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adobe-spark-post-8A twenty seven year old soccer coach has been arrested for interference with the custody of a minor after leaving Jacksonville, Florida with a 17 year old girl.  Mr. Rodriguez’s criminal defense lawyer will surely challenge any allegation that the girl was taken against her will or that there was any nonconsensual sexual contact, but does that matter?  What is the age of consent in the State of Florida?  Is it a crime to have a sexual relationship with a 17 year old?  What if it is consensual?  Let’s break down the law in the State of Florida as it relates to sex offenses between two consensual people, one of whom is younger than 18 years old.


What is the age of consent in the State of Florida for a sexual relationship?


In the State of Florida, the age of consent is eighteen (18) years of age.  This means that anyone younger than 18 years old cannot consent to sexual contact.  It is a crime for any person of any age to have any sexual contact with a minor that is 15 years old or younger.  There are specific requirements for minors that are between 16 years of age and 18 years of age.  So, two minors or one minor and one young adult that engage in willing sexual contact could be in violation of very serious sex offense statutes, which could result in incarceration and being labeled a sex offender.

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Bernandino Bolatete has been arrested and charged by criminal complaint in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida after threatening to a mass shooting at a local mosque.  But what he has initially been charged with might surprise you?  Rather than a charge related to a terroristic threat, Mr. Bolatete has been charged with knowingly receiving and possessing a silencer that was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.  26 U.S.C. §5861(d) makes it a federal offense to receive or possess certain unregistered firearms.  Included in the definition of a firearm under the applicable section is a silencer.  Mr. Bolatete is charged with receiving and possessing a firearm provided to him by an undercover officer.


What is the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR)


The National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) is a national registry of certain firearms that are subject to the National Firearms Act.  It is a federal criminal offense to possess or receive certain firearms that have not been registered to you in the NFRTR.  The Act only applies to certain firearms.  The registry includes:

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One of the more common cocktail party questions criminal defense attorneys get asked is whether you can get a DUI while driving a golf cart, or even riding a bicycle.  In Florida, the answer is yes.  You can be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced for DUI (Driving Under the Influence) for operating a golf cart or a bicycle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances to the extent that your normal faculties are impaired.  This will become more and more of an issue with the creation and expansion of golf cart communities, like our very own Nocatee in Ponte Vedra, Florida, where you will see scores of golf carts traveling between residences and local bars and restaurants on a daily basis.


Surely I can’t get a DUI on a lawn mower or a horse?


AdobeStock_117707955-300x200Believe it or not, yes, you can.  Florida’s DUI statute, Fla. Stat. §316.193, prohibits a person from driving, or being in actual physical control of, a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while having a .08 BAC level or more.  Notice that the word “motor” is not present before the word “vehicle.”   The legislature specifically wanted the DUI statute to apply to more vehicles than just motor vehicles.  So, what is the definition of a vehicle for purposes of the DUI statute?

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The criminal defense attorneys of SLG Law often get calls from people asking us what they can and can’t do when it comes to recording people.  A mother in Virginia recently found out the hard way that recording someone without their knowledge can lead to felony charges.  According to the article, the mother was concerned about another child at school bullying her child.  She wanted to get proof of the bullying, so she sent her child to school with a recording device.  Recording devices are prohibited at the school and school officials discovered the device.  Subsequent to an investigation, the mother was charged with a felony for violating state law relating to recording someone’s communications without their knowledge.  So, what about here in Jacksonville, Florida? What is the law in the State of Florida as it relates to recording people?


What is the law in Florida relating to recording other people’s conversations?


Florida Statute Section 934.03 lays out the law as it relates to recording someone’s communications.  Florida is a two-party consent state.  This means that all of the parties to the conversation must consent to recording of the conversation for the act of recording to be legal. A person who violates this law can be charged with a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

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adobe-spark-postThe Florida Time Union released a story with some eye-popping statistics relating to the use of pedestrian citations in the city’s most crime ridden areas of Jacksonville.  Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys often challenge these pretextual stops, but the case law continues to generally support the use of profiling, as long as there is a lawful basis for the stop.  With so many pedestrian safety statutes on the books, it’s easy for a law enforcement officer to pick and choose who the officer wants to stop and question, under the guise of pedestrian safety.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers will often conduct a stop and talk or a stop and frisk search on individuals they believe are suspicious and if they uncover something illegal, they will make an arrest.  But what effect does their detention have on a citizen who has done nothing wrong?  Won’t that person feel profiled?  Unjustly singled out?  How big of a group is this?  How many citations do the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office issue where the person was engaged in otherwise lawful conduct and possessed nothing illegal on their person?  How many African American citizens have been stopped for violation of a pedestrian safety statute and not issued a citation simply so the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer could investigate them further?  An African American law abiding citizen living in a high crime area is sure to carry resentment if he or she feels continually harassed or is cited for violations of pedestrian safety statutes that are not enforced in the low crime, white areas of Jacksonville.

Also disturbing, is the report that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been issuing hundreds of citations despite the person not actually violating the statute.  Whether this true or not, it seems like the end desire of law enforcement (to drive out crime in crime ridden areas of Jacksonville) is laudable, but some of the methods (pretextual stops and searches) may do more damage than good.  So many crimes in predominantly African American, low income neighborhoods require the cooperation of citizens who live in that community.   When those people don’t trust law enforcement because of what they consider constant, unjustified harassment, they are less likely to cooperate in a criminal investigation.  Murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries can all go unsolved or unprosecuted because the State lacks the witnesses and evidence to proceed.  It would seem that if the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spent more resources providing more law enforcement officers for those particular areas that need them the most and if those law enforcement officers developed, groomed, and maintained positive relationships with the citizens of those communities, more crimes would get solved and successfully prosecuted.

