Moving quickly after the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a man convicted of sexually abusing his stepdaughter, a state lawmaker Friday filed a bill that would allow secretly recorded conversations to be used as evidence in such cases.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, filed the proposal (HB 131) little more than a week after the Supreme Court ruled that recordings made by Richard R. McDade's stepdaughter should not have been allowed into his trial. A Lee County jury found McDade guilty of five charges, including sexual battery on a child younger than 12, but the Supreme Court overturned the convictions.
State law generally bars recording of conversations unless all parties agree, and it also prevents such recordings from being used as evidence in court. Moskowitz's bill would create an exception that would allow secretly recorded conversations to be used in the prosecution of cases involving sexual abuse against children 16 or younger.
"My attitude is this: No sexual-assault victim should ever have to ask their abuser for permission for anything in life,'' Moskowitz told The News Service of Florida.
The proposal has drawn support from Lauren Book, who as a child was sexually abused by a nanny and went on to found the group Lauren's Kids to advocate for victims. Moskowitz and Book pointed Friday to changes in technology that, for example, allow young victims to use cell phones to record conversations with their abusers.
"We need to do all that we can to help children find their voices and prove the guilt of individuals who have harmed them in this most predatory and deviant way, so we may continue to protect childhood in communities throughout the state of Florida,'' Book, the daughter of prominent Capitol lobbyist Ron Book, said in a prepared statement. "Cell phones and digital devices are revolutionizing the world in which we live, and it is time to empower children to use technology as a tool in their own safety."
In the McDade case, the man's 16-year-old stepdaughter used an MP3 player to record conversations that an appeals court said "were probably the most importance evidence presented" during the trial, which ultimately led to McDade receiving a life sentence in prison. The stepdaughter alleged that McDade began sexually abusing her when she was 10 years old.
The 18-page Supreme Court opinion, issued Dec. 11, said nothing in current law allows for the use of secret recordings.
"It may well be that a compelling case can be made for an exception … for recordings that provide evidence of criminal activity --- or at least certain types of criminal activities,'' Justice Charles Canady wrote. "But the adoption of such an exception is a matter for the Legislature. It is not within the province of the courts to create such an exception by ignoring the plain import of the statutory text."
Moskowitz said he thinks the Supreme Court had to rule that way because of current law. But he said he filed the bill to try to protect children. He said he hopes House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, will take up the bill during the legislative session that starts in March.
"Let's be honest, this is a bipartisan issue," Moskowitz said. "This is not a political issue. This is about children, sexual-assault victims."