Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sexting Trooper sentenced to 18 months in prison

If he had accepted the State's plea offer, James E. Gilbert could have walked away from Judge Lubet's courtroom a year ago with an 18-month sex offender probation sentence. And no jail time.

But he didn't think he should be labeled a sex offender, so he rejected the offer.

Two months ago, when confronted with going to trial, Gilbert pled no contest to ten counts of Solicitation of a Minor via Computer while he was employed by the Florida Highway Patrol as a State Trooper. For more background info on this case, see our earlier blogs.

Earlier this week, he was sentenced to 18 months in the Department of Corrections, 8 years sex offender probation, ordered to have no contact with the victim and her stepfather (his former supervisor at FHP), undergo mental health evaluation and treatment, and pay restitution.

Neal McShane, attorney for Mr. Gilbert, presented testimony from one psychologist, another psychologist's written report, and the defendant himself, in an effort to provide enough mitigation per Florida Statute 921.0026 as he requested a downward departure before Judge Lubet. Gilbert's 198 sentencing points equated to a lowest permissable sentence (by statute) of 127.5 months in the Department of Corrections.

Per Florida Statute, if the defendant requires specialized treatment for a mental disorder that is unrelated to substance abuse or addiction or for a physical disability, and the defendant is amenable to treatment, the judge may downward depart.
  • One psychologist's report diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and was submitted for consideration.
  • Dr. Robert Tango, LMHC, testified that the defendant's motivation wasn't sex but having fun/excitment (in large part because he was bored with his assignment at a Turnpike rest area). Dr. Tango found that Gilbert had bipolar disorder.
  • Dr. Tango's assertion that DOC was not equipped to provide the specialized treatment needed was not based on any discussions he had with officials at DOC, but upon the reports of other clients referred to him by DOC after their release.
  • Neither psychologist conducted a psychosexual exam.
Another mitigating factor occurs if the offense was committed in an unsophisticated manner and was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown remorse.
  • Gilbert took the stand and testified that he had never before engaged in texting of a sexual nature.
  • The defendant explained that even though some people might think he's shown no remorse (because he hasn't broken down and cried) he felt bad for what he did.
  • Gilbert looked directly at the victim, apologized to her for causing stress, humiliation and family separation. He stressed the impact that this entire episode has had on the victim's family, and almost as an afterthought he added, "and of course, yourself."
  • He admitted he knew what he did was wrong and said he accepted responsibility for his actions, though he told the prosecutor under cross-examination "I don't think that what I've done rates me registering as a sex offender." And, "For the circumstances that are involved here, I don't think I should have to register as a sex offender." Ultimately, by pleading to the offenses, he has accepted legal responsibility for his behavior.
  • The defendant claimed there was never any intention to do anything with the victim or anybody else in her family.  It was all talk. It was all in fun.
Judge Lubet found that the offense was indeed unsophisticated in nature.  As for it being an "isolated incident," much discussion about whether the 10-17 days (no one was sure how many exact days were involved) over which the text messages occurred could be considered as "isolated."

The prosecutor questioned whether or not "great remorse" had been exhibited by the defendant. Case law indicates that when great remorse is evident immediately after an incident, it could be grounds for a downward departure.

The judge noted that Gilbert took 2 years to enter a plea to the offenses. He recognized how difficult it was for a law enforcement officer to admit that he had done something of this nature. Mr. McShane replied that even at the outset, everyone knew that this case would be a plea, but that there were several motions that needed to be filed. The defense complained about the State's handling of this case as well as the victim's mother's involvement in the case (she and the victim's father were conspicuously absent from the proceedings). Mr. McShane also emphasized that the sentencing hearing was his client's first opportunity to apologize to the victim and that all he wanted throughout the process was his day in court.

Mr. Williams reminded the Court that defendants typically have the opportunity at their arraignments (which occur approximately 5-6 weeks after arrest) to accept responsibility and move on. He questioned whether a defendant who hides behind numerous motions really was remorseful.

The disdain between the attorneys for one another was evident.

Mr. McShane asserted that the State Attorney's Office initial plea offer was unreasonable and that it was treating his client more harshly than it would anyone else because he was a law enforcement officer. The State responded that the defendant, by virtue of his job, was in a better position than most to know that his actions were illegal.

Other factors that Mr. McShane presented to the Court for consideration were a dozen letters from FHP personnel, at least one of which bashed the victim and her family and extolled Gilbert's career accomplishments. An additional factor that was presented for consideration was that the victim's mother did not want Gilbert prosecuted. The stepfather has maintained a neutral position about what should happen. The judge was reminded that the defendant had a squeaky clean record and it was argued that he does not pose a future threat to society.

Mr. McShane argued that if ANYONE deserves a significant downward departure, his client is the one.

The victim's attorney, William Jay, provided an impact statement on behalf of his client. He testified that the victim is very afraid of the defendant and wanted him to be incarcerated. She believed that he is not remorseful and seemed angry and resentful during his testimony. She is concerned about Dr. Ming's report which called the defendant a sadist.

She requested what the sentencing guidelines called for (127.5 months in DOC). Mr. McShane objected to the victim asserting that she was afraid of the defendant.

The judge found that Mr. Gilbert had a mental disorder and that he was amenable to treatment, but indicated there was no evidence presented that the Department of Corrections was unable to provide the necessary treatment. Judge Lubet also agreed that the offense was unsophisticated in its commission.

The judge's greatest concern related to the remorse that was, or was not, shown. He believed that it was possible that Mr. Gilbert's personality is that of a hard man who does not express emotion well. The judge was not 100% convinced of Gilbert's level of remorse, and therefore found that Mr. McShane had not proved his client was truly remorseful.

The Court took into consideration Gilbert's exemplary career, that neither parent requested incarceration, the victim (now 18 years old) did request incarceration, the defendant does not pose a future threat, and that he is amenable to treatment that is unrelated to substance abuse.

Judge Lubet found that while this was an extremely distasteful offense, he noted there was no physical abuse involved. The defendant was a friend of the family and violated the family's trust in a dramatic manner. Gilbert knew what he was doing was wrong.

The judge believed that 10 years in prison was too harsh, and sentenced him to 18 months + 8 years probation. He was adjudicated him guilty on all 10 counts, designated as a Sexual Offender, ordered mental health evaluation and treatment, and no contact with the victim or her stepfather. The judge noted that the mother might want to have contact with him.

A supersedeas bond in the amount of $7,500 was granted and he was remanded to custody.  In spite of assertions he had no money, he managed to post the 15% necessary to be out of jail the following day. Judge Lubet ordered GPS monitoring, waived the cost, and ordered him to relinquish his passport before being released.

Was this sentence in line with other cases in Orange County? More to follow in the next blog entry.

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