State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, continued her efforts to crack down on indecent exposure last week, bringing out a bill which she insists “would protect children from obscene conduct, and improve prosecution of offenders.”
Stewart’s new bill “clarifies that a person who performs certain acts in the vicinity of a child, whether the child is aware or not, commits an act of lewd and lascivious exhibition.” The Orlando Democrat noted that “advances in technology, such as video baby monitors and nanny cams, have increased the ability to catch violators committing such obscene acts.”
“The bill was recommended by the Office of the State Attorney, Ninth Judicial Circuit, and was inspired by a case in Orange County in which a man was caught on video pleasuring himself over the bed of a sleeping 6-year-old. At the time, the state attorney declined to press charges in the case, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Werner (1992), which requires the child to be aware of the conduct in order for a violation to have occurred,” the senator’s office noted.
“I am extremely grateful for Senator Stewart’s leadership on this issue,” said State Attorney Aramis Ayala. “Our criminal justice system requires partnerships to be effective and, as prosecutors, we appreciate when our experience and insight is valued by members of the legislature.”
“It shouldn’t matter whether a child is sleeping or aware of this disgusting conduct or not,” said Stewart. “We need to be able to prosecute this offense before it escalates to something worse. The language in the statute has not been looked at in many years, and needs to be updated to account for current technology. It’s just plain wrong and we need to fix it.”
Last month, Stewart brought out a bill raising the penalties on indecent exposure. State Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando, introduced the bill in the House.
“Under current law, a violation is considered a misdemeanor, meaning law enforcement cannot obtain an arrest warrant for a suspect. This requires law enforcement to catch a violator in the act in order to arrest,” Stewart’s office noted. The proposal “raises the penalty to a third-degree felony, which would allow law enforcement to act without delay to apprehend an alleged suspect before they have an opportunity to reoffend or escalate their acts.”
Stewart pointed to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office having had “nine separate cases related to one suspect who repeatedly drove into populated areas, opened his car door, and intentionally exposed his genitals” as she showcased her proposal on Thursday.
“We know that when violators get away with this type of act, they often feel emboldened to continue,” said Stewart. “We want to give law enforcement the tools they need in order to stop this type of behavior in its tracks.”
“This bill will give law enforcement additional tools to act swiftly against those who victimize our residents and visitors with these disturbing lewd acts,” said Orange County Sheriff John Mina. “We appreciate Senator Stewart and Representative Mercado stepping up to help us further protect Floridians.”
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.