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.

Will U.S. Supreme Court Deliver Another Landmark Decision on Racial Discrimination?

During the jury selection process, a judge may dismiss a prospective juror “for cause” if he or she believes that juror will be unable to decide the case impartially. However, both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys are also given a limited number of “peremptory challenges,” which are the right to strike certain prospective jurors without having to provide any reason for doing so.

This is a powerful right, but the United States Supreme Court has established certain precedents to make sure that peremptory challenges are not abused. One case was the 1986 landmark decision in Batson v. Kentucky, in which James Kirkland Batson, a black man, was convicted of burglary and receipt of stolen goods by an all-white jury after prosecutors struck all four potential black jurors. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that the striking of prospective black jurors in this case violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Batson decision is one that is likely to be revisited when the Supreme Court hears Timothy Tyrone Foster v. Carl Humphrey this fall. Less than one year after the Batson decision, Foster was convicted of murdering a 79-year-old widow and schoolteacher in Georgia. Foster is black and the victim was white, but notes in documents uncovered by Foster’s legal team show that prosecutors deliberately struck prospective black jurors in his case.

Ordinarily, it can be very difficult to prove that a prosecutor had racist intent in striking prospective jurors for criminal cases involving capital offenses such as violent crimes. However, some of the notes that were discovered through an open records request seem to make the prosecution’s intent remarkably clear. On four different copies of the jury list, the name of every black prospective juror was highlighted in green. The word “BLACK” was circled next to the question about race on the juror questionnaires of five black prospective jurors. Furthermore, prosecutors not only ranked each black prospective juror against the others in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” but created strike lists that contradict the “race-neutral” explanation provided by the prosecution for striking those jurors.

While Justice Lewis Powell wrote the majority opinion in Batson, Justice Thurgood Marshall authored a powerful concurring opinion:

I join Justice Powell’s eloquent opinion for the Court, which takes a historic step toward eliminating the shameful practice of racial discrimination in the selection of juries. I nonetheless write separately to express my views. The decision today will not end the racial discrimination that peremptories inject into the jury-selection process. That goal can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.

Misuse of the peremptory challenge to exclude black jurors has become both common and flagrant.

Nearly 30 years after Batson, we are hopeful that the Roberts Court will similarly establish legal safeguards that ensure that every American—regardless of his or her race—has the right to a fair trial.

Florida Supreme Court overturns lengthy sentences for juvenile offenders

teen in handcuffs

In four separate rulings, the Florida Supreme Court handed down decisions last week that set new limits on the sentences a juvenile can face for a serious offense.

The Court ruled that a sentence so long that it “ensure(s) these offenders will be imprisoned without obtaining a meaningful opportunity to obtain future early release during their natural lives based on their demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” is unconstitutional in Henry v. Florida. In that case, a 17-year-old was tried as an adult and convicted for three counts of sexual battery while possessing a weapon, two counts of robbery, and one count each of kidnapping, carjacking, burglary of a dwelling and possession of marijuana.

He was initially sentenced to life in prison for the sexual battery offenses, plus 60 years for the remaining offenses. However, while his appeal was ongoing in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, in which it ruled that life in prison without chance of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment when applied to juveniles convicted of offenses other than homicide.

The trial court then changed Henry’s sentences to a 30-year sentence for every charge of sexual battery. The sentences would be served concurrently, meaning at the same time. However, the 60-year sentence for the other offenses would be served consecutively, meaning after the 30-year sentences were served. This meant he would serve 90 years in prison.

The Florida Supreme Court determined that Graham meant such a sentence would also be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court decided Graham on the basis that juveniles belonged in a special category due to their lesser ability to understand the consequences of their actions, and a “greater potential for change or positive character growth than adults.” Therefore, they could not be constitutionally sentenced to a term of imprisonment that would effectively mean they spend their entire life in prison.

