New Evidence of Conflicting Lab Tests Vacated Sexual Battery Conviction
While the goal of anyone accused of a crime is to avoid a conviction, for a person wrongfully convicted of a crime, the discovery of new evidence can be crucial. The recent Florida Supreme Court case of Swafford v. State demonstrates how new evidence resulted in the opportunity for a new trial for a man previously convicted of a sex crime and murder.
A defendant challenges his conviction
The defendant had been convicted of sexual battery and first-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment and death, respectively. The conviction and sentence were based on a theory that the sexual battery was the motive for the murder.
The victim had died from gunshots, and the holes in the victim's clothing from the bullets indicated she was fully clothed when shot. In the defendant's trial, the jury was never told there was another suspect matching the description of the murderer, who was also near the gas station where the victim was abducted, and who also possessed the type of gun that was the murder weapon.
At the trial, the medical examiner concluded the victim was sexually battered, based largely on the presence of seminal fluid in the victim's body. The defendant later challenged his convictions and sentences, arguing that newly discovered evidence related to tests on that fluid showed that he did not commit the crimes.
Conflicting results from tests
At the time of the trial, the state had tested swabs taken of the victim's body that tested positive for "acid phosphatase," a substance usually found in seminal fluid, although semen could not be decisively identified in the samples. However, during retesting in 2005, neither AP nor semen could be established in the sample. No explanation for the second finding could be found; two subsequent tests established that the initial positive AP test was a false positive.
The medical examiner testified at trial that the presence of AP was important to his conclusion because AP was a known constituent of seminal fluid. Thus, the newly discovered evidence so significantly weakened the case against the defendant that it gave rise to reasonable doubt as to his guilt for the sexual battery, which, in turn, was key to the prosecution's theory of the murder.
Therefore, the Florida Supreme Court vacated the convictions for sexual battery and first-degree murder, vacated the sentences, and remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial.
Defending your rights
If you are accused of a sex crime, it is important to take quick action to protect your rights and reputation. Seek an experienced criminal defense attorney who will vigorously defend you and will ensure that all proper defense actions are taken to present your case.