Florida Court OKs Evidence of Prostitution by Victim in Sexual Assault Case – Harrell v. State

In Harrell v. State, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains that a person charged with sexual battery and related crimes can enter evidence showing that the victim was a prostitute in order to establish that any sexual contact was consensual.

Mr. Harrell was arrested and charged with two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or physical force, as well as burglary and false imprisonment stemming from an incident in which he allegedly assaulted a long-time acquaintance in her home. A jury found him guilty on all counts following trial.

Harrell later filed a motion for post-conviction relief, arguing that the lawyer who represented him at trial was ineffective because he failed to call Mr. Campbell to testify as a witness. According to Harrell, Campbell would have testified that the victim was a prostitute who traded sex for money or drugs with a number of clients, including Harrell. Campbell allegedly would have also said that the victim told him that she falsely accused Harrell of assaulting her after a failed extortion attempt. The victim had demanded more money and drugs from Harrell following a sexual encounter, he asserted, and made the false claims against him when he refused.

The trial judge denied the motion, ruling that testimony related to the victim’s alleged work as a prostitute would not have been admissible. The Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal, however.

According to the appeals court, evidence that a victim worked as a prostitute is admissible in certain circumstances to show that he or she consented to sex with a person charged with sexual battery or rape. The court cited the First District Court of Appeals’ 1991 decision in Robinson v. State, in which that tribunal explained that “evidence of prostitution may well have a bearing on the issue of consent where the defendant’s defense is that the sexual encounter which he had with the victim was in connection with an act of prostitution.”

Here, the Fourth District also said the trial judge failed to address Mr. Campbell’s additional planned testimony regarding the victim’s admission that she had falsely accused Harrell of the crimes. Although prosecutors argued that this testimony was inadmissible hearsay, the appeals court explained that the evidence may have been deemed admissible under an exception to the general rule barring hearsay for statements offered as proof of bias.

As a result, the court remanded the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings.

This case is yet another important reminder of how important evidence issues often are in Florida criminal cases. A ruling on whether certain testimony or other evidence is admissible can mean the difference between a conviction and dismissal or acquittal. That’s why it is imperative that a person charged with a crime in Florida seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Anidjar & Levine is a South Florida criminal defense law firm whose attorneys are experienced at handling a variety of criminal matters, including those involving sexual assault. We serve clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Prohibits Evidence of Previous Domestic Violence in Rape Case Against Boyfriend – Harden v. State

False Imprisonment in Florida Domestic Violence Cases – Oakes v. State

Supreme Court Weighs in on Drug Sniffing Dogs in Florida Meth Case – Florida v. Harris