Ignorance or Belief of the Victim's Age

Clearwater Attorney for Sex Crimes Involving Children

With certain sex crimes involving children in Florida, whether or not you knew that you were committing a crime does not matter. In fact, ignorance or belief about a victim's age is not a defense to any of the four lewd or lascivious crimes: lewd or lascivious molestation, lewd or lascivious battery, lewd or lascivious conduct, and lewd or lascivious exhibition. At Hanlon Law, we provide strong legal representation to people accused of sex crimes involving minors. Clearwater sex crime lawyer Will Hanlon believes in safeguarding the rights of the accused.

Ignorance or Belief of the Victim's Age Not a Defense

Florida Statutes section 800.04 enumerates the four different lewd and lascivious crimes and provides definitions. Section 800.04 expressly provides that your ignorance of the victim's age, the victim's misrepresentation of the victim's age, or your bona fide belief about the age of the victim cannot be used as a defense if you are charged with any of the crimes set forth in that section. Additionally, section 794.021 provides that ignorance and mistake are not defenses to any sex crimes that depend on the victim being below a specific age.

The rationale is that certain crimes against minors should be punished without proof that a defendant understands the facts that give their acts a criminal character. In other words, the state takes crimes against minors extremely seriously and limits the available defenses for those crimes. For example, in one case, a 13-year-old girl had consensual sex with an adult musician. She was believed to walk, talk, and look older than her true age. The musician was charged with second-degree felony sexual battery, a violation of section 800.04. However, in spite of the 13-year-old girl's intentional efforts to get into a bar to have sex with the musician, the defendant could not defend himself on the ground that he was ignorant of the girl's true age.

What must be proven under the four lewd and lascivious charges varies. All that needs to be established in lewd or lascivious battery, for example, is that the victim was 12-16 years old, and the defendant penetrated or had union with the mouth, vagina, or anus of the victim. However, while ignorance or belief about the victim's age is not a defense, there may be other ways to defend these charges. The case may be weak. These two elements need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and in some cases, the strongest defense is to raise doubt in the minds of the prosecutor, judge, and jury members. The victim may not be credible or may be lying about what happened. Sometimes there is a mental illness on the part of the alleged victim or an unsubstantiated accusation by a minor's family member. In some cases, a victim or their family has a motive to lie, and exposing that motive is enough to create a reasonable doubt.

In other cases, the case is strong, but perhaps not serious enough to warrant the prosecutor going to trial. For example, if the charges are lewd and lascivious exhibition in a public place where minors were, but the circumstances are unclear enough that the prosecutor is willing to reduce the charge to indecent exposure, it may be possible for an attorney to negotiate a plea deal in which you plead guilty to indecent exposure but face a less harsh sentence. Indecent exposure is a first-degree misdemeanor, whereas lewd and lascivious exhibition is either a second-degree or third-degree felony, depending on the perpetrator's age. How exposure of a sex organ is charged matters not only because of the potential length of incarceration and amount of fines, but also because an indecent exposure charge does not necessarily require you to register as a sex offender, whereas a lewd and lascivious charge likely will.

Seek Assistance from a Knowledgeable Sex Crime Lawyer in Clearwater

Ignorance or belief as to the victim's age is not a defense to lewd and lascivious criminal charges in Florida. Although it is challenging to defend against lewd and lascivious crimes, it is not impossible. An experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney can explore all of the possible angles. Our founder, Will Hanlon, has been providing criminal defense representation in Clearwater since 1994 and may be able to help. Call Hanlon Law at 727-897-5413 or complete our online form.