Appellate court says judge wrong to end sex offender probation for infamous Tampa teacher

The former Tampa teacher whose 2004 sex case involving a 14-year-old male student made international headlines was ordered back on Florida sexual offender probation by the Florida District Court of Appeal. A judge last year released Debra Lafave four years early from her sexual offender probation, granting a request made by Lafave and her criminal defense attorney, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times. Lafave pleaded guilty in 2008 to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and her deal called for her to serve three years of house arrest and seven years of sexual offender probation, the newspaper reported. The only catch was that Lafave had to agree to serve the entire sentence. But last year, Lafave, now 32, told the judge of her struggles working two jobs, how she is engaged to be married and has already served three years of house arrest, the newspaper reported. The judge granted her request, shortly before he retired, and left four years of probation she did not have to complete. The state opposed the early termination and appealed, arguing it set a horrible precedent and takes the teeth out of a negotiated agreement if a judge can just go in and change it whenever he or she sees fits. The appellate court sided with the state and ordered her probation reinstated. In the ruling, the court wrote: “permitting the circuit court to go behind the terms of the plea agreement would undermine the public trust and confidence in the judicial branch,” the newspaper reported. Lafave will soon be scheduled to appear in court and be given instructions as to how to finish her probation.

Ending probation early, whether in Jacksonville or any other Florida city, is clearly not unheard of, but it is something that is asked for far more often than it is granted. The hook in this case is that the lengthy probation was part of what both sides – including Lafave – agreed to because the young victim’s family wanted to avoid the spectacle of a trial, even though she faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Many, including nationally televised crime pundit Nancy Grace, hammered the initial plea agreement for being too lenient on Lafave, so prosecutors were, without question, going to fight this decision. What often gets lost in cases like this, from the perspective of a Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney, is the state ultimately was a part of the decision not to take the case to trial. Our Jacksonville Sex Probation Lawyer has seen when prosecutors try to hammer someone on a Duval County probation violation, for example, because they don’t think the person got enough time on the original crime. Just because a prosecutor has buyer’s remorse on a deal doesn’t make it right to try to get even on a violation.

Our Duval County sex crimes attorney will be keeping a close eye on this case, especially if it is appealed to the Supreme Court, which Lafave’s criminal defense lawyer told the newspaper is a distinct possibility. It could have serious ramifications on how plea deals are handled across the state, including in Clay County, Duval County, Nassau County and St. Johns County.

If you or a loved one needs a sex crimes attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County sex crimes attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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