Articles Posted in Internet and Sex Crimes

Public perception of the criminal justice system can be skewed. People follow cases on TV or the internet, they form opinions, then they want the “bad guy” punished. They often don’t care about the finer points of proper criminal procedure… right until they are the person facing a potential criminal conviction. That’s when they gain a whole new understanding of the importance of fundamental fairness in a criminal case. Part of ensuring fundamental fairness in your case is exercising your right to obtain a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.

Back in late June, in a ruling that made headlines around the world, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania tossed the sex crimes conviction of famed comedian and actor Bill Cosby.

A lot of people were very angry about Cosby being set free. Undeniably, the things of which he was accused were abhorrent. However, if one digs deeper into what the Supreme Court ruled, one can see the fundamental notions of fairness that undergird our criminal system required the outcome the court reached.

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social-image-logo-og-300x300Many people have heard about the protections the Constitution provides for people standing trial for alleged crimes. These include the right to a jury trial, the right to counsel and the right confront witnesses, among others. All of these are based on a more fundamental foundation of the American criminal legal system: the right to a fair trial. That fundamental foundation establishes several things that the prosecution cannot do as they try to convict you. Of course, one of the most critical ways to even the playing field is to exercise your right to counsel and arm yourself with representation from a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.

Unfairness in a criminal trial can happen in a lot of different ways. Look at this recent Sarasota case as an example. C.T. was on trial in Sarasota for a burglary charge and two sex crime charges. Those charges all stemmed from an incident where C.T. and a homeless friend entered the home of one of C.T.’s cousins to sleep at the home. The pair allegedly entered the home in the middle of the night uninvited by opening a door secured by a broken lock.

Just seven days before C.T.’s trial was supposed to start, the prosecution changed the list of charges it would pursue. Two days later, the state provided notice that it was amending its witness list – by adding three additional law enforcement officers who were going to testify about the alleged burglary. C.T. asked the judge to postpone the trial, arguing that he needed extra time to address these changes in the charges and these newly added witnesses. The judge denied the request and C.T. was convicted on the burglary charge.

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One of the biggest things you can do to strengthen your defense position in a criminal case is to find ways to get the state’s evidence that was obtained from a search warrant thrown out. This evidence will probably be critical to the state’s case, so if you can get it suppressed, then you have a vastly better chance of obtaining an acquittal. This often means knowing how to attack your search warrant the right way. To give yourself the best chance of attacking a search warrant successfully, be sure you have an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney handling your case.

As an example, consider the case of D.G., a man suspected of possessing and distributing child pornography. The police’s suspicion arose after receiving a tip from an internet chatroom service, which reported that an image depicting child pornography had been uploaded to one of its chatrooms in October 2017 and that it came from a computer registered to D.G.’s home.

During their investigation, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office also learned that a similar anonymous tip about another single image of suspected child pornography from the same computer had been lodged in August 2016.

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When you’ve been accused of a crime, there are several things that can potentially make the prosecution’s case much weaker and your defense position much stronger. One of those is compelling evidence that the alleged victim or another of the state’s key witnesses has a very real reason to lie about you on the stand. If that’s a factor in your case, you need to make sure you have a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney advocating for you because the difference between getting an acquittal versus a conviction may rest on whether or not you get that evidence of bias before the jury.

Although there are limits to the evidence of bias you can use, the law generally gives you wide latitude in presenting this part of your defense. Recently, a man from Hillsborough County, V. A.-C., was on trial for sexual battery and believed he had strong evidence of bias. The man lived with several other people, including V. A.-C.’s girlfriend, the girlfriend’s sister and the sister’s boyfriend. The sister was also the alleged victim of the sexual battery.

At his trial, the accused man sought to put his girlfriend on the stand to testify about the accuser’s bias. The accuser had a former husband who had been jailed and later deported based on an allegation of sexual battery made by the daughter of V. A.-C.’s girlfriend. The accused man’s theory was that his accuser was bitter about that deportation and developed resentment and bias against her sister (a/k/a V. A.-C.’s girlfriend) and, by extension, V. A.-C as well.

