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If a police officer wants to stop you on the street, he or she has to have a reasonable suspicion to believe that you have committed or are committing a crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals involving an alleged Tampa burglary crime is a good example of just how seriously judges take that requirement.

police handcuffsThe case stemmed from an incident on the University of South Florida campus. A man testified that he was driving near the campus when he noticed two people fighting. He said he observed a young man in a white tank top and jeans on a bicycle trying to get away from a young woman pulling on his tank top and yelling “he stole my phone.” The man on the bike swung his arms at the woman and was able to shake her off and get away.

A USF police officer later responded to the scene and said she noticed three suspects on bikes in the area. She said one of the suspects was wearing a white tank top and shorts. The officer flashed her vehicle’s police lights and yelled “stop, police,” but the man in the tank top fled the scene. A Tampa police officer later apprehended a person whom the court called “B.M.” in a shed in a residential backyard. The USF officer identified B.M. as the person who had fled. He was charged with resisting an officer and burglary. The officers did not recover the missing phone. B.M. was eventually convicted on both charges and sentenced to juvenile probation.

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BurglaryAt trial, the prosecution is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the elements of the crime charged against the defendant. A Fourth District Court of Appeals decision, J.S., a Child v. State of Florida, analyzed whether the prosecution had met its burden of proof in convicting a juvenile of a Florida assault crime.

In the early morning hours, the victim went outside to investigate a noise. He saw one of the trucks that was part of his auto-repair business being touched by the defendant. As the victim approached the truck, he saw a second person at another vehicle. The burglar approached, and the victim pulled out his concealed handgun, which scared off one of the burglars. He approached the defendant, who was lying on the ground and appeared to be moving his hand toward something. The victim removed what appeared to be a pellet gun from the defendant’s waist. He held the defendant on the ground at gun point until the police arrived.

The defendant was charged with burglary with assault or battery while armed. The trial court found the defendant delinquent on the charge. The juvenile defendant appealed and argued that the conviction of burglary of conveyance with assault while armed should be reversed.

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Dollar BillsFlorida’s Stand Your Ground law gives criminal defendants immunity against prosecution if they meet the following three elements:  the use of deadly force was (i) reasonable because deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to the defendant or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony; (ii) used while the defendant was not engaged in a criminal activity; and (iii) used in a place where the defendant had a right to be. A recent Florida gun crime case, decided on November 15, 2017, considered the second element, whether the defendant was engaged in a criminal activity at the time the alleged self-defense occurred.

The defendant testified at an evidentiary motion to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against him that on the day of the shooting, he took a few hundred dollars out of his pocket when the eventual victim told him that she shouldn’t walk around with that amount of cash because of the reputation of the neighborhood. The defendant informed the eventual victim that he had “protection.” The defendant then continued talking with his friends. The defendant was then attacked from behind and hit on the left side of his face and knocked up against a car. The eventual victim reached for the defendant’s side and made contact with the defendant’s gun. The defendant then grabbed his gun and pulled the trigger. The victim did not fall to the ground. They both ran in different directions, although the victim eventually died of his gunshot wounds.

The defendant presented evidence at a pre-trial hearing that corroborated his account of the event. The trial court ruled that as a result, the defendant was entitled to immunity and dismissed the second-degree murder charge against the defendant. The State appealed because the court did not discuss in the written order whether the defendant was engaged in a criminal activity at the time of the shooting, even though both the prosecutor and defense counsel argued this issue at the hearing.

HandcuffsIn what is described as an emerging trend by the Tampa Bay Times, lawmakers are starting to either repeal mandatory minimum sentences or pass “safety valve” laws. The latter provides judges with more discretion in imposing a variety of punishments in minor drug cases, if certain conditions are met. These new laws could change the way that courts deal with Florida drug crimes, or at least change the length of jail time imposed at sentencing.

