According to the Palm Beach Post, four football players at powerhouse Glades Central High are under suspension after a 14-year-old girl accused the players of pressuring her to engage in oral sex, presumably against her will. The accusation will seriously impact the accused's ability to obtain coveted football scholarships, which could potentially serve as tickets out of the high-crime, impoverished environs of Belle Glade, Florida. What is more, the accusation may lead to criminal charges, which carry the possibility of prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
According to the Post's story, the four football players pressured the girl to perform oral sex after the girl skipped class. The incident came to light after the victim's mother heard rumors of the encounter between her daughter and the four football players. Although the girl initially denied anything had occurred, she later admitted to skipping class and being pressured to perform sexual acts on the four accused players. If prosecutors find the girl credible and believe they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the football players will likely face charges of Lewd or Lascivious Battery, a Second Degree Felony that requires convicted individuals to register as sex offenders.
Under Florida Statute 800.04(4), Lewd or Lascivious Battery is defined as: "A person who engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older, but less than 16 years of age. Pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court Standard Jury Instructions, to prove the crime of Lewd or Lascivious Battery, the State must show beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the victim was 12 years of age or older, but less than 16; and (2) the defendant committed an act with the vicim in which the sexual organ of the defendant penetrated or had union with the mouth of the victim. The term "union" means contact.
If the victim's story is to be believed, then the conduct of the football players squarely falls within the proscriptions of the statute. Indeed, even if the accused football players were minors, they would still face the possibility of prosecution, as well as the possibility of registering as sex offenders. What is more, the State does not need to prove that the sex was pressured or coerced, because under Florida law a 14-year-old is incapable of consenting to sexual activity. Worse still for the players, the State does not need to prove that the players knew the girl was underage. In fact, even if a jury were to believe that (a) the victim told the players that she was 18 years of age, and (b) the players reasonably believed that she was 18 years of age in reliance of the victim's misrepresentation, the players would still be guilty under the law.
All however, is not lost for the players. To prove the players guilty, the prosecution still needs to establish that sexual activity occurred. Typically, in sex-crimes investigations, law enforcement will establish that sexual activity occurred through the use of corroborative evidence, such as DNA evidence. Law enforcement will also conduct controlled telephone calls, in which the victim or other cooperating witness calls a suspect and elicits incriminating statements from the suspect, while the police secretly listen into the call.
It is doubtful that law enforcement will have much opportunity to develop corroborative evidence in this case. First, the incident was a delayed-report, which greatly lowers the chance of collecting physical or DNA evidence. Secondly, the players have obviously been tipped off that an investigation is underway, and thus are unlikely to make incriminating statements during a controlled phone call. Lastly, even if the police were to question the players directly, they have a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
Thus, the allegations amount to a he-said-she-said. More precisely, they amount to four against one, as it is unlikely that any of the four accused will admit any guilt. What is worse for the State, the victim reportedly denied that sexual activity occurred when first asked about the incident, which damages her credibility. With a skilled defense attorney with experience in sex-crimes prosecutions, the accused players may be able to avoid criminal prosecution, or at least limit their exposure to criminal sanctions.