Florida Lawmakers Want to End Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault
Sexual assault and battery are among the many sex crimes that traumatize victims for years following the offense. Yet in Florida, survivors who don’t report their assault or battery within 72 hours face a statute of limitations that restricts the amount of time they have to seek justice. A victim who is 16 years old or older who does not report the crime within 72 hours starts an 8-year countdown, meaning that they have just eight years to seek the prosecution of their assailant in a court of law.
Understanding How a Statute of Limitations Works
Many laws have a statute of limitations, and each varies by state. A statute of limitations is a measure that bans prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years beforehand.
In Florida, certain offenses like felonies that resulted in death and capital or life felonies have no limit, meaning that victims can come forward at any time and expect an investigation of their case. In a matter of sexual assault and/or battery, prosecutors can’t go after assailants if victims report their assaults eight or more years after they took place. While eight years might seem like a long time, it can take sexual assault and battery victims many more years to come to terms with their trauma.
Deciding to report a sexual assault and/or battery is an extremely emotional and personal decision. It’s not unusual for victims to take decades to accept that they were sexually assaulted and want to seek justice. Often, assailants threaten victims with further harm if they report them. In some cases, victims just want to put the attack behind them and try to move on with their lives. Sexual assault can cause severe psychological trauma that may prevent victims from wanting to report that they were assaulted, which is one of the main reasons a statute of limitations is considered restrictive for these offenses.
Why Lift the Statute of Limitations for Severe Sex Crimes?
Advocates of lifting the statute of limitations on sex offenses like sexual assault and battery realize the ways the current statute of limitations hurts victims and protects sex offenders. Representatives from the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) are advocating to remove the requirement to report the crime within 72 hours and the SOL for first- and second-degree sexual battery.
RAINN’s VP of Public Policy, Camille Cooper, believes that updating the SOL for sexual battery will avoid rewarding offenders who don’t get caught and protect victims who feel pressured to delay reporting a crime for years or decades.
“For a lot of these survivors, they’ve been raped, and they live in terror every day,” Cooper said. “It’s hard for them to go to sleep at night. They don’t know if their offender is going to come back and do it again. Maybe the offender has threatened to kill them. So they live under this constant cloud of fear and terror.”
Bills Introduced to Ease the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault
There are two sets of bills being proposed for 2020 that would start to lift the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases of sexual assault and battery. SB 170 and HB 199 would remove the SOL in criminal cases of sexual battery in which a victim was younger than 18 when the crime was committed. HB 277 would eliminate the SOL entirely for civil cases brought by victims of sexual assault and other sex crimes. A civil sexual assault lawsuit allows victims to seek monetary compensation from their assailants to address the harm they suffered.
RAINN seeks to remove the 72-hour limit on reporting sexual assault and the eight-year statute of limitations for first-and second-degree sexual battery. They want to add more sex crimes to the bill dealing with the statute of limitations in criminal cases so that victims of other offenses can come forward when they feel comfortable doing so.
This would not be the first time the Florida Legislature has amended the statute of limitations for a sex crime. In 2015, Danielle Sullivan pushed lawmakers to extend the SOL from 4 years to 8, the current limit. Sullivan did not report her assault within 72 hours and had narrowly missed her four-year window to report her rape. This robbed her of the ability to report the crime that she suffered.
What are the Penalties for Sexual Assault and/or Battery?
If an assailant is reported for sexual assault and/or battery in Florida, he or she can be certain that the court will take their crime seriously. A conviction for a sexual assault and or battery usually results in a prison sentence. These are crimes for which you will need to register as a sex offender in Florida and nationwide if you’re convicted. Just being labeled a sex offender can severely reduce the number of opportunities open to you, particularly for housing and employment.
The State of Florida relies on minimum statutory sentencing for sexual battery. Sexual battery committed on a person 18 or older will lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of 34.5 months. If a victim was between 12 and 18, the crime becomes a felony charge and may result in life in prison with fines of up to $10,000.
Competent Sexual Battery Defense Lawyers in Orlando
If you face a charge of sexual assault and/or battery in Orlando or anywhere in Central Florida, it’s crucial to seek legal counsel from an experienced defense lawyer. At The Umansky Law Firm, our team of attorneys has more than 100 years of combined experience defending clients accused of various sex crimes. We firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Call our office or complete our contact form for a free consultation at any time of day.