There are few things worse in life than being accused of doing something that you did not do. In today's society, people are quick to cast judgement and assume guilt based entirely on accusations. Nowhere else is this more common than in criminal investigations or arrests involving sexual offenses. In many of these cases, the accused's reputation, professional careers, and personal and family relationships are forever tarnished just by the mere accusation of wrongdoing. Although under the law every accused individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the reality in today's world is that just an accusation of sexual wrongdoing is enough to cause irreparable damage to that person's life.
The serious and sensitive nature of being accused of a sexual offense make it even more important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. Too often those under investigation or arrested for a sex crime feel too embarrassed or ashamed to address the accusations by contacting an attorney. Others feel they can speak to the law enforcement officers investigating the accusations and “explain their side of the story” and think that having an attorney will “make them look guilty”. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. Our attorneys at Keller Melchiorre & Walsh are experienced in dealing with every sex crime ranging from the most serious offenses down to misdemeanor charges, and we pride ourselves on providing an aggressive and discreet approach to defending these crimes. Below is some general information into the complex nature of sexual offenses in Florida. However, if you or a loved one find yourself in the unfortunate position of facing these types of allegations, do not feel like you have to face this alone. Reach out to our office immediately to privately discuss the details of your case. We have experienced attorneys available at any time to assist you.
What are sexual offenses?
The term sexual offenses encompasses a variety of criminal charges that range from misdemeanor charges like indecent exposure to capital offenses such as sexual battery on a minor. Sexual offenses typically involve an allegation of some type of touching or contact with another person that is sexual in nature. Depending on the specific crime charged, there may be the added allegation that the touching was not consensual or agreed to. However, many sexual offenses in Florida do not require the touching of another person, and the mere solicitation of sexual activity or exposure of sexual organs can lead to serious criminal charges. Additionally, there is another class of sexual offenses that make it a criminal offense to take, possess or distribute sexual, or sexually suggestive photographs or videos. Finally, there are also laws that apply to anyone who has previously been convicted of a sexual offense that require that person to comply with strict and often complex registration requirements. These registration requirements include strictly limiting things such as where a person can live, work or travel.
Who can be charged be with a sex crime?
Anyone who is alleged to have committed a sexual offense within their jurisdiction of Florida can be charged with a sex crime. Often people think that if a person is a minor and is accused of a sex crime with another minor that it can not be a criminal offense. However, there are specific courts and prosecutors that investigate and prosecute even juvenile offenders for sexual offenses as well, and depending on the charges and circumstances a juvenile offender, someone under the age of eighteen can be charged and prosecuted in adult court the same as an adult.
Additionally, there are certain charges that can carry enhanced or more severe penalties based on that person's relation to an alleged victim. Some examples of this include if the person is in a position of control or authority over the victim; if the victim is alleged to have been helpless, physically or mentally incapacitated; or if the victim is a minor.
What should I do if accused with a sex crime?
It is only natural to immediately want to clear your name when you have been wrongfully accused of something as serious as a sex crime. However, you should never speak to law enforcement or provide a statement to anyone without first consulting with an attorney. It is a common misconception that “lawyering up” will make you look guilty or like you have something to hide. It is the exact opposite you have something to protect. Your liberty, reputation and life can be jeopardized by a mere accusation.
Commonly, people wrongfully accused of a sexual offense agree to speak with law enforcement officers to tell their side of the story. They are unaware that detectives are allowed to lie to them about the evidence they have in the case, trick them into saying things they didn't mean to, and twist the words they use against them. Law enforcement officers are trained specifically in how to interview suspects so they can lock them into some form of a confession.
On that same note, if you think you are being accused or investigated for a sex crime, you should not have any contact with the person accusing you at all before consulting with an attorney. This includes in person and especially over the phone or by text message or email. “Controlled calls” are a common tactic used by law enforcement in which they will have the alleged victim contact the suspect usually by phone to discuss the allegations and try to get that person to make admissions over the phone. What the suspect doesn't know is that the phone call is being done on speaker phone with law enforcement listening in and recording everything being said. Also, the law enforcement officers are scripting the alleged victim on what to say to try and elicit a confession or statement can be used against that person later.
Exercising your constitutional right to have the assistance and presence of a lawyer before making any statement can never be used against you at any point in a criminal proceeding. An experienced lawyer can advise you and protect your rights at every step along the way, in many cases avoiding any criminal charges being brought against you at all.
Are there any defenses to sexual offenses?
The short answer is yes. Depending on the sexual offense being charged, there may be several legal defenses available to a person accused of a sex crime. Based on the specific evidence and details of a case, there may be both legal and factual defenses. In some cases, there may be both factual defenses and legal defenses that are applicable.
Factual defenses can be as basic as attacking the evidence, or lack of evidence, to show that the alleged offense did not or could not have occurred as alleged. In every criminal case it is the prosecutor's burden to prove that a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, in some cases in which someone is wrongfully accused of a sexual offense, the best defense may be to attack the sufficiency of any alleged evidence. This is common in so-called “he said, she said” type cases, in which there is no physical evidence of any crime.
The most common defense in sex crime cases is that the alleged sexual contact was consensual. The facts and circumstances surrounding the case may prove that the contact was consensual, or at the very least, raise a reasonable doubt as to whether the sexual contact was consensual. In these types of cases, an experienced defense attorney can use the facts and evidence to prove the contact was consensual, which is then a legal defense to the crime charged.
In other sexual crimes where consent is not available as a defense, there are other legal defenses such as entrapment, statute of limitations, and motions to suppress unlawful searches or search warrants, or confessions that may apply.
What are the possible penalties for sexual offenses?
The potential penalties for sexual crimes in Florida can range from anywhere from avoiding a conviction and being placed on probation, all the way up to life in prison, and in certain extreme circumstances, even the death penalty. The exact penalties for each case vary depending on a number of different things including: specific charged offense, the age or relation to the victim, whether force or a weapon was alleged to have been used, and the criminal history or record of the accused.
For many sexual offenses, a conviction requires registration as a sexual offender or, in some cases, as a sexual predator. These registrations carry with them requirements which limit where a person can live, work, or travel. They can also require things such as electronic monitoring, mandatory treatment programs, curfews and limit or prohibit a person's ability to have access to electronic equipment to access the internet. These various requirements and restrictions can last for a person's entire lifetime and will have effects which last long after a person's sentence probation or incarceration ends.