As a south Florida sex crimes defense lawyer, I was pleased to see a rare appellate victory for a defendant tried under the Jimmy Ryce Act. The Ryce Act allows Florida prosecutors to evaluate certain offenders and determine whether they should be committed involuntarily as “sexually violent predators.” In Boatman v. State, Rayvon Boatman challenged his Ryce Act trial and conviction on the grounds that prosecutors waited longer than the thirty days required by the Act before holding the trial. The First District Court of Appeal ruled that Boatman had waived his right to appeal by not petitioning for habeas corpus after his Ryce Act trial, although he did object at trial to the length of his detention. However, the district court did certify the questions to the Florida Supreme Court, which permitted Boatman to continue his challenge.
Boatman pleaded guilty in 1994 to sexual battery with “slight force.” While he served his prison sentence, he was referred for evaluation as a sexually violent predator. Psychiatrists recommended this in July of 2008 and prosecutors filed a petition for the declaration in October of 2008. This was well over the 30-day deadline set by the Ryce Act, and it was later continued for several more months. Boatman noted this in a pretrial hearing and renewed the complaint as trial began, to no avail. He was found to be a sexually violent predator and committed. Boatman appealed to the First District, arguing that there was no good cause for a continuance, and he should have been immediately released because the prosecution went over the 30-day deadline. The First District agreed that the continuance was improper, but ruled that Boatman should have filed for a writ of habeas corpus as soon as the deadline was up, rather than raising the issue again on appeal.
The First District certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court that the high court split into two questions. One, if a defendant like Boatman is not brought to trial in 30 days, and has objected in trial court, is the claim waived if he does not file a habeas corpus complaint? Two, if the defendant does wait for an appeal to raise more objections and wins, is it appropriate remedy to release him or her and dismiss the Ryce Act proceedings? In both cases, the court said no. Florida defendants whose prosecutors miss the 30-day deadline may file writs before a Ryce Act trial, or they can appeal after trial, the court said. But if defendants do wait, the court said, they must be able to show that the fairness of the trial was affected in order to win dismissal and release. This is not exactly a speedy trial violation case or a pretrial detention case, the court said. Thus, while a habeas corpus petition is the preferred way of resolving the issue, failing to file one does not waive the issue for later. However, waiting does foreclose the option of having the Ryce Act proceedings dismissed, the court said, because allowing this later would effectively give defendants a second trial.
As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney, I’m pleased that the high court found for defendants on the first question. When an issue is waived on appeal, defendants can never argue it, no matter how valid or strong their arguments may be. However, as the court noted, this does Boatman no good because the court also determined that he had no case for dismissal. After he had already been tried and convicted, the court said, it would make no sense to let him go free. Thus, he has no remedy for the four-plus months he spent in custody when he should have been free. This underscores the importance of having an experienced Miami-Dade sex crimes defense lawyer by your side whenever you’re facing these very serious charges.