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UNF professor resigns after child abuse conviction

By Maggie Seppi, Staff Writer

Former UNF computer science professor Arturo Sanchez-Ruiz resigned Nov. 3 after being convicted of child abuse and serving 150 days in Duval County jail.

Sanchez-Ruiz was arrested May 2011 for charges of sexual battery with a female minor, according to a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office police report.

The charges against Sanchez varied throughout his stint.

Sanchez was first charged with two counts of sexual battery with a female minor, which means the victim is over the age of 12, according to Duval County public records. However, the charges were modified days later to two counts of capital sexual battery, which means the victim involved was under the age of 12. Sanchez pleaded not guilty to the second set of charges.

Following these modifications, the state attorney added four more charges, four days before the trial was to take place. The additional charges included two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation with a victim under the age of 12 and two counts of sexual battery involving familial or custodial sexual activity.

The six charges, after a plea bargain, were reduced to a single charge of child abuse — a third-degree felony — the day of the trial.

Sanchez was granted a predetermination conference to argue why he should not be terminated from UNF, said Marc Snow, UNF’s general associate counsel.

However, Sanchez took the opportunity to resign from his position as a tenured professor at the hearing instead.

According to JSO’s police report, a man who was close with the victim called police May 19. Upon JSO’s arrival, the man said he had received a call from another person close to the victim. That person said he or she believed the victim had been sending sexually explicit conversations via the Internet. Sexually explicit messages were found on the victim’s iPod.

The victim’s parents questioned her about the messages and asked if she was sexually active or if anyone had touched her inappropriately. She admitted to the messages but initially denied being touched inappropriately. Upon being asked a second time, the victim said Sanchez had touched her inappropriately, which prompted the man to call the police, according to the police report.

The sexually explicit messages were never tied to Sanchez during trial.

In an interview with the Spinnaker, Sanchez’s attorney, Richard Selinger, questioned the change in charges.

“How is it possible Sanchez was charged with capital sexual battery, to be reduced to a single count of child abuse — only a third degree felony?” Selinger said.

Over the course of at least two weeks, four phone calls and two voicemails were left for Erin Wolfson, the prosecuting state district attorney assigned to the case. None of the calls seeking comment were returned.

The prosecution holds plenty of discretion when it comes to determining which charges will be brought against a defendant, said David Pimetell, a Florida Coastal School of Law associate professor of law. Additionally, there may be circumstances when the prosecution has evidence of a crime but chooses not to prosecute because it is not compelling enough, and they fear they may lose the conviction.

“A prosecutor’s office doesn’t have enough resources to prosecute every crime, so you have to make judgement calls,” Pimetell said. “At the same time, the defense counsel will engage the prosecutor in discussion in an attempt to persuade them to change charges or to perhaps even drop charges.”

Most often, he said, the defense will not immediately disclose evidence that may undermine the prosecution’s case because it benefits them more to do so when the prosecution is unprepared. The prosecution, however, is required to provide all incriminating evidence to the defense, so they know what charges are involved and can prepare an adequate defense.

However, it is rare for prosecutors to reduce charges in these serious, high-profile cases unless they really need to, said John Stinneford, a professor of law at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. Because prosecutors do have political constraints that they face, such as letting a killer get off with a light sentence, it’s likely to arouse public anger. They often try to avoid such a reaction, Stinneford said.

“Prosecutors essentially have a largely [not reviewable] power to determine whether to bring charges, how serious they should be and to what extent should they offer to reduce charges,” Stinneford said. “For this reason, [their power] can be abused if they aren’t careful to follow clear and ethical practices.”

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