“Jessie” Lunsford, a small-town 9-year-old, wanted to be a fashion designer and Olympic swimmer when she grew up. Unfortunately, those childlike dreams were brutally cut short, when in 2005 she was abducted from her home, raped, and buried alive by a registered sex offender.

In response to her tragedy, and in addition to the murder of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde by another registered sex offender, Florida enacted laws that would informally become known as “Jessica’s Law” to increase criminal and civil penalties for sexual offenses.

In 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law which made registration requirements more severe for sex offenders.

What Do Florida’s Sexual Offender Laws Do?

“Jessica’s Law” sets a minimum 25-year prison sentence for individuals convicted of sexual crime involving a child under 12. It also requires GPS tracking after the convicted have been released. Also, Florida law provides that being a sexual predator is an “aggravating” factor for a murder charge. This affects the potential imposition of the death penalty, making it easier for the prosecution to argue in its favor.

Can Someone Convicted of the Rape of a Child Be Sentenced to Death?

Although Florida statutes allow for a death sentence in the event of a child rape, a 1991 Florida Supreme Court decision prohibited the use of the death penalty in a child rape case where there has been no murder. Additionally, in 2008, the United States Supreme Court banned the imposition of the death penalty for child rape.

Who Must Register as a Sex Offender?

Each state has separate requirements as to why a person must register as a sex offender. So it’s important to check the laws of the state of where the crime took place. However, some states like Florida have strict laws that require the following:

  • Anyone convicted of a qualifying sexual offense in Florida or another jurisdiction. Qualifying sexual offense include:
    • Legally prohibited sexual misconduct;
    • Kidnapping of a minor;
    • False imprisonment, luring or enticing of a minor;
    • Human trafficking;
    • Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors;
    • Lewd/lascivious behavior committed upon/in presence of minors under 16;
    • Video voyeurism of minors;
    • Computer pornography;
    • Buying or selling of minors; and/or
    • Violation of a similar law of another jurisdiction.
  • Any individual released from or currently serving probation/parole or incarceration for qualifying sexual offense on or after October 1, 1997;
  • Any individual with a residence in Florida who has a requirement to register as a sexual offender in Florida, or would in another jurisdiction; and
  • Any individual adjudicated delinquent on or after July 1, 2007 of certain sex crimes, who was 14 or older at time of trial.

Florida’s requirements mean that even if your crime took place in another state and you are registered elsewhere, you will need to register as a sex offender if you wish to live in Florida.

Registration as a Sex Offender

Like other states, sex offenders in Florida are required to register with the local authorities 3 or 4 times a year, depending upon the crime for which they were convicted, and their information will be made public pursuant to the national 1994 Megan’s Law. Sex offenders must:

  • Keep the local police informed of their presence in counties;
  • Inform police of travel plans through other counties;
  • Update a long list of personal information every year, to include: name, date of birth, social security number, race, sex, height and weight, hair and eye color, tattoos and other identifying marks, fingerprints, palm prints, photograph, occupation and place of employment, residential information, vehicle information, all phone numbers and email addresses, conviction information, passport information, professional license information and immigration status; and
  • Transient offenders must update every 30 days

Registered sex offenders living in Florida must report it if they plan to move or to travel out of state. Registered sex offenders from other states must report to the sheriff’s office within 48 hours of their arrival in the state. Even offenders who are only visiting must report their presence.

Not registering as a sex offender when required to do so is a felony, punishable by law and jail time.

Florida state law may place restrictions on where registered sex offenders can reside. Depending on the specific crime of which they were convicted, an offender may be prevented from establishing a residence within 1,000 feet of a playground, park, childcare facility or school.

Due to the potential difficulty of finding a place to stay, some offenders may have difficulty securing a residence. Regardless, they need to keep their probation officer informed as to their whereabouts to facilitate meetings. Offenders convicted of certain crimes may also be prevented from loitering in areas where children congregate.

How to Be Removed from the Florida Sex Offender Registry

Registration in Florida is for life, although sex offenders may petition for removal after 20 years provided they have committed no misdemeanor or felony offenses. They must also fall under some basic requirements, such as:

  • Their Crime is Eligible for Removal: a limited number of crimes can eventually be removed, and if the crime is not on the list below then it is not eligible:
    • Sexual battery; 
    • Lewd or lascivious offense committed in front of someone under the age of 16;
    • Sexual performance by a child;
    • Computer pornography; and
    • Prohibited computer use or traveling to meet a minor.
  • Defendant Must Be Within Four Years of Age of the Victim: the victim must also have been 14 to 17 years old when it was committed.
  • Timing of the Crime: must have been committed on or after July 1, 2007.

You must file a petition that clearly states why you are eligible for removal, and the attorney must be given the petition at least 21 days before the hearing. The State can contest the petition and provide evidence to show why the offender should remain on the registry.

The registry is updated as information is received from criminal justice agencies, therefore, it is continuously being updated as people are added to (or removed from) the registry. Deceased offender remain on the registry for one year after death.

Should I Consult a Lawyer?

Sexual offenses are very serious, particularly those where a child is involved. If you believe you may be facing charges for a sexual crime, you should consult a local Florida criminal attorney immediately.