Probable Cause Requirement in Florida Sex Crime Cases

In order to arrest a person without a warrant, police officers must have probable cause to believe that he or she committed a crime. If they don’t, anything the person says while under arrest – and any evidence obtained as a result of the arrest – must be excluded from the case against the person. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained how the probable cause requirement works in a sex crime case.

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A defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation, sexual battery, and lewd or lascivious conduct, following an incident involving a girl under the age of 12. The victim’s aunt held a party at her home on the night in question and woke up to the sound of her niece screaming at 3:00 a.m. When the aunt went to where the victim was sleeping, she saw a man get up from next to the victim and take off running. She described the person as a black man in his 20s with dreadlocks.

The officers who arrived on the scene gave conflicting information about whether the aunt knew the suspect. One officer said she repeatedly referred to him by the defendant’s first name, while the other said she wasn’t sure who the person was. Both said the woman and others told them the man had been at the party and lived next door. The officers went to the next door house, where the owner allowed them to come in. They found the defendant sleeping on the couch and arrested him.

At trial, the defendant argued that his statements to the police following the arrest should be kept out of court because the cops didn’t have probable cause to arrest him in the first place. The victim’s aunt didn’t testify at the hearing, apparently because she was in Haiti at the time. The judge declined the defendant’s request to exclude the evidence. He filed a motion for consideration several months later. He said the victim’s aunt had since said in a deposition that she didn’t tell the police the suspect’s name and didn’t say that he lived next door. The trial judge denied the motion for reconsideration.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial judge didn’t apply the correct legal standard in considering the defendant’s request for reconsideration. Nevertheless, the court said that error was harmless. That’s because the cops still had probable cause to arrest the defendant at the time, the court said.

“The evidence at the suppression hearing showed that there were other witnesses at the scene, besides the victim’s aunt, who said that the suspect lived next door,” the court said. “Indeed, it is obvious that someone told the police where the suspect lived, even if the officers were mistaken as to whether the victim’s aunt gave them this information.”

The court also noted that the aunt’s description of the suspect matched the defendant and that the home owner next door allowed the officers to enter the home.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime such as lewd and lascivious conduct 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.

More blog posts:

Double Jeopardy in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Proving Intent in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Constructive Possession in Florida Child Pornography Cases