New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft wins appeal in Florida prostitution case

Sports

FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks on the field before the AFC Championship NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo. Florida prosecutors have offered a plea deal to Kraft and other men charged with paying for illicit sex at a massage parlor. The Palm Beach State Attorney confirmed Tuesday, March 19, 2019, it has offered Kraft and 24 other men charged with soliciting prostitution the standard diversion program offered to first-time offenders. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft scored another legal victory Wednesday when a Florida appeals court sided with a lower court decision to throw out video evidence in a solicitation of prostitution case against him.

The three-judge panel from the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach said in a 23-page decision that “trial courts did not err” in suppressing the prosecution’s use of video showing Kraft inside a massage parlor.

The appeal stemmed from the criminal case against Kraft, 78, who was charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution in February 2019. The powerful NFL owner was one of dozens of spa patrons allegedly caught on secret cameras receiving illicit massages at the spa in January 2019.

“The type of law enforcement surveillance utilized in these cases is extreme,” the appellate court ruling said. “While there will be situations which may warrant the use of the techniques at issue, the strict Fourth Amendment safeguards developed over the past few decades must be observed. If they are not, any evidence obtained could very well be declared inadmissible as a matter of constitutional law.”

The office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is reviewing the ruling, according to spokeswoman Lauren Schenone Cassedy.

Kraft has pleaded not guilty to the charges and offered an apology, saying he had “hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.”

Kraft’s attorneys challenged the validity of the search warrant that let authorities install hidden cameras inside the spa, saying it violated his Fourth Amendment rights and Florida law. A Palm Beach County judge agreed in May 2019 and ruled to suppress the video, effectively gutting the criminal case against him.

His attorneys argued that law enforcement didn’t do enough to minimize the extent of the surveillance they were conducting at the day spa.

Florida Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey DeSousa had asked the higher court to reverse the ruling, arguing that state efforts to prosecute felony prostitution, racketeering and human trafficking charges were endangered by the suppression of evidence obtained with a lawful warrant.

Prosecutors must now decide how to move forward without the use of video evidence in the Kraft case.

The appeals court said the warrants obtained in the cases “did not set forth any specific written parameters to minimize the recording of innocent massage seekers, and law enforcement did not actually employ sufficient minimization techniques when monitoring the video or deciding what to record.”

“In all the investigations, some innocent spa goers were video recorded and monitored undressed,” the ruling said. “There was no suggestion or probable cause to believe that female spa clients were receiving sexual services, yet law enforcement largely failed to take the most reasonable, basic, and obvious minimization technique, which was simply to not monitor or record female spa clients.”

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