Before discussing any specifics regarding the Florida statutes of limitations for sexual abuse, it may be helpful to know what a statute of limitations is first. Generally speaking, a statute of limitations is a regulation that prescribes how long someone has to file a legal claim. They apply to both civil and criminal matters, and will vary by jurisdiction and based on the type of legal action being filed.
As such, Florida has two separate statutes of limitations for sexual abuse: one for civil cases, and one for criminal cases. The civil statute provides how long a person has to file a civil lawsuit if they are seeking compensation for harm caused by sexual abuse. The criminal statute, on the other hand, gives the prosecutor a time frame in which they must file criminal charges against the abuser.
Also, some actions do not have statutes of limitations. For instance, there is no statute of limitations for statutory rape in Florida if the child is under 16 years of age. This law becomes murky when the minor is older than 16 years of age, but under 18 years of age, and various conditions will apply depending on the facts of a case.
In addition, the term “sexual abuse” is often used to reference a broad range of sexual misconduct. However, an exact definition of the term will depend on the laws of a particular state. In Florida, sexual abuse is actually classified as “sexual battery.” Thus, acts that fall under sexual abuse in most states will be categorized as sexual battery in Florida.
What is Florida’s Statute of Limitation for Civil Sexual Abuse Lawsuits?
As discussed above, sexual abuse is called sexual battery in Florida. In order to file a civil lawsuit for sexual battery (e.g., rape, incest, etc.), the victim must bring an action within the following time limits:
- Within 7 years after the victim reaches the age of majority (which is 18 years of age in Florida);
- Within 4 years from the time that the person discovers a link between a related injury and the abuse, or within 4 years from when the victim abandons and stops depending on the abuser; or
- If the minor is under 18 years of age, then there is no statute of limitations.
Also, in light of recent events, many states have either waived or suspended their civil statutes of limitations for child molestation. In June of 2020, Florida passed new legislation entitled, “Donna’s Law.”
This law removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting acts of sexual battery committed against children who are younger than 18 years of age. However, the law will only have an effect on those crimes committed on July 1, 2020, or after.
Prior to its passing, the statute of limitations was only waived if the victim was a minor below the age of 16. The old law also specified conditions for how long a minor between the ages of 16, but under 18, had to report sexual misconduct. It gave minors within that age group a 72-hour window to tell law enforcement or else risk not being able to file a lawsuit.
Minors who did report a crime within that window, then had 3 years until the statute of limitations tolled.
What is Florida’s Statute of Limitation for Criminal Sexual Abuse Cases?
Many states have started to lift statutes of limitations for all felony related sex crimes. With the exception of Donna’s Law, Florida has not followed suit in updating its sex crime laws. Instead, Florida’s statutes of limitations will vary based on the type of sex crime and the circumstances of the case.
The following are some common examples of criminal statutes of limitations in Florida:
- The standard statute of limitations for serious felony sex crimes ranges from 10 years or less.
- In many instances, the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes is typically around 4 years.
- If the sex crime resulted in death or is of such a nature that the defendant can face life in prison, then there is no statute of limitations.
- When a sex crime does specify a certain time limit for filing charges, there will be an exception to that time constraint if the crime occurred after 2006 and if the originally collected DNA evidence identifies a suspect. There also must be enough of the DNA sample, so that the defendant may conduct DNA tests of their own.
Again, as with Florida’s civil statutes of limitations, criminal time restrictions can change based on the facts of a case, the crime involved, and if new legislation is amended or passed.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for a Sexual Abuse Case?
If you are a victim of sexual abuse and want to take civil action against your abuser, you should contact a Florida criminal law attorney for further legal guidance. Your attorney can explain Florida’s statutes of limitations laws and how they apply to your case. If you are not barred from filing under the statute, then your attorney can also help you prepare and file your case.
In addition, your attorney can also represent you in court and assist you in getting the best possible outcome for your matter.