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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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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.computer

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.

It is important for anyone charged with a crime in Florida to understand that prosecutors at all times bear the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the crime with which they are charged. That means establishing each and every legal element of the specific crime, as Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained.

A defendant was charged with two counts of using a computer to commit lewd or lascivious exhibition, which in Florida is a second-degree felony. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant sent several text messages to an unidentified 12-year-old girl. The victim asked him to stop contacting her, but prosecutors said he responded by sending the girl several sexually explicit messages. The content of those messages, according to the court, showed that he was aware of the girl’s age at the time, the court said. He was convicted following a jury trial.phone

The defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that prosecutors failed to prove all of the legal elements of the specific crime with which he was charged. The Second District agreed. The appeals court explained that Florida law defines the crime of using a computer to commit lewd or lascivious exhibition to include the “intentional exposure of the genitals in a lewd or lascivious manner . . . live over a computer online service, Internet service, or local bulletin board service.” Prosecutors also have to prove that the person charged knew or had reason to believe that the exhibition would be viewed by a person under the age of 16.

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A statute of limitations in criminal cases generally refers to the time limits for prosecutors to charge a person with a criminal offense. These limits often come up in child sex crimes and other cases in Florida. As the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, prosecutors generally can’t charge someone with a crime after the limitations period has expired.police handcuffs

A defendant was charged with three sex crimes stemming from an incident involving his former girlfriend’s young daughters. The girls had been abandoned by their mother, according to the court, and were living with their grandmother at the time. The defendant still saw the children from time to time. The incident occurred while the two girls and their brother were helping him clean his apartment and staying overnight. First, he allegedly asked the 12-year-old daughter to massage his penis. The girl complied, despite saying that she didn’t want to do it, according to the court. He then led the girl into the bathroom and had sex with her. Later during the night, he allegedly rubbed the 10-year-old daughter’s breasts and vagina while she was sleeping.

The defendant was convicted following trial for sexual battery on a child, lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between the ages of 12 and 16, and lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under the age of 12. He was designated a sexual predator and sentenced to 75 years in prison.

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The rule against hearsay generally bans one person from testifying in court about what another person said outside court, if it’s being used to prove a fact. In other words, an alleged rape victim’s friend generally can’t testify in court that the victim told the friend that the person charged with the crime raped the victim. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, however, including one for statements made out of court by a minor describing a sex crime. As Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained, however, a judge has to perform a specific factual analysis before allowing hearsay evidence into the record.

judge gavelA defendant was charged with unlawful sexual activity, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly had sexual contact with a girl under the age of 18. At trial, the victim’s mother testified that her family was visiting Florida on vacation when the crime occurred. They were visiting with extended family at the time, and at least nine people were in the house. After the victim asked her mother three separate times to leave the home, she eventually told her mother that the defendant had touched the victim on her breasts and vagina while she was sleeping in her grandmother’s bed upstairs. When the mother asked the victim what she meant, the victim said “I don’t think I’m a virgin anymore,” according to the mother.

The victim told a police officer in a recorded interview that the defendant entered the bedroom, lay down next to her, and started fondling her breasts. She said he eventually had sex with her.

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Double jeopardy is an important protection for anyone charged with a sex or other crime in Florida. The double jeopardy rule basically says that a person cannot be charged twice for the same crime. What do we mean by the same crime? A recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals sheds some light on how courts approach the issue.

police handcuffsThe defendant was charged with various crimes stemming from an incident in which prosecutors said he got a 14-year-old girl in his car against her will, drove her to a secluded area, and raped the girl. He dropped the girl at her school after the attack, according to the court, and she immediately reported the rape. Following a jury trial, he was convicted of sexual battery with a deadly weapon, lewd or lascivious battery, lewd or lascivious molestation, and kidnapping, among other offenses. He later appealed the lewd or lascivious battery and sexual battery convictions, arguing that they violated the double jeopardy protection.

