TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — A Senate committee agreed Monday that minors should be able to secretly record conversations — something currently illegal in Florida — if the talks involve unlawful sexual or violent acts against children.
The measure (SB 542), sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was proposed in reaction to a December ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that ordered a new trial for a Lee County man sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing his stepdaughter.
State law generally bars recording of conversations unless all parties agree, and it also prevents such recordings from being used as evidence in court.
“We just need to make this small change, a narrow change, to make sure that children have an additional voice when it comes to asking for help and stop being victims,” Benacquisto told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which unanimously backed the proposal.
The bill would allow recordings in situations that involve an “unlawful sexual act or an unlawful act of physical force or violence against the child.”
The Supreme Court ruled in December that recordings made by the stepdaughter of Richard R. McDade, the operator of an ice-cream truck, should not have been allowed into his Lee County trial.
Justices, in overturning a decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, cited the state law that generally bars secret recordings. McDade’s stepdaughter used a hidden MP3 player to record conversations that the appeals court said “were probably the most important evidence presented” during the trial.
While there are exceptions in the law barring secret recordings, the Supreme Court ruling said none “of the exceptions allow for the interception of conversations based on one’s status as the victim of a crime.” Also, it said state law “provides that the contents of any improperly intercepted communication may not be used as evidence.”
“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,” said the 18-page opinion, written by Justice Charles Canady. “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.”
Benacquisto’s proposal must still go through the Judiciary and Rules committees before reaching the Senate floor.
“The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.”