Meltzer & Bell P.A. Wins the 2017 Law Firm 500 Award

Law Firm 500 is organization that celebrates the fastest growing law firms in the United States. The year 2017 marks the second annual Law Firm 500 Conference and Gala, where Law Firm 500 celebrated the fastest growing law firms in the country.

The law firms were evaluated and ranked in order based on gross revenues covering the span of three years. Moreover, the selection committee looked at each candidate’s tax returns from a set year and compared with the returns from three years later.

The candidates were evaluated on: finances, the number of offices, the number of employees, and full financial growth, showing the success of their business over time.

Law Firm 500 acknowledges that to achieve these impressive numbers, a firm must be innovative in their business and marketing models, incorporating technological advances and strategic vision. The attorneys and firms on this list, which can be viewed here, have shown unwavering commitment and tenacity in the legal profession.

The 2017 Law Firm 500 Awards was presented at the Second Annual Conference Awards & Gala from October 19, 2017 – October 21, 2017 at the Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton, Florida, featuring Keynote Speaker Daymond John.

Meltzer & Bell is proud to receive such an amazing honor and will continue to strive for growth and advancement in the services that we provide and in contributing to effectiveness in the legal community.

FHP Releases Sketch of Suspected Hit and Run Driver

West Palm Beach Hit and Run Attorney

WFLX-TV reported on October 13 that the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) released a sketch of a person who could have been involved in a fatal hit and run crash in Boca Raton on Labor Day weekend. The FHP told WFLX that a Chrysler 200 changed lanes and struck a motorcycle driven, causing its 36-year-old driver to lose control and crash.

According to the Palm Beach Post, the Chrysler’s driver stopped after the crash but left when paramedics arrived. One witness who spoke to the driver of the Chrysler provided a description to the FHP.

“We don’t know why he stayed and then why he left,” FHP spokesman Seargant Mark Wysocky told the Post. “Maybe he heard people talking that the person’s condition was getting worse and maybe he just decided to leave. … There’s so many reasons that people leave the scene, and unfortunately hit-and-runs continue to increase.”

WFLX reported that the driver of the Chrysler 200 was wearing a dark, long-sleeved shirt with bright colored shorts. Anybody with information about the crash or the driver is urged to contact the FHP at (954) 308-5929 or Palm Beach Crime Stoppers at (800) 458-TIPS (8477).

West Palm Beach Hit and Run Attorney

Florida Statute § 316.062 establishes that any driver involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property which is driven or attended by any person must give the following information to any person injured in such crash or to the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle or other property damaged in the crash and any police officer at the scene of the crash or who is investigating the crash:

  • his or her name;
  • his or her address; and
  • the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving.

Upon request and if available, the driver should also exhibit his or her license or permit to drive. The driver must also render to any person injured in the crash reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making of arrangements for the carrying, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if such carrying is requested by the injured person.

Under Florida Statute § 316.027, any person who fails to fulfill the requirements of Florida Statute § 316.062 following an accident resulting in injury to a person other than serious bodily injury commits a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If an alleged offender leaves the scene of a crash resulting in serious bodily injury, hit and run is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. When an accident results in the death of any person, leaving the scene is a first-degree felony punishable by a minimum of four years up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

One of the most common defenses against hit and run charges in Florida is an alleged offender’s lack of knowledge. The Supreme Court of Florida held in State v. Dorsett, 158 So. 3d 557 (Fla. 2015) that “the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had actual knowledge of the crash, an essential element of the crime of leaving the scene of a crash.”

If you believe that you might be under investigation or you were already arrested for an alleged hit and run offense anywhere in Palm Beach County, it is in your best interest to immediately retain legal counsel. Contact [[$firm]] to have our experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers review your case and answer all of your legal questions.

Teen Suspected in Carjacking Charged as Adult

West Palm Beach Carjacking Defense Lawyer

The Palm Beach Post reported on September 29 that the West Palm Beach Police Department said a 17-year-old was being charged as an adult in a reported September 4 carjacking near Good Samaritan Medical Center. The teenager was transferred to the Palm Beach County Jail on September 27 following his September 5 arrest on allegations of armed carjacking, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest.

City police told the Post that the teenager stole a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta at gunpoint on the night of September 4 before leading police on a chase that exceeded speeds of 100 mph. A 31-year-old man told police investigators that the teenager was accompanied by a man in his 40s who climbed into the passenger seat, but the Post said the arrest report neither identified the teenager’s accomplice nor whether that person had been arrested.

