The concept of “scrivener’s error” is certainly applicable to the legal system, although it’s not especially technical. In fact, it’s known by most as a “typo.” Courts systems require human labor to draft legislation, motions, and written judgments, so sometimes mistakes are made. In the criminal law context, the omission of a word or phrase can lead to unintended consequences. Fortunately, there’s a mechanism for addressing scrivener’s error in trial court decisions. In fact, the appellate court for the Second District addressed this issue in a recent Florida burglary case, Morgan v. State.

Typewriter

Florida appeals court decisions in criminal cases show that scrivener’s error is not uncommon and can lead to significant changes to a judgment entered against a defendant. In 2004, the Second District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the trial court orally imposed concurrent sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment. The written judgment, however, reflected consecutive sentences for a total of 20 years’ imprisonment.  Moreover, in 2010, the First District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the defendant had been found guilty of a violation of his probation for “not possessing any firearm or weapon.” However, the defendant was only convicted of marijuana possession, and no gun was present. The appeals court ruled that this was a scrivener’s error and that the defendant’s probation violation could not have been attributed to a gun crime. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure also allow for the modification of a sentence in order to correct a scrivener’s error, but only if the correction would benefit a criminal defendant.

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Iphone

Good Samaritan laws are controversial because there’s tremendous disagreement over whether a person should have a duty to render aid to another person or face criminal prosecution. This summer, a disturbing news story reported that a group of teenagers mocked a disabled man in Coco, Florida as he drowned in a retention pond. The teens also filmed the encounter and uploaded it to social media. The teens did not attempt to render aid or call for help. The story made national news because of the actions of the teenagers. Many called for the teens to face Florida criminal prosecution for their actions, or inaction, while the man drowned.

In response to this incident, the Florida legislature is considering a proposed law that requires a person at the scene of an emergency to render aid or call for assistance if confronted with an “endangered person.” The term “endangered person” means a person who is in imminent danger of, or who has suffered, grave physical harm. A person does not have a duty to an endangered person if it would put that person in danger or someone else is already rendering aid.

A violation of this proposed law would be a first-degree misdemeanor. However, as mentioned earlier, in response to the incident in Coco, Florida, if a person video-records the person in danger and uploads it to social media, that person is eligible for a third-degree felony. In addition, a person who renders aid under this proposed law would receive immunity from civil damages for any injuries that occur from rendering aid.

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Florida violent crimes are codified by statute. As a result, sometimes courts have to engage in the practice of statutory interpretation to determine which crime is available for prosecution. The answer is not always obvious. For instance, the Florida First District Court of Appeals recently analyzed whether a car could be considered a weapon under the felony reclassification statute in a Florida homicide case.

Weapons

The defendant spent an evening in January at a bar, drinking and watching basketball. At some point, the defendant and the victim got into an altercation at the bar, and the defendant was escorted out of the bar by its staff. The victim later left the bar with a friend, who testified that she saw the defendant’s car parked in a shopping center across the street from the victim’s apartment complex. The witness testified that the car flashed its light. The victim pulled into the parking lot, exited his car, and rushed toward the vehicle. The defendant advanced his vehicle and struck the victim, who died of head injuries on the following day. The defendant was apprehended two weeks later in Chicago. At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter with a weapon. On appeal, the defendant argued that an automobile was not a “weapon” within the statutory meaning of that word.

Florida Statutes Section 775.087(1) enhances the degree of a felony to a greater degree when the commission of the felony occurred while the defendant used a weapon. The statute does not provide a definition of “weapon.” Therefore, principles of statutory interpretation require the court to turn to the common or ordinary meaning of the word.

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Law enforcement has broad discretion to enforce the laws. Still, it’s sometimes surprising to see how far a case can proceed before a court overturns a conviction. In fact, the defendant in a recent Florida grand theft decision was arguably doing his job as a repo man when he was charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. It wasn’t until the appeals court heard his case, after a conviction, that he was cleared of the crimes.