The proposed law is a Senate bill brought forth by a pair of Florida legislators. SB 694 permits a court to sentence a drug offender to a sentence less than a mandatory minimum sentence if the following conditions are met:  (i) the person did not engage in a criminal enterprise as defined in Florida Statutes Section 893.20(1) (a continuing criminal enterprise); (ii) the person did not use or threaten violence or use a weapon during the commission of the crime; and (iii) the person did not cause a death or serious bodily injury.

The Florida House of Representatives version is very similar to the one proposed in the Senate but with a few key differences. The court is required to at least impose a sentence of imprisonment that is “no less than one-third of the sentence prescribed” by the mandatory minimum sentencing statute. Separately, the drug offender cannot have certain prior convictions, including a crime of violence as defined in Florida Statutes Section 784.046(1)(a).

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HackersAs workplaces adopt paperless record retention policies, electronic records are increasingly becoming the norm. These files are held on computer networks, and often only a few trusted employees have access to these records. These employees help companies ensure that their records are maintained in compliance with laws, rules, regulations, or court orders and may relate to sensitive information, such as financial records, employees, and company customers.

Florida criminal law addresses the destruction or hacking of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices to help protect companies from the actions of bad actors. The Tampa Bay Times reported on 11/1/2017 that a company’s former employee was arrested for allegedly destroying his former employer’s computer data after he was fired. The alleged costs to the company were substantial.

Florida Statutes Section 815.06 criminalizes offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks, and electronic devices. The various crimes range from a first-degree misdemeanor to first-degree felonies. An example of a third-degree felony under this statute is destroying a computer network or electronic device with the specific intent to do so. An example of a first-degree felony under this statute is to disrupt a computer network associated with medical equipment or the direct administration of medical care.

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If you have a criminal record with one or more convictions, it can hinder your career prospects, financial opportunities, and even ability to qualify for certain loans. Florida criminal law allows individuals, under certain circumstances, to have their criminal record sealed. A Florida court issued a decision, showing that both the applicant and the State have to follow statutory procedures before granting or denying a certificate of eligibility to seal a criminal record.

Sealed Vault
In Lazard v. State, the defendant had a child in his care. During this time, the defendant struck the child with an extension cord. The State charged the defendant with aggravated child abuse, and he ultimately pled guilty to the crime of contributing to the dependency of a child, a misdemeanor. Later, the defendant made an application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to seal his criminal record. The FDLE denied his request because his criminal history related to an act of domestic violence, which, according to the FDLE, rendered him ineligible for sealing his record.

Florida Statutes Section 943.059 outlines the procedures for having a criminal record sealed. In short, the applicant must first receive a certificate of eligibility from the FDLE and then file a petition to seal the record with the court. The court will conduct a hearing and evaluate evidence before making its determination. By law, the FDLE is obligated to issue a certificate of eligibility if the applicant meets the statutorily defined criteria.

In a recent Tampa gun crime case, a woman and her son met who they thought were potential buyers of their vehicle in a Tampa-area parking lot. The plan was to meet in person and negotiate the car transaction with the two prospective buyers, two teenagers. When everyone arrived at the designated location, the teens pulled firearms and demanded that her son give up the keys to the vehicle. The mother gave up the keys, but as they were driving away, she fired a shot that hit one of the teenagers. He was later pronounced dead from the gunshot wound at the hospital.

Gun and Money

The surviving teen is being charged with second-degree murder and armed robbery. Under Florida felony murder laws, the alleged carjacker, as a co-conspirator, can be charged under the felony murder statute, if he participated in a felony and another person died in the commission of the felony.

Under these circumstances, the prosecution might allege that the driver of the vehicle was in the act of committing armed robbery when he was driving away and his co-conspirator was killed. The felony murder statute applies when another “human being is killed” and does not require that the person who died not be a co-conspirator.

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The punishments for Florida drug crimes are often harsh. The legislature has not only criminalized the possession of illegal drugs but also has criminalized a plan, or conspiracy, to sell illegal drugs. As shown in a recent Tampa drug crime case, law enforcement attempted to convict a defendant for conspiracy to deliver cannabis, even though there was likely never any intent to actually make a drug sale.

