August 28, 2014

$5,000 Fine in Florida Solicitation of Prostitution Case Found to be Unconstitutional

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant entered a no contest plea to solicitation of prostitution. The crime of solicitation of prostitution occurs when a person offers to engage another person in sexual activity for hire. It is considered a minor second degree misdemeanor crime in Florida. In this case, the judge sentenced the defendant to probation and community service but also added a $5,000 fine. In most misdemeanor cases, including more serious misdemeanors, there is either no fine or a much smaller fine (court costs are another matter). For second degree misdemeanors, $500 is normally considered the highest end for fines, and many cases result in no fines. However, the prostitution statute specifically mandates a $5,000 fine for defendants who are convicted of, or enter guilty or no contest pleas to, the charge of solicitation of prostitution. So, while it is definitely unusual for a judge to impose such a large fine for a crime that is considered relatively minor, this fine is actually in the statute.

Because of the unusual nature of the fine, the criminal defense lawyer appealed the sentence to a circuit court judge claiming that it violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The Eighth Amendment provides that a judge shall not impose a sentence that is cruel and unusual and specifically prohibits imposing excessive fines. Eighth Amendment challenges to criminal sentences rarely work. If a sentence is legal under the Florida laws, or federal laws in federal cases, chances are an appellate court is not going to rule that the sentence is excessive or cruel and unusual.

However, this case was an exception. A fine used as a punishment is considered excessive if it is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the crime. In other words, judges are not permitted to impose very high fines for minor criminal conduct. In this case, the appellate judge ruled that the $5,000 fine was excessive and unconstitutional, even though it was specifically mandated in the statute. Since finding a statutory provision unconstitutional is a fairly drastic and uncommon event, it is certainly possible that a higher appellate court will take up this issue.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with solicitation of prostitution in Jacksonville or other parts of Florida the judge will likely impose a $5,000 fine unless the charge is dropped or amended or you beat the case at trial. However, while this new opinion is out there, the prosecutor and the judge should be informed that this fine has been ruled unconstitutional by another judge in Florida.

October 31, 2013

Providing False Information to Police Charge is Not Valid in Florida After Improper Arrest

In Florida, it is illegal for a person who has been arrested or detained by the police to give false identification information to the police. This is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. This charge usually comes after a situation where the police either arrest someone or suspect someone is committing a crime and detains him/her. The police officer will ask the suspect for his/her name and perhaps date of birth to run him/her in the computer to check for outstanding warrants. If it is determined that the suspect gave false information, the police officer may arrest the suspect for providing false information to the police, among other crimes

However, this criminal charge will not be valid if the initial arrest or detention of the suspect is not legal. If the police officer does not have a legal basis to stop the suspect or arrest him and then the suspect gives false identification information to the police, the criminal defense lawyer should be able to get the charge thrown out even if the suspect did in fact provide false information to the police. Therefore, in a situation where a police officer suspects a person of committing a crime without specific evidence, detains that person and the person gives a false name, the person is not technically guilty of the crime because the initial detention would not be considered lawful.

October 31, 2013

Providing False Information to Police Charge is Not Valid in Florida After Improper Arrest

In Florida, it is illegal for a person who has been arrested or detained by the police to give false identification information to the police. This is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. This charge usually comes after a situation where the police either arrest someone or suspect someone is committing a crime and detains him/her. The police officer will ask the suspect for his/her name and perhaps date of birth to run him/her in the computer to check for outstanding warrants. If it is determined that the suspect gave false information, the police officer may arrest the suspect for providing false information to the police, among other crimes

However, this criminal charge will not be valid if the initial arrest or detention of the suspect is not legal. If the police officer does not have a legal basis to stop the suspect or arrest him and then the suspect gives false identification information to the police, the criminal defense lawyer should be able to get the charge thrown out even if the suspect did in fact provide false information to the police. Therefore, in a situation where a police officer suspects a person of committing a crime without specific evidence, detains that person and the person gives a false name, the person is not technically guilty of the crime because the initial detention would not be considered lawful.

