Florida Prosecutor Can Refer to Sex Crime Defendant as ‘Wild Animal,’ Court Says

A person who is charged with a Florida sex crime generally has the right to have his or her guilt decided by a jury. When these cases go to trial in Florida, closing arguments are an essential part of the process because they are the last chance for lawyers on both sides to make their cases to the people tasked with making a decision. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained that prosecutors have some leeway as to how they make those arguments.Defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under the age of twelve. He allegedly molested his step-daughter’s friends while they were sleeping over at his home. One of the girls testified that Defendant touched her inappropriately while she was pretending to be asleep on one occasion and placed her hand on his penis on another occasion. The two other girls—called as witnesses to establish that Defendant had a penchant for this behavior—said they were similarly molested.

A state prosecutor addressed the jury in closing statements at the end of trial. The prosecutor told the jury that he’d recently been watching a documentary on lions, who attack their prey in the dark, and that it reminded him of Defendant. That is exactly what the defendant did, the prosecutor said. “He came in when they were supposed to be sleeping and he … did what he wanted to do to them, touching them” in an inappropriate way. The defendant was eventually convicted of the charges.

The defendant argued on appeal that the judge shouldn’t have been permitted to refer to the defendant as a lion hunting his prey. The Fourth District disagreed. First, the appeals court noted that Defendant didn’t object to the comments during closing arguments. The court explained that Defendant therefore could not later challenge the comments, unless they were so prejudicial that allowing the comments would be considered a “fundamental error.”

Here, the court said Defendant didn’t show that the comments had no purpose other to inflame the jury.

While the prosecution’s statement did in fact analogize the Appellant’s [original defendant’s] predatory actions to that of a lion, “the analogy refers to the scenario in which the victims, or prey, are vulnerable,” the court said. “This statement fails to inflame into the hearts and minds of the jury.”

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