Florida has both a criminal and civil sexual abuse statute of limitations (SOL). However, the two are quite different and distinct. The civil statute of limitations, for example, employs a unique provision that greatly extends the window of time a victim of sexual assault has to file a civil lawsuit, whereas it's criminal counterpart lacks any type of comparable section.
Additionally, it is important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations that will apply is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself. This means that even though the civil SOL may have been lengthened since the incident, if time has run out, it cannot be restarted.
In Florida, the filing of a civil claim dealing with sexual abuse or incest must be commenced at any time within:
- 7 years after the age of 18,
- 4 years after leaving the dependency of the abuser, even if the victim is older than 25, or
- 4 years from the time of the discovery of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse.
The last provision deals with the "delayed discovery rule." Florida is one of several states to have a delayed discovery rule, which effectively indefinitely extends the statute of limitations. This may seem peculiar, but the legislature, taking into account the unique nature of sexual abuse, the stigma associated with it, and the likelihood of repressed memories, decided not to allows the statute of limitations not to run until the victim "either knows or reasonably should know of the wrongful act giving rise to the cause of action." This means that adults who discover that they were abused long ago have 4 years from such a discovery to file a claim, regardless of their age.
For criminal cases, a prosecutor may file a charge of aggravated rape at any time, regardless of the age of the victim, and with no limitation on time. This is unique to criminal law, as murder is typically the only offense that does not a time limitation. It may be due largely to the nature of aggravated rape, which generally involves a weapon, more than one person, or seriously physically injures the victim.
Prosecution for sexual assault or abuse has a statute of limitations of four years. However, there is an exception made for DNA analysis, which allows for the prosecution of a rapist anytime within one year of the discovery of DNA evidence, even if it is discovered after the ordinary statute of limitations period ran out.
Several years ago, the Supreme court ruled that retroactively changing the statute of limitations in order to prosecute crimes from long ago was unconstitutional. Notwithstanding, Florida's current statute of limitations for sexual battery on a minor is also unlimited, a drastic change from it's previous limit of 4 years.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Due to the nature of the offenses and impact on victims, sexual abuse is a crime and cause of action that benefits the most from statutes of limitations. If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a florida lawyer can help you by filing a lawsuit against your abuser, or by discussing with you the complicated issue of statutes of limitations within Florida. Moreover, if you are standing prosecution for allegedly committing a sexual offense, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.