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In Florida, when police search something, such as a vehicle, and find drugs or other evidence of illegal activity, the defendant can normally file a motion to suppress the evidence based on an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. However, not every defendant has a right to challenge every search by police that results in an arrest. A defendant must have standing to challenge a search by the police. In other words, the defendant must have some possessory or ownership interest in the thing that was searched to be able to challenge the search. More specifically, the defendant must have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the thing that was searched to be lawfully permitted to challenge the search. That is the standard for standing to challenge an allegedly illegal search.

In a case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was stopped in a vehicle for running a red light. The police ultimately searched the vehicle and found oxycodone, cocaine and other drugs inside. The defendant was arrested for possession of various drugs. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of all of the drugs arguing that the search was illegal. The state responded by arguing the defendant had no legal right to challenge the search because the vehicle was a rental car, and the defendant was not listed as an authorized driver on the rental car contract nor had he paid for the rental car.

The trial court agreed with the state based on a Florida case which said the driver of a rental car does not have standing to challenge the search of that rental car if he is not authorized to drive the car by the owner, the rental car company, even if the person who did properly rent the car gave the driver permission to drive the rental car. However, several years later, the United States Supreme Court decided the issue differently. The United States Supreme Court is controlling. The Supreme Court ruled that a person in lawful possession of a rental car does have standing to challenge a search of the rental car even if he isn’t listed as an authorized driver on the rental car contract. Just because a person is not listed as an authorized driver does not mean it is unlawful for him to drive it. It may be a violation of the rental car agreement and might have implications for insurance if there is an accident, but being an unauthorized driver according to the rental car agreement does not make a person an illegal driver. However, if a person steals a car and is stopped by the police who search the vehicle and find drugs or evidence of the theft, that defendant would not have standing to challenge the search of the vehicle as he would not be in lawful possession of the vehicle.

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In Florida, when the police search a person or any location and find drugs or other evidence of illegal activity, the defendant can challenge the search as illegal under the Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. However, not every defendant can challenge every search. There is a concept in search and seizure law called standing, which means that a defendant must have some possessory or ownership interest in the thing that was searched to be allowed to challenge the search in court. For instance, if the police search your house that you own, you are going to have standing to challenge that search because you have an obvious interest in your home. On the other hand, if you leave something on the bus and the police search that bus and find incriminatory evidence against you, you probably cannot challenge the search of that bus because you have no interest in the bus. And then there is a lot of situations in between that implicate the standing issue that will depend on the circumstances and the case law.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police were looking for a suspect due to an active arrest warrant. They went to a hotel room and found the subject and arrested him. After the arrest, the police saw what they considered suspicious activity in the nearby hotel room, entered the room, found cocaine and marijuana inside and arrested the occupant of that room for possession of illegal drugs as well. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the drugs arguing that the police did not have a legal right to enter and search the hotel room without a warrant.

The state presented evidence that the occupant of the hotel room had rented the room as a juvenile and by using a false name so he had not validly rented the room. Since it was not his room, he had no standing to challenge the search of that room.  The court disagreed with the state. The issue is not who rented or paid for the room. The issue is whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the room or whatever is searched. Hotel guests, whether they paid for the room or are just staying in the room, have an expectation of privacy in those hotel rooms. This is fairly obvious as if you are sharing a hotel room with a friend who paid for them hotel room, you would expect that room to be private from intrusion from others. The state also argued that the defendant lost his expectation of privacy in the room because he occupied it illegally because he was a minor and gave a false name to rent the room. However, the state could not provide any law that says it is illegal to rent a hotel room as a minor. Nor is it illegal to rent a hotel room under a false name. The state was correct that the defendant would have no expectation of privacy in a hotel room that was occupied illegally, but being a juvenile or using a false name was not illegal. If the hotel had learned that the defendant used a false name or was a juvenile and then told the defendant to leave the room, then the defendant would have been a trespasser if he stayed. Under those circumstances, he would no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy and would lose his standing. But, as long as he was a legal occupant, he had standing and could challenge the search of the hotel room.

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In Florida, we have a wiretap law that, with some exceptions, prohibits people in Florida from intentionally recording verbal, wire or electronic communications unless all of the parties to the communication consent to the recording. If a party does record a communication in violation of this Florida wiretap law, the lawyer for the opposing side can move to suppress that evidence and keep it out of court. There may be other penalties for illegally recording a communication as well.