Cannabis
Three friends from the Tampa area made arrangements to meet the defendants to acquire cannabis. One of the passengers called the co-defendant multiple times to find out where to meet. When they arrived at the designated meeting spot, there was no one to meet them. After five or six minutes, the passenger called again. The conversation was suspicious, and the passengers continued to wait in the car. The defendants walked up to the vehicle, where one of the passengers held cash out of the door. The defendant approached the vehicle with a square piece of paper to distract one of the passengers. Instantaneously, the co-defendant pulled a gun from his waistband. The driver sped away but only made it a few feet before the co-defendant fired and shot one of the passengers in the face, causing serious permanent injuries. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s aggravated battery conviction but overturned his conspiracy to deliver cannabis conviction.

Although the co-defendant physically committed the battery offense, Florida law criminalizes accomplices to a battery. The State is required to prove that the defendant intended for the battery to occur and did some act or said some words that assisted or furthered the battery.

In criminal trials, the jury is asked to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Jury instructions help the jurors make their decision within the framework of existing laws, and the criminal defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed in his or her theory of defense, assuming there is evidence to support this theory. A failure to properly instruct the jury may constitute a reversible error in a Florida theft crime case.

Apartment Complex
The defendant and the alleged victim were neighbors in a four-unit duplex, where they shared a backyard area. One night, their dogs fought in the shared backyard, which led to a fight between the defendant and his neighbor. Although there was differing testimony as to what actually occurred, the defendant argued that his neighbor hit him, so he hit the neighbor in self-defense. The fight started in the neighbor’s doorway, and the defendant said that in the course of the fight, he somehow ended up inside the neighbor’s apartment. The defendant was charged with burglary and misdemeanor battery as a result of the altercation. During the jury charge conference, the defendant’s attorney requested that the jury receive a special instruction that self-defense was an available defense to the burglary charge, just as it was a defense to the battery charge. The trial court declined to give this instruction, and following his conviction, the defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling.

The appeals court considered whether the trial court committed a reversible error by ruling that self-defense was not an available defense for the burglary charge. The appeals court noted that the facts of the case suggested that the charges of battery and burglary were inextricably linked and almost functioned as a single charge. In other words, the defendant’s theory was that the burglary and the battery were part of the same encounter with his neighbor. His self-defense claim started outside the neighbor’s apartment and continued unabated when the fighting traveled into the neighbor’s apartment, according to court documents.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants protections against illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement. When an alleged Fourth Amendment violation occurs, the criminal defendant can file a motion to suppress. If the court grants the motion to suppress, the evidence seized in the course of the illegal search is excluded from trial. Florida’s First District Court of Appeals recently considered a defendant’s appeal of a motion to suppress in a Florida cocaine case.

Squad Car

The arresting officer testified that he reported to the site of a possible car accident. When he arrived, the defendant was standing next to a vehicle. He concluded that the vehicle’s damage was preexisting but noted that the defendant appeared very intoxicated, although he did not conduct any field sobriety tests. The officer told the defendant that if he saw her driving, he would arrest her. The defendant went inside a nightclub, and the police officer parked across the street to observe whether the plaintiff tried to drive her own vehicle. The police officer was dispatched to another call, but he returned to the nightclub immediately afterwards. As he arrived, the defendant was leaving in her vehicle. He followed the defendant, and although he did not observe her break any traffic laws or drive erratically, he concluded that she was almost certainly still intoxicated.

Upon stopping the appellant, the officer observed that the appellant was still extremely intoxicated, had slurred speech, had red and glassy eyes, and emitted a strong odor of alcohol. He asked her to perform field sobriety exercises, which she refused. He then placed her under arrest for DUI. The appellant refused to take a breath test. In a search incident to the arrest, a baggy of cocaine and a straw were recovered from the appellant’s pocket.

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