The car chase ended in the area of Seventh Street and Division Avenue, according to the Post. The teenager and his accomplice got out of the vehicle and ran, but police K-9 and helicopter units canvassed the area and found the teenager hiding in the backyard of a home. The Post reported that the Volkswagen positively identified the teenager as the carjacker.

According to the post, the 17-year-old is among more than a dozen Palm Beach County juveniles to be transferred to the adult court system in the past year after being charged with carjacking.

West Palm Beach Carjacking Defense Lawyer

Minors may have their criminal cases transferred from the juvenile justice system to the adult court in the following circumstances:

  • Grand jury indictment for felony criminal offense punishable by death or life imprisonment;
  • Discretionary waiver asking juvenile court to hold hearing to determine whether child should be transferred for criminal prosecution;
  • Direct file of criminal charges in the circuit court’s criminal division whenever, in the state attorney’s “judgment and discretion,” the public interest requires it; or
  • Statutory exclusion (under Florida Statute § 985.556, any child convicted and sentenced as an adult is thereafter handled in every respect as an adult for any subsequent violation of state law).

In a 2014 report, the international non-governmental human rights organization Human Rights Watch said 98 percent of all children who ended up in the adult court system did so as the result of Florida’s direct file statute. The review found that more than 12,000 children were moved from the juvenile to adult court system in the preceding five years—more than half of whom were charged with non-violent crimes.

In 2017, State Senators Bobby Powell and Darryl Ervin Rouson co-introduced Senate Bill 192 (SB 192), which sought to limit the discretionary power prosecutors wield in charging juveniles as adults in Florida. The bills ultimately died in Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

The juvenile justice system is a much more preferable venue for alleged offenders because it often focuses more on rehabilitation than punishment for juvenile charges. If you or your child has been arrested for any kind of criminal offense in Palm Beach County, you will want to immediately seek the help of the experienced Palm Beach criminal defense attorneys at [[$firm]].

Polk County Sheriff Threatens to Jail Evacuees with Warrants

On August 26, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) began monitoring a tropical wave over the western coast of Africa that moved off the coast of the continent and organized significantly over the next few days. The NHC classified the disturbance as Tropical Storm Irma on August 30 before Irma strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane on September 4 and a Category 5 hurricane the following day.

One day after Irma reached Category 5 status and two days after Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd posted the following series of tweets to his official Twitter account on September 6:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, the state affiliate of the national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, posted this tweet in response to Sheriff Judd’s tweets:

As many residents of Florida are forced to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their safety, it is indeed cruel to possibly imprison those seeking shelter because of an outstanding warrant. As the ACLU correctly noted in its statement, many people with active warrants are not only unaware that they have such warrants, but the reasons for the warrants are forgotten or possibly offenses unknown to the alleged offenders such as traffic tickets or missed court dates.

West Palm Beach Warrants Attorney

Many arrest warrants are bench warrants issued for failure to appear for scheduled court dates. Arrest warrants will be issued in criminal cases when law enforcement agencies have submitted evidence to a judge establishing that they have probable cause to believe that the alleged offenders named in the warrants committed criminal offenses.

When a warrant is issued in Florida, people cannot simply wait it out. Warrants will not go away. Worse yet, information about warrants is shared between law enforcement agencies all over the state and across the nation. If you have an active warrant in South Florida, it is possible that you could be arrested during a traffic stop in a completely different part of the country.

As Hurrican Irma nears the Sunshine State, you should do whatever you have to do to keep yourself and your family safe. No person should have to let an active warrant deter him or her from seeking appropriate shelter.

If you know or think that you have an active warrant for your arrest in Palm Beach County, you will want to retain legal counsel for help determining a resolution that will allow you to avoid the embarrassment of a public arrest. Contact [[$firm]] today.

Drug Monitoring Program Expands throughout U.S. to Thwart Doctor Shopping

Prescription fraud, commonly known as doctor shopping, is a huge problem throughout the United States, including Florida. In 2009 the Federal Centers for Disease Control labeled Florida as the epicenter of prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Nationwide, the prescription drug abuse epidemic has been attributed to lack of prescription monitoring programs and medical personnel oversight. In 2011 Florida enacted the E-FORSE (Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substance Evaluation) program. The program is designed to prevent over prescribing of drugs and doctor shopping.

While reported drug overdoses have declined in Florida, many have criticized the effectiveness of the program citing doctors do not consistently use the program and the program does not have national reach.

