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Articles Posted in Highlands County

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Nearly 300 people attended a meeting Monday held by a Lake Placid principal to discuss the dangers of sexting among minors.

According to reports, the principal found one cell phone with a pornographic video on it, and that one video then turned into a “video that was passed among other students and shared with other students and social media was used to bully that student.”  

The investigation has now allegedly identified 20 middle school girls that sent nude pictures of themselves to other male students.  

The principal believes peer pressure forced the girls to send the pictures and video.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case for possible charges for child pornography or sexual exploitation of a minor.

The case was forwarded to the department’s Special Victim’s Unit because of the graphic nature of the images and video found on multiple Lake Placid Middle School student cell phones.

Police claim there were nude pictures of children between the ages of 12 and 14.

In addition to nude selfie pictures, police said they uncovered an extremely graphic video of a student masturbating.  

That video is why the department is looking into the possibility that any students were the victims of sexual exploitation and/or child pornography.  

The initial investigation started on Feb. 10 when a student allegedly showed naked pictures they received on their phone to a teacher. The teacher then took the phone to a school resource officer with the sheriff’s department.  

With the rise of cell phone use, especially among teenagers, the practice of “sexting”—sending nude or sexually suggestive photos by text message—has become alarmingly common. When it comes to sexting, in Florida, the first offense carries a sentence of community service or a fine.  If a student is convicted of sexting three times, it is then escalated to a felony.

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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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As a U.S. citizen, you have what is known as Miranda Rights. The term Miranda Rights has its origins in a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court Case known as Miranda v. Arizona. The court’s ruling on this matter gives anyone in police custody or facing potential criminal charges to be advised of their right against self-incrimination. This is also an element of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

2240909776_a1097c87ca_zIf you are taken into police custody for any reason, you are required to be given a Miranda warning briefing you on your rights. The Miranda warning must include the following information:

  1. You have the right to remain silent
  2. Anything you say may later be used against you
  3. You are legally entitled to speak with an attorney
  4. If you are unable to afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at no cost

The main purpose of a Miranda warning is to let the person in police custody understand that they have the right to remain silent. This must be communicated clearly to the person detained before any questioning by law enforcement.

What Does It Mean for You if You Were Not Given a Miranda Warning?

If law enforcement fails to properly advise or “mirandize” an individual in custody, the case could be dismissed, but this all depends on the evidence available. If the case has been established mostly on statements that the individual gave without a proper notice of Miranda warnings then those statements could be deemed inadmissible, which would likely lead to a dismissal. If the case has been built based on other evidence, then it is unlikely that the case will hinge on the lack of proper notice of Miranda Rights, but depending on specifics, the case could still possibly be dismissed.

What To Do If You Are Arrested

If you have been arrested and read your Miranda warnings, it is important to ask to speak to your lawyer immediately. Despite what law enforcement may tell you while you are in their custody, police investigators are not looking out for your best interests.

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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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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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According to an affidavit released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office last month, an illegal immigrant who returned to Highlands County after being deported has now been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine.

The Lake Placid man has been accused of helping a man and a woman sell thousands of pounds of methamphetamine that came from Mexican cartel drug dealers based in Atlanta.

The other man and woman allegedly involved also face charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine.

The trio was arrested after members of a federal drug task force apparently received information from the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office that the Lake Placid man was involved in trafficking methamphetamine.

Agents visited the man’s Lake Placid home where the man apparently admitted he had previously been deported from the United States.

The man allegedly told agents that he was deported in 2010, but paid $2,000 to be smuggled back into the U.S. According to the arrest affidavit, the man started selling methamphetamine in 2002, but stopped after eight months.

The man allegedly told agents he recently started selling methamphetamine again and bought three ounces of methamphetamine from the other man arrested. He then sold the methamphetamine for $1,200, the affidavit said.

Agents had the Lake Placid man order 5 pounds of methamphetamine for $50,000 from the other man while they were present.

crime-suspect_l.jpgOnce the man showed up to meet the Lake Placid man, both were arrested.
Police searched the man’s home and apparently found more methamphetamine.

According to the affidavit, the man said Mexican cartel members in Atlanta paid him $2,500 per week to traffic drugs.

The two men allegedly worked together to traffic the methamphetamine that was delivered. During the past two months, the two men claimed they received more than 11 kilos of methamphetamine from Atlanta.

Being convicted of drug possession with the intent to sell or distribute in Highlands County can result in serious penalties, including heavy fines, prison time and even the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license. The punishments that accompany a possession for sale charge are normally much tougher than a simple drug possession offense. Law enforcement officers will usually look for large quantities of the drug in question to increase the charges against the offender.

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A Sebring woman was arrested for assaulting another woman that apparently lives at the same home on Monday.

On Aug. 3 police with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 30-year-old woman and charged her with battery and one count of burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and two counts of attempted burglary of an unoccupied conveyance.

Deputies arrested the woman after the alleged victim claims she came onto her yard uninvited and “began yelling she lived there,” according to reports.

When the alleged victim did not respond, the woman apparently began punching her numerous times on her head and face with a closed fist.

The alleged victim claims the woman tackled her to the ground and tried to fight her. She eventually escaped and ran into her house and called 911, the report said.

The woman was allegedly spotted trying to get into several vehicles, according to witnesses.

According to the arrest report, the woman appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

handcuffs.jpgThe circumstances surrounding an arrest for assault or battery can be quite confusing, as this case demonstrates. It is important to understand that assault and battery are actually two separate offenses, but they are often linked together in cases involving violence. Assault is defined as attempted violence against another person or threatening to use violence against them, whereas battery is actually hitting, striking or making unwanted physical contact with someone else. Both assault and battery charges carry serious consequences in the state of Florida if you are convicted of either of these crimes, including:

• Jail or Prison Time
• Steep Fines
• Probation/Parole
• Anger Management Classes
• Revocation of Your Driver’s License
In addition to the above penalties, a conviction for assault or battery count as strikes under Florida’s Three Strikes Law. This means that if you are convicted, your sentencing can be quite harsh if you have previously been convicted of a similar crime or are on probation or parole at the time the offense was committed. With that said, if you have been charged with assault or battery in Sebring or the surrounding area, you should contact a Highlands County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton so that you can make sure your rights and best interests are protected.

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