Ignorance or Belief as to Victim's Age no Defense
Certain sex crimes are strict liability crimes in Florida because they are considered to involve matters of public welfare. Crimes involving people who are underage, such as lewd and lascivious crimes, are among the crimes for which you can be held liable even if you truly did not know the criminal nature of what you were doing at the time that you did it. As to lewd and lascivious crimes, ignorance or belief about a victim's age is not a defense. Although the state has an interest in protecting minors, it also has an obligation to safeguard your constitutional and other rights. At Hanlon Law, St. Petersburg sex crime attorney Will Hanlon believes strongly in protecting the rights of the accused.Ignorance or Belief of a Victim's Age is No Defense
Florida Statute section 800.04 criminalizes four categories of sexual misconduct against minors under age 16: lewd or lascivious battery, lewd or lascivious molestation, lewd or lascivious conduct, and lewd or lascivious exhibition. Each of these is a different crime, requiring proof of different elements. What is common is that the elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Also in common are defenses that may not be raised.
Your attorney cannot defend against any of these charges by arguing that you did not know the victim's age or by arguing that the victim lied about their age or that you truly believed that they were above the age of 16. You also cannot argue that the victim consented or point to their lack of chastity to defend against these crimes. For many people accused of lewd and lascivious crimes, it is shocking that the victim could lie to you and you could still be prosecuted and convicted of a crime. However, a criminal case is very different from a civil case, in that the state pursues cases in which it has an interest. You can be charged with certain crimes even if the victim seemed open to sex or sexual touching or exhibition, and even if the victim said that they were 17, 18, or any other age.
Some people are unaware that this defense cannot be used. They assume that if they explain what happened to the police, and the victim corroborates the story, the police will simply drop the investigation. However, it is a very bad idea to volunteer information to the police without the help of an attorney.
For example, to prove that you committed lewd or lascivious molestation, the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally touched in a lewd or lascivious manner the genital area, genitals, buttocks, or breasts (or the clothing that covered them) of someone who is less than 16 years old. You can also be convicted for forcing or enticing someone of that age to touch you. If you are an adult who does this with a child under age 12, you can be convicted of a life felony. If you are under age 18 and do this with a child under age 12, or if you are an adult who is age 18 or older and do this with someone who is 12-16 years old, you can be charged with a second-degree felony. If you are underage, and the victim is 12-16, you can be charged with third-degree felony lewd or lascivious molestation.
If you assume that the police are on your side, you may be tempted to share that you met the victim online and she told you that she was 18, for example. However, in the course of sharing your side of the story, you may leak other information that works against your interests and that can be used in court to convict you. Any charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Often, there is not actually enough evidence for the prosecutor to convict a criminal defendant at the start of an investigation, but in trying to defend their actions, a defendant may volunteer evidence that helps the prosecution.Hire a Skillful Sex Crime Attorney in St. Petersburg or Surrounding Communities
Although it has many tourist attractions, St. Petersburg also has a high rate of crime. If you are charged with a lewd and lascivious crime, you should retain a skillful sex crime attorney to investigate and determine an appropriate defense. Ignorance or belief as to the victim's age is not a defense. Our founder, Will Hanlon, has been providing criminal defense representation in St. Petersburg since 1994 and may be able to help. Call Hanlon Law at 727.897.5413 or submit our online form.