In what could be a first-of-its-kind case in Florida, an appeals court Wednesday tossed out the conviction of a treatment-facility employee who had been found guilty of sexual misconduct with a woman who admitted herself for detox treatment.
A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with attorneys for defendant James Deloatch, who argued that the woman did not meet a legal definition of a “patient.”
Deloatch was convicted in St. Lucie County circuit court and sentenced to seven years in prison for violating a law that bars sexual misconduct with mental-health patients.
The woman said the sexual incident occurred on her second day at the treatment facility after she asked Deloatch for a cigarette, according to Wednesday’s ruling.
She said she did not consent to having sex with Deloatch and reported the incident to the facility and later to police. But the appeals court said the woman did not meet a legal definition of a patient, saying she would have needed to show she had been “held or accepted” for mental-health treatment. “Here, the victim was not ‘held,’ as she had admitted herself voluntarily,” said Wednesday’s main opinion, written by Judge Melanie May and joined by Judge Robert Gross.
“And the victim had not been accepted for mental health treatment. At no time did she testify she had sought or received mental health treatment, or that she had suffered from any mental health condition which may have been related to her substance abuse disorder. Rather, the parties agree, and the record reflects, the victim had voluntarily sought substance abuse services and received those services.”
Judge Alan Forst wrote a concurring opinion. A TC Palm news story in 2021 about Deloatch’s conviction said the incident happened in July 2018 at New Horizons of the Treasure Coast.
Wednesday’s main opinion described the issue as being a “case of first impression” — indicating that it is the first time a Florida court has ruled on the issue.