Senate passes bill updating rape laws

linda stewart
'We have lost several cases in my district because of the vagueness of the statute.'

A bill that extends a victim’s time for reporting a rape in some cases and makes other changes in Florida’s sexual battery laws to help prosecutions won unanimous approval from the Senate Wednesday.

The final bill — a second committee substitute for Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart’s original (SB 692) — wound up being a cooperative effort of Stewart from Orlando and Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell from Stuart, with a nod toward assistance from Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville.

The Senate approved SB 692 38-0 Wednesday with no questions or debate.

The final bill focuses on extending the time that victims who were assaulted while incapacitated have to report the crime. Now if a victim is not aware of the sexual battery for a period of time because of mental defection, mental incapacitation or physical helplessness, there would be an additional year on the statute of limitations.

Prosecution for such cases would be able to begin within one year after the date the victim obtains actual knowledge of the offense, or on the date on which the offense is reported to law enforcement, whichever comes first.

The bill also changes some of the language in law, replacing “vagina” and “vaginal” with female genitals — to include labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vulva, hymen, and vagina — in defining sexual battery.

“I think this is a really important bill because it really establishes across the statute what that definition means. We have lost several cases in my district because of the vagueness of the statute,” Harrell said.

The bill also expands the definition of sexual battery cases that can lead to life imprisonment, to include cases where a person uses or threatens to use actual physical force likely to cause serious personal injury or death.

SB 692 also gives prosecutors more power to bring up suspect’s previous record of other crimes, wrongs, or acts involving a sexual offense, during trial. Prosecutors no longer have to demonstrate that the previous offenses had “substantial similarity” to the case.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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