his lawyer asked the judge to instruct the jury that he could instead be convicted of an “unnatural and lascivious act,” a lesser offense that carries a less significant punishment. The judge declined, finding that prosecutors had not alleged that the defendant engaged in “unnatural” conduct. A jury eventually convicted him of lewd or lascivious battery.

The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal later overturned the conviction, finding that the judge should have instructed the jury on the lesser offense. The appeals court said the allegation that the defendant had sex with a minor qualified as “unnatural” under the law because “such conduct is not in accordance with nature or with normal feelings or behavior and are lustful acts performed with sensual intent on the part of the defendant.”

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There are a number of procedural safeguards built into Florida laws that are designed to ensure that a person charged with a crime gets a fair trial without any preconceived notion of guilt. Those safeguards are particularly important in Florida sex crime cases, which often carry a certain stigma based on the allegations involved. Sometimes when those rules are broken, however, it may still not be enough to justify a new trial. Just look at a recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

gavelA defendant was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a person, stemming from an alleged incident involving a friend of his young daughter. The 11-year-old girl was staying at the defendant’s home one night when he allegedly entered the room in which she was sleeping and “rubbed the victim’s genital region,” according to the court. In an opening statement at trial, a state prosecutor referred to the defendant as a “boogeyman.” During trial, the prosecution also introduced evidence testimony about what the victim said happened. He was eventually convicted.

The defendant later appealed the conviction, asserting that the trial judge made a number of errors. He argued, for instance, that the judge should have granted a new trial after the prosecutor called the defendant a “boogeyman” during the opening statement. The First District noted, however, that his lawyer objected to the characterization and that the trial judge sustained that objection. Although the prosecutor’s comment was inappropriate, the appeals court said it wasn’t enough to justify a new trial. The court pointed to a 2017 decision in a different case, in which it found that a prosecutor’s reference to a defendant as a “creature that stalked the night” did not warrant a new trial.

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