Witness Seating Snafu Doesn’t Mean New Trial in Florida Sex Crime Case

Victim and other witness testimony can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal or not guilty verdict in Florida sex crime cases. The state’s First District Court of Appeals recently took on a unique case that offers one example of the kinds of witness testimony issues that can come up.The defendant was charged with three sex crimes in Florida:  lewd or lascivious molestation, lewd or lascivious conduct, and lewd or lascivious exhibition. In the run up to the trial on those charges, a state prosecutor asked the judge for permission to have his eight-year-old alleged victim testify while seated directly in front of the jury. Instead of physically taking the witness stand in the courtroom, the prosecutor wanted to place two chairs in front of the jury box and have them facing the jury.

The defendant’s lawyer objected to the request. He said the victim should at least have to take the stand while being cross-examined by the attorney. The judge ultimately sided with the prosecutors but said the defendant’s lawyer could sit at his table while conducting the cross-examination. The defendant was eventually convicted on all three charges.

On appeal, he argued that the judge’s decision to allow the alleged victim to testify in front of the jury box was prejudicial. He said the move might have given the appearance that the court was giving more weight to the child’s testimony and that the victim’s position in the courtroom may have portrayed him in a more favorable light. The First District didn’t get to the questions. That’s because the court found that the defendant didn’t properly preserve them for appeal.

In order to appeal certain decision like the victim’s placement in the courtroom, a person charged with a crime has to object to the decision and raise a specific legal ground for that objection. In this case, the defendant clearly objected to the judge’s decision. But his lawyer merely said that it would be “awkward” to cross examine the witness while he was in a chair facing the jury. He didn’t raises a specific legal justification for the objection, the court said.

To the extent it would consider the objection, the court said the judge acted within his discretion. The First District noted that the alleged victim gave live testimony before the jury and that the defendant’s lawyer had ample opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

“In this case, because the trial court had wide latitude in regulating the proceedings, and because counsel’s objection went to the presentation mechanics of a child witness’s testimony, the trial court’s decision was well within its broad discretion,” the court concluded.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in 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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