In Florida, domestic violence is defined as an act of violence against someone that is a family or household member of the aggressor. These acts of violence include battery, assault, sexual battery and assault, stalking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or any other criminal act that results in physical injury or death. The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently reported that in 2014, there were 106,882 crimes of domestic violence in Florida and 64,460 arrests made related to these reports. While these numbers may seem high, it actually is a decrease from the year before. In 2013, there were 108,030 offenses reported and 65,645 arrests from these reports, and these numbers have continued to decline since 2011. This decrease in arrests and overall reported offenses may be linked to legislation that was passed in 2012. The three specific legislative bills passed in 2012 that increased criminal penalties are the Protection of Vulnerable Persons, Batterer Intervention Program, and Background Screening Process.
Specifics of the Bills
The Protection of Vulnerable Persons bill extended the child abuse reporting requirements from only a caregiver to any person who knows or reasonably suspects abuse. Under this bill, anyone that was required to report the abuse and failed to do so could be subject to up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. This bill also creates responsibility for schools to report abuse that took place on campus. If a school fails to report the abuse, they face up to $1 million in fines for each failure to report.
The Batterer Intervention Program is a community based program that performs several functions, including providing training on parenting and establishing and maintaining non-abusive relationships and substance abuse and mental health evaluation and treatment. The 2012 legislation removed the requirement that the program providers had to be state certified and monitored, which helped to increase the number of providers able to help batterers.
The legislation added to the Background Screening Process increased the requirements for those who are working with certain classes of vulnerable people in Florida. These groups that required screening for domestic violence include:
- persons considered for placement of dependent children;
- employees that work with children in a facility, day care home, foster home, residential agency, summer or recreation camp, volunteers that work over 10 hours a month;
- any direct care provider ages 18 years and older who has face-to-face contact with a client while providing services to the client or has access to a client’s living area, funds, or personal property;
- employees within mental health facilities, including directors, clinicians, staff members, and volunteers;
- unlicensed staff, i.e. custodians, cafeteria personnel, who work in a licensed general hospital, whose duties require them to work in a psychiatric unit;
- all owners, directors, chief financial officers of service providers, and all service provides who have direct contact with children receiving services or adults with developmental disabilities; and
- Members of the foster family who are 18 years or older.
Based on these recent changes to the law, Florida is making strides to help decrease the number of domestic violence incidents within the state. Increasing penalties and making it harder for those who have a history of domestic violence to find employment will hold batterers accountable. It may also have make these people an example and may help encourage others to get the help they need in order to have non-abusive relationships. If you are facing domestic abuse charges or feel that you need help related to a domestic abuse matter, contact experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney Mark S. Lowry for a case evaluation. Our office can assist you today.