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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and 90.7 WMFE.

Lawmakers pass bill protecting certain victims from giving depositions

The bill exempts children under 18 who are victims of sex offenses and people with intellectual disabilities from being deposed
Sebastian Duda
The bill exempts children under 18 who are victims of sex offenses and people with intellectual disabilities from being deposed

A Florida measure that would protect certain crime victims from giving depositions is heading to the governor's desk. The bill requires that defendants show good cause to a judge in order to depose children under 18 who are victims of a sexual offense or people with intellectual disabilities.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills attorney.

“Child victims and victims with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable in deposition settings because they often do not have the language, insight or empowerment to understand their emotions and ask for help when in distress,” Burgess said.

Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo of Hollywood is a former Assistant State Attorney in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. He moved to amend the bill to require that a circuit judge, a judicial magistrate or a certified circuit court mediator be in the room during depositions in cases where someone is charged with a sexual offense against someone under 18, or someone with an intellectual disability.

“No judge, knowing that the penalty…the penalty for this type of criminal behavior results in the most severe of penalties is going to allow a defense not to have or not to demonstrate good cause,” said Pizzo.

After the amendment failed, Pizzo asked who would be in the room with a victim being deposed. Burgess said the attorney for the state would likely act as a “guardrail” for that person.

“Me, personally, when I look at how 45 other states have conducted … how they handle criminal depositions, we are not just the outlier, but in federal court we don’t permit them at all,” Burgess said. “In misdemeanor cases, we don’t allow them in Florida already. So I view this as balancing a victim’s rights without infringing a defendant’s rights.”

Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley had a personal take on the bill. He and his wife have two children with special needs whom they adopted at birth.

“These kids of mine and these abused children are so traumatized by any advance on their history … There is no way you could take a child that’s been through this and re-traumatize them by these depositions,” he said.

The bill passed overwhelmingly. Burgess and Pizzo agreed to work next year to allocate the funds to ensure that an officer of the court -- other than the defense counsel -- be in the room during depositions.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.