A strange court case in Florida (where else would it be?) has spurred a bit of a debate in the familiar libertarian versus social conservative camps. This one probably wouldn’t have risen to any level of national attention if it didn’t involve an attractive 18 year old woman and sex in public, turning it into immediate click-bait. The trial in question was the result of a couple who were seen allegedly engaging in intercourse on a public beach in the view of tourists… including a three year old child. This week they were found guilty and face a potentially severe penalty. (Story from Bradenton.com)

After only 15 minutes of deliberation, a jury Monday found a couple guilty of having sex on Bradenton Beach. The convictions carry maximum prison sentences of 15 years.

Jose Caballero, 40, and Elissa Alvarez, 20, were charged with two counts each of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex on a public beach July 20, 2014.

Video played in the courtroom during the 1- 1/2-day trial showed Alvarez moving on top of Caballero in a sexual manner in broad daylight. Witnesses testified a 3-year-old girl saw them.

I think the only controversial part of this story is the sentencing guidelines which seem to be in place. I don’t imagine that many people are in favor of people going out on the public beach and having sex, assuming that’s what actually took place here. For the record, the couple is claiming that they were “dancing” or something, and the video doesn’t show any naughty bits and no witnesses could say definitively what they were doing. (That didn’t stop the conviction, though.) Even for the most strident libertarians, I’m fairly sure that they don’t want the government coming into your bedroom and telling you what you can or can’t do, but that’s in the privacy of your own home. A public beach is something else entirely.

But fifteen years in prison? Granted, the case is complicated a bit because Mr Caballero wasn’t exactly a model citizen. He had recently finished an eight year stretch for cocaine trafficking, but it’s not clear whether he was violating probation He’d been out for three years, so that might be playing into the prosecutor’s decision to seek such a harsh sentence. The woman, who was 18 at the time of the incident, seems to be guilty of little more than poor judgement and a bad choice of boyfriends. She’s facing some time in jail rather than a lengthy prison sentence.

But if you take the probation question out of the equation, how much of a sentence should boorish, offensive behavior carry? I’m reminded of the case of Daniele Watts, who by all accounts was doing the deed in her car with her partner on a public street. Coincidentally, it was only this week that they were allowed to plead no contest to disturbing the peace charges in exchange for writing a letter of apology to the police officer they falsely accused of racism and do some community service. The original charge of lewd conduct – stemming from the actual sex in the car part of it – was dropped entirely as part of the deal. And even if they had been convicted, it looks as if it would have fallen under California penal code 647(a) which only carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail (rarely given) and a fine of up to one thousand dollars. But in Florida the same thing finds you guilty of Lewd or Lascivious Conduct by Person 18 or older which has you on the hook for a a Second Degree Felony rap and can lead to:

Up to fifteen (15) years in prison.
Up to fifteen (15) years of sex offender probation.
Up to $10,000 in fines.

That’s a rather stark difference. I’m not saying that we need standardized laws for every offense across the nation… that’s a states’ rights issue and each electorate has to decide for themselves. But for lewd conduct that’s one heck of a harsh penalty, isn’t it?