Florida law criminalizes a variety of sexual misconduct in addition to the general crimes discussed in the criminal code. Many sexual crimes are established or exacerbated by the specific relationship between the alleged perpetrator and the victim. When someone uses a position of trust or authority to encourage or coerce a vulnerable party into sexual activities, such behavior may be punished more severely under specific criminal statutes. The Florida Court of Appeal recently addressed an appeal filed on behalf of a man who was convicted of felony sex charges after he had sexual relations with an attendee of a substance abuse treatment center where he was employed.
According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant worked at a substance abuse and mental health treatment center where the alleged victim had checked herself in for substance abuse treatment. The defendant allegedly coerced the victim into having sexual intercourse with him in exchange for a cigarette. After the victim left the treatment center and contacted the police, the defendant was arrested and charged with felony crimes under the Florida Mental Health Act, which criminalized sexual conduct between an employee and a patient who has been held or accepted for mental health treatment at a Florida medical facility. The criminal provisions under which the defendant was charged do not rely on the lack of consent for a valid conviction.
After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced him to over five years in state prison. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the statute under which he was charged defined the term “patient” in a way that was not consistent with the victim’s status at the time of the alleged misconduct. The appellant argued that a “patient,” as defined by the Mental Health Act, was a person admitted to a facility for a mental health condition. Because the alleged victim was admitted only for substance abuse treatment, the defendant argued that his conviction under the law was not valid.