Articles Posted in Clay County

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The new year is quickly approaching, and thousands of Floridians have made plans or are starting to think about how to say goodbye to 2015 and ring in 2016.

But before you solidify your New Year’s Eve plans, fire officials have some tips for residents and visitors when it comes to fireworks.

“Anything that is projectile or leaves the ground is illegal in the State of Florida. Basically your safest bet is with a sparkler,” said Natalie McQueen, a Firefighter and Paramedic for the Panama City Beach Fire Department.

Even though sparklers are allowed in the Sunshine State, residents and visitors still need to exercise caution when using them.

Younger children should never light or handle sparklers. Parents should maintain a close watch on kids at all times if sparklers are going to be used. Burns are very common to the hands and face since sparklers do have flickers that come off once they are lit.

If you are using sparklers, after you are done with them, fire officials say to place them in a big bucket full of water, and let them sit overnight.

While setting off your own fireworks might seem fun, our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton want to remind everyone that the best way to stay safe while ringing in the New Year is leaving the fireworks to the pros. If you are caught with fireworks in the State of Florida it could lead to misdemeanor charges.

Under Florida law, the use of or possession of illegal fireworks is a first-degree misdemeanor. If you are accused of breaking this law, please be aware that you will be arrested. If you are convicted of this crime, you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail, given up to one year on probation, and/or fined up to one thousand dollars.

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Thanksgiving is a time of year when families get together to celebrate memories and honor traditions. However, this is also the time of year when law enforcement agencies gear up to catch drunk drivers on our roadways.

Most law enforcement agencies, receive federal grants to increase their staffing levels during the holiday season, which typically begins with the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and continues to New Year’s Day. Arrests for DUI are highest during this time period.

The following are a few tips that may prove helpful to avoid a Thanksgiving DUI:

  1. Do not drink and drive. If you have been drinking, call a cab, a friend or use a ride share app like Uber or Lyft to get home safe. If you know you will be drinking, designate a sober driver to take you home.
  2. If you are pulled over, do not talk to law enforcement about where you were or what you were doing. Remember, you have the right to remain silent until you have your lawyer present.
  3. If you are involved in an accident, stop immediately and remain at the scene. Do not admit to anything and request to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
  4. Do not fall asleep inside your vehicle. You could get arrested if the officer observes that you have the keys in the ignition or if the engine is running.
  5. Drive cautiously. Police will be closely monitoring motorists for any mistakes they make. In particular, they will be on the lookout for motorists who may be driving too fast or too slow, or running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs.

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Clay County investigators arrested a 32-year-old Jacksonville man Friday that they claim made fake online profiles posing as a boy to lure preteen girls into having sex.

The man is charged with using a computer to solicit a child for sex, transmission of material harmful to a minor and making harassing telephone calls.

Deputies have accused him of contacting two female preteen victims and trying to persuade them into having sex.

Investigators claim the man admitted to making several fake online profiles, pretending to be a boy, then used those profiles to solicit young girls for sex — both online and on the phone.

According to the warrant against the man, one victim told investigators the man asked her for sex and for nude pictures of her via Facebook. She also alleges that he made a lewd phone call to her, according to the warrant. Investigators reported that they have another witness who claims to have received a similar obscene phone call from Meadows.

The man was booked into the Clay County Jail on $150,012 bond.

Sex crimes accusations are quite serious and the penalties attached to a conviction can be life changing. Certain sex crime convictions require the individual to register as a sexual offender. These include convictions involving minors, like this case, as well as sexual battery and rape, and sexual misconduct.

Sexual offenders and predators must report to the local sheriff’s office and provide personal information, including a home address, employment information, school information, email addresses and IP addresses, as well as other criminal information. Sexual offenders are required to re-register two or four times a year, depending on the conviction. Per Florida federal law, even registered sex offenders who are only visiting, attending school or working in Florida on a temporary basis, and reside outside the state, must register as sexual offenders in Florida.

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A 46-year-old Texas man plead guilty to manufacturing counterfeit Federal Reserve notes, false representation of a Social Security number and aggravated identity theft.

The man faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in federal prison for the counterfeit note and false representation charges, to be followed by a consecutive mandatory minimum of 2 years in federal prison for the aggravated identity theft charge.

According to the plea agreement, on Feb. 2, 2015, the Green Cove Springs Police Department received information that two individuals, one of them later identified as the accused and another man, were manufacturing counterfeit Federal Reserve notes in their hotel room at the Astoria Hotel in Clay County.

The two men apparently had active arrest warrants for parole violations in Texas and were subsequently arrested at the hotel by deputies from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

2397205917_37bd3a5fe6_zDeputies claim they found a counterfeit $100 note on one of the men after his arrest.

During an interview with law enforcement, the men allegedly disclosed that they were involved in a drug deal in Texas in December 2014 and had been on the run ever since. Police claim they estimated printing and passing at least $10,000 in counterfeit currency. Police also believe they printed counterfeit checks using the identities of others.

