Articles Posted in Felony Crimes

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Did the police justify their search of your vehicle by claiming they detected the odor of marijuana?  If they did and there was in fact no marijuana smoked or recently in your car, your lawyer may be able to question their credibility based on a New York judge’s recent comments reported in The New York Times.

As in Florida, courts in New York have long held an officer may effect a warrantless search of a car and its occupants if they smell marijuana coming from the vehicle.  But in late July of this year, a judge in the Bronx said officers base vehicle searches on the smell of marijuana too often to be believed.  And, the judge has urged her fellow jurists across the state to stop letting police officers get away with lying about smelling marijuana as an excuse to search a vehicle.

“The time has come to reject the canard of marijuana emanating from nearly every vehicle subject to a traffic stop,” Judge April Newbauer wrote in a decision in a case involving a gun the police discovered in car they had searched after claiming to have smelled marijuana.  She added, “So ubiquitous has police testimony about odors from cars become that it should be subject to a heightened level of scrutiny if it is to supply the grounds for a search.” Continue reading

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Many people believe if someone records them without their permission, the recording cannot be used in court.  A recent decision by the First District Court of Appeal, however, shows that is not always the case.

Corey Smiley was invited to the home of the women with whom he shared a two year old child.  While there Smiley and the woman got into an argument.  The woman recorded the argument on her cell phone.  The video depicted Smiley questioning the woman about the video and repeatedly trying to grab her phone.  It further showed Smiley shoving the woman and threatening to shoot her and their child.  The woman asked Smiley to leave her home several times.  The woman claimed after the recording ended Smiley brandished a gun.  She then fled with their child.

Smiley was arrested and charged with aggravated assault by threat with a deadly weapon and domestic violence battery.  Smiley subsequently sought to exclude the cell-phone video on the ground it had been illegally recorded without his consent.  The trial court denied his request and admitted the video at his trial.  Smiley was convicted of the charges. Continue reading

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On June 25, 2019 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida Senate Bill 1020, regulating the production and distribution of hemp and hemp extracts in Florida, including the increasingly popular hemp derivative, cannabidiol (CBD). The bill makes Florida the latest state to enact legisla­tion to legalize and regulate its hemp industry.  The bill mirrors similar action at the federal level late last year when President Trump signed the Farm Bill removing hemp from the list of controlled substanc­es, making it legal to grow and sell hemp under federal law.

Hemp comes from the same cannabis plant that produces marijuana. Marijuana, however has much higher lev­els of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in the plant that is psychoactive and produces the hallmark “high” or euphoria.  Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD, a medical compound that has health benefits but is non-euphoric.

Under the Farm Bill, hemp is legal provided doesn’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC. If hemp contains more than 0.3 percent THC, it is still a federally banned controlled substance.  Similarly, Senate Bill 1020 excludes hemp from the definition of cannabis provided the THC concentration does not exceed 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

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Most people are aware Google scans emails to develop advertisements targeted to users’ particular interests.  In fact, the notion Google will scan your content to tailor your advertising has been well known; the company’s terms of service notify users their emails are being analyzed. However, most people are not aware Google also scans both emails and search requests on its site to detect and report child pornography.

Google’s online set of “program policies” for its Gmail service includes “a zero-tolerance policy against child sexual abuse imagery.”  That policy states: “If we become aware of such content, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and may take disciplinary action, including termination, against the Google accounts of those involved.”

Consistent with that policy, since 2008 Google has actively scanned images that pass through Gmail accounts to determine whether they match up with known child pornography.  More specifically, Google has been using “hashing” technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing it to identify duplicate images in Gmail accounts or in search results, even if the images have been altered.  Each offending image effectively is assigned a unique ID Google’s computers can recognize without someone having to view them again. And, Google also incorporates encrypted “fingerprints” of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database. This technique enable companies, law enforcement and charities to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against anyone involved with producing or viewing the materials.  Continue reading

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An internet child sex sting operation just concluded with the arrest of 17 men.  Dubbed Operation DUVAL (Disrupting Underage Virtual Abuse Locally), the undercover operation was initiated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of several Northeast Florida law enforcement agencies.