In a case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant went over to his girlfriend’s house, and they got into an argument. Once the argument started, the girlfriend started recording the defendant with her cell phone. The defendant ultimately pushed the girlfriend and threatened her with a gun. He was charged with domestic battery and aggravated assault. The state sought to introduce the girlfriend’s recording of the incident at the trial. The criminal defense lawyer objected arguing that the recording violated the Florida wiretap law and was therefore inadmissible.

The court disagreed with the criminal defense attorney and allowed the recording into evidence. The Florida wiretap law only covers communications that are made with a reasonable expectation of privacy. In other words, the Florida wiretap law only deals with conversations and electronic communications that people would normally expect to be private. Private phone calls and texts and emails would normally be covered by the wiretap law. Conversations in public or over social media where other people can see or hear them would not be covered under the wiretap law. In this case, the criminal defense lawyer argued this was a private conversation because it occurred in the girlfriend’s home. However, the judge rejected that argument because the evidence indicated the defendant knew he was being recorded by the cell phone and kept talking. He even tried to take the cell phone away from his girlfriend as she was recording. The analysis by the court seems to be flawed as one would normally have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a private home of a girlfriend when others are not around. It seems to be more of a case of implied consent where the defendant knew the recording was taking place yet decided to continue arguing anyway. Proper result but improper reasoning.

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In Florida, DUI is a crime. Everyone knows that. But it is important to understand what exactly that means. DUI means driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The key word, for the purposes of this post, is “influence”. This is something that criminal defense lawyers experienced in DUI cases will stress to prosecutors, judges and juries in cases where a DUI defendant had been drinking but was not impaired. It is not a DUI crime in Florida to drink and then drive. It is not a good idea of course, and we would recommend utilizing one of the many other options available today to people who have had anything to drink and then want to go somewhere, but the crime of DUI is not drinking and driving. It is drinking (or using any sort of drug that could cause impairment) enough to cause impairment and then driving. Impairment is a subjective term, of course. Unfortunately, it is decided by the police officer, at least initially, and many of them draw their conclusions first and look for evidence second.

In any case, if a police officer stops a driver and smells alcohol or determines that the driver has been drinking some other way, that is not sufficient for a DUI arrest. One, smelling like alcohol does not necessarily mean the driver’s drinking was recent. If the person was at a bar, it may not mean the driver had been drinking at all. But most importantly, if the driver smells like alcohol, it might mean he/she had been drinking, but it does not mean he/she is impaired. It is certainly a relevant factor, but the police officer needs actual evidence of impairment to proceed with a DUI investigation. Examples of such evidence would be an erratic driving pattern, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, difficulty understanding and answering questions, etc. Of course, a police officer looking to make a DUI arrest can believe he/she observes these signs and document them even if they are questionable or nonexistent. It is all subjective, after all, but the officer needs to articulate these facts to proceed with a proper DUI case.

In a DUI case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer stopped the driver for speeding and making a quick lane change to pass another vehicle. At the vehicle, the officer said the driver was responding slowly and speaking in a thick tongued manner (it’s not clear what this means, but police officers put this in their DUI reports all of the time). He also said he smelled an odor of alcohol. With this information, he proceeded with a DUI investigation and ultimately a DUI arrest.

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In Florida, when a person is arrested for a DUI, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) will normally suspend that person’s driver’s license for six or more months based on the arrest. The DHSMV will do this immediately and irrespective of what happens in the criminal case. In other words, a DUI arrest normally triggers an automatic driver’s license suspension that takes effect and continues even if the criminal DUI case later gets dropped, gets reduced to a reckless driving charge or has some other favorable result. The length of the DHSMV suspension depends on the circumstances- prior DUI cases, whether the suspect refused the breathalyzer test, etc. There are ways to challenge the DHSMV suspension. Speaking to an experienced Florida DUI lawyer is the best way to understand the ramifications of a DUI arrest and what steps can be taken to fight the charges and the suspension.

