Monday, June 30, 2014

Are Florida Stings Entrapment?

Posted on June 30, 2014 in Articles, Featured Articles

Please read through the following Op-Ed piece submitted by Martin Dyckman to ContextFlorida and share your thoughts below.

Do you think Police engaging in contact with individuals in ADULT sex ads and then introducing them to the concept of sex with a minor is entrapment or do you think they are going after people who would otherwise be predators?

There are few things worse than a 24-year-old man seeking sex from a 13-year-old girl, or so it would seem.

They should lock him up and throw away the key, or so it would seem.
But sometimes, things aren’t what they seem.

This is about a young man we’ll call by his initials, JFD. His identity is a public record available to the curious, but I would rather not compound the misery and stigma he’ll bear the rest of his life.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and eight years of probation, which he’s on now. He’s also on the state’s sex offender registry for life.

The following facts are from a recent split decision of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. 

It rebuffed Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sought a harsher sentence for JFD.
JFD was trolling on an adult website that boasts, “Find sex by contacting fellow…members and get laid tonight.”

He responded to an ad from a woman, 32, who said her “little sister” was in town and they were “looking for a friend to have fun with tonight.”

The little sister’s age wasn’t stated.

The contact led to a two-hour dialogue, on line and then on the telephone. At some point, JFD learned how old the “little sister” was.

The older woman told him that “the little sister was a youngster who wanted to learn new things…

“His conversations directly with the purported thirteen-year-old were limited to a few (maybe two) awkward minutes on the telephone, and to about twenty lines on ‘instant messenger,’” the court said.

JFD turned up at a Gainesville location where, as a wiser man might have suspected, the police were waiting for him.

The “big sister” was a Citrus County deputy. The voice purportedly of a 13-year old was that of an Alachua County deputy in her early 30s.

They were part of a week-long sting in early 2012 by Gainesville police and the Alachua sheriff’s department called “Operation Tail Feather.”

It bagged more than 20 men from 19 to 65 years old.

JFD was charged and convicted of three counts involving use of a computer and cell phone and traveling for unlawful sexual conduct with a child.

Assistant Public Defender Rachael J. Morris pleaded on JFD’s behalf that he was a victim of entrapment. Circuit Judge Mark W. Moseley wasn’t persuaded. Neither was the jury.

But Moseley did agree that the offense “was committed in an unsophisticated manner and was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown remorse.” He ruled also that the “victim” had initiated the crime.

In such cases, the law allows a judge to impose less than the state guidelines minimum, which would have been three and a half years.

The state appealed that. JFD appealed also on the entrapment issue.

Each side won and lost, although JFD won less and lost more.

Writing for the district court, Judge Robert T. Benton II disagreed that the “victim” had initiated the crime, but he upheld the lighter sentence on the other two grounds.

On the most important issue, entrapment, Benton held that JFD said enough to convict him when he remarked that “actually, it’s kind of been on my mind to do something like that.”

A second judge concurred in the result–but not necessarily in Benton’s reasoning–and a third dissented in favor of sending JFD back to prison.

According to Morris, JFD was a student, accomplished in music and sports, when he went online for sex. All that is gone for him now.

We can suppose that at least some, if not most of the trophies in Operation Tail Feather, were serial pederasts who deserved to be caught and punished severely. Stings may be the only way to put a stop to them.

But in JFD’s case, there’s a tarnish on that trophy.

It would have been no crime to keep a sex date with a 32-year-old woman. It’s undisputed that the idea of a threesome involving a child came from her, after JFD had already taken her bait. The cop reeled him in like a starving trout. There was no evidence that he had ever done or attempted anything like that before.

In a famous 1928 dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once remarked, “…I think it a less evil than that some criminals should escape than that the Government should play an ignoble part.”

It was the government that made a criminal out of JFD. If that isn’t ignoble, what is?

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans. 

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~Adlia Stevenson U.S. Vice President (1893–1897) and Congressman (1879–1881)

On a Personal Note

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts regarding the issue of citizens’ rights, particularly addressing certain sex offenders’ crimes that do not fit the devastating, inequitable and endless punishment given.

As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.

Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
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“Dear President Obama,

I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.

But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?

All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
* * * *
What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….

We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.

Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
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“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.

It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
* * * *
I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”