The Duval County sex charge that had been the hammer for the state when now 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez refused to plead to first-degree murder was dropped by prosecutors last week. The state dropped the Jacksonville sex crime citing a lack of evidence, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The decision is interesting in this high-profile case because, other than a shaky confession from Fernandez the judge threw out in August, very little has changed in the case since the state filed it in January. Now, Fernandez is only facing the murder charge, accused of killing his 2-year-old half-brother in 2010. Negotiations in that case had been ongoing for months before they broke down last year and the state decided to file sexual battery charges based on accusations from another step brother, this one 5 at the time, the newspaper reported.
But it's clear the state tried to play hardball in this Jacksonville criminal case and the move did not work. In dropping the sexual charge, prosecutors said they were concerned the victim didn't mention the abuse in an initial interview, but made the accusation in a second session with a counselor, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors also mentioned the potential emotional trauma on the now-7-year-old victim if he was to testify in a trial. Both of these issues were known at the time the state took the sexual battery charges to a grand jury as a way of upping the ante on Fernandez if he wouldn't take the state's deal on the murder charge. The murder charge is still pending and it is expected to go to trial next year, without the interviews with the detective that were ruled inadmissible by the judge in August, the newspaper reported. Now that only one charge is left, it appears even more likely to end up in a trial, though the state could see the writing on the wall and come with an offer the Jacksonville criminal defense would be more likely to accept.
The state often uses the threat of other Jacksonville criminal charges to try to get what it wants, to in a way force someone into pleading to a charge they'd rather fight in a trial. Typically, it's a case that would be easy to prove, not a sexual battery charge that seemed to be thin at best. An experienced Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney is a tremendous asset in a case like this to help gauge what the state really has and weigh whether the best decision is to try to wait the state out and keep fighting. In this case, it appeared to work, though there's still a long way to go.
If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Sex Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.