During the operation, law enforcement officers posed online as young male and female teens looking to have sex with older adult males.  Sometimes the officers posed as the parent of a child looking for sex.  Other times, the undercover decoys pretended to be the child themselves.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams was quoted in an article in the Florida Times-Union as saying the suspects traveled from as far north as North Carolina and as far south as Orlando to have sex with someone they believed to be a 13 or 14 year old boy or girl.  The suspects range in age from 19 to 67. The 17 suspects’ charges range from traveling to meet after using a computer to seduce a child to solicitation of a child via computer to engage in sexual activity and unlawful use of a two-way device.  At least one of the suspects’ cases is in federal, versus state court where the overwhelming majority of these types of cases are filed.  Continue reading

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A political disagreement on Facebook between strangers in Tampa last month ended with one of them being arrested.  Brian Sebring, 44, was arrested in connection with an incident involving Alex Stephens, age 46, the alleged victim.

Both men have prior criminal records.  Sebring previously had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges and attended an anger management class.  Stephens has a felony record and served time in state prison for among others, robbery and cocaine possession. His latest term ended in 2016.

The incident apparently began over a comment Sebring made to a friend’s post about Donald Trump.  Stephens apparently commented too and noted that, as a convicted felon without the right to vote he nonetheless wanted to share his political opinion. Sebring replied that if people wish to voice their political opinion, they shouldn’t’ engage in criminal activity and instead be productive members of society. Continue reading

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Did you know there is a law in Florida that requires your drug possession / possession of controlled substances case to be dropped under certain circumstances, even if it is undisputed you possessed the drugs?  Well, there is.

In 2012, the Florida Legislature determined it was in the interest of public safety and welfare to provide an incentive to persons aware of another’s drug overdose to seek medical attention for that individual.  As a result, the Legislature enacted the “911 Good Samaritan Act.”  The Act, codified as Florida Statute section 893.21, provides anyone “acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose” is immune from prosecution for drug possession if the evidence “was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.”

In plain language, this means is if you’re present during, or aware of, another individual’s drug overdose and you call 911 or otherwise seek medical assistance to help them, and during the process of helping them law enforcement discovers drugs in your possession, you cannot be prosecuted for possessing those drugs.  A recent case in Duval County shows the breadth of this protection.  Continue reading

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In my last blog entry I discussed how to determine whether there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest.  In this entry, I’ll discuss how best to clear, or get rid of, an outstanding arrest warrant.

The Duval County Sheriff’s Office Department of Police Services has a special Warrants Unit.  The Warrants Unit is responsible for the storage and computer entry of all capiases, custody orders, injunctions for protection, arrest affidavits, writs of attachment and warrants issued by the State Attorney’s Office.

Unlike warrants, capias information which generally pertains to warrants issued by a court are electronically provided by Clerk of the Court directly to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s electronic warrant (e-Warrant) computer system on a daily basis. Continue reading

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If you have an outstanding warrant in Florida it is usually a good idea to deal with it sooner rather than later.  It is not only a psychological relief, but it is also much more convenient and less embarrassing to resolve an outstanding warrant voluntarily than to be caught off guard and taken to jail without any forewarning or preparation.

As a threshold matter, you may suspect there is a warrant for your arrest but you may not be absolutely certain.  If that is your situation, you have several options to use in trying to determine your warrant status.  First, you can visit The Florida Crime Information Database website.  The database contains Florida warrant information as reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) by law enforcement agencies throughout the state and authorized for release to the public.

Beware, however, the database does not reflect every warrant pending in the state.  Therefore, if your name does not appear on the database that does not definitely mean there is no pending warrant for your arrest in Florida.  Further, even if your name does appear in the database, you should verify the warrant with your local law enforcement agency, as the warrant may no longer be active.  Also, although unlikely, there is a possibility that a warrant contains your name or other identifying information due to the use of false information by the true subject of the warrant.  Continue reading

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There is good news if you desire to serve in the military, but you have a previous arrest for marijuana possession.  The United States Army is issuing an increasing number of enlistment waivers to those who have smoked pot and also want to serve their country.  These waivers allow previously disqualified applicants to now enter the Army.

The increase in waivers reflects the Army’s difficulty in achieving its ever-increasing recruiting goals.  In 2016 the Army enlisted approximately 63,000 recruits.  That number increased to approximately 69,000 last year.  The Army’s goal in 2018 is to enlist 80,000 recruits.  The need for new soldiers comes as Congress has reversed trends begun in the Obama administration to downsize the military.

And, the number of waivers granted for marijuana users, while relatively small, nonetheless is increasing rapidly as well.  In 2016, there were 191 waivers granted.  That number increased substantially, to more than 500, last year.  While small compared against the total number of recruits enlisted, the increasing number of waivers granted is especially significant considering that just three years ago, no such waivers were granted.  This substantial increase is one way officials are attempting to comply with directives to expand the Army’s size.  Continue reading