In Gridine v. Florida, the Court also interpreted Graham to mean that homicide meant only that an actual killing had taken place. In that case, a juvenile who was 14 years old at the time was given a 70-year sentence for attempted homicide. Prior precedent specifically said that attempted homicide was a nonhomicide offense. Under the same reasoning as in Henry, a 70-year sentence is unconstitutional.

The other two cases involved interpretation of Miller v. Alabama, a U.S. Supreme Court based on Graham. In Miller, the Court found that a law with a mandatory life sentence without a chance of parole was unconstitutional as applied to a juvenile defendant.

Falcon v. Florida regarded whether Miller applied to people convicted as juveniles already serving a life sentence. The Court ruled that the decision was retroactive. People sentenced before the decision have two years to file to have a court adjust their sentence.

Florida v. Horsley found that a juvenile whose appeal was in process when Miller was decided but whose case was decided before the Florida Legislature amended the statute was entitled to individualized consideration for a new sentence.

While these are positive developments that reflect some leniency for juveniles, there should be no mistake that Florida has harsh laws for young people accused of crimes. Parents of children facing charges should contact an aggressive West Palm Beach juvenile defense lawyer to protect their child’s future.

Resources:

Henry v. Florida

Gridine v. Florida

Falcon v. Florida

Horsley v. Florida

Gun Buyback Program Allows Citizens to Sell Firearms to Local Government

West Palm Beach officials are making an advanced effort to get weapons off the streets by offering a unique gun buyback program to citizens throughout the city this weekend.

Mayor Jeri Muoio has announced the gun buyback program saying the city is offering gift cards from different retailers for up to $100 for people who turn in guns. City officials say it does not matter where the gun comes from. No matter the situation, residents could be eligible to participate in the program.

The mayor said the goal of the program is to reduce the number of firearms owned by civilians and decrease the chances of children who are not skilled in using the firearms being in control of the weapons, according to Palms West Press.  The West Palm Beach buyback program will be held on February 28th from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Union Missionary Baptist Church on Broadway Avenue.

These buyback programs have been used in cities throughout the country. They are similar to drug take-back programs in which local law enforcement officers collect unused medication to decrease prescription drug abuse. The gun buyback program is a way to provide civilians with the chance to sell their privately owned firearms to the government without risk of prosecution.

It is important to remember that various charges can be associated with possessing and using firearms. For instance, a person could be charged with openly carrying a weapon or carrying a concealed weapon. In Florida, these can carry severe penalties with lifelong consequences.

It is illegal for a person to openly carry a firearm or electric weapon unless he or she is licensed to do so, according to Florida Statutes Annotated § 790.053. Violation of this law is considered a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500 or both.

However, for a person to carry a concealed firearm in a public place, he or she must have a concealed firearm permit, according to Florida Statutes Annotated § 790.01. If a person carries a concealed handgun without a proper permit to do so, he or she could be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to a five-year prison sentence, up to $5,000 in fines or both.

If a person openly carries a firearm and displays it in a threatening manner, he or she could be charged with improper exhibition of a firearm. In these cases, the prosecution must prove that a reasonable person would feel threatened or offended by the display.

The penalty for improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. An improper exhibition of a firearm conviction will appear on a criminal record as a weapons offense. This conviction could hinder your future opportunities.  

In Florida, there are certain situations in which a person could have his or her right to possess a firearm revoked. Some of these instances include:

  • The person was convicted of a felony
  • He or she committed a felony against the United States
  • The person has been adjudicated of an offense that would have been a felony if it were committed by an adult
  • He or she was convicted an offense in another state or country that would be a felony in Florida

If a person, such as a convicted felon, possesses a firearm without having his or her right to bear arms reinstated, he or she can be charged with a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a fine of to $10,000 or both.

If you have been charged with a firearm offense, it is important to build a strong defense in your case. Contact a West Palm Beach firearm defense attorney at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. We can help you understand the charges against you and work to have them reduced or dropped. Call (561) 283-3259 to schedule a free case evaluation today. 