In April of 2016, New Jersey legislators announced that the state would expand its prescription drug monitoring program, part of a mass effort to cease out-of-state doctor shopping and prescription drug abuse.  New Jersey joins 7 other states, including South Carolina, New York, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Virginia, Connecticut, and Delaware in this effort.

Under this monitoring program, New Jersey doctors would be able to see a patient’s prescription history within the state and any prescriptions written by other doctors in 7 states. Although Florida does not participate in this interstate monitoring program, Florida criminalizes doctor shopping and could possible join this effort.

What is Doctor Shopping?

Doctor Shopping is the practice, or habit of visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for otherwise illegal drugs. Typically, it’s common practice for drug addicts and suppliers of drug addicts.

A doctor shopper will normally visit multiple health care clinics as a “new patient” or “visiting from out of town” and will exaggerate medical problems in order to obtain prescription medications.

Florida Stat. § 893.13(7)(a), (8), and (9) are the doctor shopping laws that makes it a felony offense to withhold information from a practitioner from who the person seeks to obtain a controlled substance or prescription for a controlled substance when the individual making the request has received a controlled substance or prescription from another practitioner within the previous 30 days.

Prescriptions Drugs Statistics

According to DEA statistics in 2010, the state had over 900 unregulated pain management clinics. Data also showed that these clinics employed 90 of the top 100 oxycodone dispensing physicians in the country.

Of the top 50 oxycodone dispensing clinics in the U.S., 49 were located in Florida and were selling more than 1 million oxycodone pills a month.

Before E-FORSE was implemented by the Florida legislature, it was projected from state medical examiners documents that about 10 individuals each day died of prescription drug overdose, primarily due to oxycodone.

Doctor Shopping Penalties

  • Misdemeanor or felony conviction
  • Up to 1 year in jail or 3 years in prison
  • Up to $20,000 in fines
  • 1-5 years’ probation
  • Community service, an amount determined by the court

Who can be charged?

  1. Any patient who attempts to obtain and/or obtains prescription of a controlled substance through fraud;
  2. Any medical professional who makes a false statement in any prescription, order, report or record;
  3. Anyone who falsely assumes the title of, or represents himself to be a pharmacist, physician, dentist, veterinarian, registered nurse, physician’s assistant; or
  4.  Any person other authorized person and anyone who affixes any false or forged label to a package or receptacle containing controlled substances.

Conclusion

The attorneys of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are experienced criminal defense attorneys based in West Palm Beach, Florida. The team of attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. defend individuals facing any drug crime, including prescription fraud, drug possession, drug trafficking, drug distribution, and marijuana possession.

Former prosecutor, Lawrence M. Meltzer, and former public defender, Steven K. Bell, possess the knowledge and skill to build the strongest defense on your behalf.  Meltzer & Bell, P.A. diligently defends individuals throughout Palm Beach County, including West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Delray Beach, and surrounding areas.

Contact the Palm Beach Doctor Shopping Defense Attorneys of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. for a confidential review of your case at (561) 283-3259. The partners of Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Kansas Supreme Court Rules DUI Tests Unconstitutional

U.S. Supreme Court will consider similar cases, but will the Kansas decision affect Florida?

Isn’t a person who is suspected of drunk driving entitled to the same rights related to police searches as anyone else? In many states, the answer is NO.

Ordinarily, the police need a warrant in order to conduct a search, but not during a DUI stop. The concept of “implied consent” allows the police to cross that line and conduct a warrantless search, including a breath or blood test of a DUI suspect to determine if the driver is impaired. Refuse the test and your license is suspended. No exceptions.

Thirteen states make it a crime to refuse a DUI test.

Kansas Draws the Line

The State of Kansas drew a firm line on Feb. 26, 2016, when the Kansas Supreme Court, in a 6-1 opinion authored by the Hon. Justice Marla J. Luckert, declared that mandatory DUI tests are “facially unconstitutional,” meaning unconstitutional in all circumstances, not just in the particular case of State of Kansas v. Darwin Estol Wycoff.

In Wycoff, the Kansas Supreme Court cited both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Section 15 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, concluding: “An individual has a right … to withdraw consent to a search. … Punishing an individual for exercising that right with criminal penalties, as the State has chosen to do … is facially unconstitutional.”

