ORLANDO, Fla. - A 9 Investigates analysis found only a fraction of those accused of sex crimes in Central Florida are ever convicted.
Investigative reporter Karla Ray went through nearly 10 years of state data and found only about 10 percent of all reported sex crimes ever make it to trial. Prosecutors say these are the hardest cases to prove.
There are four judicial circuits in Central Florida. Of 7,339 reported sexual offenses from January 2008 to January 2017, more than half pleaded out before trial. A third of all cases are simply thrown out. Only 792 were actually put before a jury.
When Darryl Patterson was convicted of sexual battery earlier this year, it was justice for the woman who was drugged and raped on camera.
“That night, he ignored my pleas, repeatedly, when I told him that I had been drugged and wanted to go home. He intentionally disregarded any thought to even my physical well-being,” the victim said during an impact statement.
Patterson is fighting his 30-year sentence, but the evidence against him, including a victim willing to testify and video, is far more than what most sex crimes prosecutors typically have to work with.
“There are inherent problems with these kinds of cases, due to the nature of the act. It's typically something done in private with no one else around,” prosecutor Gino Feliciani said.
Feliciani is the division chief of the sex crimes and child abuse division in Florida’s 18th circuit, covering Brevard and Seminole Counties.
State court records show that there, prosecutors filed sex crimes charges on more than 1,000 defendants within nine years, but 70 percent pleaded out before going to trial. Only 89 cases were put before a jury, which is 8 percent, and 63 of those cases had successful convictions.
“I think if you look at the statistics, the conviction rate is going to be much lower on this than any other type of case,” Feliciani said.
9 Investigates crunched the numbers for all of Central Florida’s judicial circuits. Of more than 7,000 sex offense defendants over the course of nine years, 53 percent pleaded out before going to trial. Just 11 oe went before a jury, and of that, only 59 percent saw convictions.
“The difference between this kind of case and any other criminal case is that the victim is the one put on trial,” Feliciani said. He points out that prevents many cases from ever getting to the courtroom. Even if a victim is willing to testify, if there’s no physical evidence or a witness, it’s just one person’s word against another.
Feliciani says in most cases involving adults, alcohol can make a case even tougher to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The public looks at these very skeptically, and that's very difficult to overcome,” Feliciani said.
Feliciani says trials can be an even greater risk when children are involved. He says it’s nearly impossible to predict how a child will do under the pressure of being on a witness stand, while keeping in mind the undue trauma that could occur by asking a child victim to re-tell their story.
That’s why plea deals are used so frequently.
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