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Joe Francis dismissal denied

PANAMA CITY, Florida- Circuit Judge Dedee Costello denied Tuesday three motions to dismiss four felony charges against “Girls Gone Wild” owner Joe Francis.

Francis, 34, is charged with two counts each of using and conspiring to use minors in a sexual performance. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted as charged.

Francis was waiting anxiously for Tuesday’s ruling because a decision in his favor could have resulted in his release from a Nevada jail, where he’s awaiting trial on tax evasion charges.

The charges here stem from the filming of two 17-year-old girls performing sex acts with each other in a Panama City Beach motel shower during Spring Break 2003.

Francis was once charged with 43 offenses from 2003, but Costello tossed most of the charges after throwing out all the physical evidence collected under a flawed search warrant. In March, the defense filed three motions to dismiss the remaining four felonies, saying the charges required Francis know the age of the girls being filmed.

Defense attorneys Aaron Dyer and Larry Simpson said in the filings that Francis did not film the girls himself and did not meet them until after the scene.

Prosecutor Mark Graham answered on May 11 with a response saying the state does not require a defendant to have criminal intent — in this case a knowledge of age — when it comes to laws that were enacted to protect minors.

The sides went to a hearing on June 20, where Graham filed another reply saying he could prove that Francis “should have known” the girls’ ages because of conversations he had before the “shower scene” with the girls’ underage companions.

The defense filed its response June 27, saying the state does not recognize “should have known” as a legal standard in these charges to establish criminal intent.

Costello said in her ruling Tuesday that she believes the charge is a “strict liability crime,” meaning it doesn’t require the defendant’s knowledge that the alleged victims were underage.

The defense asked her to dismiss one of the conspiracy charges because there was only one agreement to film the girls. Costello agreed that a single conspiracy can encompass multiple offenses, but said the state was “entitled to the most favorable construction of the evidence” and dismissed the request.

Even though Francis has been granted bond in Nevada, Costello has a detainer on him in the 2003 case and a new charge of smuggling contraband into the Bay County Jail. A dismissal of the 2003 charges would have done away with the detainer in that case, and the defense could have moved for a monetary bond on the new charges.

The defense has the option of immediately taking her ruling to the First District Court of Appeal.

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