October 31, 2013

Providing False Information to Police Charge is Not Valid in Florida After Improper Arrest

In Florida, it is illegal for a person who has been arrested or detained by the police to give false identification information to the police. This is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. This charge usually comes after a situation where the police either arrest someone or suspect someone is committing a crime and detains him/her. The police officer will ask the suspect for his/her name and perhaps date of birth to run him/her in the computer to check for outstanding warrants. If it is determined that the suspect gave false information, the police officer may arrest the suspect for providing false information to the police, among other crimes

However, this criminal charge will not be valid if the initial arrest or detention of the suspect is not legal. If the police officer does not have a legal basis to stop the suspect or arrest him and then the suspect gives false identification information to the police, the criminal defense lawyer should be able to get the charge thrown out even if the suspect did in fact provide false information to the police. Therefore, in a situation where a police officer suspects a person of committing a crime without specific evidence, detains that person and the person gives a false name, the person is not technically guilty of the crime because the initial detention would not be considered lawful.

September 18, 2013

Offering for Prostitution Requires Only Agreement in Florida

Offering to engage a person for prostitution is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. It is not the most serious crime, but it is one that people do not generally want to see on their record. It can be charged as a felony crime for a third violation. However, to be convicted of offering for prostitution in Florida, the state does not have to prove that the defendant actually had sex with the person or even paid any money. It is sufficient if the state can prove the defendant agreed to engage the other person in prostitution.

In a recent prostitution case near jacksonville, Florida, undercover detectives were dressed as prostitutes and trying to entice people to solicit them. This is how most prostitution arrests are made. The defendant approached one of the undercover detectives, and they negotiated a price and the terms of the transaction. Before any money changed hands, the defendant said he needed to go to the bank to get the money to pay the undercover detective. The defendant was then arrested for offering for prostitution at that time. Basically, the defendant was arrested based on a conversation alone.

The criminal defense lawyer argued that the defendant could not be charged and convicted of offering for prostitution because the crime could not be completed if the defendant had no money and did not have the ability to pay as of the time of his arrest. However, the law in Florida makes it illegal to offer to engage in prostitution. The state does not necessarily have to prove the defendant actually actually completed the sexual act or even paid for it. If the state can prove that the defendant intended to enter into an agreement to engage in prostitution, then the defendant can be convicted of offering for prostitution in Florida. On the other hand, the defendant could argue that he did not have any money and never really intended to follow through with the apparent prostitute. In any case, the judge would not throw the case out, and it would be up to a jury to determine if the state could prove the defendant actually intended to engage the undercover detective for prostitution based on the facts of the case.

February 17, 2013

In Florida Hit and Run Cases, the State Must Prove Defendant Knew of Accident

In Florida, when a person is involved in an auto accident that involves property damage or injury, that person must stop and remain at the scene to exchange identification and insurance information with the other party and the police officer. If a person is involved in an auto accident that causes property damage and does not remain at the scene of the crash, he/she can be arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident which is a misdemeanor crime. If the crash results in a serious injury to someone, leaving the scene of the accident is a felony crime. If there is a death involved, the case becomes much more serious.

In a recent hit and run case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was in a large truck, hit a pedestrian and kept driving. Witnesses who saw the accident called the police, and the defendant was stopped a few miles down the road. The defendant claimed that he did not know he hit the pedestrian. This case raises the question of whether the state has to prove the defendant driver actually knew he/she was involved in a crash before he/she can be convicted of the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. In most crashes, it is obvious to everyone involved in the crash.

However, there are cases where the impact may be minor yet the damages are severe where the driver may not know he/she was involved in a crash for some reason. In those cases, the state must prove the defendant knew he/she was involved in a crash. The criminal statute requires a willful violation on the part of the defendant. A willful violation requires some level of knowledge of improper activity on the part of the defendant. The state can prove knowledge of the crash by showing evidence of the nature of the crash, the defendant's behavior after the crash, any statements the defendant made and testimony of witnesses who saw the crash.

