Sex crimes are a big deal for the victim and for the accused. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that in 2017 there were 7934 reported rapes in Florida, 249 of which were reported in Gainesville and the Alachua County area.
The stakes are incredibly high for everyone involved in cases like these: for a victim, this sort of event is obviously incredibly traumatic. For the falsely accused, it can lead to wrongful imprisonment, life-long reporting requirements and other sanctions, financial ruin, and permanent loss of reputation.
False Accusations in Sex Cases
The statistics on what percentage of rapes are false accusations are all over the map. There have been lots of studies attempting to quantify this. Some of the studies have rates of false accusations being so high it’s hard to believe. Between a seemingly-reputable study and a law-review article, it appears that 6% is a defensible number, with a basic margin for error putting the general ballpark between 2-10%.
We have a pretty good system of justice (the best of what’s out there, as far as what I can think of), but it’s by no means perfect. So when someone is accused of any of the multitude of sex crimes, it’s a big deal, and an effective defense is a must. What are some of the more common sex crimes in Florida?
Rape (“Sexual battery”)
Florida Statutes section 794.011 basically outlaws having sex with another person without that person’s consent. The statute does not use the word “rape,” it uses the term “sexual battery.” Sexual battery is defined in the statute as simply sexual penetration or contact (in other words, “battery” is not part of the definition). Consent is identified as being knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, as opposed to consent gained by coercion or simply by the alleged victim failing to physically resist.
The rape/sexual battery statute basically sets forth a number of different scenarios and then fixes the punishment for each. The age of the accused, the age of the alleged victim, the vulnerability of the victim, and the force used are all factors.
In Florida, the basic age for consent is 18. A person under 18 is not deemed able to give consent in many contexts. One way that the government prosecutes these cases is under the law titled “Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors,” found at Florida Statutes section 794.05. This statute basically says that any person who is 24 years old (or older) is not allowed to have sex with another person who is 17 years old (or younger), even if the sex is agreeable and voluntary. This is a second-degree felony that requires sex-offender registration and the accompanying sanctions. It is what is referred to as a “strict liability” crime, meaning that there is no defense that the older person didn’t know the younger person’s age, or was lied to, or was presented with a fake ID, or anything. The government can garner a conviction with nothing more than proof of intercourse and proof of age. A lot of people think that’s incredibly harsh.
“Romeo & Juliet” Law
This gave rise to Florida’s version of what’s called the “Romeo and Juliet” law. This is of course a reference to Shakespeare’s famous tale, in which Juliet was 13 and Romeo was considerably older (but probably still a teenager) when they met and struck up their relationship. Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law does not absolve the older party of criminal liability, but if certain conditions are met, the person who was accused and convicted can petition to be relieved of sex-offender status. The Florida Senate’s summary and analysis of the law is a good primer for this. The law itself is found at Florida Statutes section 943.04354.
Lewd and Lascivious Behavior
Florida Statutes section 800.04 basically outlaws “lewd and lascivious” behavior. It is generally sexually inappropriate behavior that falls short of the coercive or violent behavior we associate with hard-core rape cases. This can be sexual activity, but it can also basically be summarized as inappropriate touching of a 12-16 year old in most cases. The penalties differ based on the different scenarios envisioned by the statute.
Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor
Florida Statutes section 827.04(3) states that any person 21 years of age or older who impregnates a child under 16 years of age is guilty of a sex crime and of child abuse, and is liable to prosecution under all the different provisions. This is typically a third-degree felony, and, as far as defenses go, the statute says that “[n]either the victim’s lack of chastity nor the victim’s consent is a defense to the crime.”
Sex Offender Registration
The Florida sex offender registration law is found at Florida Statutes section 943.0435. It basically imposes a number of registration requirements on any person with a Florida conviction for a number of sexually-related crimes (such as the ones discussed here, child-pornography-related statutes, and a handful of others), or if the person is from another state but has been convicted of a crime similar to the Florida crimes listed. The legislature can change which crimes qualify, so they’re not all going to be listed in this article.
