A twenty seven year old soccer coach has been arrested for interference with the custody of a minor after leaving Jacksonville, Florida with a 17 year old girl. Mr. Rodriguez’s criminal defense lawyer will surely challenge any allegation that the girl was taken against her will or that there was any nonconsensual sexual contact, but does that matter? What is the age of consent in the State of Florida? Is it a crime to have a sexual relationship with a 17 year old? What if it is consensual? Let’s break down the law in the State of Florida as it relates to sex offenses between two consensual people, one of whom is younger than 18 years old.
What is the age of consent in the State of Florida for a sexual relationship?
In the State of Florida, the age of consent is eighteen (18) years of age. This means that anyone younger than 18 years old cannot consent to sexual contact. It is a crime for any person of any age to have any sexual contact with a minor that is 15 years old or younger. There are specific requirements for minors that are between 16 years of age and 18 years of age. So, two minors or one minor and one young adult that engage in willing sexual contact could be in violation of very serious sex offense statutes, which could result in incarceration and being labeled a sex offender.
What could Rian Rodriguez be charged with and what are some common sexual offense statutes that relate to minors who are 16-17 years old?
Every parent worries about their children engaging in sexual contact before reaching the age of 18 years old. There are many potential reasons, including morality, concerns with pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, but one of the most serious concerns should also be potential criminal liability. Florida has very severe sexual offense statutes relating to sex with or between minors. A person who is under 18 years of age can be a victim of a sex offense and a defendant of that very same sex offense at the same time. For example, if two 15 year olds engage in willing sexual conduct, they would both be violating a sex offense statute and each of them could be prosecuted for that sex offense. So what was Rian Rodriguez charged with so far and what else can he be charged with in the future?
So far, Rian Rodriguez has been charged with Interference with Child Custody. Florida Stat. §787.03 makes it a crime to knowingly or recklessly take a minor (anyone under 18 years of age) from the custody of the minor’s parent or guardian. This offense alone is a third degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in prison. There is a defense within this law that the minor was taken at her own instigation without enticement and without the purpose to commit a criminal offense with or against the minor and that it was reasonable to rely on the instigating acts of the minor. This would not be a viable defense if the purpose of leaving was to continue an ongoing illegal sexual relationship. This will probably be a point of litigation between the prosecuting attorney and Mr. Rodriguez’s criminal defense attorney.
Presumably, Mr. Rodriguez hasn’t been charged with any sexual offenses because law enforcement does not yet have the evidence to charge him with a specific sex offense or they haven’t completed their investigation into those specific offenses. Often, in cases where an adult runs off with a minor, the State will initially obtain an arrest warrant for interference with the custody of a minor, because they do not require the statement of either person that ran away or any other evidence of a sexual relationship. The State can simply rely on the facts that establish that the person is not the parent or custodian and left with a minor child that was in the custody typically of the parents and without the parents permission. Law enforcement will often use those facts and the Interference statute to obtain an initial arrest warrant so they can make an arrest and then continue their investigation into whether there was illegal sexual activity. If they do determine that there was evidence of unlawful sexual activity, law enforcement will typically add additional charges at a later date after the initial arrest. The investigation will usually involve thorough interviews with the minor, her family and friends, obtaining text messages, obtaining phone records, obtaining email records, etc., and a full interrogation of the adult.
If the State can prove that Rian Rodriguez had consensual sexual contact with the 17 year old girl, he could be convicted of Unlawful Sexual Activity with a Minor, under Fla. Stat. §794.05. If the State can prove that he was twenty four (24) years old or older, engaged in consensual sexual activity with the minor, and that she was 16 or 17 years old at the time, then he could be imprisoned under this statute for up to fifteen (15) years in prison. It doesn’t matter whether the defendant knows that the teenager is under 18 years old. Even if he or she thought that the person was an adult, it would still be a crime to engage in sexual activity with the 16 or 17 year old. It also doesn’t matter whether she turned 17 a day before the sexual contact or if she was going to turn 18 the day after the sexual contact. If convicted under this statute, Mr. Rodriguez would also be eligible for the statutory requirement to be placed on the sex offender registry as a registered sex offender. There is a Romeo and Juliet exception to the sex offender registry, however, Mr. Rodriguez would not be eligible because of the large age discrepancy between himself and the 17 year old. The Romeo and Juliet exception is codified in Fla. Stat. §943.04354.
Is it legal for two minors or a young adult and a minor to have sexual contact?
In Florida, it is legal for a person who is between 16 years of age and 23 years of age to have consensual sexual contact with a person who is 16 years of age or older. It is not legal for anyone to have sexual contact with a minor who is under 16 years of age. Sexual contact is a broad term and specific sexual contact is defined in different Florida statutes. There are many statutes relating to sexual contact in Florida. Many of them are in Chapter 800 and Chapter 794 of the Florida Statutes.
One of the common statutes that relates to sexual contact with someone who is under 16 years old, even if the person that has the sexual contact is the same age as the person, is called Lewd or Lascivious Molestation. Lewd or Lascivious Molestation, under Florida Stat. §800.04(5) makes it a crime for anyone to intentionally touch, in a lewd or lascivious manner, the private parts of someone less than 16 years old or to have someone less than 16 years of age touch your private parts. This includes touching the clothing over the private parts. This law applies to anyone, even to minors touching another minors private parts and even if they touch the clothing over the private parts. Private parts include breasts, genitals, genital area, buttocks, and the clothing covering those parts. It doesn’t matter if this is two fifteen year old kids that are boyfriend and girlfriend. The State could charge both with the crime.
Under this statute, if you are 18 years or older and the other person is less than 12, you could be imprisoned for up to life. If you are younger than 18 years old and the other person is less than 12 years old, you could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. If you are 18 years old and the other person is older than 12 years old but younger than 16 years old, you could also be imprisoned for up to 15 years. And if you are younger than 18 and the other person is 12 years old or older but less than 16 years old, you could be imprisoned for up to 5 years. In addition to possible imprisonment, any person convicted of this offense would be labelled a sex offender. So, under the laws of the State of Florida, two fifteen year olds who are boyfriend and girlfriend would be in violation of this statute if they touch each other’s private areas over the clothing in a sexual manner.
Jeremy Lasnetski, managing partner at Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon is a Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer and has been practicing criminal law in Jacksonville for over16 years. Mr. Lasnetski received his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1997 and went on to obtain a law degree and an M.B.A. from the University of Florida in 2001.
After graduation, Mr. Lasnetski accepted a position as a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville. During the next 6 1/2 years as a prosecutor, Mr. Lasnetski tried more than 50 criminal trials, including more than 40 felony trials. He was promoted in 2007 to Division Chief of the Repeat Offender Unit. Mr. Lasnetski was also a full time member of the Homicide Prosecution Team. In 2008, Mr. Lasnetski formed the Law Office of Shorstein & Lasnetski and began defending citizens in criminal court. He represents clients in both State and Federal criminal courts.