However, if the state is not able to present sufficient evidence that the defendant knew he/she was in an auto accident, the state cannot convict a defendant driver of leaving the scene of an accident in Florida. In other words, if the state cannot show the driver knew he/she was in an auto accident, the state cannot prove the defendant willfully left the scene of an accident.

January 19, 2013

Necessity Could be a Defense to Driving With a Suspended License in Florida

Driving with a suspended license is normally a misdemeanor crime in Florida. However, it can still carry serious penalties such as jail time and an additional, very long suspension of driving privileges. If a person has enough prior driving with a suspended license (DWLS) convictions, the state can charge a new DWLS offense as a felony that could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Most driving with a suspended license cases are fairly straightforward. The state only has to prove three things: 1) the defendant's driver's license has been suspended or revoked, 2) the defendant knew his/her driver's license was suspended or revoked at the time of the arrest and 3) the defendant was driving while his/her driver's license was suspended or revoked. The third element is fairly easy to prove as practically all DWLS cases are initiated after a police officer stops the defendant while he/she is driving. The first element can easily be proven with records from the DMV. The second element can be somewhat difficult to prove, but normally, when the DMV suspends a driver's license, they send a notice to the driver, and that may be sufficient to establish that element.

However, even if the state can easily prove its DWLS case, there can be a defense to the charge. If a defendant charged with DWLS can establish that it was reasonably necessary to drive while his/her license was suspended or revoked, the defendant may not be guilty of the driving with a suspended license charge even where he/she was clearly driving with a suspended license. To prevail using a necessity defense, whether to a DWLS charge or another applicable criminal charge, the defendant has to establish that his/her conduct was reasonably necessary to deal with an emergency situation that he/she did not create. One obvious example would be if the defendant had a serious injury or was helping someone with a serious injury and was going to the hospital for emergency treatment.

July 28, 2011

In Florida, a Second Battery Conviction is a Felony

In Florida, a battery crime is defined as intentionally striking, or even touching, another person against his/her will. This is obviously a very broad definition of criminal activity that can include a lot of conduct, and even harmless conduct. Slightly pushing someone with no injury whatsoever can come under the definition of battery. Domestic battery is a battery against a relative, someone with whom the defendant shares a child or someone with whom the defendant lives or used to live.

A person's first domestic battery or regular battery crime is a misdemeanor in Florida punishable by up to a year in jail. Battery and domestic battery are two of the most serious misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances of the case and any injuries caused. However, they are still misdemeanors so the severity of the potential punishments are limited.

If a person has a prior conviction for battery, whether it is a regular battery, domestic battery, battery against a law enforcement officer or aggravated battery, another battery charge of any kind can be charged as a third degree felony. The second battery does not need to be of the same kind as the first. In other words, if a person is convicted of a battery against a stranger and then commits a domestic battery, the second battery crime can be charged as a felony.

Felony crimes are often much more serious than misdemeanor crimes, particularly when the state sees that the defendant has a prior record of a similar nature. For third degree felonies, the maximum penalty is five years in prison.

November 1, 2010

Jacksonville Police Make Over 200 Under-Aged Drinking Arrests for FL/GA Weekend

It seems like every year after the annual Florida v. Georgia game in Jacksonville, Florida, we see an article in the news about the many arrests the Jacksonville police make of people allegedly drinking while under-aged. In most cases, the police officer will only give the person a citation, or notice to appear in court, which leads people to believe it is not a crime and is not serious. However, a citation for under-aged drinking can be serious in terms of a person's permanent record.