There are special penalties for people who drive commercial trucks who get arrested for DUI. Under Florida law, if a person is convicted of a DUI and has a commercial driver’s license, that commercial driver’s license will be suspended for one year. This is true whether the person pleads guilty or no contest. The suspension also occurs if the commercial driver is driving his/her noncommercial vehicle at the time of the DUI arrest and is not working at the time. So, the law does not require the commercial driving to be driving a commercial vehicle for the commercial driver’s license to be suspended. If the DUI suspect is driving a commercial vehicle and is stopped by a police officer, he/she is subject to a one year suspension of the commercial driver’s license if his/her blood alcohol content is only 0.04 or higher. That is half of the legal limit for DUI’s in Florida. Basically, drinking almost any alcohol and driving a commercial vehicle may not be enough for a DUI conviction in a regular criminal case, but would be enough for a one year commercial driver’s license suspension and other sanctions under Florida law. Anyone who has a commercial driver’s license risks fines and losing his/her commercial license and ability to work in that field for a year if he/she is driving a commercial vehicle after having any alcohol or driving a private vehicle after having a couple of drinks or more. The breathalyzer tests can be unpredictable and results vary for different people. A reading of 0.04 is very low and could be achieved with one drink. A reading of 0.08 can be achieved after a couple of drinks depending on the person.

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In Florida, the police obtain evidence in most DUI’s in a fairly standard manner. After the traffic stop, the police ask questions, make observations and ask the DUI suspect to participate in field sobriety exercises. The suspect can always refuse to answer questions and cooperate with the field sobriety tests. If the police officer does not have a camera to record answers and the suspect’s performance on the field sobriety tests, it is normally a good idea to refuse as there is no way for a suspect to prove what was said and how he/she performed later if DUI charges are brought and the case goes to trial. It should always be the responsibility of the state to have cameras available at DUI stops to property document evidence.

In most DUI cases, after an arrest, the suspect will be taken to jail where he/she is asked to blow in a breathalyzer to test blood alcohol content. However, there are situations where the police will seek blood instead. For instance, after a crash that involves an injury or death, the police will seek blood many times rather than a breath test. The blood is sent to a lab for testing for alcohol content. The police can obtain this blood from a DUI suspect in a few ways. The police can ask for and obtain consent from the suspect. Again, the suspect is not required to give such consent. If the suspect refuses and there is sufficient probable cause to believe the suspect was driving while impaired, the police officer may be able to obtain a search warrant to force the suspect to give blood that will later be tested for alcohol content. Also, if the suspect is injured, the hospital may take blood from the suspect as part of its normal treatment protocol. Some counties in Florida have a policy where they take blood from a suspect just to clear him/her medically so he/she can be taken to the jail, even if it is not clear the suspect is injured. In cases where the suspect goes to the hospital and blood is taken, the state may later subpoena those records to obtain blood test results.

DUI cases can be complicated when it comes to blood samples and alcohol testing results as the law provides the state with several methods to obtain evidence, but there are also times when the state does not follow the law allowing a criminal defense attorney to get alcohol test results thrown out.

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Florida’s Stand Your Ground law garnered quite a bit of attention after it was passed and surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, but it’s essentially an extension of the Florida self-defense law that allows defendants in case involving violence to petition the court for a dismissal of the charges under certain circumstances where the defendant had a legal right to use violence where he/she reasonably believed he/she was in danger of becoming a victim of violence. What is special about the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is that it is a form of immunity, and a criminal defense lawyer does not have to leave the decision to a jury, which is always unpredictable. The criminal defense attorney can file a motion with the judge and force the state to present evidence. If the judge agrees with the defendant’s self-defense claim, the case ends there, and a jury never hears it. However, there are limitations to the Florida Stand Your Ground law.

In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was charged with shooting into a building. He claimed self-defense, and his criminal defense lawyer filed a motion for immunity/dismissal under the Florida Stand Your Ground law. The defendant claimed he exited his vehicle, and someone in the building fired a gun at him so he fired back into the building. If true, this would seem to constitute a good claim under the Stand Your Ground law. However, an evidentiary hearing is required with these motions, and a video of the incident showed that the defendant exited his vehicle and pointed a gun at some people before any of the shooting started. Subsequently, someone from the building fired at the defendant, and he fired back. It is true that the defendant was seemingly defending himself when he fired his gun, but the problem for him was waving his gun at people first. Under the Florida Stand Your Ground law, a defendant cannot succeed if he was engaged in criminal conduct immediately prior to the time his self-defense claim arose. When he was waving the gun at people, he was arguably committing an aggravated assault, among other possible crimes. Because he was committing a crime when his self-defense claim arose, he cannot take advantage of the Stand Your Ground law. That law precludes relief for people involved in criminal activity. This is true even if the state does not actually charge the defendant with the criminal activity that disqualifies the defendant from relief under the Stand Your Ground law. As a result, the defendant was properly prosecuted and convicted of shooting into a building.

