Protests over systemic police brutality against Black individuals has shined a light on the many forms of technology law enforcement has in its arsenal. One of those – surveillance technology and facial recognition – is increasingly being used by Florida police agencies to collar protesters on criminal charges.
For those who may be unfamiliar, facial recognition technology uses a photo of someone to compare it to other photos in an existing database. In Pinellas County, for instance, the facial recognition system used by the sheriff’s office draws from a database of approximately 38 million photos – everything from driver’s licenses to ID cards to mugshots.
It’s a tool that has been gaining in popularity with police over the last 20 years, but it’s been highly controversial, raising concerns about privacy, mis-identification potential and the risk of racial profiling and surveillance. Continue reading
The internet has been revolutionary, allowing us to connect with others – locally and across the globe – in real time in a way that’s never before existed in human history. But it’s not been without its complications, at least where application of the law has been concerned – and that includes criminal law.
Although many online interactions and exchanges – however heated – can be safely considered “free speech,” its bounds aren’t limitless. In fact, communications over the internet may in some cases be at higher risk of crossing the criminal threshold because they lack the benefit of context, inflection or familiarity of face-to-face or even phone conversations.
Florida criminal defense attorneys know law enforcement agencies are increasingly keen to solicit and investigate tips of threats made online, particularly in the wake of several mass shootings. Some agencies have said that dozens of potential shootings were stopped by this heightened vigilance in the wake of shootings in Dayton and El Paso.
Still, many of those charged find themselves bewildered that words, images or videos posted to a Facebook page or Instagram account might potentially have them facing jail time. Continue reading
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law was recently tested by a jury, which found the defendant guilty of manslaughter for killing another man following an argument over a parking spot last year.
Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand the local sheriff’s office didn’t initially arrest the suspect, citing the Stand Your Ground law. The defendant was white and armed, while the man he killed outside a convenience store was black and unarmed, setting off racial tensions. Authorities did arrest the defendant three weeks later when prosecutors decided to charge the defendant with manslaughter.
Manslaughter is the killing of another human being without malice aforethought. That means a person may not have intended for the other person to die (unlike homicide/murder), but nonetheless that was the result of one’s conduct, usually reckless or criminally negligent. It can stem from crimes like driving drunk, criminal assault or neglect. In these cases, it is not necessary to prove intent.
Recently, several nursing home employees were arrested on charges of manslaughter, pursuant to F.S. 782.07, following the deaths of 12 elderly patients who overheated in sweltering conditions with no air conditioning after Hurricane Irma struck South Florida in 2017.
Manslaughter is considered aggravated when it involves the death of an elderly person or disabled adult due to culpable negligence without lawful justification. Culpable negligence, as noted in Florida Standard Jury Instructions, is defined as a course of conduct that shows reckless disregard for human life or for the safety of individuals exposed to it that displays recklessness or wantonness. Continue reading
It’s no secret that immigration enforcement has increased in recent years under President Donald Trump’s administration, the stated purpose being to target undocumented residents who commit crimes. However, The Tampa Bay Times reports that federal data shows detention of immigrants with no criminal conviction has soared. This is especially true here in Florida, where arrests of undocumented persons with no criminal records were seven times more likely to be arrested now than they were four years ago – twice the national average.
As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand it, traffic offenses in particular are the primary vehicle by which this crackdown is being facilitated. Immigration attorneys report clients frequently being pulled over on their way to work for minor traffic infractions. Some agencies are accused of relying on racial profiling to net the highest number of undocumented immigrants, with heavy (some say excessive) enforcement of traffic laws being carried out in Hispanic neighborhoods.
It is true that anyone – regardless of criminal background – can be arrested, detained and deported. However, the priority has historically been to target undocumented individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety, border security and national security.
That doesn’t appear to be what’s happening. Continue reading
It’s hard for some folks to believe that non-violent, small-time, petty theft can land people in a Florida prison for years. But it happens all the time, both because of Florida’s low felony theft threshold and minimum mandatory penalties for those convicted of prior offenses.
Two bills that had been advancing through the Florida legislature earlier this year sought to address it. Both, however, have since been defeated, meaning at least this year, the Sunshine State won’t be joining the ranks of a growing number of states that are increasing the dollar amount threshold for felony theft charges (the dollar amount at which a theft crime becomes a felony instead of a misdemeanor).
Lowest Felony Theft Threshold in the Country
In fact, Florida has the second-lowest felony theft threshold in the country – just $300, per F.S. 812.014. Someone may end up in prison for stealing even less than that if they have prior convictions or are on probation/parole. Other states, on average, have a felony theft threshold of somewhere between $1,000 and $2,500. Plus, many don’t have the punitive provision that Florida has, wherein the third petty theft is an automatic felony charge. Continue reading
Florida’s penalties for drug traffickers are harsh. With few exceptions, penalties imposed for homicide are much harsher. But increasingly, when drug users die, their dealers are being charged with their murder – thanks to a 2017 Florida law passed unanimously by the state legislature.
For example last year, a 26-year-old father reportedly died one month after moving from Ohio to Florida, where his girlfriend and son were slated to join him weeks later. The medical examiner reported finding a form of opioid fentanyl in his system, at which point his death investigation became a homicide investigation. Several neighbors were interviewed, after which police identified the suspected dealer of the drugs in the decedent’s system. They arranged two undercover buys, after which time he was arrested for selling drugs near a school – a felony. The investigation continued, and the suspect was charged with first-degree murder in the death of the man who had overdosed.
An appellate judge for the Fourth District Court of Appeal says he sees a recurring problem in Florida criminal cases when it comes to hearsay. Specifically, it’s being confused with the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore subject to being weighted more heavily by case law standards rather than Florida Statute.
The problem, said the judge, is that courts are veering further and further from legislators’ intent in these interpretations.
What is Hearsay in Florida Criminal Case?
Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know hearsay is one of the most misunderstood criminal laws in its application. Some mistakenly think prosecutors can’t pursue charges based on he said/she said evidence. In fact, the state can pursue charges on nothing but verbal testimony, but there are specific definitions and exceptions. Continue reading
Police call it a “modern-day neighborhood watch,” a proliferating network of surveillance cameras affixed to the doorbells of private residences. Florida criminal defense lawyers are increasingly wary, citing concerns about privacy – especially because police from here to Houston have been “gifting” these devices to homeowners – using taxpayer money – with the caveat that they must turn these devices over to police upon request (something Amazon – the company that acquired the firm for $1 billion last year – said it will be “cracking down on”).
This was at least the case in Houston, and criminal defense attorneys recognize that it raises the question of possible violations of citizens’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures. If any arrests were made based on footage police demanded an unwilling homeowner fork over, it’s plausible that evidence could be suppressed.
CNet reports more than 50 local police departments have been partnering with the manufacturer of these “smart doorbells” to give them away free, cheaply or with a $3-a-month “subscription service” that allows police to tap into these feeds whenever they want. In some neighborhoods, police can tune in to watch – and record – what’s happening in real time on surveillance footage. Continue reading