In 2014, the Florida Legislature passed the “Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act.” It’s now codified at Fla. Stat. 775.0862. At its core, it is a sentencing enhancement act that increases the maximum penalties faced by those who are in a position of authority at a school, as that term is defined by statute, who commit sexual offenses against students of that school. It applies to most of the offenses listed under Fla. Stat. 943.0435(1)(h)1.a. That statute defines who is classified as a “sexual offender” for registration purposes.
For those sexual offenses that are classified as third-degree felonies, the offense is reclassified to a second-degree felony, if the requirements of the statute are met. Likewise, a second-degree felony will be reclassified to a first-degree felony and a first-degree felony to a life felony if the State proves the requirements of the statute.
The statute is delineated in its entirety below:
Fla. Stat. 775.0862
(1) As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Authority figure” means a person 18 years of age or older who is employed by, volunteering at, or under contract with a school.
(b) “School” has the same meaning as provided in s. 1003.01 and includes a private school as defined in s. 1002.01, a voluntary prekindergarten education program as described in s. 1002.53(3), early learning programs, a public school as described in s. 402.3025(1), the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and the Florida Virtual School established under s. 1002.37. The term does not include facilities dedicated exclusively to the education of adults.
(c) “Student” means a person younger than 18 years of age who is enrolled at a school.
(2) The felony degree of a violation of an offense listed in s. 943.0435(1)(h)1.a., unless the offense is a violation of s. 794.011(4)(e)7. or s. 810.145(8)(a)2., shall be reclassified as provided in this section if the offense is committed by an authority figure of a school against a student of the school.
(a) In the case of a felony of the third degree, the offense is reclassified to a felony of the second degree.
(b) In the case of a felony of the second degree, the offense is reclassified to a felony of the first degree.
(c) In the case of a felony of the first degree, the offense is reclassified to a life felony.
For purposes of sentencing under chapter 921 and determining incentive gain-time eligibility under chapter 944, a felony offense that is reclassified under this subsection is ranked one level above the ranking under s. 921.0022 or s. 921.0023 of the offense committed.
What Does the State Have to Prove to Get The Crime Enhanced?
The State would have to prove and a jury would have to find the enhancement beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a court to be able to sentence with the enhancement. A jury would be instructed as follows:
If you find that defendant committed the crime, you must also determine whether the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was an authority figure at a school and victim was a student at the same school. As such you must find:
- Defendant was an authority figure.
- Victim was a student at the school.
“Authority figure” means a person 18 years of age or older who is employed by, volunteering at, or under contract with a school.
“School” means an organization of students for instructional purposes on an elementary, middle or junior high school, secondary or high school, [or other public school level authorized under the rules of the State Board of Education]. The term “school” does not include facilities dedicated exclusively to the education of adults.
“Student” means a person younger than 18 years of age who is enrolled at a school.
Obviously, the State would have to prove each of the elements of the underlying crime first before any enhancement could be considered by the jury. It would seem relatively easy to prove the enhancement as the State could simply present the testimony of a school official regarding the status of the defendant and student at the school as well as the nature of the particular educational institution as a place of learning for children.
Should a jury be persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt, then the Court will have the ability to sentence the crime at one level higher than usual. The reclassification of a third-degree felony to a second adds 10 years, from a second to a first adds 15 years, and from a first to a life adds an unknowable amount of years to any sentence.
As such, should a person be charged with this enhancement, you need an experienced and knowledgeable attorney on your side. Give us a call today at 813.416.7965 to set up your free consultation!