 

Florida Legislators Focus on Texting, Cell Phone Use While Driving for Upcoming Session

At least three bills have been prefiled for the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature that pertain to the use of mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle, indicating that the Legislature, or at least some factions, are interested in making the penalties for offenses surrounding distracted driving more severe. Current law prohibits using any handheld device to read or transmit text or character-based communications while operating a motor vehicle. The offense is a nonmoving violation, punishable with a fine. For a second offense, it is punishable as a movable violation with three points assigned to the offender’s driving license.

However, texting while driving is only a secondary offense. This means that police officers in Palm Beach County or Broward County will not pull you over for the offense of texting of driving by itself – if an officer sees you texting and driving, he or she will not pull you over. However, if you are pulled over for another offense, like speeding, running a stop sign or an illegal lane change, and the officer suspects you are texting and driving, he or she may give you a citation.

One of the bills that was been filed would change that. Senate Bill 246, from Senator Maria Lorts Sachs of Delray Beach, would remove the requirement that the offense only be a secondary offense. This would allow police to pull a driver over if they allege he or she was driving and texting or driving and emailing, rather than merely citing the driver if he or she is pulled over for another offense. The bill would also increase the penalties for driving while texting in a school zone, doubling the fines a person could receive for the offense.

The other two bills target safety of minors surrounding distracted driving, but in very different ways. Senate Bill 492, from Senator Geri Thompson, would make it a nonmoving offense for a driver to operate a mobile device to send or read any type of text, email or instant message in a posted school zone or designated school crossing.

Senate Bill 460, from Senator Anitere Flores of Miami-Dade County, prohibits the use of any mobile communications device for any purpose – including texting, emailing, instant messaging and having voice calls – by a person younger than 18 while driving, handheld or not.

It’s not clear whether any of these bills would pass. They must be passed by a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by the governor. However, it is clear some lawmakers are seeking to crack down on cell phone use while driving.

Medical Marijuana Proponents to Give It Another Shot

Medical Cannabis, Sativa

Last month’s defeat of an initiative to allow medical marijuana was a devastating blow to efforts for more sensible policy on drugs in Florida. Amendment 2 came just over 140,000 votes short of hitting the necessary 60 percent, out of more than 5 million votes cast. The loss was the only one in the nation for initiatives and referenda for human marijuana. Legalization measures passed in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, and a medical cannabis measure passed in Guam.

However, the fight is not over in Florida. United for Care, the leading group behind the 2014 effort, has already started raising funds for a new campaign, which could come as early as 2016. The group says that wealthy trial lawyer John Morgan, who provided key financial support, is against committed to assist with the 2016 effort.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the group has learned lessons from the 2014 campaign that it can apply to the next round. For instance, the next campaign will stress that minors cannot obtain medical marijuana without a parent’s consent and that the measure is intended for those with debilitating illnesses.

A ballot measure in 2016 may have a much greater chance of passage. More people vote in presidential years, and the electorate tends to be younger, which are both favorable conditions for marijuana policy.

However, the group says they will not pursue a ballot initiative if they are able to get a good bill through the Legislature in 2015.

Medical marijuana legalization would provide a huge relief to those in Florida using cannabis now to manage pain, seizures or other conditions alleviated by marijuana use. Right now, many are committing felonies. There is no defense provided in the law for those who only possess marijuana for legitimate medical purposes, even if they obtained it in a state where it is legal.

Florida has some of the strictest laws in the nation regarding cannabis possession. A small amount — 20 grams or less — is a Class A misdemeanor. This is still a very serious charge, and conviction can result in up to a year in jail and a fine up to $1,000. Any more in a felony. Conviction will not only mean possible prison time and major fines, it will keep you from helping medical marijuana become legal — in Florida, felons permanently lose the right to vote.

