Florida’s statute of limitations is not clear cut and is difficult to navigate. In 2010, the state abolished the criminal statute of limitations for cases involving sexual battery (rape) against children. However, this only applies to cases where the child was under 16 years old, and limitation had not already expired on 1 July 2010. Prior to this law’s enactment, the limitations period varied.
On 1 July 2015, the law was changed again to alter the limitations period to eight years for cases of sexual battery. This was bravely championed by Danielle Sullivan, founder of the “43 Days Initiative”, so called as she was 43 days out of time from the four year limitation period to obtain justice for what happened to her as an adult, as she had not reported the offence within 72 hours.
Taking sexual battery as an example (Fla. Stat. §794.011 and Fla. Stat. §775.15):
- For a capital felony, there is no statute of limitations. A capital felony in Florida occurs where the offender is aged 18 or over and “commits sexual battery upon, or in an attempt to commit sexual battery injures the sexual organs of, a victim under 12”.
- In cases concerning a felony of the first degree, or any other felony, the prosecution must commence within four or three years respectively. A life felony is similar to capital felony, where the same offence is committed, albeit by someone under 18, and the victim is under 12. Felonies of first and second degree relate to offences of victims of different ages, where they do not consent, and with the existence or absence of various aggravating features.
- Where the victim is under 16, there is no statute of limitations.
- Where the victim is under 18, and the crime is of the first degree, there is no statute of limitations.
- Save for the offences above, if the victim is 16 or older, there is no period of limitations, provided the offence “is reported within 72 hours after its commission”.
- Save for the offences above, if the victim was under 18 at the time, the limitations period does not begin to run until the victim reaches 18, or until the matter is reported to law enforcement (whichever is earlier).
In cases where a sex crime has a statute of limitations, but DNA evidence is available, a prosecution can be commenced at any time once the identity of the suspected offender is identified. However, this only applies in relation to crimes that occurred after 1 July 2006, taking into account the change to the law in 2010.
In civil matters, a claim must be filed within seven years of the victim or survivor attaining majority (here, 18), or within four years after the discovery of the injury and/or causation of the injury (whichever date is later). In cases involving minors under 16, there is no statute of limitations.
The matter becomes more complex where the plaintiff looks to argue that they suffered repressed or suppressed memories and therefore had “delayed discovery” of the injury. In some respects, this is a similar argument to that of England and Wales which may be pursued in relation to s33 of the Limitation Act 1980.
Pressure has mounted to revisit the law further, following the global explosion of the Me Too movement, and various high profile cases throughout the US. Camille Cooper of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network commented that, “There’s a lot of reasons why survivors don’t immediately come forward… in the same way that we don’t want to reward murderers for hiding bodies, we don’t want to reward sexual offenders for evading that statute of limitations.”
Florida lawmakers propose removing the statute of limitations for criminal cases where the victim was under 18 when the crime took place, regardless of whether this was reported within 72 hours. In civil cases, they are hopeful to remove the statute of limitations for any claim brought by an abuse victim or survivor for any sexual crime. If the proposals are passed, the laws would become effective in July 2020.
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey carried out in 2010, 1 in 6 women in Florida stated they had been raped at some point in their lives. Data for men who had been raped was not readily available, but the same study found that 20.4% of men in Florida had experienced sexual violence, other than rape.
In view of these dreadful statistics, one can only hope that the proposed changes to the law will be passed and will remove some of the barriers that victims and survivors face in accessing justice and compensation.
Amanda Munro, Paralegal, BLM