Florida police officers and investigators go to great lengths to investigate sex crimes and other criminal offenses. A recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeals shows some of the limits on the things that they can do to help secure a conviction.
The defendant was arrested and charged with three counts of sexual battery on a person less than 12 years old and one count of lewd and lascivious conduct. The charges came after a member of his family accused him of sexual abuse, according to the court. He declined to speak with police and requested a lawyer after being informed of his rights. He was placed in a jail cell while waiting for a bond hearing. A police informant who worked with cops in setting up and reporting prison drug transactions was also in the cell.
The informant told his handler shortly after the defendant was placed in the cell that he said he was facing sex crime charges and wanted to hire a hitman to kill the family member who accused him of abuse and the primary witness against him. The handler, who was not aware of the charges against the defendant, asked the informant to get more information on his intended targets. Following conversations with the informant and the handler, the police officer investigating the sex crime charges asked the informant not to seek additional information related to the charges. The cops did, however, ask the informant to present himself as “somewhat of a pedophile” to gain the defendant’s trust. They devised a scheme for the informant to offer to get the defendant in touch with a hitman.
The cops taped several conversations between the defendant, the informant, and the handler, who was posing as a hitman. Among other information, he described during the conversations what he believed the witness against him saw happen between the victim and him. Prosecutors later used those statements in the case against him. He was convicted on one charge of sexual battery and one charge of lewd and lascivious conduct. He was acquitted on the other charges.
On appeal, the Fourth District said the trial judge should not have allowed the prosecutors to enter evidence related to the defendant’s conversations with the informant and the handler. It explained that the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment bans police officers from trying to “deliberately elicit” statements from a person charged with a crime after he or she has invoked the right to a lawyer. “The ‘deliberately elicited’ standard is clearly satisfied when the police directly interrogate or question a defendant, but it also may be satisfied by less direct types of questioning,” the court explained.
In this case, the court said the cops were empowered to investigate the defendant for the supposed murder-for-hire plot. They could not, however, use his statements to the informant and handler in the sex crime case against him. As a result, the court reversed the convictions and remanded the case back to the trial judge for additional proceedings.
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 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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