Agents claim they located a box of personal identification information and financial documents belonging to other individuals, a printer/scanner/copier with counterfeit checks lying on top of it, counterfeit currency, and various computer media which had been used to manufacture the counterfeit currency during a search of the men’s hotel room.

A third man was also charged in the case for passing counterfeit currency.

This case was investigated by the Green Cove Springs Police Department, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Secret Service Jacksonville Field Office.

Under federal law, it is illegal to defraud, produce, forge, or alter any “obligation or other security” of the United States, which includes money. Penalties for manufacturing counterfeit currency include fines up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison. Similar offenses relating to counterfeiting currency  include distributing, selling, or possessing counterfeit money and possessing counterfeiting tools.

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Two women accused of shoplifting from a Fleming Island Kohl’s ran from deputies and then allegedly carjacked a driver on U.S. 17 in Green Cove Springs, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

The women, a 47-year-old and a 28-year-old, were arrested Monday and charged with carjacking and false imprisonment.

Deputies claim additional charges are pending regarding the alleged shoplifting incident at Kohl’s.

The alleged victim of the carjacking was not injured.

According to reports, shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday, the women were seen taking items and placing them inside their purses. They fled Kohl’s in a 2001 green Kia Rio with a North Carolina plate.

A deputy saw the Rio on U.S. 17, driving south toward Green Cove Springs, and attempted to pull it over.

The deputy reported that the driver signaled she would pull over. The deputy claims he saw the female passenger throwing clothes into the back seat and throwing what looked like price tags out of the front passenger window.

According to the police report, as they approached the intersection of Russell Road, the woman ran a red light, almost hit a white pickup truck and then hit the median, which busted the car’s front passenger tire.

The woman apparently kept driving. The deputy said he saw her pull into the parking lot of a Wendy’s on U.S. 17 and then pull out of the parking lot of a Winn-Dixie and turn east onto County Road 315. At that point, the deputy said he was told to discontinue pursuit of the Rio, and he headed toward the Orange Park substation.

While driving back to Orange Park, the deputy claims he spotted the Rio disabled on the side of the road and saw the two women running out into traffic. The deputy believes the women stopped in front of a silver Toyota Venza.

The driver of the Toyota stopped to see if the women needed help. According to reports, the women told the woman to drive them to the hospital, but she said no but offered them her phone to call 911.

The women allegedly forced their way into the woman’s car and told her to drive them to the hospital.

The woman told police she began driving until she saw the deputy pull up behind her with his lights and sirens on and stopped.

The women are both being held in the Clay County Jail on $180,000 bond.

Carjacking is the criminal act of taking a vehicle from a driver by threat, violence or intimidation. It is a form of robbery – the item being stolen is the automobile itself. If the carjacker is armed, it is considered armed robbery.

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A Clay County man who is already a registered sex offender is now back behind bars after authorities allege he attempted to sexually assault a minor.

The 58-year-old man has been jailed after allegedly attempting to contact the child through his cellphone and trying to entice the victim into sex acts, according to police.

Police said they obtained permission from the alleged victim to contact the man pretending to be the child.

5531939741_901461f3d3_zThe Sheriff’s Office also claims that at one point, the man met with the minor and tried to force his hands down his pants and touch him sexually.

The man was arrested for soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computer services or devices and attempted sexual battery and is being held on a $300,009 bond.

Currently, every state in the U.S. has a sex offender registration law on its books. While sex offender registration laws differ from state to state, every state requires that identifying information about a person convicted of sexual offense be given to state and local police departments. This information usually includes the following:

  • Legal name and all Aliases
  • Residence, Work and School Addresses
  • Palm Prints and Fingerprints
  • Physical Description along with Identifying Features, like a visible birthmark or tattoo.
  • Description of the Offense and Date of the Conviction
  • Description of where the Crime Occurred
  • Current Photograph
  • Copy of a Driver’s License, License Plate Number as well as a Description of all Vehicles Owned.
  • Person’s Social Security Number and Date of Birth
  • All Email Addressed, Online Screen Names, Social Network Handles or all other Online Identities Used

The local law enforcement agency where the registered sex offender resides must make the offender’s registration information available to the public, and post identifying information about the offender on a website that contains a nationwide sex offender database.

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You want to avoid getting arrested for DUI in Florida on New Year’s Eve and “becoming a statistic.” New Year’s Eve is a holiday that it is both cause for celebrating and relaxing. After the stress of getting ready for Christmas, people usually take this time to enjoy the end of the holiday season and contemplate their goals for the new year. However, because this is the last holiday of the year, there tends to be an increased number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Listed below are several tips to help drivers avoid a DUI this New Year’s Eve.

  1. Limit Drinks

If you are at a party that has an open bar, and you know you are driving, know exactly how many drinks you are having so that you can watch your personal limit. Remember that once you start drinking it can be difficult to stop yourself from having too many. Be mindful of the exact amount you have had to drink.

  1. Call a Cab or Uber or Lyft

Public transportation can save many people from DUI-related accidents and arrests. Save the number of a local cab company in your phone, use a ride share app on your phone or attend parties or social gatherings close to a bus route.

