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Facebook Posts Lead to Serious Charges

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.

The initial comment drew hundreds of responses.  Stephens, who has a Facebook account under the name Dusty Rhodes (not the late wrestler), then continued the discussion with Sebring on Facebook messenger.  There, the dialog between the two became more heated, with Stephens allegedly telling Sebring he knew where he lived while threatening to harm Sebring’s wife and autistic son.

Stephens sent Sebring his address and told him to “come on over” if he wanted a fight, and to beep the horn if and when he showed up, Sebring said.  In response, Sebring wrote, “Dude I’m going to empty a full 5.56 magazine into your head,” followed by, “You really want me to come to your (house)?”

Sebring then left work early, drove to the home he shares with his 68-year-old mother, wife and two sons and armed himself with his wife’s handgun and an AR-15 rifle.  He proceeded to Stephen’s home and parked outside.  When Sebring honked, he said the 6-foot, 230-pound Stephens came out running “like a linebacker.”

In his post-arrest report to the local news media, Sebring said “I told him, ‘Man, you better stop, man, I got a gun,’ but he kept running.  It looked like he was holding a steak knife in his hand and I got scared. When I shot him, he dropped it and ran back in the house.”

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty, however, stated there was no mention of a knife by either man. Nor did either man say the victim had a gun.  Rather, Sebring shot Stephens in the butt as he was turning away.  He then ducked behind a tree, and then was shot again in the legs as he retreated into the house.

Sebring said he was nearly home when he spotted a police cruiser and parked his truck. He emptied his guns and told the officer what he had done.  “I just snapped and let primal rage take over,” Sebring told the local news.  Sebring subsequently was arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed firearm.

Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 15 years probation, and a $10,000 fine.  It is assigned a Level 7 offense severity ranking under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code.  Therefore, absent rare grounds for a downward departure sentence, a judge is required to sentence a person convicted of Aggravated Battery to a minimum sentence of 21 months in prison, but may also sentence the person up to the statutory maximum of fifteen years in prison.

Furthermore, Aggravated Battery with a Firearm is technically the same offense as Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon. However the allegation that the “deadly weapon” was a firearm triggers a mandatory minimum prison sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.  Under 10-20-Life, and depending on how the firearm was used, a person convicted of Aggravated Battery with a Firearm could receive one of the following mandatory-minimum prison sentences: (1) a minimum 10 year prison term if in possession of a firearm; (2) a minimum 20 year prison term if the firearm was discharged; or (3) a minimum 25 year prison term if someone is injured or killed by the firearm.

The crime of carrying a concealed firearm is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 in fines.

As you can see, Mr. Sebring’s Facebook dispute has exposed him to very serious charges with potentially severe consequences.  If you’ve been charged with aggravated battery or carrying a concealed firearm, be sure to contact a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer with knowledge about, and experience with, these kinds of matters.  Doing so will give you the best chance of avoiding a long jail or prison sentence.  Please call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can help you with your felony case in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns Counties.