Wycoff was arrested for DUI and other related charges in December 2012 in Salina, Kansas. He refused to submit to a field sobriety test and also refused a DUI breath test after he was transported to jail. He was charged with DUI, refusing to submit to an evidentiary test as mandated under Kansas law (K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 8-1025), and other offenses.

Wycoff moved to suppress the evidence, claiming § 8-1025 was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and due process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. After rejecting most of Wycoff’s claims, a district court concluded that § 8-1025, which criminalized his test refusal, imposed an unconstitutional condition on his privilege to drive.

The State appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court after dropping the other charges. But the Supreme Court sided with the Constitution and Wycoff was acquitted.

DUI tests, the Kansas Supreme Court concluded, are searches.

A search is unreasonable if it is conducted without a warrant and any evidence gathered in such a search must be excluded. No longer will a person be punished in Kansas for exercising his or her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when suspected of DUI. Furthermore, implied consent is not irrevocable, the Court decreed. In addition, the Court maintained that the State’s interest in battling drunk driving does not trump the Bill of Rights.

U.S. Supreme Court Will Have the Final Word

Although the Wycoff decision only applies to Kansas, it may have far-reaching implications. Kansas may appeal the state Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already agreed to decide whether a blood or breath test for drunk driving can be conducted without a search warrant and whether, if there is no warrant, a person can be charged with a crime for refusing to submit to a DUI test.

The U.S. Supreme Court indicated in December 2015 that it would rule before the end of its current session on three cases involving DUI tests, two from North Dakota (Birchfield v. North Dakota and Beylund v. Levy) and one from Minnesota (Bernard v. Minnesota), that involve the legality of DUI tests. The cases differ in that in one, a person declined a DUI blood test, and in another, a person refused to submit to a DUI breath test.

In the third case, a person was convicted of DUI after refusing field sobriety testing before being taken to a hospital for a blood test against his wishes. The U.S. Supreme Court will be reviewing that person’s punishment for refusing the DUI tests — a two-year driver’s license suspension — instead of the jail time and fine he received for the DUI conviction, according the U.S. Supreme Court blog.

The three cases are scheduled to be consolidated and heard together in a one-hour argument, but as of Feb. 29, 2016, they had not been placed on the court docket. The Kansas prosecutor who initially prosecuted Wycoff indicated in a news report that he hoped Wycoff could be added to the existing three cases that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court, although that has not yet occurred. The Supreme Court’s final decision will apply nationwide.

Opponents are lined up for this battle, with prosecutors and anti-drunk driving advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on one side and criminal defense attorneys, civil libertarians and citizens rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the other side. A final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may not come until sometime in mid-2016.

Impact of Wycoff in Florida

The issues raised by Wycoff and the DUI test refusal cases in North Dakota and Minnesota may have an impact in Florida, although much hinges on the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in the North Dakota and Minnesota cases.

Implied Consent in Florida

A driver may refuse to submit to a chemical test for alcohol or drugs, but under Florida’s “implied consent” law (Florida Statutes, Chapter 316, § 316.1932), a DUI test refusal results in an automatic driver’s license suspension.

“Implied consent” means that when a person obtains a driver’s license, he or she gives consent to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample when properly requested by a law enforcement officer. Refusal of a DUI test results in an automatic driver’s license suspension.

In Florida, the suspension is one year for a first DUI involving a refusal to submit to testing. The administrative suspension can increase to 18 months for a second or subsequent refusal to submit to testing.

Clearly, Florida’s law is quite similar to the one that was struck down last week in Kansas and the laws that are being challenged in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Attorney for DUI Tests and Implied Consent in West Palm Beach, Florida

The DUI and criminal defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., in West Palm Beach, FL, represent clients throughout Broward County and the surrounding areas. Our experienced lawyers have often represented clients who were charged with refusal to undergo a DUI test or a violation of Florida’s implied consent law. We closely monitor the evolving DUI laws in Florida and across the country and we believe the recent Kansas ruling may have a nationwide impact.

If you were arrested for DUI or charged with refusal to submit to a DUI test, contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. today to schedule a free, confidential appointment with one of our attorneys. Your driving privileges and your freedom deserve qualified, competent legal representation. Call us in West Palm Beach today at (561) 515-5834.

Consequences of a Second Refusal to Submit to Testing after a Florida DUI Arrest

refuse, refusing, and refusal

Florida’s implied consent statute creates a legal fiction that anyone who obtains a Florida driver’s license or drives on the roads of this state will “consents” to a lawfully requested blood, breath, or urine test when an officer has probable cause of DUI.

