What Is a Judgment of Acquittal?
In any criminal case, the prosecution must prove all elements of the alleged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is insufficient to prove any element, the defendant has the right to ask the court for a judgment of acquittal (JOA). Basically, this means the judge can find that no rational jury could convict the defendant based on the evidence presented and therefore finds them not guilty without sending the matter to the jury.
Appeals Court Orders Defendant’s Acquittal After Prosecution Fails to Impeach Its Own Witness
Although judges rarely grant JOAs, there are situations where such motions must be granted in the interests of justice. A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Fountain v. State, provides one example. In this case, the appellate court found the trial judge should have granted a JOA and erred by failing to do so.
The defendant in this case was actually tried on six charges related to the sexual abuse of a child. The JOA in this case only applied to one of those charges, which alleged the defendant caused his genitalia to “penetrate” or “have union” with the victim’s mouth. At trial, the Second District noted in its opinion, the victim “testified unequivocally” that there was no penetration.
In response, the prosecution then tried to impeach its own witness, pointing to an allegedly inconsistent statement that she previously made to a detective. The victim said she could not recall such a statement. And despite the prosecution’s badgering, the victim’s trial testimony was consistent that the defendant’s genitalia never made contact with her mouth. She did, however, use the term “union” to describe the defendant’s act of placing his genitalia “around her mouth.”
Based on this testimony, the defendant moved for JOA on this particular count of the indictment. The judge denied the motion, noting the victim’s use of the word “union,” which matched a term used in the charging document. But on appeal, the Second District said “union” had a specific legal meaning that differed from the victim’s usage. Put bluntly, the criminal offense required proof that the defendant’s genitalia actually made contact with the defendant’s mouth. Since the victim unequivocally stated that never happened, there was no basis to sustain his conviction on that charge. Any alleged prior inconsistent statements to the police were irrelevant.
The Second District also rejected the prosecution’s argument that the defendant “failed to preserve” his objection to the denial of his JOA before the trial court. Normally, a defendant must lodge a formal objection to a trial court’s decision to “preserve” the issue for appellate review. Here, the Second District noted that the JOA motion itself was sufficient to preserve the defendant’s right to appeal.
Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you are facing serious sex crimes charges, you have every right to demand the prosecution meet its burden of proof. An experienced Orlando criminal lawyer can zealously represent your interests and help protect that right. Contact the Baez Law Firm today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.