What Are Sex Crimes In Florida?
Need A Cocoa or Melbourne Sex Crime Lawyer?
by Kenneth Rhoden, Esquire
Sex crimes in Florida are subject to special rules and harsh penalties. If you or someone you know is charged with a sex crime you need a lawyer who has decades of experience aggressively representing people charged with sex crimes.
Florida Statute 800.101 deals with sexual offenses against students. The statute prohibits a teacher from soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct, a romance, or lewd conduct with a student. The penalty for violation of the statute is up to fifteen (15) years in prison. The statute is poorly written and over broad: An experienced sex crimes attorney would consider attacking the statute on many grounds.
It is not just teachers who are included in the statute. 800.101(1)(a) uses the term “authority figure”. Authority figure is a person who is eighteen (18) years of age or older who is employed by, volunteering at, or under contract with a school. The statute also includes school resource officers. You might think the statute is primarily directed at teachers but nowhere in the statute does the word teacher appear.
The statute casts a very wide net and does not even require the authority figure and student to be at the same school. The location of the prohibited conduct is also unlimited. Under section 800.101(1)(c) a student is defined as a person who is enrolled at a school. There is no age limitation on the student. If the Florida Legislature had intended to limit the definition of student to a certain age it could have done so. Indeed many sex crimes are crimes because a victim is under a certain age. Florida Statute 794.011 makes sexual acts a crime based on the age of the victim or defendant.
Authority figure includes anyone employed by a school. This would include teachers, teacher aids, the dean, librarians, vice principals and of course the principal. By definition employees would also include secretaries, nurses, cafeteria workers, janitors and facility maintenance workers. Under the statute’s terms even an offsite bookkeeper who never goes to the school would be designated an authority figure.
Volunteers are also included under the definition of authority figure. There are many types of volunteers at schools. Teacher aids or interns hoping to gain some experience can be volunteers. Parents frequently volunteer at their child’s school to help in the classroom or acting as chaperones on field trips. Volunteers may come to the school when school is not in session to paint or do landscaping.
While using the term, “authority figure” the statute fails to provide proper limits in the definition. Apparently, the legislature wanted to prohibit people who by virtue of their position have power and control over our children from abusing that power and control. If the legislature intended to prohibit anyone associated in any way with a school from engaging in certain conduct with a student, it should have clearly said so. By failing to provide a detailed definition of who is or is not an authority figure the legislature invites challenges to the statute. An experienced sex crimes attorney could file motions attacking the statute. The attorneys at Rhoden Law Group have filed many motions attacking statutes. These motions have resulted in statutes being declared unconstitutional or for a court to limit the scope of the statute.
The Legislature defines “school” under 800.101.(1)(b) by referring to other statutes. F.S. 1003.01 gives us the general definition of “school”. Private school is defined in 1002.01, Pre-K in 1002.53(3) and public schools in 402.3025(1). However, the Legislature creates an exception to the definition of school by stating: “The term does not include a facility dedicated exclusively to the education of adults.”
Once again the statute fails to be precise. At first impression you may think a college is dedicated exclusively to educating adults. This is until you consider dual enrollment. Thousands of Florida students under the age of eighteen (18) are enrolled in high school and college. Additionally, it is not uncommon for students to complete high school early and enroll in college at fourteen (14) or fifteen (15). Auto mechanic and technical schools are geared to adults but will take minors. The statute is subject to attack for failing to properly define what schools are included under that statute and what schools are exempt.
F.S. 800.101 (2) provides that an authority figure shall not solicit or engage in sexual conduct, a romantic relationship, or lewd conduct with a student. As noted above there is not an age limit for a student. The statute fails to define; sexual conduct, a relationship, romantic, or lewd.
The Legislature could have defined sexual conduct. In Florida Statute 794.011 sexual battery is defined as the oral, anal or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another by any other object. If sexual conduct does not mean sexual battery what does it mean? The same issues apply to lewd conduct. Lewd or Lascivious Battery is defined in F.S. 800.04 (4), but nowhere is lewd conduct defined. Statutes must be precise to give notice as to what conduct is legal and what conduct is illegal. Students engage in dancing at high school sanctioned events that may shock an older generation. If a teacher joined in the dancing would that be lewd or sexual conduct? High school cheerleaders gyrate and kick and are lifted in ways some would consider lewd. The coach could be in jeopardy for demonstrating how to do certain moves. High schools and private dance schools may put on productions of popular plays, for instance, CHICAGO THE MUSICAL. The statute fails to define exactly what conduct is permitted and what is illegal.
An even more complex problem is created by F.S. 800.101 (2)(b). The subsection can be paraphrased; An authority figure, eighteen (18) years of age or older, shall not solicit or engage a relationship of a romantic nature with a student of any age. Just what acts constitute engaging in a romantic relationship, or soliciting a romantic relationship, are not defined.
The first problem is the lack of an age range for the student. This could lead to absurd results like a twenty-five (25) year old teacher being charged for dating a twenty-six (26) year old student or a nineteen (19) year old school maintenance worker asking a twenty (20) year old student to dinner.
Next what is soliciting a romantic relationship? In one context asking for phone numbers could be soliciting a relationship, in another context it could be completely innocuous. The government cannot prohibit relationships between consenting adults. Article I section 23 of the Florida Constitution provides for a Right of Privacy that protects citizens from governmental intrusion into a person’s private life. Statutes that intrude upon the right to privacy can be declared unconstitutional.
Despite the many deficiencies in the statute the State can still use it to successfully prosecute defendants. Some of the terms of the statute are defined in other places in the statutes. Those definitions can be borrowed. The court can, in certain instances, use a regular dictionary to select definitions.
In Florida sex crimes are complex and carry serious penalties. Law enforcement has special investigators for sex crimes. Prosecutors are experienced and dedicated to convicting sex crime defendants. If you fall under suspicion for a sex crime you should immediately call the experienced and aggressive sex crime attorneys at Rhoden Law Group. Call Rhoden Law Group for a free consultation 321-549-3162, phones answered 24/7/365. You can also text the office number for a confidential reply. We serve Cocoa, Melbourne and all of Brevard County and have three offices: Melbourne, Eau Gallie, and Rockledge (by appointment).