Florida Statute 800.04 - Interpretation

In Jones v. State, 640 So. 2d 1084 (Fla. 1994), the Court upheld the constitutionality of Fla. Stat. ch. 800.04. There, the issue was whether Florida's statutory rape law as defined in section 800.04 was constitutional in criminalizing consensual sexual intercourse by an adult with a person under the age of sixteen. Id. at 1086. Jones involved separate cases, wherein three adult males, ages eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, were charged with violating the statute's prohibition against sexual intercourse with "any child under the age of 16 years." In each case the female victim consented to sexual intercourse with the defendant. Jones, the eighteen-year-old, was convicted and sentenced to four and one-half years' imprisonment. However, in separate cases involving the other defendants, a different trial judge dismissed the charges, declared section 800.04 unconstitutional as applied and held that the statute constituted an unreasonable restriction on the consenting victims' right of privacy. The Fifth District reversed on the constitutional issue, and certified the constitutional privacy issue to the Court as one of great public importance. On review in Jones the Court approved the district court's decision, noting that the legislature had enacted numerous statutes to protect minors from harmful sexual conduct, and that those laws clearly invoke a policy that " any type of sexual conduct involving a child constitutes an intrusion upon the rights of that child, whether or not the child consents . . . therefore society has a compelling interest in intervening to stop such misconduct." Id. at 1086. Emphasizing the primacy of the child protection policies implicit in the laws, we determined that " neither the level of intimacy nor the degree of harm are relevant when an adult and a child under the age of sixteen engage in sexual intercourse." Id. The Court noted that neither the child's maturity or lack of chastity could override these concerns because "sexual activity with a child opens the door to sexual exploitation, physical harm, and sometimes psychological damage." Jones, 640 So. 2d at 1086. The Court also refused to extend a minor's privacy rights involving abortion as confirmed in In re T.W., 551 So. 2d 1186 (Fla. 1989), to include a right to initiate consensual sexual relationships with adults. We noted that "T.W. did not transform a minor into an adult for all purposes." Finally, the Court concluded that whatever the extent of a minor's privacy rights, those rights "do not vitiate the legislature's efforts and authority to protect minors from conduct of others." Jones, 640 So. 2d at 1087.