Car and Police
The defendant was formerly a bail bond agent, who had his license revoked. He started working with another agent to provide bond premium financing. One individual sought his services for a loan and provided the title to her vehicle as security. After she defaulted on the loan, the defendant re-possessed her vehicle. The defendant and his co-worker notified the police that the re-possession occurred as a result of delinquent loan payments. The car owner had several personal belongings in the car. She reported to the police that her car and its contents had been stolen. The defendant was arrested and charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. His defense attorney moved for judgment of acquittal on all of the charges because the defendant lacked the requisite intent for grand theft auto, and the theft charge would be a double jeopardy violation. The trial court denied the motion.

The crime of theft is a specific intent offense. Under Florida law, specific intent requires that the prosecution show that the defendant was aware that he or she was unlawfully taking another party’s property. In contrast, Florida courts have held that a person who takes possession of another party’s property with the good-faith belief that he or she has a right to the property lacks the specific intent to commit theft.

Crimes with a statute of limitations are required to be prosecuted within a defined period of time. This helps ensure that evidence for the prosecution is still available at trial and encourages law enforcement to actively seek to resolve crimes. A Florida appeals court recently determined that the limitations period had expired against a criminal defendant who was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, a Florida sex crime.

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The defendant was the former boyfriend of the alleged victims’ mother. After the mother abandoned her children, they were placed in their grandmother’s care. The defendant continued to be a part of the children’s lives. The two children, along with their brother, went to the defendant’s apartment one day to clean it. At the time, the two children in question were 12 years old and 10 years old. The defendant allegedly engaged in sexual acts with both the 12-year-old and the 10-year-old while they were cleaning his home. On the 12-year-old’s next birthday, the defendant gave her an inappropriate, sexually suggestive birthday gift. When the girl’s grandmother found it, she prohibited the defendant from having any further contact with the children.

The applicable statute of limitations, at the time of the crime, for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between the ages of 12 and 16 years (Florida Statutes Section 800.04(5)(c)) was three years from the date that the crime was committed. However, the limitations period for that offense does not begin to run until the victim has reached the age of 18 or the violation has been reported to law enforcement.

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Littering and dumping statutes seek to criminalize people leaving their trash in private or unauthorized places, like a public park or along the highway. The experience of an elderly Florida man shows that the Florida littering statute extends much further than those examples and can even apply to people who leave trash on their own property, if it becomes a public nuisance.

Trash Dump

The court’s opinion described the contents in the defendant’s backyard as “unwanted miscellany.” The trash attracted the attention of a city code inspector, who issued a citation to the defendant and told him to bring the property into compliance with the code. This did not occur, and the city deemed the defendant’s yard “a serious public safety and welfare threat.” Eventually, the code enforcement office initiated an abatement of the property to clear the defendant’s yard. The defendant was then charged with felony littering under Florida criminal law. He was sentenced to five years’ probation, as well as restitution and a fine. The defendant appealed the court’s decision.

Florida Statutes Section 403.413 criminalizes dumping litter in private property. Although an owner is free to dump litter in his or her own property, if the litter becomes a public nuisance, it is in violation of the law. Moreover, subsection (6)(c) provides that any person who dumps litter that weighs in total over 500 pounds or that is over 100 cubic feet in size is guilty of a third-degree felony.

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Credit Cards

As more commerce is conducted electronically, many States have passed laws specifically targeting credit card fraud. Florida is no exception. Local authorities are aggressively pursuing a variety of Florida credit fraud schemes, including mortgage fraud, health care fraud, and identity theft.

Before the beginning of the college football season, several star University of Florida players were suspended as the university investigated alleged misconduct. The status of the investigation changed this week after news outlets reported that nine members of the Gators team face at least 62 potential felony charges of credit card fraud.

The sworn complaint alleged that the players used borrowed or stolen credit cards in order to purchase electronics, some which were later resold on a secondary market. The alleged scheme involved the players adding money to their bookstore debit accounts and then using the extra money to make additional purchases. Moreover, the sworn complaint alleged that a stolen credit card was used to pay for rent in a Gainesville apartment complex.

