Have you or your loved one been accused of rape or any other sexually motivated crime? If so, read on to learn about the ramifications, challenges, and defenses as it pertains to rape charges in Florida.
Rape accusations can be one of the most challenging things to deal with and live with, especially if you are confident that the allegations are unsubstantiated and lack merit. And knowing that you have to wait for a certain period before the prosecution finally commences makes it even more unsettling.
But what is the statute of limitations for statutory rape charges in the state of Florida? Or in other words, within what period does the law require the victims to file and bring forth the statutory rape charges to be valid for prosecution? We’ve prepared this comprehensive post to discuss, among other things:
- What is statutory rape?
- What is Florida’s statute of limitations on rape?
- What is Florida’s statute of limitations for different forms of sexual abuse?
- Are there any exemptions to the statute of limitations?
- What should you do when faced with rape charges?
What is Statutory Rape?
Statutory rape refers to the act of engaging in sexual activity with a person below the legal consent age. In Florida, the age of consent is 18 years. That means that if you engage in sexual activity with a child who is 17 years or younger, you may be charged with statutory rape.
Generally, Florida’s statutory rape is regarded as a second-degree felony, and offenders can be sentenced to 15 years or 15-40 years in prison while habitual offenders can get locked up for life. However, if the victim succumbs to the sexual offense, death penalties may apply.
The other critical point to note about statutory rape is that consent is not a defense factor in the court because the victim is deemed incapable of issuing it. Also, unlike other rape crimes, the victim is not required to press charges; that’s a preserve for the state of Florida.
What is Florida’s Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape?
The statute of limitations for statutory rape in the state of Florida is three years. In other words, the victim must bring forth and file any rape charges within three years after the commission of the offense to be legally binding and valid for prosecution.
However, the state legislature has recently found ways to minimize the application of the statute of limitations, particularly on rape or other sexual offenses involving children. Thus, if a Florida resident gets accused of statutory rape, it is possible that the prosecution can commence at any time, with no regard to the 3-year statute of limitations.
For instance, the Florida Legislature recently passed “Donna’s Law.” The law states that if a specified sexual battery offense involves a minor, the prosecution can commence at any time without following the general time limitations. The law came into effect for sexual crimes committed on July 1, 2020, or after. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the list of exceptions to Florida’s statute of limitations is growing, and the trend is likely to continue in the coming years – more details below.
What are Florida’s Statutes of Limitations for Different Sexually Motivated Crimes?
There are two distinct statutes of limitations for sexual abuse in Florida, depending on whether it’s a civil or criminal case. Let’s look at how the limitations vary for the two statutory cases:
Florida’s Statute of Limitations for a Civil Sexual Abuse Case
In a civil case, the statute of limitation defines how long the victim has to wait before filing a lawsuit to seek compensation for the damages endured from the sexual abuse (also known as a sexual battery in Florida). To file a civil suit for sexual battery, the victim must initiate an action in adherence to the following time limits:
- Within seven years after attaining the majority age (which is eight years in the state of Florida)
- Within four years after abandoning or seizing from depending on the abuser
- Within four years after discovering a connection between a related injury and the sexual abuse
- If below the majority age, the statute of limitations does not apply
Before passing the above-discussed “Donna Law,” the statute of limitations was only waived if the minor was below 16 years. The outdated law also specified the conditions and duration within which minors aged 16-18 years had to report a sexual battery.
These minors had a 72-hour period to tell the incident to law enforcement or risk being disallowed to file a lawsuit. If that window passed without any action, the minors had to for three years, as the statute of limitations dictates.
Florida’s Statute of Limitations for a Criminal Sexual Abuse Case
In a criminal case, Florida’s statute of limitations gives the prosecutor a time frame to bring charges against the sexual abuser. In essence, the time frame varies depending on the gravity of the sex battery and the circumstances of the offense.
Below are a few examples of statutes of limitations for criminal sexual abuse cases in Florida:
- The standard statute of limitation for a serious felony sex offense can be ten years or less.
- If the sexual abuse resulted in the victim’s death or occurred in such a circumstance that the abuser could face life imprisonment, the statute of limitation does not apply.
- The average statute of limitation for a sexual assault offense is four years.
- If the sex crime specifies a clear-cut time limit for filing charges, the statute of limitation does not apply. But wait; this is only applicable if the crime happened after 2006 or the originally sampled DNA evidence identifies the abuser, without reasonable doubt. Also, note that the more DNA evidence, the better. Thus, the accused may be allowed to conduct their independent DNA tests.
The key takeaway is, Florida’s statutes of limitations are not always cast in stone. The time restrictions can vary depending on factors like the sexual crime involved, the facts of the case, the victim’s age, and whether new legislation is passed or amended.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations for Sex Batteries in Florida?
Several exceptions may apply to the standard rules governing the statute of limitations. This depends on the crime committed and the circumstances of the event. Perhaps the most obvious one is that if the abuser is being prosecuted for a life felony, a capital felony, or a felony that resulted in the victim’s demise, the statute of limitations does not apply.
Sexual battery offenses may be exempted from the time restrictions in Florida if they involve:
- A minor aged 12 years or under
- A victim who is a minor aged 12 years or below and an abuser with familial or custodial links
- The use of threat to use a deadly weapon or the use of force
- A victim below the age of 18 who suffers a first-degree felony sexual molestation
- A first or second-degree felony sexual battery reported to law enforcement within 72 hours of its commission
- A first or second-degree felony sexual battery suffered by a victim below 18 years and reported to law enforcement within 72 hours after its commission
- A life felony lewd or lascivious molestation of a child under 12 years by an abuser who is 18 years or older
- Sexual battery or an attempt to commit sexual battery that injures the victim, and the offense was committed when the victim was 16 years or younger
What Should You Do When Faced with Rape or Sexual Battery Charges?
Let’s be honest; facing sexual assault charges is one of the most intimidating experiences, especially if the accusations could put your reputation or career on the line. The good news is, you do not have to go through the frustrations alone. Contacting a reliable and experienced criminal defense attorney should be the first button you should press immediately after getting accused.
Other actions to take when accused of rape include:
- Gathering and preserving any physical piece of evidence relating to the alleged incident and the victim. These may include objects, clothing, videos, photos, etc.).
- Documenting all potential witnesses – people you believe have information about the incident, the alleged victim, and the accusations levied against you. Also, don’t forget to obtain their contact information.
- Gathering all records and documents that could relate to the case, e.g., emails, letters, voice recordings, GPS records, or any other thing that may indicate where you were at the time of the incident. This information could be helpful, especially if you believe you were not with the alleged victim at the time or location where the incident took place.
Also, you should not shy away from sharing all these pieces of information and materials with your lawyer, as they can be critical in staging an unbeatable defense against the prosecution.
Meltzer & Bell P.A. Can Help!
Facing rape or other sexual assault charges in Florida? Do not worry; Meltzer & Bell P.A. is here to help! We’re a team of highly experienced and reliable criminal defense attorneys with a proven track record of success and dedication in defending clients accused of rape and several other criminal offenses. Our skilled and experienced lawyers do everything in their power to file motions, select witnesses, collect evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and even negotiate plea deals if the need arises.