Minor Abuse Recording Bill Passes Florida Legislature

May 6, 2015

A bill has passed through the Florida legislature, letting minors secretly record their abusers and use that evidence against them in court. The bill has passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, and now awaits Governor Rick Scott’s signature.

The Bill

House Bill 7001 lets a minor record conversations that relate to physical or sexual abuse of the child, without the other party’s consent, if the child reasonably believes that the recording will capture a statement that the other party to the conversation has committed, intends to commit, or is committing sexual abuse or unlawful physical violence against the child.

Background Case

The bill stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year, McDade v. State, in which a girl was sexually abused by her stepfather for six years. When she came forward with her story of abuse, no one believed her, and the abuse was not reported to the authorities. Her boyfriend encouraged her to record her abuser, and so she recorded him making incriminating statements regarding the abuse.

The recorded evidence was used at the stepfather’s trial, and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. But he appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial because the recording was not admissible evidence at trial. This was because Florida law generally bans the recording of a conversation if all parties do not consent. Further, the law does not permit such recordings to be used as evidence in court.

Perspectives on the Bill

Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Senator Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored the bill in the Senate. Benacquisto wants to prevent a situation like that in McDade from ever happening again. She says that the bill will encourage children who are afraid that their reports of abuse will not be afraid.

Lori Allen, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, echoed similar views. She noted that having recorded evidence of abuse would help children who were afraid of coming forward and reporting the abuse. The evidence could make them more comfortable in knowing that their allegations would not be dismissed.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, who supported the bill, voiced concerns about privacy, and noted that the decision was difficult because of the constitutional right to privacy. But he concluded that the child’s safety concerns trumped the privacy rights of the abuser.

Attorney Chris Cosden, who represented the abuser in McDade, disagrees with the bill because it could put children at further risk of harm. He noted that if an abuser discovered a recording device on a child, the situation could easily escalate and the child could suffer more serious harm. But Benacquisto argued that the danger to the child already existed, and that the bill would help children whose allegations of abuse others did not believe.

Sexual abuse cases are serious offenses in Florida, and can have extremely severe consequences. If you have been arrested for or charged with sexual abuse, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.