A bill is working its way through the state House of Representatives that would make indecent exposure a felony regardless of age.
The amendment to Florida Statute would allow officers to make an arrest for incidents without receiving a warrant. Additionally, the proposed law covers the controversial issue of breast feeding in public. Public breast feeding would not be included as a form of public indecency.
Current law states, exposing sexual organs to a person younger than 16 is a felony, while the same act done in front of someone 16 or older is categorized as a misdemeanor. The proposed measure would make the act a third-degree felony.
Rep. Amy Mercado (D-Orange County) serves as sponsor for HB 675. A mother who has four daughters, she says this an important piece of legislation because it’s an age piece.
Mercado said by leaving current laws as is, “We’re allowing victimization of children minors knowingly.”
Lt. Tory Wright of Orange County Sheriff’s Office is one of the bill’s biggest supporters. He believes the changes will allow officers to conduct investigations efficiently.
Under current law officers have to be present at the time of the act to make an arrest when the victim is 16 or older. That, Wright said, “significantly cripples law enforcement in being able to investigate it and takes that person off the street so they don’t have the opportunity to re-offend.”
According to Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami), who formerly served as a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, many who commit this type of crime are often homeless or suffer from mental disorders.
Dealing with an issue such as this under these circumstances often slows officers down. By having to seek a judge and get a warrant to arrest, officers then have to track down the suspect again. This issue is complicated by homelessness or mental disorders as those who experience these are often nomadic.
The delay in investigation leads to repeat offenders, like the case of John David Robinson. Robinson originally was cited for indecent exposure in Jacksonville in 2012. The 43-year-old was convicted in Florida eight times and has been placed in treatment programs. He was recently arrested in Tennessee for the same charge of public indecency.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont ) is opposing the measure. He believes that the measure is the latest attempt to get rid of misdemeanors.
Sabatini said, “There’s this trend in Florida and really just across the country, that misdemeanors just aren’t good enough anymore.”
The bill is set to be heard in the House’s Justice Appropriations Committee at 9 a.m. Tuesday.