Despite this legal fiction, when a person is actually arrested for DUI, he or she might decide to refuse to submit to the breath, blood or urine test. Recent statistics in Florida show that more than 40% of DUI cases result in the arresting officer finding that the suspect refused a chemical test.

Florida law already provides for harsh penalties when a person refuses a lawful test including an immediate 18 month license suspension with no possibility of a hardship license.

Additionally, at the trial, the fact that the defendant refused testing even knowing that it would result in an immediate administrative license suspension is admissible at trial.

Furthermore, the prosecutor generally gets to argue during the DUI trial that the defendant refused to test because he knew that if he submitted the results would indicate guilt (often called “consciousness of guilt argument”).

But then the Florida legislature went one step further by making the second refusal a separate and independent crime. A second refusal can be charged as a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Therefore, if your driver’s license was previously suspended for failing to submit to a lawful test (the administrative suspension) even if you were not convicted of the DUI, then if you refuse a second time the prosecutor can charge you with:

  1. the DUI where the refusal to submit to a breath, urine, or blood test is admissible as evidence in DUI criminal proceedings; and
  2. a separate and independent offense called the “Second DUI Refusal” under Section 316.1939.

Section 316.1939 Makes a Second DUI Refusal a Separate Crime

Section 316.1939, Florida Statutes (2013) states that a first degree misdemeanor is committed when:
  1. the arresting officer has probable cause to believe the suspect was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages;
  2. after being placed under lawful arrest for DUI, the suspect is informed of the license suspension provisions of the implied consent statute;
  3. after being so informed, the suspect refuses to submit to a lawfully requested chemical test of his blood, breath or urine; and
  4. the person has suffered a license suspension for previously refusing a chemical or physical test of his or her breath, blood or urine.

Is Section 316.1939 Unconstitutional After Missouri v. McNeely?

In State v. Nichell, 21 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 933a (May 22, 2014), the Honorable Belle B. Schumann, County Court Judge for the 7th Judicial Circuit in and for Volusia County considered whether this statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied after the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013).

Although the DUI defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., in West Palm Beach in Palm Beach County, were not involved in the case, we recognize the important role that these orders in county court cases throughout the State of Florida have on our pending cases. We strive to stay current on recent changes in the law that impact DUI defense.

The issue decided in Nichell was whether the prior refusal statute in Section 316.1939, is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the facts in that case because it violates the exercise of the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures, specifically, the constitutional right to refuse to consent to a warrantless search.

The Court struggled with the different between “actual voluntary consent” as an exception to the warrant requirements of the 4th Amendment and Florida’s “implied consent” created by the Florida Legislature. The Court reasoned:

“The consent granted by the implied consent statute must be equated with Fourth Amendment consent since a breath, blood or urine test is a search without a warrant. If it is Fourth Amendment consent, then under prevailing law, it can be withdrawn without penalty. This presents a logical conundrum, particularly considering the long standing existence of the implied consent statute. It may be that the answer lies in the recognition that in this context, the reasonable expectation of privacy while driving a vehicle is less and constitutional rights are less protected when people engage in this activity. For instance, there is no Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because compelling a breath, blood or urine test “is not an interrogation of constitutional proportions.” State v. Busciglio, 976 So. 2d 15 (Fla. 2d DCA) rev. denied, 992 So. 2d 819 (Fla. 2008). Likewise, there is no Sixth Amendment right to confer with counsel prior to submitting to a test, either at the roadside or at the station. Id. (citation omitted). Perhaps, as Judge David Foxman suggests in an order on this issue entered this date, the implied consent statute must be recognized as its own exception to the warrant requirement, but if so, that must be done by judges not sitting in county court. State v. Caporuscio, et al., Case No. 2013-318342MMDB.”

The court ultimately denied the criminal defense attorneys’ motion to dismiss charge of refusing to submit to lawful chemical or physical test of breath, blood, or urine after having driving privilege previously suspended for a prior refusal. The court found that Florida’s implied consent statute provides “consent to search” as an exception to Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

Therefore, the Court found that Section 316.1939 is not unconstitutional on its face or as applied to defendant because it criminalizes the exercise of right to refuse to consent to a blood, breath, or urine test. The Court certified the following question:

IF THE IMPLIED CONSENT STATUTE PROVIDES CONSENT TO SEARCH AS AN EXCEPTION TO THE FOURTH AMENDMENT WARRANT REQUIREMENT, THEN CAN THAT CONSENT BE WITHDRAWN BY REFUSAL TO SUBMIT TO AN OTHERWISE LAWFUL TEST OF BREATH, BLOOD OR URINE AND CAN THE SECOND SUCH REFUSAL BE A CRIMINAL OFFENSE?

