You’re about to hear some strange goings-on, and because so much strange stuff tends to come out of Florida, let’s start with a true story from out West.
Earlier this year, a nursing home in Phoenix discovered that a patient of theirs was pregnant. Eventually, this nursing home patient gave birth. Now, a woman giving birth isn’t odd by itself. Even a woman giving birth in a nursing home isn’t the craziest thing ever, but this particular woman has been a vegetative state for 14 years. Even after giving birth, this woman is still in a vegetative state.
The police department didn’t need to call in the FBI to help solve this one. The local cops just obtained DNA samples from all the male nurses working at the assisted living facility and moments later–crime solved. To no one’s surprise, the father of the child was a licensed nurse in charge of taking care of the woman. [See Also the film “Kill Bill Vol. 1”, the intro scene entitled “My Name is Buck”, its art imitating reality, and as Greg Graffin once sang, Sometimes Truth is Stranger than Fiction (my web optimizer people discourage obscure punk rock references, sorry web people)].
A similar strange thing happened in an Osceola hospital recently.
A seventeen-year-old girl gave birth to a child. Sure, she’s a bit young to be giving birth. In this case, the oddity was the fact that her baby had a brain defect, a chromosomal abnormality. This abnormality tells the doctors that, basically, the crime of incest is afoot.
A social worker at Nemours Children’s Hospital confronted this 17-year-old mother about her pregnancy. The 17-year-old mother quickly confessed that her 39-year-old biological father impregnated her. Dad’s name is Willie Griffin Jr. State v. Griffin, 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 6015 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019).
So, a 39-year-old father has sex with his 17-year-old daughter. Time for dad to go to prison, forever. Right?
Well, not so fast. There is such a thing as defense attorneys. And we file stuff. Griffin’s defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss and, after hearing the facts, an Osceola County Circuit Court Judge dismissed all charges. Yes, you heard me, it wasn’t a throwaway line. After hearing the facts.
The “facts” appear to be that a 17-year-old girl admitted she had sex with her 39-year-old father, and if that’s the case, how did this case get dismissed on the facts?
Well, based on the eyewitness testimony of both the people involved–the father had no knowledge of the intercourse.
Can you ever trust eyewitness testimony?
Here’s what happened: Late one night this 17-year-old was checking on her sleeping father. She noticed he was making grunting sounds. He was taking some serious medications, so it didn’t surprise anyone that he was in a deep sleep. The daughter then joined her father in his bed and placed her hand on his shorts, rubbing her father’s penis until it became aroused. She then placed the tip of her father’s penis inside her vagina and she believes that he ejaculated. He never woke up. She then showered. After showering she noticed that her father was still fast asleep.
Technically, physicians may call this a ‘sleep orgasm’ or ‘nocturnal emission’, but whatever you call it, the father had no part of it. No knowledge. No intent. No nothing.
The social worker at the hospital didn’t believe the 17-year-old’s story, so she called the police to apply further pressure on the girl, demanding that she fess up to ‘what really happened’ under penalty of perjury. And for the second time, this 17-year-old told the police the exact same story.
The Osceola judge who granted dismissal did the right thing. After all, how can a man be sent to prison for something done to him while he was asleep? The reason you’re reading this article is that the 5th District Court of Appeals didn’t agree, they overturned the dismissal and want the case to go in front of a jury, reasoning that “in this case, there is indisputable evidence of sexual intercourse between the defendant and his minor daughter as the act resulted in a child. A jury could infer the necessary general intent from these facts and, thus, the State established a prima facie case of guilt for the crimes charged.” Griffin at 4.
So let me get this straight. Remember the woman in Arizona who had a child in an assisted living facility while in a persistent vegetative state? By the ‘general intent’ reasoning above, if the male who impregnated the assisted living patient was underage, she would be charged with the exact same crime as Griffin. Obviously, she could not have formed any sort of intent to commit a crime lying unconscious.
The logic of the appellate court in Griffin is severely flawed. When the court overturned Griffin’s dismissal because a jury “could infer the necessary general intent from these facts”, they ignored that general intent crimes imply that the action is taken knowingly and willfully or intentionally. Yes, this is America. We cannot send people to prison unless they commit a willful, intentional act. See Polite v. State 973 So. 2d 1107 (Fla. 2007), Frey v. State 708 So. 2d. 918 (Fla. 1998), A.L. v. State, 675 So. 2d 703 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996), N.K.D. v. State, 799 So. 2d 428 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001), M.H. v. State, 936 So. 2d 1 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006).
In Griffin, there are only two eyewitnesses, the daughter, and the father. Both eyewitnesses claim the father was incapacitated via sleep and medications. You cannot form any sort of intent while asleep. But as the saying goes, never let the facts–or the law–stand in the way of creating a sex offender. The appeals court is sending Griffin’s case to a jury because they believe that “a jury could infer the necessary general intent from these facts.”
Aside from the issues surrounding the law requiring a knowing or willful act, there are other problems with the Griffin decision. What about “intention”?
We can gain a pretty good understanding of what intention looks like in battery cases because a battery must be an intentional touching, otherwise, it’s not a battery.
Some folks claim that “intent” issues cannot be addressed by a judge and must always go to a jury, but this is nonsense. The case of Bonge v. State explores both intent and dismissal. Bonge rescued his 94-year-old mother from a nursing home after discovering that they refused to take her to the hospital. 53 So. 3d 1231 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) Bonge took his mother to the emergency room against her will and was arrested for felony battery on a person over the age of 65.
Bonge’s motion to dismiss was just like the one in Griffin, except that Bonge’s motion was denied. So, Bonge appealed–and they granted him dismissal–reasoning that battery is defined as when a person:
“intentionally causes bodily harm to another person. Intent is an element of battery. The intent to commit a battery is determined by the circumstances surrounding the touching or the striking of the victim. Given the specific facts of this case, which were admitted by the State below, the State could not establish that Bonge intended to touch his infirm and elderly mother against her will when he lifted her from her wheelchair and placed her in his car for transport to a local emergency room.” Bonge at 1233.
How is the battery in Bonge any different than the battery in Griffin?
Judge Morgan’s dismissal of Griffin’s case should have been upheld by the District Court of Appeals.