In internet sex crime cases, the law puts the burden on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed the specific crime with which he or she has been charged. Trials and evidentiary hearings give prosecutors the chance to put forth the evidence to make that case and for the person charged to pick that case apart and offer defenses. Even if you are ultimately convicted of a crime, you have the right to continue to try to get that conviction vacated or overturned on appeal. A recent case out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal provides some detail about what is expected of a judge faced with a request to scrap a sex crime conviction.
A defendant was charged with two federal sex offenses stemming from allegations that he arranged to pay an undercover officer for sex with a minor. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant used an internet chat room to communicate with the officer, who was posing as the father of a young girl with mental impairments. The defendant allegedly agreed to pay $70 and arranged to meet the undercover officer in a set location with the understanding that the officer would then drive him to the girl to have sex with her. He was arrested when he showed up at the meeting place with condoms and the $70, according to prosecutors.
The defendant was charged with attempting to use the internet to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity and committing that offense while required to register as a sex offender. He pleaded guilty to the first offense and not guilty to the second. He was convicted following a jury trial on the second charge. He later asked a federal judge to scrap his conviction on the first charge, however, saying that he unknowingly pleaded guilty because he did not understand the applicable law and his possible defenses. The judge declined the request without holding a hearing and allowing him to introduce evidence. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit said that might have been a mistake.
The appeals court said the judge wrongly treated the defendant as claiming that he didn’t commit the crime. Instead, the court said he actually argued that he was not made sufficiently aware of the law surrounding the charges against him and the possible defenses he could raise. As a result, the court sent the case back to the trial judge to reconsider the defendant’s request to vacate his conviction.
The court said it was premature to decide whether the defendant should have been able to present evidence in a hearing on his motion to vacate the conviction. It noted, however, that federal district courts are required to “develop a record sufficient to facilitate our review of all issues pertinent to . . . the ultimate merit of any issues.” That suggests that the court may be expecting the judge to hold a hearing this time around.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. Clearwater internet sex crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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