Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Overreaction All Too Common in Juvenile Sexual Offenses Cases in Hillsborough County Florida

Overreaction All Too Common in Juvenile Sexual Offenses Cases

St. Petersburg Criminal Attorney and Former State Prosecutor Melinda Morris of the Morris Law Firm discusses the recent case of a Walker Middle School boy allegedly sexually assaulted by classmates.


A boy attending Walker Middle School in Tampa was the alleged victim of sexual assault by his classmates in the locker room.  After a teacher heard of a bullying incident, the four defendants (classmates, and all male) were asked to provide written statements.  After the school resource deputy read the statements, a Tampa detective was called who interviewed the alleged victim for a total of 6 minutes.  Within hours, all four boys were arrested and looking at charges of felony sexual battery.

Now, nearly 16 months after the arrests, the State’s case has shrunk significantly.  Based on lack of evidence and other intervening factors that their defense counsel was able to raise, two of the boys face felony battery charges (not sexual battery) – one is looking at juvenile sanctions (as opposed to be sentenced as an adult), while the other will have his charges dropped after successfully completing a pretrial intervention program.  The other two boys are scheduled to go to trial on September 13, 2010.

Why This Matters To You:

This case serves as an example of the complex issues surrounding Juvenile Sexual Offenses, and how missteps by law enforcement and prosecutors can have far reaching effects on juveniles who need specialized criminal defense.  Juvenile Sexual Offense cases often receive special attention from the State Attorney’s Office and the media which can also lead to overreaction without proper evidence.

The Walker Middle School case highlights significant issues that affect many Juvenile Sexual Offenses cases including:

·         An inadequate interview of the alleged victim that lasted only 6 minutes - Typically, someone in the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Division spends significant time interviewing an alleged victim of a juvenile sexual crime
·         Inconsistent witness statements – there were widely varying accounts of what happened and when
·         Lack of physical evidence – there was no DNA evidence linking the defendants to the alleged victim
·         Procedural Issues – the alleged victim did not go for a medical exam until nearly a month after the allegations where an immediate exam is more typical
·         Affect of the Media – Many of the potential witnesses were interviewed by authorities after the case had made the headlines making their statements unreliable

In many Juvenile Sexual Offense cases there are potential defenses that may be utilized to reduce the charges, or even have the charges dropped altogether:

·         Victim Recantation
·         Lack of Intent
·         Lack of Physical Evidence
·         Procedural Issues
·         Mistaken Identity
·         Failure to Read Miranda Warnings

What To Do Next:

If Your Child Is Arrested for a Juvenile Sexual Offense:

·         Do not speak to the police - ask to have an attorney present.
·         Do not give a written statement – again, ask to have an attorney present.
·         Contact an attorney immediately.

It is equally important to engage an attorney quickly as you have a very narrow window of time between when your child is arrested and when the State Attorney’s Office makes a decision to file a criminal charge against your child.  Hiring an attorney immediately to negotiate on your behalf with the State Attorney’s Office gives you the best chance of avoiding criminal charges.

If your child has been arrested for a Juvenile Sexual Offense in St. Petersburg or Clearwater, Pinellas County, or Tampa, Hillsborough County, or Bradenton, Manatee, Polk, Pasco, or Sarasota Counties, FL contact a St. Petersburg Juvenile Sexual Offenses Attorney to discuss possible defenses that may exist in your case.  Call the Morris Law Firm at 727-388-4736 to discuss your case directly with an attorney, or fill out our Online Form to be contacted for a Free Initial Consultation.