Hardly a week goes by without a story about a sexual offender/predator. Thankfully, the truly horrible incidents seldom occur, but the stories do cause the average person to be very uncomfortable when they find that a sexual offender/predator is living in their community. We are often asked what steps a community association should take in these instances.
First, and for context, the terms sexual offender and sexual predator are generally defined as follows:
Sexual offenders are persons who have been convicted of committing one or more of a designed list of felonies such as, but not limited to, Sexual Battery, Lewdness, Indecent Exposure and Obscenity.
On the other hand, sexual predators are persons who are already sexual offenders and who:
(a) Commit or attempt to commit a capital or life felony of kidnapping or false imprisonment of a child, and in the process commit a sexual battery or lewd or lascivious sexual act on the child;
(b) Commit or attempt to commit a sexual battery, or lewd or lascivious offense upon or in the presence of (a) a child under 16, or (b) an elderly person or disabled person without that person’s consent; or
(c) Promotes, uses, sells, or buys a minor for sexual performance.
Chapter 775 and Chapter 944, Florida Statutes, deal with the registration and notification of such persons. According to those Chapters, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the local law enforcement agencies are required to notify members of the community of a sexual predator. If the individual is labeled a sexual offender, they are only required to provide information to persons who request such information.
Important to this article is that fact that Sections 944.606(5) and 944.607(11) provide immunity from civil liability to all law enforcement agencies for disseminating incorrect information to members of the public so long as they, in good faith, have compiled, recorded, reported or provided such information.
However, the statutes do not give the same immunity to community associations or private individuals or entities for disseminating incorrect information, no matter how well intentioned. Accordingly, there is potential liability to community associations for incorrectly identifying an individual as a sexual offender/predator. (e.g. The Mr. Smith living on Maple Street is not really the same Mr. Smith who is a sexual offender.)
Clearly, however, no one wants a resident of any community to be injured by a criminal act committed by a sexual offender/predator. Therefore, community associations many times want to warn their members of this possibility of danger. We have come up with the following two options which appear to meet the needs of the associations while limiting their liability:
1. The association can make a written request to the Department of Law Enforcement or the appropriate law enforcement agency that they 1) verify the individual's status as a sexual offender/predator, and 2) notify the residents of their community of such status.
The Association has received information that indicates a person listed by the State of Florida as a registered felon and/or registered sexual offender/predator may reside in our community.
We encourage our members and residents to contact the following law enforcement agencies to confirm whether or not such is the case and to obtain additional information:
1. Florida Department of Law Enforcement
2. ________ County Sheriff's Office or City Police Department
PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT THE OFFICERS OR DIRECTORS OF THE ASSOCIATION. THEY CANNOT CONFIRM THE FOREGOING INFORMATION AND WILL ONLY REFER YOU TO THE ABOVE-LISTED AGENCIES.