Words Matter: Florida Supreme Court Weighs in on ‘Unnatural’ Sexual Battery Case

Florida sexual battery cases often focus on intricate legal arguments about whether what the person who is accused of the crime allegedly did qualifies as a crime. Those debates can have significant consequences. They can mean the difference between a conviction or acquittal and determine the type of punishment that a person faces in the event of a conviction. A recent case out of Florida’s Supreme Court, for example, focused on what state lawmakers meant when they included the term “unnatural” in the lewd or lascivious battery law.

Legal News GavelA defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious battery stemming from an incident in which he allegedly had sex with a female victim between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. At trial, his lawyer asked the judge to instruct the jury that he could instead be convicted of an “unnatural and lascivious act,” a lesser offense that carries a less significant punishment. The judge declined, finding that prosecutors had not alleged that the defendant engaged in “unnatural” conduct. A jury eventually convicted him of lewd or lascivious battery.

The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal later overturned the conviction, finding that the judge should have instructed the jury on the lesser offense. The appeals court said the allegation that the defendant had sex with a minor qualified as “unnatural” under the law because “such conduct is not in accordance with nature or with normal feelings or behavior and are lustful acts performed with sensual intent on the part of the defendant.”

The Florida Supreme Court sided with the trial judge on further appeal. The court said the judge did not err by declining to instruct the jury on the lesser offense. The court started by explaining that laws should be interpreted in a way that gives meaning to every single word in the statute. The term “unnatural” in the lewd and lascivious battery law means that lawmakers intended to set it apart from other lewd and lascivious behavior, according to the court. Otherwise, there would be no reason to distinguish between unnatural lewd and lascivious battery and lewd and lascivious battery.

“In other words, the decision below results in one crime essentially subsuming the other—a result that clearly cannot stand when the two statutes are read and construed to give logical and orderly meaning to all sections,” the Supreme Court concluded. It also noted that “unnatural” has been interpreted by Florida courts generally to refer to “anything other than adult male and female sexual intercourse.”

As a result, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

If you or a loved one has been charged with lewd or lascivious battery in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. Clearwater sex crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

More blog posts:

Double Jeopardy in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Proving Intent in Florida Sex Crime Cases

Constructive Possession in Florida Child Pornography Cases