Florida Court Discusses Impact of Improper Statements in Sex Crime Cases

Under Florida law, there are rules establishing what the prosecution is permitted to assert at trial for a sex crime case. If the prosecution violates the rules to the detriment of the defendant, and the defendant is subsequently convicted, the defendant may be entitled to a new trial. The District Court of Appeals of Florida, Second District, discussed when a new trial is warranted because of improper statements, in a case where the defendant was convicted for sexual battery. If you reside in St. Petersburg and are accused of sexual battery, it is sensible to consult an experienced St. Petersburg sex crime attorney to analyze what evidence the State is permitted to use against you at trial.

Evidence Regarding the Alleged Offense and Trial

It is reported that the defendant was charged with sexual battery with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the victim testified that she saw the defendant walking on the side of the road and gave him a ride. She also stated that later in the evening, the defendant held a knife against her neck and forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. She underwent a medical examination during which a DNA swab identified the defendant’s semen. The defendant testified, however, that his sexual encounter with the victim was consensual, and he denied holding a knife to her neck.

Allegedly, during closing arguments, the prosecution stated that the defendant engaged in spaghetti throwing, in that he was throwing out defenses to see what would stick, used smoke and mirror tactics, and likened the defense arguments to an abusive relationship.  The jury convicted the defendant of sexual battery, which was a lesser-included offense. The defendant subsequently filed a motion for a new trial due to improper statements made by the prosecution in its closing.

Evaluation of Improper Statements Made by the Prosecution

The defendant’s attorney did not object to the prosecution’s statements during the trial. Under Florida law, when an objection is not preserved at trial, a court will only grant a new trial if the comments in question rise to the level of fundamental error. A fundamental error occurs when the aggregate effect of the comments impacts the validity of the trial as a whole, to the extent that the jury would not have reached a guilty verdict without the alleged error.

In the subject case, while the court conceded that the prosecution’s remarks were deeply troubling and were clearly improper, they did not rise to the level of fundamental error. Specifically, the court found that the comments, although improper, were not sufficiently pervasive to invalidate the rest of the trial, which was capably run. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Proficient Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defendants have numerous rights, and if their rights are violated, they may be granted a new trial. If you are charged with a sex crime such as sexual battery, it is in our best interest to speak with a proficient St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to discuss your case. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a criminal defense attorney adept at helping criminal defendants fight to protect their rights. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted via the form online or at 727-897-5413 to set up a free and confidential meeting.

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