Appeals Court Shoots Down 139-Year Prison Sentence for Florida Sex Crimes

A federal appeals court recently took up a case in which a trial court sought to effectively put a man convicted of various child pornography offenses in Florida behind bars for life. The appeals court said that sentence might have been overly harsh, given the unique circumstances of the case. It also shed some light on search and seizure issues in Florida sex crime cases.

Defendant was charged with various crimes related to the possession and distribution of child pornography, stemming from his use of a smartphone application messaging board called Kik. He allegedly used false names to send nude photos of girls to young boys and asked them to send nude photos of themselves in return. At least some of the boys responded by providing the photos of themselves, according to the court. When some tried to end the conversations with Defendant, he allegedly threatened to post the photos on Instagram and other social media platforms unless they sent more photos. Defendant also allegedly traded the photos with another online user in exchange for various child pornography photos and videos.The FBI began monitoring Defendant’s Kik account after receiving complaints. FBI agents eventually traced the account to the home where Defendant lived with his parents and sister. They determined that he was the most likely user of the account in the house. They interviewed Defendant, who eventually admitted to using the account to trade the nude photos. He also agreed to allow the agents to search his electronic devices. When he was later charged with various federal crimes, Defendant asked a judge to keep out from trial his confession to the agents and all of the evidence obtained during the searches. Defendant argued that the agents intimidated Defendant and his family in a way that made him feel he had no choice but to admit that he was using the account and consent to the search. A trial judge disagreed. He was convicted and sentenced to 139 years in prison.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the trial judge that the FBI agents acted appropriately. One agent told Defendant’s mother that they often used a SWAT team in these cases, which could alert the entire neighborhood to a criminal investigation in the home. They also had reason to believe that Defendant might be immature for his age, according to the court. The agents didn’t, however, threaten or use physical force, the court also noted. It concluded that the SWAT comment was an isolated, perhaps unnecessary remark that wasn’t sufficient to coerce Defendant into confessing and permitting the search.

Nevertheless, the Court said the trial judge may have gone overboard by sentencing Defendant to more than a century behind bars. “In imposing what amounted to a life sentence without parole,” the trial judge didn’t consider how much more harsh the punishment was than what other criminal offenders have received for similar crimes. It pointed in particular to a case in which a man convicted of drugging and molesting children got 35 years in prison. The court said the judge may also have overlooked mitigating factors, including the fact that Defendant spent a “horrific” childhood in a Romanian orphanage.

As a result, the court sent the case back to a new trial court for resentencing.

If you or a loved one has been charged with child pornography or another sex crime in the state of Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. St. Petersburg 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.

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