On Thursday afternoon, Sandeep Munshi was sentenced to life in prison by the Honorable Jeffery R. Levenson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For those who may not recall, Munshi was a music teacher who was recently convicted of numerous sex crimes for molesting one his students.
During trial, the victim, now 14, testified that Munshi forced her to perform oral sex on him. She also claimed that Munshi masturbated in front of her.
The word amongst defense lawyers was that this case was a loser from the start. Prosecutors were said to have photographs of Munshi’s semen on the classroom wall and a controlled call where Munshi supposedly made incriminating statements to the victim’s parent.
Prior to trial, Munshi rejected a plea bargain that would have sent him to prison for only 15 years.
At this point, Munshi’s only hope is to file a successful appeal. Candidly, the success of his appeal will defend on two factors. First, did the trial court make any errors that either denied Munshi a fundamental Constitutional right or that were so harmful that Munshi was denied a fair trial whose result is reliable?
Second, Munshi will need a lawyer who is capable of analyzing his trial to uncover legal issues that may be argued in an appeal, who is very adept at legal research, and who is also very capable when it comes to crafting written legal arguments.
One example that I wonder about in Munshi’s case was the admission of photographs that purported to be of Munshi’s semen on a classroom wall. Even if the nature of the substance in the photographs could be proven by prosecutors, such as by admitting statements from Munshi himself or even the victim regarding how the substaance got on the wall, the pictures were likely more prejudicial than they were probabtive.
This is a legal term that essentially means that jurors are more likely to be moved emotionally by the evidence than they will intellectually. While emotion has a role in our courts, our system requires convictions that are based on hard evidence and not anger, disgust, or hatred.
However, even if these photographs were erroneously admitted by the trial court, the question then becomes to what extent did they taint Munshi’s trial? What other evidence existed in the case? Certainly the testimony of the victim will weigh heavily in any appellate judge’s mind.
Candidly, Munshi’s appeal will likely be an uphill battle. As an attorney who has had many trials in front of Judge Levenson, I can tell you that he knows what he is doing. Judge Levenson is an intelligent judge with many years of courtroom experience. Not only has he presided over hundreds of trials as a judge but he has also tried countless trials as a former federal prosecutor.
Regardless, that does not mean that error was not made. There are many different types of appeals and errors that effect Munshi’s case could have been made by the prosecutor or could have even occurred before trial. For example, if Munshi’s “speedy trial rights” were violated, he may be able to have his entire case thrown out. However, it should be forewarned that the odds of such outcomes are extremely slim.
The plea bargain negotiated by a defendant’s legal team is usually the best chance for success in a case like this one. Since this opportunity has passed, Munshi must now focus all his energy on preparing his appeal and hiring the right lawyer for that appeal.
In many cases, appeals result in new trials or new bargains with prosecutors that result in lesser prison sentences.
Whether Munshi’s case presents such opportunities is yet to be seen.
While this case is obviously very sad, at least the victim may now have a sense of justice and a feeling that this ordeal now has a measure of resolution. Hopefully this young girl will heal from what has happened to her and will one day grow up and forget about this terrible experience.