Posted On: April 30, 2008

Florida Law Proposed to Deport Illegal Immigrants in Prison Voluntarily

The Florida Legislature is considering a law (Senate Bill 1086) that would allow illegal immigrants serving prison sentences to be deported under certain circumstances.

According to the proposed Florida law, prison inmates in Florida who have been convicted of a crime, have served at least half of their prison sentence and agree to be deported to their country of origin would be eligible for deportation. This proposed law would not result in any forced deportations of illegal immigrants. According to a recent article, there are approximately 5,000 illegal immigrants in Florida prisons.

The purpose of the Florida law is more for saving money and reducing overcrowding in prisons as opposed to addressing issues directly related to illegal immigrants. A similar law saved approximately $13 million in Arizona in 2007.

Posted On: April 29, 2008

Jacksonville, Florida Drug Case Thrown Out Due to Illegal Stop

In a recent Jacksonville, (Duval County) Florida criminal case, a conviction for possession of cocaine was thrown out because the court found that the police officer's stop of the defendant's vehicle was illegal in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In this Jacksonville, Florida criminal case, a police officer stopped the defendant for driving a car with a cracked windshield. The police officer justified his stop on the idea that he could stop a vehicle with an obvious equipment malfunction. The police officer then searched the car and found cocaine inside. However, the appellate court found that the police officer did not have the right to stop the defendant's car just because the car had a cracked windshield. Because the stop of the defendant's car was not legal, the cocaine that was found in the car could not be used as evidence against the defendant in court and the conviction for possession of cocaine was thrown out.

The criminal defense lawyer successfully argued that while there is a law that requires each car to have a windshield, there is no law that deals with cracked windshields. The law does not authorize the police to stop any vehicle that has any equipment malfunction. If it did, the police could stop vehicles for dents, broken antennas and other minor malfunctions. The court noted that the law does not contemplate such broad reasons to stop a vehicle.

So can a police officer pull a car over for an equipment malfunction, like a cracked windshield? Sometimes. There is a law that prohibits a driver from operating a vehicle that is in such an unsafe condition that it is a danger to any person or property. Therefore, an officer can pull a car over if he or she observes a vehicle with equipment, or in a condition, that is unsafe. An example might be a windshield that is cracked or broken to the extent that it is difficult for the driver to see through it.

Posted On: April 27, 2008

Jacksonville, Florida Area Assisted Living Facility Owner Arrested for Medicaid Fraud

A Jacksonville, Florida owner of an assisted living facility (Adams Adult Family Care Home) was arrested last week for allegedly committing medicaid fraud. According to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Jacksonville assisted living facility owner submitted false claims in excess of $20,000 to the Florida Medicaid program and was arrested by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The assisted living facility owner is suspected of running the facility without the proper license. More specifically, the facility was only licensed to care for four adult residents, but the facility owner is suspected of having more than four residents, including child residents, and charging the Florida Medicaid program for 19 months of reimbursements for the unauthorized residents.


According to the State Medicaid Fraud Control Units most recent annual report covering fiscal year 2006 issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the various state Medicaid Fraud Control Units (MFCU) were created to investigate and prosecute Medicaid fraud and patient abuse and neglect. In 2006, the various MFCU's recovered more than $1.1 billion and obtained 1,226 criminal convictions pursuant to their investigations and prosecutions.

Medicaid is a federal program, but Florida, like each other state, is authorized to administer the program and set certain standards in terms of eligibility and reimbursements. Generally, medical providers and assisted living facilities that are enrolled in the Medicaid program can provide care and treatment to individuals and make a claim for reimbursement to the Florida Medicaid program. Medicaid fraud is often characterized by a situation where a provider enrolled in the Florida Medicaid program will submit a false claim for reimbursement for: services that were not actually rendered to residents or patients, services that were not necessary or not authorized under the program, medical equipment not provided to the patient or resident or amounts greater than the appropriate value of the service.

The owner of the Adams Adult Family Care Home is charged with a third degree felony and is subject to a maximum prison sentence of five years, a $5,000 fine and restitution of the amount found to have been fraudulently taken from the Medicaid program.

Posted On: April 23, 2008

Duval County, Florida Domestic Violence Addressed by Attorney General's Office

According to the Florida Attorney General's Office, Duval County (Jacksonville) was one of five counties with the highest rates of domestic violence fatalities in Florida in 2006. As a result, the Florida Attorney General's Office is expanding a pilot program to deal with the increasing domestic violence fatality crime rates. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, reports of domestic violence-related manslaughter or murder were up 17% from 2006 to 2007 in Florida.

The program is called INVEST (Intimate Violence Enhanced Services Team), and it offers prevention and protection services for people considered to be at high risk of suffering a fatal domestic violence attack in Duval County and the other high risk counties. Participants in the program, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Hubbard House, attempt to identify those at high risk of being victims of a domestic violence fatality and make contact with the victim and the suspected offender to prevent the violence from occurring. The program is actually derived from a similar program created in Jacksonville, Florida where, despite the continued high risk, domestic homicides are down an average of 46% in the seven years since the Jacksonville program has been in place.