  1. 15958303240_5a5181cc2a_zDon’t Go Solo

Don’t go to a party or social gathering by yourself. Bring along at least one other friend and make sure to determine who the designated driver is for the entire group before any alcohol is consumed.

  1. Eat!

While many people have New Year’s resolutions about weight loss, New Year’s Eve is one of those nights where you should eat. Food fills the stomach, making less room for alcohol. Try to snack on foods like meats or dark chocolate, which are known to keep you fuller longer.

  1. Offer Alternative Drinks

If you are hosting a party, include “mocktails,” sodas, punch, or even just water on your drink menu.

  1. Make Accommodations for Guests

If you know your guests have a far trip ahead of them, arrange for them to stay with you or at a nearby hotel. That way, no one drives home drunk.

  1. Leave the Party Early

New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year. You can expect delays for taxis and other modes of public transportation, so be prepared. Leaving your party or social gathering early can also ensure that you get home safely and at a reasonable hour.

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A Clay County man plead guilty to receiving child pornography over the Internet Tuesday.

Officials claim that through investigations, agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found a host computer that held images of child porn using a peer-to-peer file sharing program. The agent downloaded files from the host computer, and linked the subscriber information back to the 45-year-old man.

Officer’s obtained a search warrant for the man’s home and allegedly seized several computers and other electronic media that were later found to contain at least 18 images of child pornography and at least 20 videos depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

The man apparently acknowledged during an interview with police that he had been receiving child porn for about two years.

6853270358_c89271d21d_mThe man faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in federal prison and a potential life term of supervision.

Child pornography is any photograph, film, video or computer generated image that displays a minor in a sexual situation. Both the federal government and the state have criminalized the production, distribution and possession of any form of child pornography. Due to the nature of these crimes, the media and public express much disdain when it comes to these offenses. Prosecutors, judges and juries also find these crimes quite heinous, and the consequences of a conviction can result in severe penalties.  In fact, it is common to be slapped with a five year mandatory minimum sentence behind bars for receiving or possessing even just one child pornography image. However, most investigations into child porn uncover numerous images, which can enhance a sentencing guideline of more than ten years in prison.

State or federal authorities can prosecute cases involving child pornography, however, the majority of cases involving child porn in recent years have been prosecuted in federal courts, which usually impose sentencing guidelines that are much harsher than state courts. Due to the seriousness of these crimes, it is vital to retain a criminal defense lawyer immediately so that your rights can be protected and a solid defense can be established.

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Florida will have 159 new laws starting Tuesday that address various issues, including college tuition, corporate tax credits, abortions and sex offenders.

One of the most prevalent laws is one that aims to protect children and others from dangerous sex offenders. The laws are intended to keep the most violent sexual offenders locked up longer and close any loopholes in a law that allows the state to send predators to a high-security treatment center once they have served their time in prison. The new laws will subject more offenders to potential civil commitment and prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates will be part of the committee that reviews their cases.

The sexually violent predator package of bills was among the first of the legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott during the 60-day session that ended in May. The new laws are meant to create a better child welfare system in Florida. As of now, Florida is the only state in America that has a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for violent sexual offenders.

gavelAnother law that seeks to protect children concerns the Department of Children and Families. The law changes how the department investigates and responds to cases; now placing a higher emphasis on shielding a child from abuse rather than focusing on keeping a family together. Moreover, the law also pays for 270 additional child protective investigators so that caseloads can be reduced and a response team can be sent out quickly to investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous dealings with the system.

Another law will establish a statewide pilot program to pay for foster children’s driver’s education classes, license fees and car insurance so that they can be better prepared to gain employment when they turn 18 and leave the system.

The children of immigrants in the country illegally will now be able to receive in-state tuition at state universities after Scott changed his position on the issue. Another bill will give tuition breaks to honorably discharged veterans as well as waive professional licensing fees for them.

Local school boards now have the responsibility of selecting textbooks, whether or not they are on a state-adopted list, and will be required to put policies in place that allow parents to object to the books they choose.

Another new law took effect on June 20 that expands a voucher program, giving corporate tax credits to companies that provide money for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

As far as criminal laws go, there will be increased penalties for spiny lobster poachers, people leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury and people who illegally sell prescription drugs. Additionally, electronic cigarette sales to minors are now illegal in Florida. Another law forbids sending text messages soliciting products to residents on the state’s “no sales solicitation calls” list.

Florida has also changed its definition for its late-term abortion ban. Abortions will be illegal in Florida at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy if her doctor concludes that the fetus could survive outside the womb. The previous law banned abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. An exception can be made to this law if the mother’s life is at risk.

Lastly, new laws will create a Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and the position of state poet laureate to promote poetry in Florida.

Laws across the United States are constantly changing. When you have been accused of committing a crime in Florida, only a Florida Trial Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can provide you with the legal representation that you need. While many attorneys are quick to negotiate with prosecutors to obtain a plea bargain instead of pursuing trial, our Florida Criminal Attorneys know that sometimes trial is the best option for your situation. We thoroughly evaluate every case and will always advise you of your best legal defense strategy.

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