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social-image-logo-og-300x300There are several things that must happen in order for you, as a criminal defendant, to receive justice. If you did nothing wrong, then you should receive an acquittal and be allowed to go on about your life. Even if you were not completely blameless, justice requires that a criminal charge you face be reflective of what you did, and nothing more. If a crime has within its definition elements that simply weren’t met in your case, then you should still be entitled to an acquittal. In order to give yourself the best chance of getting true justice from the legal system, be sure you have the power and skill of an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer on your side.

So, what do we mean when we talk about the “elements of a crime”? Here are a couple of examples, one hypothetical and one from an actual recent case.

Hypothetically, let’s say that John Doe was spotted urinating in public. There’s no evidence that he was touching or displaying himself in a sexual manner; just that he was relieving himself in the open and that his genitals were exposed. In that scenario, an attempt by the state to charge John with exposure of sexual organs could very possibly lead to a successful motion to dismiss or motion for an acquittal by the defense. Why? Because Florida law, including Supreme Court decisions, is relatively clear that simple public nudity, without something additional (such as sexual touching or some sort of vulgar/sexual display) generally does not meet the elements of that crime. If you look at the standard jury instructions judges use in court in Florida, those instructions say that this crime requires (1) nudity and/or exposure of sexual organs, (2) in public or viewable from a public place or the property of another person and (3) that the display was (or was intended to be) “vulgar, indecent, lewd, or lascivious” in nature. In John’s case, unless the state presented more evidence, it generally would fall short of meeting that final element, so it would not be entitled to a conviction. In fact, in 1994, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled for a man charged with this crime when all he had done was urinate in public.

When you’ve been accused of a particularly salacious crime, yours can be an especially difficult uphill battle. Sometimes, people may want to look more closely at the nature of the charges against you, as opposed to the actual, admissible evidence against you. Fortunately, in this state and country, you are entitled to a fair trial(regardless of the charges asserted) consisting of only that evidence that was obtained in a manner that did not violate your constitutional rights, including your right to be free from most warrantless searches and seizures. To make sure you get the fair trial and the vigorous defense you deserve, be sure you’ve contacted and retained a skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney.

A.P. was a man who found himself in the type of scenario laid out above. He was on trial for 15 counts of video voyeurism. According to the state, A.P. had installed a camera in a bedroom wall in his home and used it to maintain a live video feed of the woman who lived in the room, including capturing her in “various states of undress.” The case was extremely serious for A.P., because the Florida legislature had recently upgraded the crime of video voyeurism to a felony, and the accused man faced as much as 380 years in prison if he was convicted on all charges.

The state believed it had strong evidence, as it had multiple videos taken from A.P.’s computer that appeared to depict exactly the sort of secret surveillance that the state alleged. The state, however, had one major problem, which the defense was ultimately able to use in its favor: the police didn’t have a warrant, and they also didn’t have valid consent, when they searched the computer and seized the video files.

Whether you’ve dealt with the criminal justice system or you simply watch crime-themed television programs, you are probably familiar with a person’s Miranda rights. These rights are a very important part of a criminal suspect’s constitutional rights. A suspect has the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. If the suspect agrees to talk to police without an attorney present, then the suspect is considered to have “waived” his right to remain silent, as well as his right to counsel (during the questioning).

Obviously, one of the major keys to any successful criminal defense is keeping out evidence that is harmful to the defense case. One way that can happen is if the defendant made a statement or confession to police after waiving his Miranda rights, but that waiver wasn’t valid. A valid waiver must be “knowing,” “voluntary” and “intelligent.” There are many ways that a defendant’s waiver can be invalidated, including proof that he was confused, was intoxicated, or that he lacked the intellectual capacity to give a valid waiver. What all this establishes is that, even if a defendant confessed to the police, the defendant may still have options and opportunities to obtain an acquittal. That’s why, if you or a loved one are facing charges, don’t give up and don’t go without counsel; retain an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney to handle the case.