Finding an Attorney for the Second DUI Refusal in West Palm Beach, FL

Only time will tell whether the Florida Supreme Court will find that Section 316.1939, which criminalizes a second refusal to submit to testing after a DUI arrest, is unconstitutional.

If your DUI case in West Palm Beach or Palm Beach County involves a refusal to submit to testing, a charged for a second refusal under Section 316.1939, or a warrantless breath blood or urine test taken without free and voluntary consent, then contact a criminal defense attorney at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., with offices at 601 N Dixie Hwy, Suite B, West Palm Beach, FL, 33401.

The DUI defense attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A., represent clients charged in DUI refusal cases, both felonies and misdemeanors, throughout West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County, FL. Call 561-283-3259 today for a free consultation to discuss your case. Read more finding a criminal defense attorney for a second DUI refusal in West Palm Beach, FL.

We represent clients charged with DUI throughout all of the courthouses in Palm Beach County including the Main Court in West Palm Beach , the North County Courthouse in Palm Beach Gardens , the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach , and the West County Courthouse in Belle Glade.

DUI Checkpoints: Still Legal and Still Controversial 25 Years Later

With the holidays fast approaching, it is the time of year to celebrate. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are usually happy times when people re-connect with family and friends.

While traveling the highways and byways to and from their celebratory activities, drivers in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County may encounter a sobriety checkpoint staffed by the police, sheriff’s office, or Florida Highway Patrol, especially if traveling late at night or in the early-morning hours.

Cities in and around West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County have employed these “DUI checkpoints” in the past in an effort to catch drunk drivers, especially around major holidays.

If you drive into a DUI checkpoint, you should cooperate with the police. You may be able to proceed right away, but if you are detained, it should only be for a few minutes.

If you are arrested at a checkpoint — for DUI or any other charge — it is wise to contact an attorney to discuss your case. Police must follow established rules when employing checkpoints or all the evidence may be excluded. A lawyer may be able to find errors with the establishment of the checkpoint, or the conduct of law enforcement. Your attorney may be able to find other ways to poke holes in the validity of the arrest that could lead to a reduction of the charge or an outright dismissal of charges.

But don’t DUI checkpoints violate the law, especially the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents illegal searches and seizures?

Yes, and no.

Twenty-five years ago, in the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case of Michigan State Police v. Sitz (496 U.S. 444), the court authorized sobriety checkpoints. “The measure of the intrusion on motorists stopped briefly at sobriety checkpoints – is slight,” wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a 6-3 majority opinion.

“Constitutional balance must be struck in favor of protecting the public against even the ‘minimally intrusive’ seizures involved in this case. … No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States’ interest in eradicating it” because the state has a “grave and legitimate interest in curbing drunk driving,” Rehnquist wrote.

In giving its blessing to sobriety checkpoints, the majority relied on previous rulings in which it declared:

“Where a Fourth Amendment intrusion serves special governmental needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, it is necessary to balance the individual’s privacy expectations against the Government’s interests to determine whether it is impractical to require a warrant.” (See National Treasury Employees Union vs. Von Raab, 489 U. S. 656 (1989) and U.S. vs. Martinez–Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976)).

In other words, preventing drunk driving outweighed the normal “reasonableness” requirements of the U.S. Constitution for other types of detentions.

In a blistering dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens disputed some of Rehnquist’s facts (including the assertion of an increasing problem despite facts showing a declining number of deaths due to drunk driving) and wrote that the court gave unlimited discretion to law enforcement to detain drivers on any suspicion, whereas the law requires reasonable suspicion:

“This is a case that is driven by nothing more than symbolic state action — an insufficient justification for an otherwise unreasonable program of random seizures. Unfortunately, the Court is transfixed by the wrong symbol — the illusory prospect of punishing countless intoxicated motorists — when it should keep its eyes on the road plainly marked by the Constitution.”

