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.
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.
The defendant argued that he should not have been prosecuted for the felony because the inspector had erroneously included the weight of the trees and brush cleared from his yard in calculating the size and weight of the litter in his yard. The prosecution argued that the trees and brush were properly included because the statute classifies “building or construction materials” and “wood” as litter, and the trees cut down were comprised of wood, so it followed that the felled foliage was litter. The appeals court rejected this argument. There was no reasonable construction of the Florida litter statute that would include a living tree as trash, and it would distort the common meaning of “trash.” In addition, the statute criminalizes “dumping,” and it would be impossible to characterize the overgrowth of vegetation as dumping under the statutory meaning.
In the end, however, the court of appeals upheld the conviction against the defendant. The prosecution presented sufficient evidence to show that, even excluding the trees and plants removed from the defendant’s property, there was enough litter to fall within the felony statute’s minimum requirements. The appeals court admonished the prosecution for using criminal justice resources to prosecute an elderly gentleman who hoarded junk on his overgrown yard. However, the court had no choice but to affirm the trial court’s ruling.
It is stressful being charged with a crime. Many people do not understand their rights and assume that there is a strong case against them if they have been arrested. This is not necessarily true. People charged with a littering or dumping offense should retain an experienced Clearwater criminal defense lawyer. Contact Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 or through our online form to set up a consultation.
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