NEW CRIMINAL LAWS FOR 2014

As they do every year, the Florida Legislature considered and ultimately passed a number of changes to Florida’s criminal laws. Here is a summary of all some of them:

Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act

This new law (bill text herefinal staff analysis here) makes causing the death of an unborn child (defined as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage in development, who is carried in the womb”) a separate offense from the crime against the pregnant woman, without requiring the state to prove either knowledge that woman was pregnant or intent to kill the unborn child. Punishment for the crime against the unborn child is the same as if the crime was committed against the mother.

So what does this mean? A few examples of what could happen under this new law:

  • DUI manslaughter charges for an accident causing a miscarriage;
  • Manslaughter and possibly murder charges for battery on a pregnant woman causing miscarriage;
  • Basically any crime committed that causes a miscarriage can be charged as a manslaughter / murder.

The new law does provide a carve-out exemption for abortion doctors, doctors providing medical treatment to the pregnant woman or unborn child, and the mother herself. So, for example, a doctor could not be charged with homicide under the new law for negligently prescribing the wrong medication to a pregnant woman that causes a miscarriage.

The most important thing to note about this new law is the lack of a mens rea requirement – which basically means the prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant knew the woman was pregnant, or that he intended to cause a miscarriage. Also important is that the “unborn child” can be at any stage of development, meaning that this law applies in the first days of pregnancy. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that for crimes requiring intent (such as murder) the prosecution will likely still have to prove intent against the mother.

Enhanced Penalties for Drivers Leaving the Scene of a Crash Causing Serious Bodily Injury:

This new law (bill herestaff analysis here) increases the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident causing injuries or death in the following ways:

  • enhances the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury to a second degree felony;
  • imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of four years upon conviction of leaving the scene of an accident causing death;
  • imposes a minimum three-year license revocation for leaving the scene of a crash; and
  • enhances the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident causing injury to a “vulnerable road user” (which the new law defines as a pedestrian (including wheelchairs, skateboards, horse-drawn carriage, or a person riding a bicycle or motorcycle (it’s actually unclear whether Segways are included)).

The new law also gives us a new definition of “serious bodily injury”:

an injury to a person, including the driver, which consists of a physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.

Warning Shot Law:

This new law (bill herestaff analysis here) basically extends the protections of the “stand your ground” statute to threatened use of force, rather than just applying them to actual uses of force.

The push behind this new law was the case of Marissa Alexander, who was convicted in 2012 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 60 years, for firing a warning shot at her husband after he broke through a bathroom door and chased her through their house (this case can also be chalked up to overcharging by the prosecution).

Human Trafficking:

This new law (bill herestaff analysis here) makes a number of changes to Florida’s human trafficking laws, of which I’ll just list a few:

  • prohibits minors from working in a adult theater;
  • removes the statute of limitations for human trafficking violations;
  • increases penalties for trafficking of children;
  • creates a new penalty if a human trafficker “permanently brands” their victims;
  • increases penalties for those who profit from prostitution; and
  • expands the ability of human trafficking victims to expunge their criminal record.

Conclusion:

We’ll see how these new laws play out once they’re applied in the courts. It will be interesting to see if the “warning shot” law causes a similar press blitz as the “stand your ground” law, but it’s doubtful. What’s more interesting is how the “unborn victims of violence act” will be applied.