Florida Supreme Court Hears Double Jeopardy Argument in Attempted Sexual Battery Case

The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in Florida. Immediately below the Florida Supreme Court are the Florida Appeals Courts. There are five different districts in Florida that each have their own courts of appeal. Sometimes these courts will rule on cases in ways that conflict with each other. When this happens, then the Florida Supreme Court will often agree to hear the cases to make a decision on the issue. Then, the lower courts are required to follow the Florida high court’s ruling. The different levels of courts can be confusing, but your experienced Florida sex crimes defense attorney can help you to understand how your case will move through the courts and whether it is possible to appeal to a higher court.

Underlying Facts

While this case involves several lower court cases, it is centered on one particular case from the Fourth District Court of Appeal. In the case, a defendant was charged with burglary of a dwelling with an assault or battery while armed and masked, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon while masked, and attempted sexual battery using great force or a deadly weapon. He was found guilty on all of the charges.

He argued that these convictions violated the prohibition against double jeopardy. When there has been a final verdict in a case (notwithstanding permissible appeals), the defendant cannot be prosecuted for those same crimes again. This is called double jeopardy. Here, the defendant argued that he should not have been charged with three different crimes and that the conviction on all three counts violated double jeopardy.

Double jeopardy also applies to lesser included crimes. For example, if someone burglarizes a house, they have necessarily also committed the crime of trespass. However, as being on someone else’s property without permission (i.e. trespass) is part of the crime of burglary, it cannot be charged and punished on top of the burglary charge. The defendant put forth the theory that this violated double jeopardy because attempted sexual battery and aggravated assault were lesser included offenses to the charge of burglary with assault.

Supreme Court Holding

The Florida Supreme Court held that these convictions do not violate double jeopardy laws. They relied on the fact that in order to tell whether double jeopardy has occurred the court should look at the language in the statutes, not the facts of the case. In other words, if one crime is a lesser included offense of another (as in the trespassing example above), it will be in the statute.

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision in this case conflicted with decisions by the First and Fifth District Courts of Appeal. Instead of focusing on the statutes, they looked to the conduct of defendants. So while a defendant’s conduct may have violated two statutes at the same time, as long as one statute wasn’t necessarily violated at the same time as the other one there is no double jeopardy.

Contact an Experienced St. Petersburg Sex Crime Defense Attorney Today!

Cases like this show how important it is to have a knowledgeable Florida sex crimes defense attorney on your side. The experienced St. Petersburg sex crimes defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will vigorously defend your case. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

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