Florida High Court Orders Hearing for Sex Offender Detailed Eight Years Past Sentence

January 24, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

Late last week, the Florida Supreme Court made a decision that could have an important effect on the work of child pornography defense attorneys like me. The court on Friday ordered a hearing within 60 days on whether Ronald Morel should be civilly committed for psychiatric treatment under Florida’s Jimmy Ryce Act. Morel was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping and raping a Boca Raton woman and served seven years in prison. Under the Ryce Act, the state could and did ask a court to commit him for psychiatric treatment. Defendants can fight this, and Morel has, but delays in his case have kept him in “temporary detention” for eight years in an Arcadia psychiatric facility. The high court ordered a hearing on Morel’s request for treatment as well as his contention that his rights have been violated, saying his case raises “serious concerns” about the legality and fairness of the system.

Detainees like Morel have already served their prison sentences. Once they finish, prosecutors can ask to commit them for psychiatric treatment until they are no longer a danger to society. The law requires a trial on civil commitment within 30 days, but defendants often waive that right in order to better prepare for the trial and enlist expert witnesses. The result, the Second District Court of Appeal said, is that many cases stay on hold for years. Morel’s case involves a civil commitment trial as well as a separate case arguing that his detention for eight years without a trial is unconstitutional. His defense attorney says he wants treatment -- which he can’t have until he’s formally committed -- but does not want a trial that could lock him up for the rest of his life. The prosecutor says Morel himself is responsible for many of the delays. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune added that the case was delayed by three years without action from prosecutors; a mistake by the clerk’s office; and possibly by a defense lawyer who has gotten complaints of neglect at the Florida bar.

The Jimmy Ryce Act, named for a nine-year-old boy who died at the hands of a sexual predator, allows commitment of anyone who was imprisoned for a sex offense and deemed a potential re-offender. That’s why this is important news for sex crimes defense lawyers and child solicitation lawyers. Under the Bill of Rights, everyone has a right to a speedy and fair trial. That includes people who committed very serious crimes that society reviles. Sex offenders are not popular, and locking them up indefinitely without trial may play well with voters -- but they have the same constitutional rights as everyone else. As a child pornography defense attorney, I’m pleased that the state Supreme Court is considering the rights of Morel and other detainees, who could number in the hundreds.

If you or someone you love is accused of a child sex crime, don’t wait another moment to contact Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. Our lead attorney, David Seltzer, is an experienced former cyber crime prosecutor in the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office and understands how to fight serious sex crimes and technology crimes. To set up a free consultation, call us toll-free -- 24 hours a day and seven days a week -- at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email today.