Jimmy Ryce Act
Following a tragic crime in which a child was grievously killed, the Legislature enacted what has come to be known as the “Jimmy Ryce Act.” It allows for the government to initiate a civil suit to have a person subjected to involuntarily civil commitment for up to life. It is basically like Baker Acting someone potentially for life based on their perceived danger as a sex predator. The definitions section of the law is found at Florida Statutes section 394.912. Basically, the government, at any point in time, can move the court for this sort of commitment, if a person has ever been convicted of any one of a number of sexual offenses, including the following offenses which can be considered qualifying predicate offenses for the Jimmy Ryce Act in Florida:
(9) “Sexually violent offense” means:
(a) Murder of a human being while engaged in sexual battery in violation of s. 782.04(1)(a) 2.;
(b) Kidnapping of a child under the age of 13 and, in the course of that offense, committing:
1. Sexual battery; or
2. A lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in the presence of the child;
(c) Committing the offense of false imprisonment upon a child under the age of 13 and, in the course of that offense, committing:
1. Sexual battery; or
2. A lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in the presence of the child;
(d) Sexual battery in violation of s. 794.011;
(e) Lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in presence of the child in violation of s. 800.04 or s. 847.0135(5);
(f) An attempt, criminal solicitation, or conspiracy, in violation of s. 777.04, of a sexually violent offense;
(g) Any conviction for a felony offense in effect at any time before October 1, 1998, which is comparable to a sexually violent offense under paragraphs (a)-(f) or any federal conviction or conviction in another state for a felony offense that in this state would be a sexually violent offense;
(h) Any criminal act that, either at the time of sentencing for the offense or subsequently during civil commitment proceedings under this part, has been determined beyond a reasonable doubt to have been sexually motivated; or
(i) A criminal offense in which the state attorney refers a person to the department for civil commitment proceedings pursuant to s. 394.9125.
Statute of Limitations for Sex Cases
The “statute of limitations” basically sets forth the amount of time that the government has to either initiate a proceeding against a person or it loses the right to do so. There are a number of reasons states enact statutes of limitations in criminal and civil proceedings, mostly having to do with the notion that if there is evidence to initiate a proceeding, it should be done in a timely manner, and if there isn’t, the person shouldn’t have to spend his or her life looking over their shoulder. A person should either be given their day in court or they should be given a measure of repose so that they can move on with life.
In the criminal context, the basic rules are that if it’s a capital proceeding, a life felony, or a felony that resulted in any death, there is no statute of limitations. If it is a first-degree felony, the statute of limitations is four years. For any other felony, the statute of limitations is three years. Statutes of limitations as a whole are more further discussed in another post, which you can feel free to refer to for more information.
In the context of sex crimes, things are a little different. There is currently no statute of limitations for an charge of sexual battery if it was allegedly committed against a victim under 16 years of age, nor is there any statute of limitations for any first-degree felony sexual battery allegedly committed against a victim less than 18 years old. Similarly, there is no statute of limitations period if the offense is a first or second degree felony allegedly committed against a victim 16 years of age or older, if the offense is reported within 72 hours after its commission. In cases where the alleged victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the alleged offense, the clock does not begin to run on the statute of limitations until the victim reaches 18 or the offense is reported to law enforcement, whichever comes earlier. However, in this particular context, there is no statute of limitations period for a first or second degree sexual battery felony on a victim under 18 if the crime is reported within 72 hours after it was committed.
What Should I Do if I am Suspected of or Arrested for a Sex Crime?
What should you do if you, or a friend or a loved one has been charged (or is being investigated) for any sex crime?
You should seek counsel. Law enforcement, in their endeavors to investigate crimes, will typically seek to interview all the people allegedly involved. Sometimes speaking with law enforcement can work to the accused’s benefit and sometimes it can be a grievous mistake. We all have the right to either speak with law enforcement or to politely decline. An attorney can assist with this process. An attorney can also directly interface with the police, in some cases, before an arrest is made or before formal charges are filed. If it’s a case of a false allegation or a case where the government’s evidence just doesn’t add up, the only thing better than winning at trial is helping a person not get arrested or charged in the first place.
The Weisman Law Firm defends sex crimes charges for people. The founders had the sense to establish the constitutional principles that we’re all presumed innocent until proven guilty, the burden is on the state to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that any person accused of a crime is guaranteed effective representation. If you, a friend, or a loved one has been accused of a crime like this, feel free to contact The Weisman Law Firm for a free, confidential consultation.