An example of this was on display in a recent case that originated in Polk County. J.W. was, at the time of his arrest, an 18-year-old man with cognitive delays. Two deputies from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office questioned the teen regarding an unsolved sex crime. A sergeant read J.W. his rights and he said he understood. He also signed a waiver form.

Sometimes, you may read in the news about a court case and have a viscerally negative reaction to the person accused of a crime. “That person is beneath contempt, so I am not sure I care if his rights were violated by the police,” some say. The problem, of course, is that once you allow the police to violate the rights of people just because they allegedly are contemptible human beings, then you potentially allow the police to violate the rights of anyone they suspect of a crime. Instead, our system establishes certain absolutes to ensure that all citizens are protected from overreach. If you or a loved are facing criminal charges, be sure you have skilled Florida criminal defense counsel to advocate for you and defend your rights.

One recent case that involved a question of fundamental constitutional rights began when police in Polk County identified an IP address that was associated with the sharing of child pornography. The police traced the IP address to a home, but discovered that none of the residents’ devices had been used to view or share child porn.

The police also discovered that the resident had not secured his network. That meant that anyone could “piggyback” off that person’s network simply by having a WiFi-enabled device and being close enough to his router. With the help of the resident, the police began monitoring that network’s usage. After that, they employed something called a “Yagi antenna,” that let them follow a signal that led them to a motorhome parked near the resident’s house. Inside, they found D. and his device, which was the one that had allegedly been used for the child pornography activities.

If you enjoy “Law and Order” or other police dramas on television, the chances are you’ve heard the words:  “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” This statement is known commonly as a Miranda warning (because it originated from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miranda v. Arizona). In real life, the issue of a criminal suspect’s receipt of a Miranda warning can be a very important part of the case. An experienced Florida sex crime attorney can help analyze your case and determine if your rights have been violated and what that can mean for you.

One recent Tampa Bay area case in which the Miranda warning was critical was a case of the alleged molestation of a young girl. The girl told her father that her former stepfather had sexually assaulted her multiple times at a home in Palm Harbor when she was nine years old. Law enforcement in Pinellas County brought in the alleged abuser for an interview.

A detective began the interview by giving the man his Miranda warning. He went through each element of the warning, and the suspect said he understood every part. However, the man also observed, “I can’t afford a lawyer anyhow.” Without doing any more inquiry regarding whether the man understood that he was entitled to have an attorney provided to him at no cost if he wanted, the detective simply went forward with the questioning.

One of the protagonists from a famous 2009 movie encouraged others to “enjoy the little things.” In the law, it is less about enjoying the little things than it is about paying keen attention to the little things because sometimes the little things can make a huge difference in your criminal case. That was the case for one defendant who was facing sexual assault charges and who won a reversal of his conviction because the trial court, in issuing jury instructions, misstated the crime with which the state had charged the man. These and other minute but highly important details are examples of the types of areas in which experienced Florida sex crime attorneys can help you.

In the case, recently decided by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, the defendant was accused of trying to take advantage of an inebriated woman. Specifically, the defendant, the victim, and several of the defendant’s co-workers had spent the night drinking, and the victim ended up passed out in a field next to the bar’s parking lot. Eventually, several of the group got the unconscious woman to a van owned by one of the group. Even though the victim was “essentially non-responsive,” everyone except the victim went back inside the bar. After that, the defendant went back outside, purportedly to check on the victim. Then, sometime after that, the van’s owner went out to check. She discovered the victim, still largely not responsive, in a “half-naked” state and the defendant, with no pants on, standing over her.

At trial, the jury heard replays of phone calls, made by the victim but recorded by the police, during which the defendant “admitted that he attempted and probably did try to have sex” with the victim. Eventually, the case went to the jury, and the jury convicted the man. With facts like these, the case against the defendant might seem, to a layperson, to be ironclad. However, in many aspects of the law, from contract law to criminal defense, the difference between a favorable and an unfavorable outcome can be the smallest of details and knowing how to present those details to the courts. Additionally, even with alleged facts that are offensive and potentially triggering for some, the law still requires that all defendants receive a trial that comports with all of the fundamental elements of fairness.

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