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    Appellate court calls castration sentence illegal

    The penalty against a sex offender must be overturned because it is not included in state law, judges rule.

    ©Associated Press
    February 9, 2003


    TALLAHASSEE -- Judges cannot sentence sex offenders to be surgically castrated because there is no provision in state law for the penalty, an appellate court ruled.

    A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Thursday unanimously reversed the castration sentence of Paul Bruno.

    Three years ago, the 35-year-old Fort Walton Beach man pleaded no contest to four counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child. He was accused of fondling a girl during a two-year period starting when she was 6 years old.

    As part of a deal with prosecutors, he was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison. He also agreed to be castrated in exchange for a fifth count being dropped; he had faced a sentence of more than 21 years on that charge.

    "An illegal sentence cannot be imposed, even as part of a negotiated plea agreement," District Judge Robert T. Benton II wrote for the panel.

    The appellate court found that neither surgical nor chemical castration is allowed by state law for a lewd or lascivious act and, therefore, Bruno's sentence cannot be enforced. Chemical castration is permitted for sexual battery, but Bruno was not charged with that crime.

    Assistant State Attorney David Fleet, who prosecuted Bruno, declined to comment Friday because he had yet to read the opinion.

    Where the case heads next is unclear. Benton wrote that prosecutors could agree to a resentencing or withdraw the plea bargain and take the case to trial.

    The court also found merit to Bruno's claim that he agreed to the deal only because his attorneys mistakenly told him that he would get no more than 10 years. If the plea agreement is not shelved, Bruno should get an evidentiary hearing on that issue, the panel said.

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