Twenty-five years later, during the holiday season of 2015, Drivers in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County should be aware that a checkpoint may pop up anywhere at any time, especially on nights when people are considered more likely to drink alcohol. If you are concerned about DUI checkpoints, there are several things you can do legally to avoid them:

  • Follow the media (newspapers, TV, and radio) to learn about reports of DUI checkpoints. Law enforcement agencies are required to publicize the locations and times of checkpoints, but they often give little advance warning or do so on the day of the checkpoint.
  • Contact local law enforcement agencies or go to their web sites for information about DUI checkpoints.
  • A few Internet sites are in the business of tracking DUI checkpoints, including Roadblock.org and DUIblock.com.
  • It is legal to avoid a checkpoint in the distance by turning left or right onto a cross street or even making a U-turn as long as no traffic violations occur in doing so.
  • It is legal to enter a location (such as the property of an open business) prior to coming upon a checkpoint.

Law enforcement agencies must follow strict guidelines when conducting DUI checkpoints. They must have a written plan and the officers in the field must follow it. They may not randomly select drivers to detain, although stopping every fourth of fifth driver that passes through a checkpoint has been declared legal. Any deviation from the guidelines may make the entire checkpoint unconstitutional.

Over the past 25 years, many law enforcement officers have continued to make serious mistakes in the implementation of a checkpoint or its actual execution in the field.

If you are ensnared by a DUI checkpoint, remain calm and cooperate. If you are detained too long or arrested, make careful observations about the process unfolding, because the police may make a mistake that could lead to the suppression of any evidence they recover.

Have a Happy Holiday season in 2015 and be safe out there. And if you need an attorney after a DUI checkpoint arrest, the experienced attorneys at Meltzer and Bell are ready to represent you.

Decriminalization of Marijuana Budding in West Palm Beach

All forms of marijuana are illegal in Florida under state and federal law, but starting in the summer of 2015, a handful of South Florida cities and counties acted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, making possession a civil — instead of a criminal — offense.

Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous county with 2.7 million residents, was the first Florida municipality to decriminalize possession of small amounts (defined as 20 grams or less) of marijuana, followed by the cities of Miami Beach and Key West.

Hallandale Beach, a city of about 40,000 residents in Broward County that shares a border with Miami-Dade, was the first city in its county to approve decriminalization and was followed by West Palm Beach, the largest city in Palm Beach County with about 100,000 residents.

Both Palm Beach County and Broward County (with about 3.25 million residents combined) are poised to join this growing list before the end of 2015 after preliminary approval of decriminalization. Several other Florida jurisdictions are considering similar measures.

In West Palm Beach, the new law (Ordinance No. 4590-15) would give law enforcement officers the option of issuing citations to people in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana (or possession of drug paraphernalia), which imposes a fine of $100 with no arrest, no jail time, no court appearance, and no permanent criminal record — a civil penalty akin to a traffic ticket.

The police have wide discretion under the new laws, but a person suspected of a felony, driving while impaired, a violent crime, domestic violence, or a person with an unpaid citation won’t catch a break under the new law, and will most likely be arrested on a misdemeanor for possession.

Under state law, a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana up to 20 grams may result in up to 12 months one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Possession of more than 20 grams is a felony in Florida, with penalties of up to five years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both (Florida Statutes 775.082 and 776.083).

Issuing citations instead of making arrests for marijuana possession frees law enforcement to concentrate on serious crimes and helps to unclog court dockets, advocates for the reforms say.

Attorney for Marijuana Possession Charges in West Palm Beach

If you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach or Broward counties, or anywhere in South Florida, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the local laws to discuss your options and help you make the right decision in your case.

Shift in Attitudes

As national attitudes toward marijuana use evolve and more states, counties, and cities enact laws to decriminalize marijuana, fewer people will face arrest and the consequences of a criminal record, which may adversely affect education and employment opportunities in their future. Some people with a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana have experienced difficulty in obtaining a loan or finding a place to live.

About half of the states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for varying degrees of medical use. The states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized the possession of small amounts of weed for recreational use, as has the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center in March 2015 found that 53 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal (both recreationally and medically), while 44 percent said it should remain illegal. The survey also found that 76 percent said there should be no jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, while 22 percent favored jail time. Forty-nine percent said they tried marijuana at least once, while 51 percent said they had not.

A Palm Beach Post editorial in July 2015 called the ongoing policy shift toward greater acknowledgement of marijuana use by authorities a “wave of sanity.”

Conflicting Laws

Many legal issues arise with the adoption of these new laws that downgrade marijuana possession from a criminal offense to a civil infraction.

