Cruise Ship Sexual Assault Occurring in International Waters is Prosecutable under Florida Criminal Law

The cruise ship industry is a major source of revenue in Florida, and in fact, Florida law seeks to protect cruise-goers by extending subject matter jurisdiction to criminal acts that occur on cruise ships that leave Florida ports. However, the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami recently heard a Florida sexual assault case between two cruise boat crew members in a recent proceeding.

As mentioned earlier, the defendant was a crew member aboard a cruise ship and attempted to commit sexual battery against another crew member while the ship was in international waters. The defendant is a citizen of Grenada, and the victim is a citizen of Nicaragua. The cruise ship departed from Miami and returned to Miami, and almost all of the paying passengers boarded and disembarked in Miami. Following the attempted sexual battery, the defendant was taken into custody and confined to the brig of the ship until it returned to Miami, at which point Miami-Dade law enforcement took the defendant into custody. The defendant was then charged with battery, attempted sexual battery, and false imprisonment.

The defendant argued that the State did not have subject matter jurisdiction to prosecute him. The trial court denied the motion, and then the defendant pled guilty to attempted sexual battery and appealed to the Third District Court of Appeals.

Florida law provides that Florida has criminal jurisdiction over actions that occur on a cruise ship in international territory, but only if the criminal act occurred during a trip in which over one-half of the paying passengers originally boarded and planned to finally disembark in the State of Florida. The court noted that out of 2,888 paying passengers, 2,885 boarded and disembarked in Miami. Therefore, it was clear that the relevant statute applied to the defendant.

Nevertheless, the defendant argued that the statute was unconstitutional. The defendant argued that the “effects doctrine” was not reasonably applied in this case. The defendant argued that it is unreasonable to conclude that his criminal conduct in international waters would have a significant effect on Florida’s tourism industry because the crime involved only foreign crew members, who the defendant contended do not involve or pose a threat to revenue passengers. In other words, the defendant contended that even if a sexual assault between crew members were to go unprosecuted, Florida’s tourism economy would not be significantly affected.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument because Florida law does not recognize any distinction between working passengers and paying passengers on board cruise ships.

With more than 20 years of experience, St. Petersburg sex crime lawyer Will Hanlon is committed to assisting people who have been charged with a wide range of crimes, including lewd and lascivious conduct and other sex offenses. At Hanlon Law, we believe in taking the time to understand the details of a client’s situation so that we can offer a multifaceted legal defense. Contact Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or through our online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Fourth District Court of Appeals Affirms Kidnapping Conviction, Analyzing What Constitutes a “Confinement Crime” Under Florida Kidnapping Law, Clearwater & St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog, 

Limitations Period Expired for Sex Crime Charge, Rules Florida Appeals Court, Clearwater & St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 6, 2017


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