“When considering a double jeopardy claim alleging multiple convictions for the same offense, we first consider whether the convictions arose from the same criminal transaction or episode,” the court explained. “If we conclude that the convictions arose from the same criminal episode, we must then determine if the convictions were predicated on distinct acts.” Finally, the court said it would look at the laws describing each crime to see if one crime requires an element of proof that the other does not.

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Florida’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently explained that police confessions can be used in court to prosecute sex crimes and other offenses, even if the person who made the confession was intoxicated at the time.

bar shotMr. Arvelo was arrested and charged with attempted sexual battery and kidnapping with the intent to commit sexual battery, stemming from a 2006 incident in a Maitland parking garage. He allegedly attacked a woman as she was getting out of her car, and then he dragged the woman to Arvelo’s car. Arvelo was unable to start that car, however. When he got out to look at the engine, Arvelo’s victim locked the doors and started honking the horn. Arvelo fled after two of the victim’s coworkers noticed the commotion and called the police, according to the court.

Arvelo confessed after being apprehended and taken into custody by Maitland police. The 21-year-old was interrogated for three years. Arvelo argued on appeal that he was coerced into making the confession and that officers made false promises of leniency during the interrogation. He also said that the officers took advantage of the fact that Arvelo was drunk and sleep-deprived. He told the cops at the beginning of the interview that he’d drunk a bottle of whiskey earlier that morning and had not slept since.

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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.

barbed wireThe 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.

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Sexual battery and other sex crimes are serious offenses that often come with significant penalties and jail time. Those penalties go up when the victim of the crime is a minor. As Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, sexual battery on a minor encompasses a wide range of forceful behavior. Although the facts of this case may be tough for some readers to hear, the decision is an important one that offers some insight into what prosecutors, judges, and juries mean when they say “sexual battery.”

police handcuffsThe defendant was living in Broward County with his daughter and her boyfriend when the boyfriend’s twin nine-year-old nieces came to visit the home. At some point while her mother was taking a nap, one of the girls went into the defendant’s bed with him. The girl later testified that he pulled her pants down, pulled his own pants down, and rolled over toward her. The girl tried unsuccessfully to get away. Her sister then came into the room and also tried to help the girl get away.

“Although at trial the victim stated that [the defendant]’s penis ‘touched’ her ‘butt,’ he victim told others shortly after the incident occurred that [he] had put his penis ‘in her butt,’” according to the court. A medical examination following the incident did not show any signs of injury but did uncover semen near the girl’s anus and vagina. DNA testing showed it was the defendant’s semen. He was charged with sexual battery on a minor and convicted of the crime following a jury trial.

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Intent is a central part of many criminal cases in Florida, including those related to sex crimes. The trouble is that it can be tough to get inside a person’s head and determine what exactly he or she was thinking at a particular time. That is why cases such as these often revolve around communications evidence–emails, text messages, phone calls, and the like–to establish intent. A recent case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit involving alleged sex crimes in Central Florida is a good example of how judges view that evidence.

new emailD.W. was arrested and charged with two counts of attempting to induce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity back in 2015. Both of the charges stemmed from encounters with an undercover FBI agent who D.W. believed was offering to arrange for him to have sex with the man’s (fictional) daughter. D.W. responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a father and daughter seeking a sexual encounter north of Orlando. The undercover officer (going by the initials B.B.) responded to D.W.’s email and claimed that he was a 50-year-old man who was willing to arrange sex with his 12-year-old daughter. D.W. agreed to pay $40 for oral sex and asked to meet immediately, but B.B. told him that they had a prior engagement.

Three months later, D.W. responded to a similar post seeking to arrange sex with a 12-year-old girl. He was arrested after agreeing to pay for oral sex with the girl and arriving at a suggested meeting place. In total, D.W. sent 88 messages to the undercover officer in relation to the two internet posts. He was convicted on both counts and sentenced to roughly 18 years in prison.

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