Articles Posted in Misdemeanor Crimes

A recent encounter between a suspect and a police officer near Jacksonville, Florida illustrates that police do not have free reign to question suspects and detain them based on mere suspicions or the fact that they do not like a person’s answers.  In light of recent police shootings and some people’s automatic defense of police regardless of the facts or the relevant law, it seems as if some people believe that it is the obligation of citizens to comply with police no matter how unlawful the police conduct might be.

In a recent cocaine possession case, a police officer observed the suspect standing next to a car in the middle of the road.  When the police officer approached, the car fled but the suspect remained on foot.  The police officer asked the suspect his name, and he gave a name that the police officer later determined was a false name.  Once the police officer ran the name and checked with another individual nearby who knew the suspect, he determined that the name was false.  He arrested the suspect at that time.  After the arrest, the police officer searched the suspect and found that he was in possession of cocaine.  After arresting the suspect for possession of cocaine, he got the suspect’s true name and learned that he had a separate felony warrant outstanding.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine based on the fact that the defendant was illegally detained and illegally arrested.  The appellate court agreed.  The defendant was not breaking the law when the police officer approached him.  The police officer is permitted to ask questions of anyone, but when the defendant gave a false name, that was not against the law either.  Giving a false name can be a misdemeanor crime in Florida, but only if the defendant was lawfully detained or arrested at the time.  At the time the defendant gave the false name, the police officer did not have any legal reason to detain or arrest him.  Therefore, giving a false name at that time was not a crime under Florida law.

In Florida, most people are aware that if your driver’s license becomes suspended for any reason, it is a crime to drive a vehicle. It is usually a misdemeanor crime that is not treated too harshly in court. However, multiple driving with a suspended license arrests and convictions can prolong the length of the suspension which can lead to more driving with a suspended license arrests and more suspensions, and so on. Also, if you get a few driving with a suspended license convictions, you can be charged with a felony for the next one, and people often get jail time or even prison time for these charges in felony court.

In a driving with a suspended license case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, a defendant was arrested while riding a gas powered bicycle after his driver’s license had been suspended. The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charge. One can only be convicted of driving with a suspended license if he/she is operating a “motor vehicle”. The criminal defense attorney properly established that, under Florida law, a “motor vehicle” excludes vehicles moved solely by human power and also motorized bicycles and wheelchairs.

The prosecutor disagreed arguing that this gas powered bicycle is different from a motorized bicycle under Florida law. A separate Florida statute defines a “motorized bicycle” as one that has an “electric helper motor” that cannot travel more than 20 miles per hour. The police officer said the defendant was traveling in excess of 30 miles per hour.

In Florida, any person who goes onto property without authorization, or after having been warned not to be on the property, may be subject to a trespass charge. Trespass is usually a misdemeanor in Florida, however it can be a felony if the trespasser is armed with a gun or other dangerous weapon. Florida also has a special trespass statute for schools. The Florida school trespass statute deals with anyone who has no business being on school grounds and any student who has been suspended or expelled. A person who has been suspended who goes back to the school for some reason, without authorization, can be arrested for trespass.

Some schools take this statute perhaps too seriously. In a school trespass case near Jacksonville, Florida, a middle school student was sent to the principal’s office for unruly behavior. The principal suspended the student immediately and told him to wait in the office until his mother came to pick him up. The student left the office at some point to hang out in the school courtyard. When school officials saw the student in the courtyard, police were called and he was arrested for trespass.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the trespass charge. The defense attorney argued that the student could not be guilty of trespass because he was authorized to be on school property, in the office, until his mother arrived. The court disagreed. A property owner can limit access to the property to certain places on the property. If the person violates that limited access, he can be properly arrested for trespass.

In Florida, the defense of necessity may be available for a defendant charged with a variety of criminal charges. When using this defense, a defendant is basically saying that he/she did commit the crime, but did so because it was necessary due to some urgent circumstances. The necessity defense has a few conditions that must be met: 1) the defendant reasonably believed the criminal act was necessary to avoid imminent death or serious injury to him/herself or others, 2) the defendant did not intentionally put him/herself in the position that resulted in the need to take action, 3) the criminal act was the only adequate method to avoid the problem, 4) the harm to be avoided was more serious than the criminal conduct, and 5) the defendant ceased the criminal conduct as soon as the threat dissipated.

There are situations where a necessity defense would be a valid defense. If a person needed to drive while impaired or with a suspended license to get a person with a serious and emergent health problem to the hospital, that might qualify. However, this defense often fails with conditions one and three.

For example, in a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, two guys went out to a bar. One of them got too drunk to drive, and the defendant had a suspended driver’s license. The defendant decided to drive home. He was stopped by police and arrested for driving with a suspended license. His criminal defense attorney tried the necessity defense to defend the case. It failed. The problem with condition number one was that being drunk is not a threat that involves the risk of imminent death or serious bodily injury. If the friend was so drunk that he was getting seriously ill, this condition might have been satisfied. However, just being too drunk to drive did not qualify. The problem with condition number three was that there were other reasonable and adequate alternatives, such as walking, calling a friend for a ride or calling a taxi. Because this defendant’s necessity defense did not come close to satisfying those two conditions, the defendant was convicted of driving with a suspended license. Likewise, if the drunk guy drove because the defendant’s license was suspended and he got arrested for DUI, his necessity defense would have failed for similar reasons.

In Florida, the police cannot just arrest any person he/she has probable cause to believe has committed a crime. A police officer does not need an arrest warrant signed by a judge to arrest a person for a felony charge or a misdemeanor that has occurred in his/her or another police officer’s presence. However, a police officer cannot always arrest a person for a allegedly committing a misdemeanor crime that he/she or another officer did not see unless a judge has signed an arrest warrant. One exception is shoplifting or retail theft cases. Most shoplifting/retail theft cases occur in a store where a loss prevention officer or other store employee sees the theft or observes the suspect trying to leave the store without paying for an item(s). The loss prevention officer normally detains the suspect until the police arrive. Although the police officer was not present when the shoplifting crime allegedly occurred, the police officer is allowed to rely on the store employee’s statement and any other evidence (such as a store video) to make an arrest without first getting an arrest warrant. On the contrary, if a witness approached a police officer and said a suspect was in possession of a small amount of marijuana (less than 20 grams of marijuana) and even showed the police officer recent incriminating pictures, the police officer could not arrest the suspect without an arrest warrant if the officer did not observe the marijuana.

In a recent shoplifting case near Jacksonville, Florida, a loss prevention officer at a department store observed the suspect select some items and leave the store without paying for them. The loss prevention officer, who is not a police officer, called the police and gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle to the police officer. The police officer stopped the suspect and arrested him for shoplifting. While searching the vehicle for the stolen items, the police officer found methamphetamine. The suspect was arrested for petit theft (a misdemeanor) and possession of methamphetamine (a felony).

The criminal defense lawyer moved to dismiss the charges arguing that the police officer could not stop and arrest the defendant for a misdemeanor charge outside of the police officer’s presence. However, Florida law has a specific exception to this rule for shoplifting. Since the police officer could stop the suspect for the shoplifting charge and had a right to search for the stolen items, the shoplifting charge and the methamphetamine possession charge were both valid.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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