Those using medical marijuana in Palm Beach County now can have hope for the future. But if arrested now, they should call a West Palm Beach marijuana defense lawyer to talk about their options. No criminal case is hopeless, and we will fight on your behalf to get charges reduced or dismissed.

PROPOSED DUI LEGISLATION-HB-299: VOTE NO!

In an society of social networking, media events, marketing opportunities, social media events and events which are purposely structured to occur at night and occur with cocktails and food, it is natural and obvious that professionals and the like will attend these events, have something to drink and ultimately possibly operate a motor vehicle. It is inevitable that DUI arrests will always continue to be made and will continue to occur at a high rate in the State of Florida due to the police agencies continued effort to combat drunk driving.

Under the current state of the law, when an accused is charged with DUI and alleged to have given a breath or blood over a .08, a jury may presume that the person’s normal faculties were impaired. However, that evidence may be rebutted by other evidence.  This means that evidence can be offered through cross examination or through direct evidence that the defendant’s breath or blood alcohol level was not above a .08 “at the time they were” or “while” driving.

This has been commonly referred to by lawyers as the “time of driving” defense to breath and blood cases.  However, House Bill 299 is proposed and is an outright disaster the constitutional rights of the accused in DUI cases.

The bill proposes that a jury may find that a defendant is guilty of DUI if they find that they had a breath or blood alcohol “any time” after they were driving and after drinking.  There is no rebuttable presumption.  This effectively would mean that an accused can be found guilty of DUI without the ability to offer evidence challenging these results.  Anytime after drinking?  This proposal ignores the fact that alcohol, scientifically is proven to not fully absorb in the human body for potential up to 90 minutes after the final drink.

Should a defendant not have the right to challenge the State’s evidence?  Why don’t we just allow the State of Florida to just file the information and that evidence shall be sufficient to find the defendant guilty?  This bill should not be passed and is overbroad, vague and contrary to all due process principles in our constitution allow the defendant the right to a fair trial in front of a jury of his or her peers.

This bill should not be passed.  Meltzer & Bell, P.A. does not support this bill.  Visit us at www.thetrafficstop.com to read about how we help those accused of DUI and traffic violations.  We are strongly opposed to this bill and hope that those who read it will feel the same way as it eliminates an accused’s right to raise one of the most important issues in a breath or blood case.

CLIENT COMMUNICATION: THE BEST ADVERTISING TOOL!

Often times, we as lawyers are looking for the next best way to advertise.  How do we market ourselves?  What is our brand?  How should we create our logo?  Lets tweak it and make it better.  Where should we open an office?  Is there good signage?  Should we be a storefront firm or an office in a big building?  Should we send out direct mailers?  Or no?  Should we advertise on the radio or tv?  Or both?  Should we search for legal publications to place ads in it? If so, what size and how often should we run the ads?  Should we get on radio shows and/or advertise on the internet?  How do we generate and collect a bank of clients who will drive our business and make us a successful firm? The answer is client contact!  Client communication!  Client satisfication.  Too often we lose sight of the importance of truly listening to our clients and truly talking to them outside of just being a person in a legal jam. At Meltzer & Bell, P.A. we feel that treating our clients like people, and not defendants, is the best advertising tool that we could use.  Our clients don’t feel like a file, but like a person and a party that is cared for and appreciated.  It is so important to communicate with your clients, even if that communication is minimal and a simple update on a matter. Don’t just note your system regarding work you have done.  Send a quick e-mail.  Make sure you have all your client’s emails.  Search through your open cases on a weekly basis and reach out to clients who you think may want to hear from you.  Let them know that you are still thinking of them and that you care about their case. What you will get back in return is such positive satisfaction.  Your clients will tell their friends and family that their lawyer actually cares about them and will recommend you to them for future services.  Forget about them, and they will forget about you!  Best of all, there is no cost on communication with your client.  Nobody is going to bill you.  So remember, reach out and communicate.  What you will get in return will surprise you!