Even Florida Sex Crimes Must Be Proved “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
Sex crimes are a serious matter in Florida. Even something as simple as the uninvited touching of another person can brand a person as a felon and a sex offender for life. That is why it is important to take any Florida sex crimes charge seriously and to zealously assert your right to due process of law.
Court Reverses Conviction Based on Lack of “Tongue” Evidence
While sex crimes allegations are often emotional and produce sensational news coverage, the legal burden on the state is the same as in any other case. The prosecution must prove every element of the alleged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury cannot simply infer guilt in the absence of evidence.
A recent sex crimes case from Fort Lauderdale illustrates how judges and juries sometimes fail to understand this critical concept. The defendant was a woman charged with four sex crimes in arising from her relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Among the allegations was a charge of “lewd or lascivious conduct,” which refers to the “intentional touching” of someone under the age of 16 “in a lewd or lascivious manner.” When the accused is an adult, a conviction on this charge is classified as a second-degree felony, which carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 15 years.
Prosecutors specifically accused the defendant here of acting “in a lewd or lascivious manner by placing her tongue in the mouth of” the accuser. But during the trial, the accuser only testified that she and the defendant had kissed “mouth to mouth” on several occasions, but made no mention of the defendant using her tongue. The jury nevertheless found the defendant guilty on this and two other charges.
On appeal, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the defendant’s lewd and lascivious conduct conviction. The appeals court rejected the prosecution’s view that the other charges the jury convicted the defendant of constituted “circumstantial evidence” to support the inference that she had also placed her tongue in the accuser’s mouth. There was simply no evidence to support a finding that the defendant committed an illegal act “in the manner charged.” It should be noted that the defendant was still found guilty on two other criminal charges, but as a result of the Fourth District’s decision, she will receive a new sentencing hearing.
Do You Need Help From a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer?
This case illustrates how details matter. It may seem irrelevant to the average person whether or not someone used their tongue when engaging in clearly inappropriate conduct with a minor, but public outrage (or even “common sense”) does not negate the state’s constitutional duty to prove all elements of an alleged crime. If prosecutors claim someone used their tongue, then they need to prove that is what in fact happened.
It is equally important for a defendant to have the best representation possible. Indeed, the Fourth District in this case found the defendant received “ineffective assistance of counsel” at trial, which prompted the court to act as it did. Do not put yourself in a similar situation. If you or a family member have been accused of a sex crime and need help from an experienced Miami criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, P.A., right away.