The short answer is yes.
In the State of Florida, any sexual activity with someone under the age of 16 can trigger sex offender status, even if that person is a minor.
The long answer is a little more complicated. It is not uncommon for a seventeen-year-old to date a fifteen-year-old. In the State of Florida, the age of consent is eighteen years old, which means that anyone younger than the age of eighteen does not have the ability to consent to any kind of sexual activity. One exception to this rule is if one of the parties is over the age of sixteen and the other party is less than twenty-four years old. In order for that exception to apply, the sexual activity must be consensual.
Florida law specifies not just sexual intercourse, but also several other activities that fall into the same category including:
- Showing or displaying certain areas of the body (in person or via electronic media)
- Touching over clothing
- Any sexual touching the police or prosecutor determines to be lewd or lascivious
If one of the parties in a relationship is less than sixteen years old, the older party could be charged with a crime, even if the younger party gives consent.
Under the applicable statues, the following defenses are not permissible:
- The victim's prior sexual activity (i.e. the accused cannot claim that the victim has been intimate with another older person previously).
- The victim lying about his or her age or not disclosing their age.
How specifically a person will be charged will vary depending on their age, the age of the victim, and the specific act that was committed. If your child has been accused of statutory rape it is important to consult an attorney, as the laws surrounding these acts are complicated and can change often. A qualified lawyer will be able to walk you through the statutes and help you determine if anything unlawful happened and what your next steps should be.
What Specifically can my Teenager be charged with?
The statute these crimes fall under is Florida Statue §800.04. A person can be charged with one of three specific crimes. These are:
- Lewd or Lascivious Battery
- Any sexual activity with someone who is older than twelve, but younger than sixteen, whether the victim is forced, encouraged, enticed, or a willing participant.
- This is a second-degree felony
- Lewd or Lascivious Molestation
- Sexual touching (over or under clothing) of someone who is older than twelve, but younger than sixteen.
- This is a third-degree felony
- Lewd or Lascivious Exhibition
- Masturbation, exposing genitalia (in a sexual context), or similar acts that do not specifically fall under the above two crimes, with something who is older than twelve, but younger than sixteen
- This is a third-degree felony
There is an entire subset of sex-related crimes for acts that are committed without the victim's consent. A teenager can also be charged with sexual battery. This charge would be the result of:
- Using physical force in the commission of a sexual act
- Committing a sexual act on someone who is physically helpless
- Penetration by a sexual organ or other object
- Attempt to penetrate with a sexual organ or other object
- Using or threatening to us a deadly weapon in the commission of a sexual act
What are the Romeo and Juliet laws?
Though often called the Romeo and Juliet Defense, this is an exemption that only applies to the sex offender registry. If someone is convicted of one of the above crimes, but the victim was between thirteen and seventeen and the defendant is less than four years older than the minor, they may not be required to register as a sex offender. This does not exempt them, however, from other punishments that the courts may levy against them.
The Romeo & Juliet Law applies when the following criteria is met:
The victim is between the ages of 14 and 17.
The victim was no more than four years younger than the offender.
The victim must have been a willing participant in the sexual activity.
The offender does not have a previous sex crimes on their record.
What Should I Do?
Talk to your teenager about this. It is important to talk to your teenagers about this law and ensure that they understand the consequences of being intimate with someone under the age of sixteen. It is not an easy conversation to have, but it is vital if you want to help your teenager avoid a label that will follow them for the rest of their life.
The specific charges that are filed will depend on the age of the perpetrator and victim. Even if the registry lists the specific conviction, the serious restrictions that come along with being labeled a sex offender are usually standard and do not vary much, if at all, based on a case's specific circumstance.
The highlights of what you need to know and what you need to discuss with your teenager:
- If their partner is under the age of sixteen, their partner cannot legally consent to sexual activity and, therefore, any sexual activity is criminal.
- If their partner is sixteen or seventeen and they are over twenty-four, any sexual activity is criminal.
- There is an exemption (the Romeo and Juliet exemption) that may prevent them from having to register as a sex offender, but it will not prevent them from being charged with or convicted of a crime or help them avoid other punishment.
If you have questions about your criminal case, contact us anytime.