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Articles Posted in Leon County

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The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a Florida man who showed up drunk for jury selection should not have been sent to jail for his actions.

The Florida Supreme Court found that the Tallahassee man should not have been found guilty of direct criminal contempt by a judge in Leon County Court because some of his questionable conduct happened outside of the court and not in direct view of the judge.

The court ordered that Florida’s First District Court of Appeals issue an order vacating the decision. However, the state could investigate whether to retry the man for indirect criminal contempt.

On April 15, 2013, the man showed up for jury duty at the Leon County Courthouse. He told a judge during general questioning that he had various issues that would make it difficult to serve on a jury, including admitting that he was a drunk.

The judge did not excuse the man and selection continued. The man later fell asleep as other prospective jurors complained he smelled of alcohol and it was hard to wake him up. A breath test administered outside the presence of the judge showed a blood alcohol content of 0.111 percent.

A judge convicted the man of direct criminal contempt for disrupting jury selection and distracting other jurors as the result of being drunk. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and he was eventually released after 17 days.

The First District Court of Appeals upheld the decision before it was argued before the Supreme Court in October of 2014.

Attorneys for the man argued that the court erred in not providing the man with counsel before sentencing him with direct criminal contempt. The Supreme Court said in its 42-page decision that there is no such a requirement in either the federal or state constitutions.

Contempt of court generally refers to any conduct that defies, disrespects or insults the authority or dignity of a court. Contempt of court can happen directly or indirectly – direct contempt happens in the presence of the court and indirect contempt happens outside the court’s presence.

Judges typically have much discretion in deciding whom to hold in contempt and the type of contempt. Those held in contempt can include parties to a proceeding, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, people in or around a proceeding, and officers or staff of the court itself.

Contempt of court is not something we usually read about in the news. In will be interesting to see if the State decides to try the man for indirect contempt, seeing that the direct contempt charges were thrown out.

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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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An Internet sex sting in Tallahassee last month dubbed “Operation April Fools” yielded 20 arrests in 5 days.

All of the men arrested are accused of soliciting minors for sex. According to police, 14 of the men showed up in person.

Police posed as 12, 13 and 14-year-olds online. According to reports, none of the men arrested stopped chatting with the teens about sex once they found out their age.

Police claim that one man traveled three hours all the way from Andalusia, Alabama with the hopes of meeting a 14-year-old boy for sex. He was immediately arrested once he showed up at the decoy house.

Tallahassee Police and Leon County Sheriff’s Office worked together on the sting along with other state and federal officers.

1418319_freedom.jpgAmong the men arrested include an attorney with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and a reserve deputy with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. Both men have been fired.

Undercover Internet child sex stings, like “Operation April Fools,” happen every day throughout the state of Florida and across the country. Law enforcement agents are constantly increasing their enforcement of the Internet in relation to alleged child sex predators by conducting undercover sting operations. Whether detectives pose as minors or the parents or guardians of young children, much time and money is poured into these undercover schemes. The purpose of these Internet sex traps is to make a considerable amount of arrests in a short period of time, and the Internet has only helped police achieve the desired outcome.

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12754_hand_cuffs.jpgTallahassee, Florida – State officials have reported that the overall crime rate in Florida has dropped 3.8 percent in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. However, the number of murders and forcible sex offenses is on the rise.

Governor Rick Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey announced the figures in the 2012 Semi-Annual Uniform Crime Report Thursday.

Florida’s murder rate increased by 1.5 percent, including an 8.2 percent surge in murders committed with firearms.

Forcible sex offenses, including rape and sodomy, also saw an increase of 1.5 percent. This number includes a 40 percent increase in rapes committed using firearms.

Aggravated assaults, burglaries, robberies and larcenies all declined.

While overall domestic violence crimes dropped 5.4 percent, domestic violence murders increased by 30 percent and forcible rapes by 7 percent.

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A 46-year-old Tallahassee doctor was sentenced to 25 years in prison Friday for his involvement in a prescription pill trafficking operation.

The man was also ordered to pay a $500,000 fine and investigative and prosecutorial costs.

According to the Florida Office of the Attorney General, the illegal operation was to blame for disbursing large quantities of prescription drugs throughout western Florida.

The physician apparently pled guilty to conspiring to traffic in 28 grams or more of oxycodone in October 2011. He was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

The Osceola County Investigative Bureau, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the Sarasota Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement claim they began investigating the doctor in 2010. Their alleged investigation revealed the doctor was selling prescriptions for large amounts of oxycodone to a group of associates who would fill the prescriptions and then disburse the pills on the streets of Sarasota.

One of the doctor’s co-defendants was sentenced to 25 years in state prison for his role in the operation and another co-defendant is awaiting sentencing.

Drug trafficking in the State of Florida describes the sale, delivery, possession or manufacturing of illegal drugs and controlled substances over a certain weight or amount. The consequences associated with a drug trafficking charge can vary from a minimum of three years to a maximum of a life sentence in prison, depending on the type of drug and the quantity. Sentences are established by the weight value of the total pills in question. At minimum, a trafficking charge of oxycodone is a three year mandatory prison sentence with a fine of $50,000 and a maximum of 25 years in prison plus a fine of $500,000.

In many drug trafficking cases in Florida, the State will seek conspiracy charges to be filed in addition to trafficking charges in order to obtain convictions not only for trafficking pills, but an agreement to traffic drugs. The conspiracy to traffic drugs can be difficult to understand because most drug charges require for the prosecution to prove that the accused was in possession of the drugs in question at some point. However, a conspiracy to traffic drugs charge can be proven solely by establishing that an agreement existed to carry out a drug-related criminal act. In fact, the act does not have to even be completed to be convicted of conspiracy.

The Florida Prescription Drug Trafficking Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can thoroughly review the facts of your case and explore all possible defenses to combat the charges against you. We will review any evidence and police reports to consider the following:

• Did law enforcement play a role in initiating your participation in the conspiracy?

• Did the conspiracy solely entail verbal agreements, or were there acts in furtherance of the conspiracy?

• Was the agreement terminated or dismissed before an arrest was made?

• Were wiretaps involved, and if so were they legal?

• Was the warrant obtained legal?

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