Even where the police officer merely gives the person a citation, the incident still shows up on the person's record as an arrest. Additionally, under-aged drinking is not a civil infraction; it is an actual misdemeanor crime. Now, it is very unlikely that a person will be sentenced to jail time for an under-aged drinking conviction. However, if the case is not handled properly the person will likely get a conviction for the crime. A conviction for under-aged drinking will stay on the person's criminal record permanently. Some people may not be too concerned over such a conviction on his/her record. However, Florida law states that a person cannot get any crime sealed or expunged from his/her record if he/she is convicted of any crime. What that means is that if the same person gets another, more serious charge down the road and wants that sealed or expunged from his/her record, the under-aged drinking conviction will prevent him/her from sealing or expunging any criminal record in the future. For that reason, the under-aged drinking charge can really cause a person a lot of problems in terms of his/her record and the job interview process in the future.

If you have been given a citation, or been arrested, for under-aged drinking in the Jacksonville, Florida area or have questions about sealing or expunging your record, feel free to contact us for a free consultation about how best to handle the case to keep your record clean.

May 5, 2010

Several Jacksonville Contractors Arrested for Allegedly Working Without a License

A six month Jacksonville, Florida investigation that involved multiple law enforcement entities ended with the arrest of thirty-one people recently, according to an article on News4Jax.com. The undercover law enforcement agents apparently advertised on the Internet on websites like Craigslist for contractors to perform home repairs and other projects typically done by contractors and subcontractors. If the individuals who responded to the ads attempted to perform the work without the required contractor's license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the people were arrested.

Florida law makes it criminal for contractors to do certain things without a contractor's license. For instance, it is a crime in Florida to give someone the impression or advertise that he/she is licensed when he/she is not, impersonate someone who is licensed, knowingly give false information to obtain a contractor's license and do any work that requires a contractor's license without a license.

For first time violators of this law in Florida, it is a first degree misdemeanor which can be punishable by up to a year in jail. However, the crime can become a third degree felony punishable by five years in prison under certain circumstances. If a person commits a second violation of this law, it is a third degree felony. If a person commits a violation after the Governor declares a state of emergency, perhaps after a hurricane, it is a third degree felony even for a first time violation.

When the economy is bad and jobs are hard to come by, some people may try and do some extra contracting work or take jobs out of necessity. For someone doing contracting work without a license, it is important to understand that it may be a crime and apparently law enforcement officials are taking the time and effort to investigate these cases.

April 2, 2010

Police in Jacksonville Florida Make 38 Arrests for Underaged Drinking at Big Events

Police in Jacksonville seem to focus on underaged people drinking at the major events in Jacksonville. It seems as if after most, if not all, big events in Jacksonville, such as the Georgia-Florida game, the Gator Bowl, concerts and other events, there is an article in the paper about the large number of arrests for underaged drinking. As criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida, we get most of our calls from people arrested for underaged drinking after such events. For example, at the recent sold out Monster Jam at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, law enforcement gave 38 people notices to appear citations for underaged drinking.

An arrest for underaged drinking in Florida would appear to be a fairly minor ordeal, although it is a misdemeanor crime. Many times, the police officer does not actually arrest the person but gives him/her what appears to be a ticket, or notice to appear in court at a later date, instead. Everyone must understand that on a person's criminal record, that ticket is the equivalent of an actual arrest. For those people who are actually arrested for underaged drinking, they will be in front of a judge within 24 hours and are normally given an offer of time served upon a guilty or no contest plea.

While the misdemeanor charge of underaged drinking is hardly ever going to be serious, the problem is that a guilty or no contest plea can have a serious effect on a person's criminal record and their ability to seal or expunge that record in the future. Florida law does allow people to seal or expunge a criminal record one time in certain circumstances, depending on the crime, the disposition and other factors. However, if a person is adjudicated guilty on any crime, the law does not allow that person to have any other crime sealed or expunged. So, if a person gets arrested or gets a notice to appear on an underaged drinking charge and enters a plea of guilty or no contest thinking that is the quickest and easiest resolution, the judge may likely adjudicate that person guilty. If the judge does adjudicate the person guilty and that person gets a more serious charge in the future that is dropped or adjudication is withheld, the old underaged drinking charge may prevent that person from sealing or expunging the second, more serious charge.