Posted On: April 20, 2008

In Florida, is a Drug Dog's Signal a Sufficient Basis for the Police to Search?

Drug dogs (also referred to as canines or K-9's) are used in Jacksonville by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department and all over Florida. They are commonly used to walk around a vehicle that has been stopped by police to determine if the odor of marijuana, cocaine or other drugs is present. If the drug dog alerts to the odor of drugs in the vehicle (or some other container), the police will typically take that as a legal basis to conduct a search of the vehicle that complies with the Fourth Amendment search and seizure requirements.

However, the drug dog's signal alone may not be a sufficient basis to search a vehicle. Take for example a situation where the police stopped a vehicle and asked the occupants some basic questions to which the police officer felt he received suspicious responses. The police officer then walked his drug dog around the vehicle, and the drug dog alerted to the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The police officer then searched the vehicle. He did not find drugs, but he found evidence related to a recent armed robbery and both occupants of the vehicle were arrested. Was this proper?

The Florida court deciding the case said no. At the motion to suppress hearing, the police officer testified that he and the drug dog were certified and well-trained and the drug dog had been very reliable in detecting drugs in the past. However, the police officer testified that he did keep specific records as to the drug dog's reliability and denied that the drug dog ever gave a false alert explaining that if the drug dog alerted and no drugs were found, that must mean that drugs had recently been present and the odor remained.

The court said this was not enough to search the vehicle. The state prosecutor did not satisfy their burden by merely showing that the drug dog was certified and trained Other factors that must be considered are: the exact type of training the dog received, the standards for selecting the drug dog, the standards for the training and certification and perhaps most importantly, the drug dog's track record in detecting the presence of drugs.

The court also rejected the idea that when a drug dog alerts and drugs are not found, it is not a false alert because it means drugs had recently been there. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. The fact that a drug dog with a much keener sense of smell than a human can pick up some odor of drugs from a vehicle, without more, is not a sufficient basis to overcome the strong protections against unreasonable searches and seizures which is afforded by the Fourth Amendment.

It is, however, important to note that different courts if different parts of Florida are not in agreement regarding this issue, and the Florida Supreme Court may decide to resolve the conflicts in the future.

Posted On: April 17, 2008

Felony Drug Charges for Jacksonville Nurses Allegedly Acquiring Prescription Drugs

Two nurses at Shands-Jacksonville Medical Center in Duval County, Florida were arrested for allegedly using their position at the hospital to acquire prescription drugs to be sold illegally on the street, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. One of the nurses was charged with multiple counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance and one count of trafficking hydromorphine. The other nurse was charged with two counts of fraudulently obtaining controlled substances.

Apparently, Shands-Jacksonville, like other hospitals has a mechanism in place whereby the medical staff must provide a thumbprint before he or she dispenses prescription drugs. Shands-Jacksonville monitors the frequency with which the medical staff acquires those drugs. according to the JSO arrest report, one of the nurses was dispensing 30% more of the drugs than the average nurse.

Of course, dispensing certain prescription drugs raises more suspicion than others. Certain drugs like Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, Xanax, Vicodin, Percocet and Morphine are more commonly obtained illegally as they have become more popular among drug users, particularly kids, and can be highly addictive. According to a report from The Council of State Governments, over 6 million people aged 12 and older used prescription drugs illegally as of 2002. A more recent report cited by the American Medical News indicated that as of 2005, nearly 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs. Common ways for the prescription drugs to be obtained were: going to different doctors for multiple prescriptions (which got Rush Limbaugh into trouble), ordering drugs through internet pharmacies, theft, forging prescriptions and medical professional illegally prescribing the drugs.

In order to help the medical industry keep track of these prescription drugs and who is getting them, Congress enacted the National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act in 2005 which authorizes a monitoring system, but the program has not been properly funded by the government.

Posted On: April 16, 2008

Federal Sentencing Memorandum Filed by Government Asks for Maximum Sentence for Snipes

Federal government prosecutors have filed their sentencing memorandum with the federal court which asks the judge to sentence Wesley Snipes to the maximum prison sentence for his recent criminal convictions for failing to file his tax returns, according to a Reuters news release. In 2006, the federal government indicted Snipes on multiple counts including tax fraud, conspiracy and failing to file tax returns. A copy of the indictment can be found here.

Earlier this year, after hearing the evidence in his federal criminal trial in Ocala, Florida (which is about 100 miles southwest of Jacksonville, Florida), a jury found Wesley Snipes guilty of three counts of failing to file tax returns for the years 1999 - 2001. Each of the three counts on which Snipes was convicted, one for each year, is a conviction for a federal misdemeanor crime. That jury also found Snipes not guilty of the felony counts, which were tax fraud and conspiracy counts.

