Photo Source- http://www.unodc.org/southeasterneurope/en/criminal-justice-and-prison-reform/prison-reform.html
Florida state legislature certainly has their hands full this year as new laws pertaining to many different criminal offenses make their rounds. One of the most controversial topics is stricter sentencing for sexual predators. Three bills for harsher sentencing received unanimous votes in the senate as of Monday, January 13th. These new bills will determine the course of action criminal defense lawyers take in sexual related crimes, particularly in cases of minors. While Florida currently holds the record for the highest number of convicts sentenced to the death penalty, many of the Floridian sex offenders have been released after short stints in prison, and officials warn the public that a vast number of them will repeat the same criminal activity. Floridians from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville show a great deal of angst at the thought of possible sexual predators roaming the streets of their town.
What the Numbers Look Like to the Senate and the Public
460 molestations, 121 rapes, 14 murders. From the looks of things, one might assume those are the numbers for every violent national act over the course of a year, maybe even two. Sadly, that is not the case. Those numbers solely reflect charges currently cited upon repeat convicted sexual predators. For Floridians, these numbers equate to one thing: harsher sentencing for sexual offenders. While that might sound like the best course of action, the current three bills are certainly not without flaws.
Bill Number One: SB 494
As of 2011, the SB 494 bill was drafted to detain individuals accused of sexual offenses without bail until their trial. The new version will additionally eliminate the previous three year statute of limitations pertaining to sex crimes allegedly committed against minors, which in the state of Florida is inclusive of individuals under the age of 16. Florida law makers hope this new amendment to the bill will allow young children adequate time to prepare to take a stand against their aggressor(s). How this bill will affect time sensitive DNA evidence and witness testimonials is yet to be discussed. It does mean that anyone accused of committing sexual aggression against a minor will be detained without bail until the accusing party feels ready to discuss the situation, which could mean even longer than three years. It is notable to mention that the brutal rape and murder of a Jacksonville eight year old girl sparked the drafting of this bill, which senators hope will “give young children a voice”.
Bill Number Two: SB 526
Unlike the first bill, this statute is entirely new. It was drafted by Senator Rob Bradley as a response to the alarmingly high number of repeat offenders. SB 526 is intended to guarantee harsher sentencing for sexual offenders of the adult engaged in physical activity with a minor variety. As it stands, there is much debate about the legal age constituting a minor in Florida. While the previous bill depicts the age of a minor as anyone under 16 years of age, many argue the age to be 18, which leaves a bit of room for those cases involving say, 18 year olds and 16 or 17 year olds. While the cases that often inspire these bills tend to be those involving eight or nine year old victims, the same harsher sentencing could be utilized in cases where both individuals were teenagers, with one being only slightly older than the other. In order for this point to hold water, the wavering age of a minor would need to be more concretely defined.
Bill Number Three: SB 528
This bill will require sex offenders to make as much information as possible available to the public indefinitely. This pertains to their fingerprints, facial recognition, location and whereabouts, job, travel, etc. This bill has been criticized for lacking clarity in regards to people who maintain residence with sex offenders who are not in fact, sex offenders themselves. It is rumored to demand vehicle and personal locations for all household members in addition to the sexual predator with whom they share an abode.
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Changing Bills, but Keeping the Prison System the Same
Florida legislators intend to make many changes in regards to criminal defense prosecution in the near future as a response to the escalation of violent crime and repeat offenses. In the mid 1990’s, President Bill Clinton spent over $100 billion of the national deficit on the privatization of prisons. As of today, the United States maintains the highest number of prison inmates in the world. It would seem that we have more people incarcerated than any other country, yet crime hasn’t decreased from these provisions. The question now becomes, are the laws of the land the problem, or could it be the way said laws are being enforced? In Florida, at least for today, the laws will change but the prisons will stay the same.
About the Author:
Michael D. Leader is a criminal lawyer with Fort Lauderdale law firm Leader & Leader P.A. Specializing in all forms of criminal law, Leader and partner George Leader offer years of legal experience and commitment to ethics.