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Florida Gator head football coach recently told the media that he has received death threats following a few losses on the field.  Coach Mac shrugged those threats off as part of the job, but he is probably quite concerned for the safety of his family.  So what protection does Coach Mac have if law enforcement were able to track down the people responsible?  Well, there is a huge distinction in Florida law between written threats and verbal threats.  Written threats are treated much more harshly than verbal threats in the State of Florida.  Once they are made (and often they are made in a spur of the moment fit of anger or frustration with no intent to carry through with the threat), they often leave a trail of evidence that leads back to the author.  So what are written threats under Florida law?

WRITTEN THREATS

Written threats are covered by Florida Statute Section 836.10, which makes it a second degree felony to send a written threat.  A second degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.  So what does the State have to prove in order to convict someone of “written threats?”  Lets break it down:

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Most people are aware of the Florida Stand Your Ground law as it received a lot of notoriety during the George Zimmerman case and other cases in Florida since then.  Essentially, the law says that people in Florida are not required to retreat and can use deadly force if he/she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent the other person from committing an imminent act that is likely to cause death or serious injury to him/herself or another person. It is basically a self defense law that allows a person to use deadly force if the person legitimately thinks the other person is going to do something very bad to him/her.  The law provides some procedural benefits to a defendant who can utilize the Stand Your Ground law.

One question is whether police officers can use the Stand Your Ground law like regular people can.  In a recent murder case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer was charged with murder after shooting someone he claimed he thought had a weapon and was pointing it at him.  The police officer was responding to a suspicious person call and saw the suspect walking in a neighborhood with what appeared to be a rifle.  He followed the suspect and ultimately told him to drop the alleged rifle. The suspect did not drop it and pointed it at the police officer, according to the officer.  The police officer then shot him and killed him.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the Florida Stand Your Ground law.  The criminal defense attorney argued the police officer reasonably believed the suspect had a weapon and was going to fire it at the officer, and he shot the officer in self defense.  The state objected and argued that a police officer does not have the right to assert the Stand Your Ground law because there is a Florida statute that specifically addresses when a police officer may use force when effecting an arrest.  Because there is already a statute on this issuing specifically dealing with police officers are arrests, that law applies rather than the Stand Your Ground law which applies to people generally.

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A 20 year old student at the University of North Florida was recently the victim of a man who created fake social media accounts using her name and likeness.  Her Facebook photos were used to create fake social media accounts on Instagram and Tinder.  The fake accounts requested money be sent and stated that the victim was “sexually ready.”  So, was this a crime?  And if so, what crime was it?

The young man that created these fake social media accounts was arrested and charged with Cyberstalking.  Cyberstalking is defined in Florida Statute Section 784.048(1)(d) and requires:

  1. engaging in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language,
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On July 6th, 2016, Corrine Brown, along with Elias Simmons, was indicted on a twenty four (24) count federal indictment.  You heard me right, folks.  24 counts.  The charges all stem from her relationship with a organization called the One Door for Education – Amy Anderson Scholarship Fund.  The basic allegations are that Corrine Brown, when she was a congresswoman, would solicit contributions to this fund.  The proceeds from the contributions were supposed to go to scholarships.   The government has alleged that the vast majority of the money taken into this scholarship fund went into the pockets of Corrine Brown, Elias Simmons and others.  Specifically, the federal government has alleged that out of approximately $800,000 contributed to the fund, only about $10,000 went to actual scholarships.  So let’s break this down and look at the various charges.

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The Government alleges that Corrine Brown and others solicited money into the One Door for Education Scholarship Fund and then deposited some of those proceeds into their personal accounts for personal use.

Count 1 – Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Mail Fraud

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In Florida, it is illegal for anyone to possess a “weapon” at school or a school-sponsored event without authorization.  A violation of this criminal statute is a third degree felony that carries up to five years in prison.  There are a variety of items that are considered “weapons” under the statute including razor blades and box cutters, in addition to the obvious weapons like guns and knives.  There is also a separate Florida statute that adds other items to the definition of a “weapon” such as brass/metal knuckles, tear gas and slingshots.  Whether other items are considered “weapons” under the statue is unclear.  Pocket knives are specifically excluded from the definition of a “weapon”, but what is considered a pocket knife depends on its size and other characteristics.  The obvious problem is that the Florida laws and statutory definitions do a poor job of telling students and parents what items are legal and what items could result in a felony charge.

In a recent weapons case near Jacksonville, Florida, school officials conducted a random search of students at a local public school.  They removed the kids from the classroom, scanned them with a metal detector and searched each of them.  They also searched their book bags and other belongings.  They found a BB gun in the defendant’s book bag.  The school officials said the BB gun looked and felt like a real gun.  It was not loaded.  The defendant was arrested for possession of a weapon on school property.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charge since a BB gun is not a deadly weapon as referenced in the statute.  That statute lists certain specific items that are considered weapons along with any other “deadly weapon.”  BB guns are not specifically listed as “weapons” in the statute.  Therefore, the criminal defense attorney argued that since the BB gun is not specifically mentioned as a “weapon” in the statute, and a BB gun certainly is not a “deadly weapon” as also mentioned in the statute, the defendant cannot be charged with possession of a weapon on school property for a BB gun.