After interesting young lady drinking in a bar comes up and begins shamelessly flirting with you. She orders another round and shows her driver’s license to the bartender when he “cards” her.  Your new paramour asks you to go back to your place where you have an enjoyable night of “consensual sex.”  In the aftermath of the experience, you decide not to reach out to the young girl again.  Several weeks later, uniformed police officers show up at your door to arrest you.  When they inform you that you are being arrested for statutory rape, you know who the purported victim must be since you have only been with one partner recently.  Suddenly, you feel better as you explain that the sex was consensual.  The officers tell you that she was too young to give consent.  Then you explain you found her drinking in a bar where she produced a driver’s license for the bartender when ordering an alcoholic drink.  Unfortunately, your claims fall on deaf ears as the officers haul you off to jail.  

The offense informally referred to as “statutory rape” constitutes a second degree felony punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in a Florida state prison and thousands of dollars in fines.  If you are a parent, statutory rape allegations could even result in you losing custody of your children.  Because of these harsh penalties and the extreme damage that the mere allegation of a sex crime can have on your reputation, marriage/relationship, and/or job, you should contact an experienced Florida statutory rape defense lawyer before saying anything to the police.  

The nightmare scenario described at the outset of this post occurs more often than you think.  Florida Statute Section 794.05 makes it a crime for a person over the age of 24 to engage in sexual activity with someone who is 16 or 17.  The prosecutor also can pursue statutory rape charges if the defendant is 18 when the victim is under the age of 16.  Most people know this crime by its colloquial name “statutory rape.”  In the scenario above, the accused makes his situation worse by talking.  “Consent” does not constitute a defense to Section 794.05 because the crime constitutes a “strict liability“ offense.  When sexual partners in each of the two respective age ranges engage in sexual activity, the act constitutes a second degree felony. 

The person arrested in our example might have reasonably assumed his partner was 21 since she was drinking in a bar, but the prosecutor does not have to prove the defendant knew the alleged victim was underage nor does it matter that the teenage partner gave consent.  As the court articulated in Feliciano v. State 937 Soo.2d 818, 820 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006, “[U]nanticipated minors are under a statutory disability that precludes consent to sexual activity with adults.”  The prosecutor can even pursue a conviction if the purported victim initiated the sexual conduct.  Neither the defendant’s ignorance nor a reasonable belief regarding the younger partner’s age constitute valid defenses to a violation of Section 794.05.  (CITATION).  The prosecutor can pursue a criminal case even if the younger partner misled or lied to the accused about his or her age.

Although politicians, celebrities, and the media often claim that “victims must be believed”, this claim assumes what should be proven – merely claiming to be a victim does not make one a victim.  Our Florida statutory rape attorneys have seen many situations where a so-called victim of a sex crime ranging from statutory rape to forcible rape (referred to as “sexual battery” by Florida Statutes) assert false allegations of sexual misconduct.  Allegations of this nature might arise because of jealousy or a feeling of being slighted by the alleged perpetrator.  False allegations of sex crimes also frequently occur in the context of divorce and child custody proceedings to gain a strategic advantage.

Statutory rape differs from other sex crimes because the allegations often will be brought not by the minor but by his or her parents.  Charges against an accused can be pursued by the parents despite the objections of the minor.  Even if both the parents and their minor child do not pursue criminal charges, the State of Florida can pursue a criminal conviction.  This scenario usually occurs when an adult reports the inappropriate sexual relationship.  Certain professionals even have a legal duty to report a sexual relationship between the two parties, such as a school counselor, nurse, doctor, teacher or social worker.

While consent does not constitute a defense to statutory rape in Florida, the “Romeo and Juliet” exception to the statutory rape law partially exempts teenagers who engage in sexual conduct with another teen reasonably close in age.  When an older consensual sex partner is within 4 years of the age of the younger partner, the accused can avoid lifetime registration as a sexual predator.  The Romeo and Juliet exception only constitutes a limited defense because the older partner can still be subject to imprisonment, significant fines, or both.  (See Fla. Stat. Ann. Section 943.04354 (2018).).  The court also has an option to impose chemical castration as a penalty for sexual battery (even for first time offenders).  If the accused is a repeat offender, the court must order chemical castration as a penalty.  (See Fla. Stat. Ann. 794.011 (2018).)

If you are facing a statutory rape charge in Florida, time is of the essence.  The mere accusation that you committed a sex crime can have a lasting impact on your reputation, marriage, career, and parental relationship.  An experienced Florida rape defense attorney can advice you regarding your rights and analyze the prosecution’s case to provide the most effective defense strategy.