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Jacksonville, Florida, Legal Issues Blog

Can you actually be charged with texting someone to death?

Answer: Yes, you can. Teenager Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for sending a barrage of text message to her boyfriend, encouraging him to kill himself.  They texted about how he could kill himself with carbon monoxide.  In the last days of his life, she texted repeatedly, "You just need to do it". When he started to get sick from the fumes being pumped into his car, he got out - only to be told by Ms. Carter to "get back in".  He was found dead the next day.   

Why is the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department Union fighting the use of body cams for its officers?

Answer:  I suspect it's because the rank and file cops don't want the public to see how they make arrests, car stops and the like.  Many citizens complain that the police treat them rudely and act like bullies, especially when making an arrest. I have had clients complain of illegal car and home searches when the police suspect criminal activity - but then it comes down to the cop's word versus the suspect's word.  And the Courts often side with the cop.  Wouldn't it be beneficial for all to have an unbiased video and audio recording of all police encounters?  

If I'm smoking weed in my driveway, can the police come into my home and search it?

Answer: No, they cannot. And if they do, and find contraband (like a gun), the court will throw it out. Chris Marcus and his friends were having a party inside and outside of his open garage/rec room.  The police responded to a noise disturbance and saw Marcus smoking a joint in his driveway.  When he saw the cops, Marcus walked back inside his garage/rec room.  The police ran into his garage, tackled him and removed a gun from his waistband.  He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 

Do I need a reason to fire my lawyer?

Answer: No, you do not. If you are dissatisfied with the job your lawyer is doing, you can replace your lawyer with a new one at any time. You do not need a reason. The right to counsel of choice includes the constitutional right to discharge your lawyer for any reason or no reason.  You do not need to show 'good cause".

However, don't wait until the last minute to do this.  In other words, if your case is about to go to trial and you try to fire your lawyer the day before, the Judge will probably rule that you have waited too long and that it would cause a significant delay for a new lawyer to be brought up to speed.  A Judge must rule on the replacement of counsel, unless it's early enough in the proceedings. Your lawyer has an ethical obligation to inform the court that you do not want him or her representing you any longer.  

Most every lawyer I know has been replaced at one time or another by another lawyer. So if your are dissatisfied or uncomfortable with your lawyer, do not hesitate to get someone who you believe will be a better fit for you. 

Is it possible for me to 'buy my way out' of prison time?

Answer: Yes, if you've committed a financial or theft-related crime, and restitution is an issue.  The single-most important factor for Judges is that victims of financial crimes be made whole. While the courts are supposed to balance the severity of the crime, the accused's background, and their ability to pay a fine or restitution, it really comes down to money.  In U.S. v. Plate, a Florida bank officer embezzeled $142,000. from some clients.  She was able to come up with about $40,000. in restitution.  The Judge sentenced her to 27 months imprisonment, but told her that if her friends and supporters "step up and pay" her restitution, her prison sentence would be converted to probation.

Most Judges won't voice this sentiment, but it's what they're thinking. A higher court ruled that it violated equal protection principles to incarcerate a person solely because he or she lacked the resources to pay restitution.  So Ms. Plate will be re-sentenced.  However, in my experience, if you are able to pay restitution, it often means the difference between prison and freedom.          

My lawyer can get me probation for my felony arrest. That's a good deal, right?

Answer: Not necessarily. Prosecutors sometimes dangle a sentence of probation in exchange for a guilty plea. Sometimes, it's a fair deal. But before you run into court and grab probation to avoid jail time, have you considered all the collateral consequences that a convicted felon faces? A federal judge recently wrote that the effects of living as a convicted felon "can be devestating" and amounts "to a form of civil death".  

If the police don't read me my rights, they can't use my statements against me, right?

Answer: Sometimes, they can.  Even if the police fail or 'forget' to read you your Miranda rights, they can get away with having the things you say used against you if a court finds that the circumstances of the questioning did not rise to the level of "custodial interrogation".  What does this mean?

Can the government turn my cellphone into a tracking device?

Answer:  Not without a search warrant, they can't. Almost all police departments around the country, including Florida, use covert cellphone tracking devices, known as 'Stingrays'.  These handheld devices, (also known as cell-site simulators), are used to determine a mobile phone's location by impersonating cell towers, which tricks your phone into transmitting pings to the device, allowing the police to narrow down your location to a few feet.   

Can the cops pull me over and search me just because I was at a house where drug selling is suspected?

Answer: Yes they can.

Edward Strieff was pulled over by the cops in a parking lot, detained and asked for his identification. He had done nothing wrong. The cops had seen his car at a house that was under surveillance because they thought drugs were being sold there. When the cops ran his ID, they discovered he had a warrant for his arrest for an unpaid parking ticket. They searched him and discovered drugs. He was arrested and charged with drug possession. But the state court threw out his charge because the stop was clearly an unconstitutional investigatory stop.

Can I be arrested for soliciting a minor for sex on-line even if the minor was created by the police?

Answer: Yes, you can, and you'll be charged with attempting to persuade, induce, entice or coerce a minor to engage in prostitution or unlawful sex, a federal crime. Richard Rutgerson was on an internet site favored by prostitutes and clients when he saw a posting of a "sweet, petite, young lady" looking for a "mature gentleman".  The age of the 'young lady' was not posted. The two began communicating, and "Amberly" eventually wrote that she was 15 years old. They agreed to meet at a hotel; when Rutgerson arrived, he was arrested by the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department.

 

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