Attorney Photo

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Florida criminal cases involving a defendant with mental and emotional conditions can raise a number of complicated legal issues. The state’s First District Court of Appeal made clear in a recent sex crime case that there are certain circumstances in which a judge is required to hold a hearing to determine whether a person is competent to stand trial and to issue a written decision on that question before proceeding to trial.

Legal News GavelDefendant was charged with sexual battery of a person under twelve years of age and lewd or lascivious molestation of a person under twelve years of age, stemming from an undisclosed incident. Before trial on those charges, Defendant’s lawyer asked the judge to first determine whether Defendant was sufficiently competent to stand trial.

One court-appointed expert concluded that Defendant wasn’t able to adequately understand the charges against him, but a second court-appointed expert said Defendant was competent to participate in the case. After a competency hearing, the trial court found that Defendant was sufficiently competent to proceed to trial. The judge made that decision orally, but didn’t issue a written ruling on the competency issue.

Continue reading

Technological enhancements give police officers stronger tools to investigate Florida crimes, track suspects and gather evidence. They also raise new questions about protections against unlawful searches and seizures, as a recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal makes clear.

Legal News GavelDefendant was charged with a wide variety of Florida criminal offenses, including sexual battery and possession of child pornography, following an investigation by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Police officers traced an internet protocol address used to download child pornography to a home in the county. When they searched the home, the officers found that none of the computers in the house that were connected to a home Wi-Fi network had been used to download illicit materials.

They also noticed that the Wi-Fi network wasn’t protected, and could therefore potentially be accessed by others outside of the home. So the cops, with the homeowner’s permission, set up a computer in the home that would allow them to remotely access and monitor the Wi-Fi network. They found the local IP address and a separate MAC address for a computer that was accessing the Wi-Fi network and using it to download pornography. The officers then used a Yagi antenna—a highly directional and shortwave antenna—to determine that the computer was inside Defendant’s motorhome. The officers obtained a warrant to search the home, where they located the computer. Defendant was convicted and sentenced to consecutive life sentences.

Continue reading

A Florida appeals court recently said an Orlando priest doesn’t have to testify about what a local woman told him about being sexually abused when she was younger. The decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal attempts to draw a line between prosecutors’ needs in Florida sex crime cases and religious protections under state law.

Legal News GavelAn Orlando man in 2017 was charged with four counts of sex crimes against a minor. Police initially launched an investigation after a 17-year-old girl told her mother that the man had abused her when she was between the ages of seven and 13. State prosecutors signaled ahead of trial that they intended to introduce out-of-court statements that the victim allegedly had made to a local Catholic priest when she was 15 years old. They said the girl disclosed to the priest that she had been abused while performing the rite of confession.

The priest didn’t want to testify, however. He asked a court to issue a protective order to keep him from being hauled into court. The priest argued that being forced to disclose the conversation would violate the “sacred seal of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation.” As a result, he argued that dragging him into court to blab about the discussion would violate his religious freedom rights under First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also said it would violate the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFRA).

Continue reading

A recent case of alleged exposure on a beach in North Florida is a good example of how Florida sex crime cases often come down to one person’s word against another’s. It also shows just how serious judges and juries take these cases and the criminal punishments that come with them.

Legal News GavelThe defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious exhibition after he allegedly exposed himself to a girl on a beach in the Florida panhandle. The victim testified at trial that she was running along the beach when she heard the defendant call to her from a nearby condo apartment. When she turned her head, the victim said she saw the defendant staring at her and fondling himself with his pants down. The victim called the police and ran down the beach. She told her sister and mother about the incident and pointed the defendant out to them when he later drove by in a truck. The victim also identified the defendant to police officers when they arrived on the scene.

At trial, the defendant claimed that the incident was all part of a joke gone awry. He said a friend—an adult woman—had taken off her top and flashed him, so he responded by removing his pants. The defendant said he wasn’t aware that any children were in the area and he denied touching himself. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, followed by 10 years of sex offender probation.

Continue reading

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.

Legal News GavelDefendant 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.

There are a number of potential defenses available to a person charged with a Florida sex crime. That includes arguing that he or she should at most be convicted of a lesser crime that isn’t considered a sex offense. Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained how judges weigh requests to instruct a jury about lesser offenses.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under the age of 12, stemming from an incident with his stepdaughter at a local movie theatre. Moments into the movie that he had taken the girl to see, he allegedly asked the girl if he could touch her breasts. The girl consented, according to the court, and he proceeded to touch her breasts. The girl told her mother about the incident roughly one year later, after the mother asked the girl specifically if he had ever touched her inappropriately.

The defendant admitted to the incident and reported himself to the Department of Children and Families. He later testified at trial that he touched the girl’s breasts for approximately two to three minutes and told her that she was “growing up” and “becoming quite the woman.” The trial judge declined the defendant’s request to instruct the jury that he could be convicted of battery – a lesser offense – instead of lewd or lascivious molestation. The court did, however, instruct the jury that the defendant could be convicted of attempted lewd and lascivious molestation instead. He was eventually convicted on the actual molestation charge.

Continue reading