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One reason police are often against the full legalization of marijuana is that marijuana illegality gives police officer perhaps the easiest excuse to search people and vehicles. Likewise, marijuana arrests are about as easy as it gets for police officers. They smell marijuana, they search and they arrest. No real work, thought, diligence or investigation required. And while marijuana arrests obviously do nothing to make anyone safer and needlessly cost time, money and resources, they count as arrests on the stat sheet all the same. And I suppose it beats having to investigate real crimes that actually have real victims.

Florida has been slow to work its way into the 21st century and legalize marijuana, but at least medical marijuana is legal. Now, some people (those with a valid medical marijuana card) whose vehicle or other property may smell like marijuana may not be doing anything illegal.  Since that is the case, should police still be allowed to stop and search people based on the odor of marijuana when marijuana is not necessarily illegal depending on who has it?

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, police officers stopped a vehicle at night for a headlight violation. They approached the vehicle and smelled burnt marijuana. They searched the vehicle and arrested the suspect for possession of cannabis. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of marijuana arguing that the police unlawfully searched the vehicle because the odor of marijuana does not necessarily indicate illegal activity.

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In Florida, the Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures from law enforcement. This means the police cannot just stop, detain or search a person based on speculative reasons or for no reason at all. Depending on the circumstances and the nature of the intrusion into a person’s privacy, the police must have some level of specific proof that a person is, or may become, involved in criminal activity. For an initial detention where the police stop a person to briefly investigate possible criminal activity, the police must have reasonable suspicion of a danger or criminal activity. This suspicion must be based on specific facts, not a hunch.

In a recent case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was at a private church function uninvited and wearing a bulletproof vest. The police were called, and when they arrived, the defendant walked away. The police officers asked the defendant some questions and then detained him to investigate further. As the police were detaining and questioning the defendant, they noticed a bulge in his pocket. They patted the defendant down and found a gun. The defendant was arrested.

The criminal defense lawyer argued that the police unlawfully detained the defendant because there was no reasonable basis to believe that he had committed, or was about to commit, a crime. It is not illegal to wear a bulletproof vest in public, and the defendant did not give any indication that he was involved in criminal activity.

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When a defendant in Florida pleads guilty or no contest to a crime, or goes to trial and is convicted by a jury, the next step is for the judge to sentence that defendant. Most sentences for crimes other than minor misdemeanors involve incarceration, probation or both. When a defendant is placed on probation, the judge will normally require the defendant to complete certain conditions while on probation, such as community service, paying restitution, some type of treatment, etc. The judge also has the authority to require more unorthodox conditions when the facts of the case make such requirements appropriate.

For instance, in a recent sexual battery case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was placed on probation for 10 years, and one of the conditions prohibited the defendant from accessing the internet except for work and shopping, but no access to social media sites in any case. The criminal defense lawyer objected to that condition and ultimately appealed the sentence to the appellate court. The criminal defense attorney argued that the condition forbidding internet use violated the defendant’s First Amendment rights. The legal analysis for such a First Amendment issue looks at whether the judge’s condition is narrowly tailored to protect a compelling government interest. In other words, the state or the judge can infringe upon a person’s First Amendment rights, but the particular condition that does so must be designed to protect a significant interest and it must not be overbroad in doing so. The criminal defense lawyer conceded that protecting children from a convicted sex offender was certainly a compelling interest. However, the criminal defense attorney argued that such a broad internet restriction was not narrowly tailored to protect that interest.

The criminal defense lawyer cited a United States Supreme Court case which held that a North Carolina statute was unconstitutional as it created a felony crime for any sex offender to access certain websites, including general social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. The Florida appellate court distinguished that case because the North Carolina case involved a statute that limited sex offenders from accessing the internet even after their sentences were completed. So, even after they had successfully completed probation, those sex offenders were still restricted from accessing the internet and risked committing a new felony crime for a violation. That statute did violate the First Amendment as it was prospective and indefinite.