Just like most states, Florida has both criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations. A statute of limitation is a law that outlines the amount of time someone has to file a civil complaint, or that a prosecutor has to bring criminal charges against someone. If the complaint is not filed within the statutory time limit, the person or state will lose their right to sue or to file criminal charges.
There are several statutes of limitations for each state, relating to different areas of law and types of crimes. Additionally, the time limit stated in a statute of limitation for a specific crime or civil violation can vary between the states. For instance, a certain civil sexual abuse statute of limitations could be 10 years in one state and 5 years in another state.
In regards to Florida’s criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations, the two are quite different. Florida’s civil statute of limitations, for example, has a unique provision that greatly extends the window of time a victim of sexual assault has to file a civil lawsuit. In comparison, its criminal counterpart lacks any type of comparable section.
What is Florida’s Statute of Limitation for Civil Sexual Abuse Lawsuits?
In Florida, the filing of a civil claim dealing with sexual abuse (such as rape or incest) must be commenced at any time within the following limitations:
- 7 years after the victim reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years old in the state of Florida;
- 4 years after the victim leaves the dependency of the abuser or 4 years from the time of the discovery of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse (whichever date is later between these two options); and
- With sexual battery involving a minor under 16 years old, there is no statute of limitation.
The second point illustrates Florida’s "delayed discovery rule." Florida is one of several states to have a delayed discovery rule, which effectively indefinitely extends the statute of limitations. The legislature took into account the nature of this abuse when it occurs at such a young age and the possibility of repressed memories of the events.
Thus, when the person discovers that they were sexually abused in the past, the statute of limitation will only then begin to run and that person will have 4 years from that date to file their lawsuit.
What is Florida’s Statute of Limitation for Criminal Cases?
Some states have gotten rid of statutes of limitations for all felony sex crimes. Currently, Florida is not one of those states. Depending on the type of sex crime and circumstances involved, different statute of limitations will apply in the state of Florida.
For example, here are some important ones to be familiar with:
- For criminal felony cases, if the sex crime resulted in death or the offender can face life in prison, there will be no statute of limitation. For example, some aggravated sexual batteries fit this category. This is unique to criminal law, as murder is typically one of the only offenses that does not offer a time limitation. Not all states offer this same option for certain violent sexual crimes. Aggravated rape generally involves a weapon, more than one person, or seriously physically injures the victim.
- Sexual battery committed against a minor under 16 years old has no statute of limitations when the victim reports the crime within 72 hours.
- When a sex crime has a statute of limitation, there is an exception made for DNA analysis for crimes occurring after 2006. If DNA evidence shows that a certain offender committed the crime, the state can prosecute without a statute of limitation if the DNA testing evidence was collected during the original investigation. This is true even if it is discovered after the ordinary statute of limitations period ran out.
Because there are so many different scenarios and factors for sex crimes, victims reporting right away (if possible) and working with the prosecution can help avoid any statute of limitation issues.
However, sometimes this is unfortunately not possible due to situations involving things such as victim intimidation, embarrassment and repressed memories. This would change if Florida ends up abolishing statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes in the future.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for a Sexual Assault Case?
If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a Florida attorney 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 attorney can help you understand your rights and discuss any applicable statute of limitation issues. Since time is of the essence, consulting an attorney as soon as possible is your best course of action.