A Jacksonville Beach, Florida mother pled guilty in Duval County Circuit Court on January 30th to four counts of Child Neglect. Dalina Nicholas, 36, is accused of repeatedly selling sex with her 6-year-old daughter to drug abusing and homeless men in exchange for drugs and money to support her own drug habit. Nicholas, originally facing a sexual battery charge has agreed to testify against those men alleged to have sexually abused her daughter in exchange for that sexual battery charge being dropped. Sexual battery under Florida Statute 794.011 as alleged against the other defendants and likely as initially alleged against Nicholas is a Capital Felony with the requirement to register as a Sexual Predator. Generally Capital felonies are punishable by death. However, in Capital cases for rape of a woman or child not involving death, execution has been ruled to be unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court through their decisions in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) and Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008). As you can imagine, despite the terrible allegations against her, Nicholas has dodged a certain life sentence in her agreement to cooperate with the State. In all candor I believe this is a deal any Tampa criminal lawyer would advise his client to enter into should the implicating facts be overwhelming.
Child neglect or child abuse under Florida Statute 827.03 are often crimes used in plea agreements that allow the State Attorney's Office to earn a harsh felony conviction while also allowing a Defendant to avoid the dreaded sex offender status. In a round about way, that's what's happened in Nicholas' case. If the cited report is true Nicholas could face up to 15 years in the Florida Department of Corrections for each count of Child Neglect causing serious bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement in addition to a $10,000 fine for each count. If there are any counts not involving serious bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement the punishment would be less harsh. Each count of that like could carry up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If these are the only charges Nicholas will plea to, not only will she avoid sexual offender status but she also preserves her contention that she was unaware that the sexual abuse was taking place. Nicholas contends that because of her mental infirmities and drug abuse she was unaware of the continued sexual assault against her little girl. Because the elements of child neglect can be based on culpable negligence, Nicholas can still assert that she had no clue, albeit rather unconvincing.
Based on the news reports our Tampa criminal attorneys have reviewed, in addition to her charges being reduced there appears to be a bracket deal allowing for a minimum mandatory prison term and also a cap on imprisonment. In agreeing to this type of deal the State puts Nicholas away for at least 15 years while having the ability to argue for a 30 year sentence. Our Tampa criminal lawyers have agreed to similar deals with our clients as it also in most circumstances allows for a considerably milder sentence even if the client got the maximum end of the bracket. So, in essence the State is guaranteed a lengthy prison term while the Defendant, who very likely has a compromised case, gets a harsh but not as harsh as it could be sentence.
As a practicing criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor I cannot recall a case not involving death with allegations so horrid. I have known and represented individuals with drug problems so overwhelming that they would literally lose days of their life to the drug that was the master of their universe without any sort of recollection. For purposes of the harm caused to Nicholas' little girl, knowledge of the abuse is irrelevant. The damage is done. It is at least plausible that Nicholas was unaware of the abuse. Had these allegations been based on one isolated incident the defense would have more teeth. That same plausibility in my view isn't reasonable based on the recurrence and for that, despite a long prison term, Dalina Nicholas should thank her attorney for his work.
Jason Mayberry is a Federal and State criminal attorney with offices in Tampa and Clearwater practicing throughout the Tampa Bay area. Our criminal attorneys are available for a free consultation at 813-444-7435.