Articles Posted in Columbia 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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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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Columbia County detectives served a search warrant on a home in Columbia County on Thursday and allegedly found 73 marijuana plants growing and made three arrests.

Police apparently received a tip about the Fort White home, which they allege was operating as an indoor marijuana grow operation.

Those arrested include a 74-year-old Fort White man, a 45-year-old Tampa man and a 50-year-old Tampa man. All three men arrested were charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana of more than 20 grams and possession drug paraphernalia. They were booked into the Columbia County Detention Facility.

marijuana grow houseThe Drug Task force made the arrests and is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Lake City Police Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Marijuana plants are currently illegal in the State of Florida. However, that does not stop people from transforming their homes into a “grow house.” Once police catch wind of an alleged grow house, they quickly start investigating, looking to arrest someone and charge them with various felonies, including possession of marijuana with intent to sell or distribute, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, cultivation of cannabis and trafficking in cannabis. Trafficking is the most serious of these charges, requiring 300 or more plants at any stage of growth, and is a first-degree felony carrying a minimum mandatory prison term.

If you know you are being investigated by police, or have already been arrested, you must act fast and obtain the help of a criminal defense lawyer right away. There are steps that can be taken during investigations to prevent police from obtaining further evidence against you. That is why you must not delay, contact a Columbia County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton today.

Manufacturing marijuana in Florida is a felony. Under the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act, it is also illegal to own or rent a home for the purpose of growing or possessing marijuana plants. Convictions from grow house charges can vary from five to 30 years in prison depending on the size of the operation and if any children were present in the home.

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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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A volunteer firefighter with the Columbia County Fire Department was arrested on March 7 for allegedly using an agency fuel credit card to pay for more than $7,500 worth of gas for his personal vehicle and his friends’ vehicles.

The 19-year-old Lake City, Florida man was charged with grand theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.

According to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, 181 fraudulent transactions were made using the fuel card, which was apparently reported stolen from a fire department vehicle on March 2 after a number of charges were allegedly made on the card.

Police claim they identified the volunteer firefighter as the suspect after apparently viewing surveillance footage from gas stations.

The man was held on $21,000 bond.

Florida has very specific laws set in place to protect the public against credit card fraud. A misdemeanor or felony credit card fraud offense can be charged when someone is accused of signing, taking, forging, using, obtaining, selling or buying someone else’s credit card, debit card or account information. Simply put, knowingly using a stolen, expired, altered, counterfeited, forged or revoked credit card will likely result in theft charges. It’s very important to recognize that while credit card fraud is charged as either petty or grand theft, you could also face forgery and identity theft charges. As you may or may not know, grand theft is classified in Florida as any theft totaling more than $300. It can be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison if the total falls under $5,000, but if the theft is more than $5,000 it can be labeled a second or first-degree felony.

The Florida Credit Card Fraud Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you understand the complex legal issues that arise following charges of grand theft and fraudulent use of a credit card. By initially investigating the circumstances involved, we can often uncover flaws and irregularities in the government’s case that may help protect your legal rights. State and federal agencies may pursue cases of credit card fraud, however usually these cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Secret Service. Many of these typed of theft-related charges require the prosecution to prove there was intent to commit fraud. For many accused of credit card fraud, this is their best chance at avoiding a conviction.

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The Florida Highway Patrol will be checking out drivers on New Year’s Eve at a checkpoint along Highway 90 in Columbia County. In what the FHP calls a “Comprehensive Roadside Sobriety Checkpoint,” troopers will be stationed along the highway checking for impaired drivers, people with no license and vehicles that aren’t safe.

Firstcoastnews.com says nearly 23,000 alcohol-related crashes happened statewide in 2007. In Columbia County alone, 11 fatal crashes were attributed to alcohol.

Sobriety checkpoints have different constitutional requirements than a traditional stop– like for example, when a person gets pulled over for speeding. Police are requred to follow strict procedures when implementing a checkpoint and failure to abide by those policies can render a checkpoint stop illegal.

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