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Hurricane
As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, many people had to make tough decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind. Millions of the State’s residents evacuated to escape harm’s way. News outlets in the aftermath of the hurricane reported that dozens of pet owners left behind their pets, some of which were left outside chained to trees as the hurricane approached the coast. Florida law criminalizes various types of animal cruelty, most of which are punishable as misdemeanors. However, some prosecutors have stated to news media outlets that they intend to prosecute people who abandoned their pets under Florida animal cruelty felony statutes. These laws include a specific intent component that raises the evidentiary standard for prosecutors bringing the cases and highlights the importance of an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney.

Florida Statute Section 828.13 criminalizes the illegal confinement or abandonment of animals. This first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by a fine and jail time. The types of abandonment prohibited by the statute include the confinement of an animal without food and water, keeping an animal in an enclosure without exercise and change of air, and abandonment of an animal to die that is sick or infirm. Other animal cruelty laws raise the crime’s punishment to a third-degree felony. For instance, Florida Statute Section 828.12(2) provides that a person who intentionally kills or excessively inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering has committed aggravated animal cruelty, a felony of the third degree. Also, Florida Statute Section 828.122 provides that animal fighting is punishable as a felony of the third degree.

The reports of homeowners abandoning pets by leaving them tied to a tree suggest the possible availability of punishment for a first-degree misdemeanor. If an owner abandoned a pet without food or water before evacuating for the hurricane, this could potentially fall under the misdemeanor statute. However, felony charges are often more difficult to prove or require more severe conduct in order to prosecute. This is true for the animal cruelty felony crime, which requires an intentional act to inflict unnecessary pain or suffering on an animal. Therefore, aggravated animal cruelty appears reserved for the most egregious conduct related to harming an animal.

As cell phones have risen in popularity, criminal prosecutors now use cell phone records to build their cases. Cell phone records can show such records as calls made or received, text messages, and even proximity to cell towers. Although cell phone records do not provide specific GPS coordinates of a person’s whereabouts, prosecutors often rely on the location of a cell tower to relay the general location of a criminal defendant at the time the alleged crime occurred.cell phone tower

The St. Petersburg murder trial of a man accused of killing a confidential informant is relying heavily on testimony derived from a review of cell-tower data that allegedly implicates the defendant. The court heard testimony from a detective who reviewed the defendant’s cell phone records on the night of the alleged murder. His testimony stated that the defendant made calls to the victim moments before the shooting occurred, allegedly to set up a fake drug deal as a way to lure the victim onto a deserted street. In addition, the detective’s testimony traced the approximate location of the defendant, stating that the defendant allegedly picked up an accomplice, drove to the area of the crime, and then went to a hotel room, where he met with other alleged accomplices. The detective tested this theory by driving the same route and confirming that the same cell towers that picked up the defendant’s calls also picked up his calls along the way.

Although criminal prosecutions often rely on cell phone records, Florida law does not give law enforcement free access to those records. Florida Statute section 934.23 authorizes law enforcement to require the disclosure of cell phone records from an electronic communication service only pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge of a competent jurisdiction. In order to obtain a warrant, the law enforcement officer is required to offer specific facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe the contents of an electronic communication are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Restrictions against double jeopardy, the prosecution of a person twice for the same offense, are a foundational protection for criminal defendants. In fact, the protection is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. Often, it’s easy to identify when a subsequent prosecution would constitute double jeopardy. For instance, if a defendant is found not guilty of a crime by a jury, another prosecutor is not permitted to try the defendant again for the same crime with a different jury.US Constitution

However, a recent Florida theft decision considered whether the prosecution of both carjacking and burglary of a conveyance is effectively trying a defendant for the same crime twice.

Florida Statute section 775.021(4) provided the rules of construction that served as the basis for the court’s double jeopardy analysis. Criminals are generally tried and convicted for all of the crimes that occurred in a criminal transaction or episode; however, an exception to this rule is if separate offenses require proof of the same elements of, or are subsumed by, another offense.

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