Florida Court Discusses Double Jeopardy in Sex Crime Cases

The Florida and United States Constitutions protect criminal defendants from being convicted more than once for a single offense. Protections against double jeopardy do not prevent multiple convictions for a single sex crime that impacts multiple victims, though, as a Florida court recently clarified. If you are charged with committing an illegal sex act, it is smart to talk to a Tampa sex crime defense attorney about your rights.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious exhibition in the presence of a correctional facility employee. The evidence presented during the trial established that the defendant intentionally engaged in lewd behavior within his cell and that he was visible to two mental health staff members of the correctional facility. The jury convicted the defendant, after which he appealed.

Double Jeopardy for Multiple Sex Crime Convictions

On appeal, the defendant contended that his convictions violated the prohibition against double jeopardy, asserting that the relevant statute, which criminalized intentional lewd acts in the presence of employees at a county detention facility, did not allow for multiple convictions for a single lewd act performed in the presence of multiple employees.

The court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately rejected it. In doing so, the court emphasized that the legislature intended to convict and sentence an individual for each criminal offense committed in one criminal episode, with an exception for offenses requiring identical elements of proof.

The court applied the “a/any test,” concluding that the permissible number of charges under the statute was the number of employees present during the lewd act, not the number of distinct lewd acts. This interpretation was based on the statute’s use of the word “a” in the phrase “presence of a person,” indicating that each victim present could support a separate charge.

Further, the court rejected the defendant’s reliance on the word “any” in the statute’s definition of “employee” and clarified that the focus should be on the subsection prohibiting the behavior rather than the definition. The court distinguished the case from another where a single lewd act, witnessed by multiple children, resulted in only one conviction. In that case, the statute used the phrase “any child,” emphasizing the focus on the commission of the lewd act rather than the number of victims. In contrast, the statute in the subject case focused on the number of employees present during the commission of a lewd act. As such, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Talk to a Skilled Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Florida law allows people to be convicted of multiple sex crimes for a single act, but merely because a person is charged with an offense does not mean that the prosecution will have evidence that is strong enough to obtain guilty verdicts. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to talk to an attorney promptly. The skilled Tampa violent crime defense lawyers of Hanlon Law can advise you of your potential defenses and aid you in seeking the best outcome possible. You can contact Hanlon Law by using the form online or by calling us at 813-228-7095 to set up a meeting.

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