March 15, 2010

Words Alone Can Constitute a Crime in Florida

A recent client of the Shorstein & Lasnetski law firm asked whether a person can be charged with and convicted of a crime in Florida based upon words alone and no overt actions. The answer is yes. One example of a crime that can be committed based on words only is obstruction of or resisting a law enforcement officer without violence. This is a misdemeanor crime in Florida, but it is a first degree misdemeanor crime that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. A person commits the crime of resisting, or obstruction of, an officer without violence by resisting, opposing or obstructing an officer in the lawful execution of his/her duty without any violence.

This kind of crime is often committed by a person who physically resists an arrest by refusing certain commands of a police officer without being violent towards the police officer. However, it can be committed by using words alone. For example, if a police officer is lawfully searching for a suspect, lawfully arresting a person or lawfully seeking assistance and someone says something to the police officer to prevent him/her from performing the job, that person can be charged with obstructing/resisting an officer without violence.

An example occurred recently in a criminal case south of Jacksonville, Florida. The police officer had a court order to be served on an individual, and he had reason to believe she was in a particular apartment. The defendant answered the door and said the woman was not there and that he had not seen her for several days. The police officer soon learned that she was hiding in a closet in the next room. When he found her, she told the police officer that the defendant was covering for her. The defendant was charged with and convicted of obstructing the officer in his lawful duties.

January 4, 2010

Jacksonville Police Made Record Number of Arrests for Underaged Drinking During Gator Bowl and New Year's Eve

Police officers in Jacksonville, Florida paid special attention to, and made a record number of arrests for, underaged drinking during the Gator Bowl and New Year's Eve events this year.

Some people who have been arrested for underaged drinking or have kids who have been arrested for underaged drinking may not appreciate the seriousness of the charge. Sometimes, the police officer may only give the offenders a citation or ticket which tells them to set a court date for themselves. This gives the impression that the charge is not serious. However, a ticket, citation or notice to appear is the same as an arrest for criminal record purposes. Additionally, a charge of underaged drinking is a misdemeanor crime which carries potentially serious penalties. It is rare for a person to be given a serious sentence for the crime of underaged drinking. However, if a person pleads guilty to the underaged drinking crime, that can result in a misdemeanor conviction that will affect that person's record, and possibly his ability to get a job, for the rest of his/her life.

If you have been arrested for underaged drinking or been given a ticket or citation and you have questions about how to handle the case to limit any lasting effects on your record, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

November 13, 2009

Former Football Star Charged with Hit and Run in Dade County, Florida

Lawrence Taylor, who was one of the most famous linebackers in the NFL, was arrested for hit and run in Dade County, Florida over this past weekend, according to a news article. In Florida, the crime of hit and run, also referred to as leaving the scene of an accident, can be a misdemeanor or a serious felony depending on the circumstances. For instance, if a person is involved in an accident that just results in property damage and fails to stop and provide his/her information, that should be a second degree misdemeanor. However, if the accident involves an injury to another person and the driver leaves the scene of the accident, it can be a third degree felony crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison. If the accident results in a death to another person, the hit and run charge can be a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years.

Hit and run charges are not always that easy for the state to prove. It is one thing for the state to establish that a particular vehicle was involved in a hit and run accident based on evidence of the make, model and license plate number. However, the state still needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was actually the person who was driving the vehicle at the time of the hit and run. Oftentimes, the state just has a description of the vehicle and a vague description of the driver, if at all, and this is not enough to support a hit and run charge.

November 2, 2009

Record Number of Arrests for Underaged Drinking of Alcohol in Jacksonville, Florida

Last week, we wrote about the greater number of DUI arrests that we expected over the Halloween and Florida-Georgia weekend in Jacksonville, Florida. True to form, police were out in force making DUI arrests throughout Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach. In addition to DUI arrests, an article today indicated that Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach police made more than 250 arrests for consuming or possessing alcohol by minors.

