Florida Sex Crimes Disclosure Laws: A Duty Not Imposed on Joe Paterno
Incessant media attention toward the Penn State child sex abuse scandal has been accompanied by a rush to judgment about the sex crimes accusations behind the administrative fallout. In any investigation involving allegations of child molestation, child rape or child pornography possession, assumptions about events should always be held in check until evidence can be presented and considered in a court of law. After all, a basic and essential tenet in our country is that every person accused of committing a crime must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.
In reaction to unreported allegations of child sexual abuse, many, but not all states have created specific statutory duties that require citizens to report suspected child sex offenses. In Florida, this duty is backed up by criminal consequences imposed by state child abuse laws. Pennsylvania is now considering a similar measure.
The duty to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect in Florida applies to any person who "knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child's welfare." Most reports are anonymous, because only child care workers, doctors, teachers, law enforcement and certain other professionals must provide their names when making a report to Florida's central abuse hotline.
The Palm Beach Post recently reported that, while only two people have been prosecuted for failing to fulfill this duty since 1999, 37 individuals were accused of making false reports of child abuse. As well intentioned as this law might be, it also facilitates harassment and attacks on the reputations of innocent people. (Records from the Florida Department of Children and Families reveal more than 300,000 calls to the hotline in the most recent fiscal year.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation to assess whether Penn State officials violated a federal duty regarding campus crime reporting. That obligation arises out of the Clery Act (also known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act), which requires colleges and universities to issue annual crime reports based on their participation in federal financial aid programs.
Any individual accused of sex crimes faces an array of legal challenges, from trials in the media and, if convicted, potentially lengthy prison sentences, to lifetime sex offender reporting requirements. A Florida criminal defense lawyer can explain the importance of strategic legal action in defense of an individual's liberty and Constitutional rights.