The last of 17 cases stemming from a child sex sting last year in St. Johns County wrapped up last month and all but one of the men will serve time behind bars.
One man received five years of probation in St. Johns County, another received just less than a year in the county jail and the remaining 15 are all serving time in state prison, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Men traveled from all over the state and from Georgia to meet what they thought was a minor for sex, the newspaper reported. What they didn't know was police officers and federal agents were posing as children or their guardians during the online conversations. The sting, dubbed Operation Sheepdog, is similar to the undercover operations Dateline NBC made famous in its "To Catch a Predator" televised investigations.
These St. Johns County Sex Cases can be difficult in terms of a criminal defense because there are normally sexually suggestive online chats back and forth between the defendant and the undercover officers. Also, St. Augustine sex crimes involving children are the types of crimes juries and the public tend to be the most disgusted by and some people will argue nearly any punishment - regardless of how severe - could be seen as lenient and disrespectful.
From the perspective of a St. Johns County Sex Crimes Attorney, the most telling aspect of this group of cases is the disparity in sentences between the men who worked out a deal with the state and those who exercised their right to a trial before a jury of their peers. The 13 men who agreed to plead guilty had sentences ranging from Florida Sex Offender Probation to eight years in prison, the newspaper reported. None received as much time as any of the four who went to trial. Their sentences spanned from nine years to 15 years, according to the newspaper. And while every American does have a right to a trial, these St. Johns sex cases are another example that if a person does choose a trial, the stakes go up considerably. That can especially be true in cases like this, where police conduct a sting and there are several people charged with similar crimes, or in a case with multiple co-defendants such as a drug ring. The state will often try to work the case out and, if the defendant isn't coming around, drop the hammer once negotiations are stalled. It's not at all uncommon to see such varying sentences in cases such as this. That's why in similar cases our St. Johns County sex crimes attorney encourages her clients to at least listen to the state on a possible deal. It may not be the right one and the case may end up going to trial, but it is certainly worth the defendant's time to at least hear out the offer and give it some thought.
If you or a loved one needs a sex crimes attorney in St. Johns County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a Free Consultation. Our St, Johns County Sex Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.