Most people understand the seriousness of a DUI arrest and the potential penalties that go with a DUI. For that reason, we make it clear that people should be very careful answering questions and submitting to tests when a police officer is investigating them for DUI.

Most people also think an arrest for underaged drinking or possession of alcohol is very minor. Often, when the police officer makes an "arrest" for this charge, the officer merely gives the person a ticket which is a notice to appear in court at a later date or a notice to set a court date in the future. Technically, this is still considered an arrest on your record. More importantly, the charge of possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor is a second degree misdemeanor crime in Florida which carries a maximum potential penalty of 60 days in jail. It is highly unlikely that you would get anywhere near that kind of jail time for possessing or drinking alcohol as a minor. However, you may simply enter a guilty plea to the charge without realizing that you have just received a misdemeanor conviction on his/her permanent criminal record. Depending on whether the judge adjudicates you guilty or withholds adjudication, you may never be able to seal your criminal record now or in the future.

Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felony crimes, but they can result in a criminal record that can have a negative effect on you in the future when it comes to applying for schools or jobs. If you have questions about how to handle a misdemeanor charge or sealing or expunging a criminal record, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

October 27, 2009

Red Light Cameras May Be Coming to Jacksonville, Florida

This year, the Florida legislature will be reviewing a proposed bill that would set statewide standards for cameras at intersections that take pictures of the license plates of vehicles that run red lights. Once the picture is taken of a vehicle that allegedly ran a red light, a traffic ticket is automatically mailed to the owner of the vehicle. Legislation regarding standards for red light cameras have been before the Florida legislature several times before, but they have not been able to agree on how to split the revenues.

We see a few problems with red light cameras. First, the ticket goes to the owner of the vehicle, but it is not clear what happens when the owner is not the person driving the vehicle when it goes through a red light. Does the state or county have to prove that the owner was driving or does the owner have to prove that he/she was not driving?

Additionally, as criminal defense lawyers, we represent many people who have been charged with the crime of driving with a suspended license. This can be a serious crime that results in jail time and a longer driver's license suspension if a person gets multiple convictions. Many people have their licenses suspended without knowing it and do not find out until they are stopped by the police. If a vehicle owner is sent a ticket but does not receive it because it got lost in the mail or he/she changed addresses, that person may have his/her license suspended without knowing it. One could see how the system does not function properly resulting in a lot of people facing potential driving with a suspended license charges without knowing it until they are stopped by police and arrested.

August 25, 2009

Jacksonville, Florida Police to Address the Misdemeanor Crime of Racing

Jacksonville police recently met to address the issue of racing in Jacksonville, particularly involving teenagers in the summer months. Jacksonville police are actually encouraging people to race on racing tracks as opposed to the roads. Illegal racing has increased in Jacksonville, according to an article on News4Jax.com. Jacksonville police noted that Jacksonville ranked number 3 in the country for motor vehicle accident deaths involving teenagers aged 16-19. A new Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) program seeks to educate teenagers about the dangers of racing on regular roads and allow them to drive on a real racetrack.

In Florida, racing on the roads is a misdemeanor crime. The crime of racing has a broad definition and includes using a vehicle to outgain another vehicle, to prevent another vehicle from passing or to arrive at a destination ahead of another vehicle. The penalties for racing include a possible maximum jail sentence or probation of one year, a fine of $500 to $1,000 and a one year license suspension.

April 1, 2009

Police Arrest Escorts From Craigslist Website

Police set up an undercover sting where they contacted the suspected prostitutes through the website Craigslist.com and arranged to meet them at a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. When the two women arrived at the hotel and asked for $300 for their services, they were arrested on misdemeanor charges, according to an article on the local Atlanta newspaper's website.

