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adobe-spark-postYou were arrested or given a Notice To Appear.  It was a petit theft, grand theft, possession of drugs, or some other non-violent offense.  You’ve never been arrested before, or if you have, you have a very minor prior record.  You’re scared.  You don’t know what to expect.  Will you go to jail?  Will you lose your job?  Will this haunt you forever?

In many cases, you may be eligible for pretrial diversion or pretrial intervention.  In Duval County, it is commonly referred to as PTI (Pretrial Intervention).  For many non-violent, less serious offenses, the prosecutor has the discretion to divert your case from the court system.  I often like to refer to it as a kind of front-loaded probation.  If you complete certain conditions, the State agrees to drop the charges against you and you may be eligible to have your record sealed or expunged.


How can I get PTI? 

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A motion to suppress is an important arrow in the quiver of any criminal defense attorney.  It is a weapon to defend the true meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  It is a powerful tool that protects all Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers.  Anytime a law enforcement officer detains you, searches you or your property, or seizes you or your property, there is a question whether that detention, search and/or seizure was lawful and reasonable.  Your criminal lawyer would file a motion to suppress and the burden would be on the State to prove the police action was lawful and reasonable.


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

adobe-spark-post-10A Federal Grand Jury is an integral part of almost any federal criminal case.  Grand jury testimony often becomes a key issue in a federal criminal trial.  But what is a Grand Jury exactly?  How is it different than any other jury?  How is the federal system different than in the Florida criminal justice system?   What are your rights when it comes to a Grand Jury?


What is a Federal Grand Jury?


A Federal Grand Jury is a group of citizens that come together to determine whether there is probable cause to issue an indictment in federal court.  An indictment is the charging document that lays out the crime or crimes that a person is being charged with.  A Grand Jury must have between 16-23 people.  The Grand Jury will generally meet over the course of several months and will sit for many cases.  The court will appoint one foreperson to serve as a type of chairperson who organizes and leads the discussions.

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A 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.

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:

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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