This past week another individual, this time in Walton County, had a conviction overturned by the First District Court of Appeals on double jeopardy grounds. This is a scenario we see happen repeatedly and one where the precedence is clear.
The case was Hooks v. State of Florida and the appellant was charged with traveling to meet a minor to engage in sexual conduct and unlawful use of a two-way communications device to facilitate the commission of a felony. Essentially two charges arising out of the same act and hence double jeopardy – being charged for the same crime twice.
The Florida Supreme Court precedent is State v. Shelley, 176 So. 3d 914 (Fla. 2015), and the constitutional argument is based on the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that “[n]o person shall … be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” U.S. Const. amend. V. And, article I, section 9, of the Florida Constitution provides that “[n]o person shall be … twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.” Art. I, § 9, Fla. Const.
This is a scenario we see play out over and over and over and it’s unfortunate that (1) prosecutors keep charging these individuals this way, and (2) trial courts keep getting it wrong. It takes an appeal to correct this wrong and sadly that is a very costly and time consuming process that very few (who are likely locked up as they go through this process) can sustain. Even more unfortunate is the fact that to correct this wrong, one needed to fight their charges in the first place and given the fact that most cases result in a plea, you have to wonder how many individuals were railroaded into a plea under the threat of having unconstitutional additional charges stacked against them.
Another situation where individuals have gotten railroaded is in these online sting operation where law enforcement pretending to be minors go trolling in adult chat rooms and adult dating sites for people they claim were looking for children. This common scam (yes, lets face it, it’s not all cases but so many cases this is a bait and switch scam) is another one that’s been happening for a while. Journalist Noah Pransky covered it more than 5 years ago. Many of these stings violated policies and procedures established by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. A lot has emerged over the past few years exposing this rule-breaking on the part of law enforcement and in today’s climate where police misconduct is being exposed, the time might be ripe to bring this to the forefront.
For those who took pleas, your options might be limited because you entered an agreement that, in most cases, contained a waiver of appeal and other rights you might have, but for those who didn’t, you might want to speak with the attorney who represented you to see if any new developments might benefit your case.