Craigslist is a website that allows people to advertise a variety of items and services for sale from homes and cars to lawyers and accountants. And prostitutes. The general Craigslist website has specific websites for particular areas and cities, including Jacksonville, Florida. While it is clear that escort services are advertised on Craigslist at times, I have not seen any articles or criminal cases indicating that the Jacksonville police are investigating and arresting people based on ads on Craigslist.

However, anyone advertising illegal services or the sale of illegal contraband, or responding to such an ad, should be aware that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office or other local police department may be monitoring the Craigslist website, and it may be a police officer on the other end of the transaction.

In Florida, any person who is involved in prostitution, whether as a provider or buyer, commits a second degree misdemeanor for a first offense. In Florida, the crime of prostitution is defined as the giving or receiving of the body for sexual activity for hire but excludes sexual activity between spouses.

March 12, 2009

Police in St. Johns County, Florida to Target Underage Drinking

With the 2009 spring break period coming up, police in St. Augustine and other areas of St. Johns County, Florida have indicated that they will increase their focus on underage drinking, particularly during the spring break weeks this month, according to an article on News4Jax.com. St. Johns County police have said that underage drinking has increased in their county and is more of a problem there than in Jacksonville, Florida and other surrounding locations.

Police in St. Johns County Florida have set up a hotline for people to report crimes involving underage drinking and plan to concentrate on high school and college parties and other locations where teenagers hang out. The police are also apparently going to focus on adults who sell or provide alcohol to minors. Police in St. Johns County, Florida will also test liquor store employees. They often do this by sending in an underaged person to buy alcohol at a particular store and citing or arresting the store clerk if he/she sells the alcohol to the teenager.

In Florida, it is a second degree misdemeanor crime for a person to sell or otherwise provide alcohol to a person under 21 years of age, and it is a second degree misdemeanor crime for a person under 21 to possess alcohol.

January 8, 2009

At a Traffic Stop in Jacksonville, Florida, Your Statements to Police May be Used Against You in Court

Most people are familiar with Miranda warnings which warn a suspect that, among other things, he/she has a right to remain silent and a right to an attorney before the police ask him/her questions about suspected criminal activity. If the police are required to give those Miranda warnings and do not and then ask questions of a suspect, the suspect's answers will likely be inadmissible at the criminal trial. However, it is not always clear when the police are required to give Miranda warnings. For instance, are the police required to give the Miranda warnings to a suspect during a routine traffic stop before the officer asks the suspect questions about a possible crime? It depends on the circumstances.

For instance, consider a situation that occurred near Jacksonville, Florida that involved two people racing their vehicles, which is a misdemeanor crime in Florida. A police officer observed the race and pulled both vehicles over. He questioned both drivers, and they both admitted to racing. Both drivers were then given notices to appear in court to answer to criminal charges for racing. The police officer did not give the Miranda warnings to the drivers before asking them questions about the suspected racing crime.

The criminal defense lawyers tried to have those statements thrown out of court because the defendants were not given their Miranda warnings before being asked about the racing. The criminal defense lawyers were not successful. Whether a police officer needs to give Miranda warnings before asking investigative questions of a suspect depends on the nature of the encounter between the police officer and suspect. If it reasonably appears to the suspect that he/she is in custody or is under such pressure that his/her right to remain silent seems compromised, the police officer must give Miranda warnings before questioning the suspect about a crime. However, this is a fairly gray area. Some of the factors that determine whether a suspect is "in custody" are: the length of time of the questioning, the number of police officers involved in the encounter, whether the suspect is handcuffed, placed in the police car or otherwise moved to a different location and whether the suspect was searched. If some of these factors are present, the defendant likely has a good argument that he/she should have been given Miranda warnings prior to questioning and any answers he gave about any criminal activity are inadmissible in court. If, as in the racing case referenced above, the police encounter is more consistent with a normal traffic stop that is fairly brief and involves only a few questions while the suspect has not been constrained in any way, there is a good possibility that any answers he/she gives to police questioning could be used against him/her in court even if no Miranda warnings were given.