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Florida Appeals Lewd Conduct Dismissals

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla – A circuit court judge will decide whether law enforcement officers can actually be offended if they are paid to solicit strip clubs and receive lap dances while in the line of duty.

The State’s Attorney’s Office has appealed lewd conduct charges against 10 exotic dancers in cases that had been dismissed by Pasco County Judge Marc Salton. The appeal will go to the 6th Circuit Court.

Last October, undercover sheriff’s deputies watched strippers and received lap dances at five adult nightclubs in west Pasco County – Lollipops, Calendar Girls, Club 54, Sin-na-bar and Players Club. Then the deputies busted 30 dancers on misdemeanor charges of lewdness.

But for a lewd conduct charge to stick, someone needs to be offended. Salton ruled that undercover officers, in their official capacity, could not be offended.

“Since the crux of the offense of lewdness is the intrusion on the rights of others, the protected class must be unsuspecting members of the public at large who would not want to be exposed to the (dancer’s) conduct, as opposed to a law enforcement officer conducting an investigation in an undercover capacity,” Salton wrote.

“We don’t read the statute as having that kind of requirement,” Assistant State Attorney Marie King, who is handling the appeal, said Wednesday. If Salton’s ruling stands, it would make it extremely difficult to prosecute lewd conduct charges that arise from acts in an adult nightclub.

The outcome of the appeal will have implications only as far as Pasco County. However, if an appeal moves to the 2nd District Court of Appeals, it could have statewide implications, King said.

If the circuit court uphold’s Salton’s decision, King said she would ask her boss, State Attorney Bernie McCabe, to appeal the case further.

If Salton’s ruling is overturned, it is likely King’s opponent would appeal.

Luke Lirot, a First Amendment attorney based in Tampa and noted for his defense of the adult entertainment industry, was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening.

He is handling the case of Dawn Acker, a dancer accused of lewd conduct. She was dancing at the Players Club in Hudson when she was arrested on charges of lewdness and exposure of sexual organs on Oct. 10, 2002.

In reply to the state’s appeal, Lirot reiterated Salton’s ruling and the supporting case law.

“The only critical issue that needs to be addressed in the instant appeal is whether or not the trial court properly found that the element of “offensiveness,’ a critical and necessary element to prove the crime of “lewdness,’ could not be satisfied by the accusations of law enforcement officers gleefully participating in the “consumption’ of adult erotic entertainment presented only to adults voluntarily patronizing a fully licensed adult entertainment establishment,” he wrote.
 

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