Cities within a county may also opt out if the county adopts decriminalization, meaning that the law on one side of a Florida street may be different than the law in another municipality just across the road, creating a patchwork of laws.

Will state agencies, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, apply state law instead of the local law during a traffic stop in a city that has decriminalized possession of 20 grams or less?

And of course, the law is blind to the “black market” — not everyone grows their own pot; marijuana originated from somewhere and was delivered to an individual somehow. The sale of 20 grams of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor and the sale of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony under state law.

West Palm Beach Ordinance No. 4590-15

On Sept. 13, 2015, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4590-15 after granting preliminary approval two weeks earlier. The exact text of the new law is reprinted below from pages 11-12 of the minutes of the commission meeting:

Public Hearing and Second Reading of Ordinance No. 4590-15 (APPROVED) amending Chapter 54 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of West Palm Beach to provide civil penalties for the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis and for possession of drug paraphernalia.

AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, AMENDING THE CODE OF ORDINANCES AT CHAPTER 54 (OFFENSES) ARTICLE I, (IN GENERAL) SECTION 54-1 (ADOPTION OF STATE LAWS RELATING TO MISDEMEANORS), PROVIDE CIVIL PENALTIES FOR THE POSSESSION OF 20 GRAMS OR LESS OF CANNABIS (MARIJUANA) AND POSSESSION OF DRUG PARAPHERNALIA; SETTING FORTH PENALTIES AND ENFORCEMENT RESPONSIBILITES; PROVIDING A CONFLICTS CLAUSE, A CODIFICATION CLAUSE AND A SEVERABILITY CLAUSE; PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. Agenda Cover Memorandum No.: 20534 (attached).

Staff Recommended Motion: Approve Ordinance No. 4590-15.

Background: The American Civil Liberties Union reports that when people are arrested for possessing miniscule amounts of marijuana that may have dire collateral consequences that affect their eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, employment opportunities, child custody determinations and immigration status.

Further, the Federal Bureau of Investigation/Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data regarding misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests indicates that in 2010, 77 (percent) of marijuana arrests were of people 29 or younger, 62 (percent) were of people younger than 25, and more than one-third were of teenagers and pre-teens.

Currently, City of West Palm Beach law enforcement officers may either arrest or not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor. This Ordinance will provide an alternative and additional mechanism under the City’s Code to enforce violations that are based upon the commission of certain enumerated misdemeanors.

Law enforcement officers may: (1) issue a civil citation pursuant to this ordinance; (2) arrest; or (3) not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana and/or possession of drug paraphernalia.

Fiscal Note: No fiscal impact to budget.

West Palm Beach’s marijuana decriminalization law is similar to the others enacted in Florida in 2015, but it is indicative of the change in attitudes about marijuana that the ordinance received widespread support, even from law enforcement.

Find an Attorney for Marijuana Possession in Broward & Palm Beach counties

If you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana anywhere in South Florida, including Broward County, Florida or Palm Beach County, Florida, contact a local criminal defense attorney at Meltzer & Bell, P.A.. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. have more than two decades of experience defending clients on criminal charges.

Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell are qualified lawyers who know the nuances of the local laws and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call Meltzer & Bell, P.A. at (954) 716-8538 to set up a free consultation.

No more legal speeding ticket quotas in Florida

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The practice of police and other law enforcement having a quota of traffic tickets to write is now forbidden in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 264, unanimously passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, is now in effect.

The law, called the “Waldo Bill” after the Florida town notorious for its status as a speed trap, prohibits any law enforcement agency from creating a “traffic citation quota.” A quota, for example, would instruct officers that they much write a certain amount of tickets – most often speeding tickets – per day, week or month.

For many towns, cities and counties, issuing traffic citations is not a way to create a deterrent to unsafe driving. It is a revenue source, in which the local police or sheriff’s office writes tickets to collect fees, which then go to county coffers. It is a troubling paradox: The law is supposed to discourage this kind of behavior, but the government that is supposed to enforce these laws relies on people to break them in order for it to function.

Under the new law, cities and counties will need to look for another way to raise revenue. The law also includes a red flag provision: If the revenue from traffic citations consists of a third or more of a county’s or municipality’s budget for law enforcement, that government must submit a report to the state detaining their revenue and expenses.

Cities and counties have largely adopted the attitude that they can treat traffic citations as a cash cow because too few people actually challenge their speeding tickets.  Anyone cited or arrested for any traffic offense can hire a speeding ticket lawyer and fight to get the citation or charges dismissed.