The federal crimes on which Snipes was convicted each carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and associated fines. As a result of the three convictions, Snipes is facing a maximum sentence of 36 months in prison. That is exactly what the federal government is requesting along with a $5 million fine for failing to pay his taxes for those three years. According to the sentencing memorandum, the tax loss from Snipes' failure to pay taxes for three years was over $7 million and the maximum fine would be over $14 million. The sentencing memorandum also asks the judge to hold Snipes in jail pending his appeal. Some defendants, after they are convicted, are permitted to remain out of prison on bond until their appeal is heard. Snipes also may likely face a civil action from the IRS to force him to pay millions of dollars in overdue taxes.

During the trial, lawyers for Snipes argued for unorthodox interpretations of the tax code that would support his contention that he did not have to pay the taxes the government claimed he owed, that the IRS was not a legitimate agency that had authority to force Snipes to pay taxes and that Snipes was an innocent victim of bad advice from his advisers. While some of those arguments were presumably effective in beating the felony counts, that, along with Snipes' celebrity status, also likely explains why the government is attempting to make an example out of Snipes to deter others from engaging in similar conduct and using similar justifications for failing to pay federal taxes. In fact, the prosecutors told the judge in the sentencing memorandum, "If ever a tax offender was deserving of being held accountable to the maximum extent for his criminal wrongdoing, Snipes is that defendant."

Snipes' federal sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 24.

Posted On: April 11, 2008

Illegal Drugs at Florida Schools in the News

At the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, five students were arrested for possessing and selling illegal drugs, including marijuana and LSD. Like many arrests on drug crimes, these arrests were the result of an investigation that started with a tip that students at the UNF were selling drugs and then undercover agents going onto the campus and buying drugs from the suspects. Police will then use the evidence of the undercover drug purchases to obtain a search warrant to search a residence or place where the drugs are suspected of being kept and/or to obtain an arrest warrant for anyone involved in selling the drugs. In this case, the undercover officers were apparently UNF campus police, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office police and Jacksonville Beach Police Department police. In addition to the serious penalties associated with drug possession and sales charges, if convicted these students also face the potential of separate penalties from UNF that could affect their abilities to further their educations.

Another recent article noted an increase in using websites popular with high school and college students as a way to promote drug sales in Florida. Myspace.com is a very popular, high-traffic website that is being used as a conduit for drug sales. It is estimated that there are over 100 million people with a Myspace account. Many of these users are kids and young adults. According to the article referenced above, in the two months before the article was written, the police in Punta Gorda, Florida made nine arrests of people using or trying to use Myspace to sell drugs like, marijuana, crack, cocaine and illegally obtained pills like Oxycontin. While preparing to write the article, the author typed "marijuana" into the search field on Myspace.com and came back with 212,000 results. This, of course, does not mean that there are 212,000 people selling marijuana on Myspace, but it does give an indication of how often marijuana is being mentioned or discussed on the website. Myspace representatives said they try to monitor the website for illegal activity, like drug selling and solicitation of minors, but they are unable to effectively monitor 100 million plus accounts.

Finally, according to recent reports, a new substance with effects similar to illegal drugs is becoming more popular among students. Salvia is a hallucinogenic herb that is smoked and has hallucinogenic effects similar to LSD, a very dangerous and illegal drug. It is currently legal, but Florida lawmakers have proposed a bill that would make possession of Salvia a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

A substance like Salvia is not automatically illegal just because it is similar to, or seems like, other illegal drugs. Just like cocaine and ecstasy years ago, there is often a lag time between when a substance is used by people, becomes popular, gets recognized by the authorities, is studied and then becomes regulated by the government. Currently, Salvia is illegal in eight states. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is currently analyzing the potential for abuse of the substance, its effects on people who use it, its risks and other factors to determine whether Salvia should be labeled a controlled substance. If it is considered a controlled substance, it would then be regulated by the government.

Posted On: April 5, 2008

DUI: Richie Sambora's Bad Medicine

Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora was recently arrested for DUI in California. Along with an adult woman, Sambora had his 10 year old daughter and another juvenile in the car with him at the time. According to police, Sambora failed several field sobriety tests. He opted to take a blood test, rather than a breath test. The results have not yet been released. Sambora is potentially facing additional charges relating to driving under the influence with juveniles in the car.

DUI is a charge that often touches the rich and the poor, the bad and the good, and the old and the young. Several celebrities have had their bouts with driving under the influence charges. Lindsey Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, Kiefer Sutherland, Mischa Barton and Michelle Rodriguez are just a few of the celebrities that have been arrested for DUI within the last few years.

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The Florida legislature continues to crack down on DUIs by enacting progressively tougher legislation with mandatory sentencing requirements that binds the Court's hands. Mandatory probation periods, fines, classes, driver's license suspensions and sometimes jail time are just some of the punishments that Florida courts must levy on persons that are convicted of DUI.