Ignorance or Belief as to Victim's Age No Defense
Each state in the country has its own rules about which age you need to be to consent to sexual activity. In Florida, that age is 18. If you have sexual relations with someone who is under 18, you can be charged with statutory rape and possibly other crimes, depending on the circumstances. Ignorance or belief as to the victim's age is no defense to a charge. This confounds many people, who were not aware that what they were doing was against the law. At Hanlon Law, we understand that you may be terrified when faced with a charge of committing a sex crime against a minor. However, an experienced Clearwater sex crime lawyer may make a big difference to your case. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of the accused.Ignorance or Belief as to Victim's Age No Defense
You do not need to have intended to commit a sex crime against a minor in order to be convicted of the crime when the criminality of your act hinges on the age of the victim. Even when you truly believed that the minor was not a minor, or the minor outright deceived you, you can be charged with a sex crime like statutory rape. Generally, the prosecutor will only need to prove that you engaged in sex with someone under the age of 18.
However, there are multiple different charges that can be brought to establish statutory rape or other sexual conduct involving a minor. Often, prosecutors charge statutory rape as lewd and lascivious battery. Many people are surprised to discover that they can be charged with traveling to meet a minor, even though they never completed the sex act that was the purpose of the meeting.
Florida Statute section 794.021 provides that ignorance or belief about a victim's age is no defense when the criminality of your actions turns on the victim being a particular age. Some code sections explicitly refer to this not being a defense, while in other cases, it is inferred because of the nature of the crime. Similarly, consent is not a defense in these cases. Courts believe that minors are unable to consent meaningfully. However, you may still have other defenses available.
For example, your attorney may be able to contest a statutory rape charge by showing the prosecutor that there is enough evidence that sexual activity did not happen or that it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. You cannot be compelled to incriminate yourself for the crime. This means that in some cases, the prosecution will need to rely on the minor’s own testimony to secure a conviction. Often, minors do not have any interest in testifying against the defendant. For example, if you have a consensual romantic relationship with a minor, the minor's parents may accuse you of statutory rape, but if they do not have proof of sex, the case will be weak.
While it may not be possible to get the prosecutor to dismiss the charge, it may be possible for your lawyer to get the prosecutor to accept a plea deal for a charge that carries lighter penalties. For example, in some cases, it may be better to be charged with child abuse than a lewd or lascivious act. This is because child abuse does not require you to be registered as a sex offender. When you are very close in age to the victim, you may be able to petition for a Romeo and Juliet exemption so that you do not need to register as a sex offender, even if you are convicted or take a plea deal. To get this exemption, the victim must be at least 14 years old, and you must be no more than four years older.Consult an Experienced Statutory Rape Defense Attorney in the Clearwater Area
A conviction is not inevitable, and it is important to secure the services of a knowledgeable sex crime attorney who can protect your rights. Our founder, Will Hanlon, has been providing criminal defense representation since 1994 and is ready to advocate for Clearwater residents. Call Hanlon Law at 727.897.5413 or complete our online form.