Seeing the flashing lights and hearing the siren of a police car behind you while on the road is always scary.  In the best cases, these traffic stops are very brief and only involve a short conversation.  In other instances, though, the stop may become much more serious, and the officer may at some point tell the driver they want to search the vehicle.  If you find yourself in this situation, it is critical that you know what to do and that you understand how to protect your rights.  Your Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer can assist you with any illegal search and seizure that you may be subjected to.

Vehicle Searches Under the Fourth Amendment

             The Fourth Amendment protects all American citizens from unlawful search and seizures.  Before law enforcement searches any property, they must obtain a search warrant to do so.  That protection applies to vehicles as well, but drivers may have fewer rights when an officer wants to search their vehicle.  The law recognizes that drivers could easily leave the scene if the police officer had to obtain a warrant before searching the vehicle.  As such, police officers must only have probable cause to search a vehicle during a traffic stop, and they do not need to obtain a warrant.

Police frequently conduct searches of individuals based on a reasonable suspicion.  A brief investigative detention based on a reasonable suspicion is called a “Terry Stop”.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is a term that is used to refer to a police officer’s reasonably justifiable suspicion that a person had committed a crime or was in the process of committing one, or was about to commit one.  Where the officer believes that a crime may have been committed or is about to be committed, he or she may make a temporary detention of the suspect and may proceed to pat them down.

            The criminal offense of driving under the influence (DUI) seems straightforward but is much more complex than people first think.  It can be found at Florida statute §316.193.  All drivers within the state of Florida should know about the state’s DUI laws, and what they entail, so they do not find themselves facing charges.  If you have been charged with a DUI, your Jacksonville criminal attorney can assist you with getting the best result out of a bad situation.

             DUI vs Drunk Driving

            The Florida Statutes define the offense of DUI as driving or having physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, chemicals, or controlled substance that results in a blood alcohol or at least 0.08 percent, or that impairs a person’s normal faculties.  Many people use the terms “DUI” and “drunk driving” interchangeably, but the two are different.  While a drunk driver is considered to be under the influence, not all motorists under the influence are drunk, as chemicals and controlled substances can also impair a person.  Some people can be impaired taking over-the-counter medications such as Nyquil.  Consult your local Jacksonville criminal attorney if you have been charged with driving under the influence.

In the state of Florida, a person who has any alcohol in his or her body is prohibited from being in physical control of a motor vehicle.  F.S. 322.62.  The penalties for violation of this law result in being placed out of service immediately for a twenty four hour period.  If one has a blood alcohol level of .04 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or a breath-alcohol level of .04 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath, he or she is exposed to additional penalties that are enumerated in F.S. 322.61.  The ramifications could result in adverse effects on one’s livelihood with restrictions on the operation of a commercial vehicle.

What Are the Possible Ramifications of a Single Drink?

A single drink can result in fulfilling the first element of proof required to prove a DUI charge.  The next element required to meet the definition of a DUI in Florida is proof that an individual was driving a motor vehicle within the state of Florida.  The last element required to prove a DUI case is that the offender’s normal faculties are impaired.  The last element may be proven by an officer’s belief that the driver was impaired and or by the smell of alcohol on his or her breath, slurred speech, difficulty standing, walking in a straight line, based on a field sobriety test.  This is a non inclusive list.

In Florida, someone who has been convicted of a crime can consider appealing a conviction to obtain relief from the conviction and sentence.  The criminal court system allows appeal.  However, most lower court decisions are upheld.  Therefore, attempting to appeal a case may be a significant challenge.  Some appeals are a matter of right and some are discretionary on the part of the appellate court.  Generally, the party the files the appeal attempts to show a material error on the part of the trial court.

What Type of Error is Substantial?

The appellate courts distinguish between harmless error and a material error.  Where an appellate court reviews an error as harmless, it is not considered to have a substantial impact on the disposition and eventual result of the case.  Where an error by a trial court does not show that it affects the substantial rights of a party, it may be difficult to prove that a material mistake was made by the trial court and obtain relief.

What is Mens Rea? 

Mens Rea is the mental element of an individual’s intent to commit a crime.  It can also be expressed as the knowledge that a particular act would result in a crime being committed.

Why is Mens Rea significant if I have been accused of a crime?

The United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that has been historic in a case entitled the Miranda v. Arizona, in 1966Essentially, four cases made it to the United States Supreme Court with similar issues.  All cases involved interrogation by police in a closed room where the putative Defendant was cut off from the outside world.  In three of these cases, the Defendant signed statements that were admitted at trial and one of the cases involved oral statements admitted at trial.  Following the Miranda Case, whenever a person is taken into detention, that individual must be advised of their Fifth Amendment right against making any self-incriminating statements.  When the police question someone in custody, they must advise:

  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything that you say can and will be used against you.

What is Petit Theft?

Petit Theft is defined in the Florida Statutes under F.S. 812.014(2)-(3)(c).  Where property that is involved in a theft is valued at less than $750, petit theft is usually the correct charge.

In order to prove the crime of Petit Theft, the following must be proven:

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is what Florida’s Speedy Trial Rules are based upon.  The right to a Speedy Trial is a fundamental right.  It is designed to eliminate incarceration for long periods of time when one is accused of a crime.  The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure provide that persons charged with a crime will be brought to trial within 90 days of arrest where the crime charged is a misdemeanor and within 175 days where the crime charged is a felony. Rule 3.191(b) provides for a Defendant to demand a speedy trial in writing and when this occurs, he or she is entitled to trial within 50 days.  Under this rule, such a demand signifies that the Defendant is prepared to proceed to trial within 5 days.

What happens if the state fails to conduct a trial within the statutory time periods? 

Where the state fails too bring the accused to trial within the above referenced time periods, the Defendant is discharged (except for exceptions to the tolling of these time periods).

Is There a Warrant Issued in My Name?

There are numerous warrants issued for almost every type of crime that occurs in Florida.  The warrant system is used to apprehend criminals and those accused of a crime.  Despite the belief that warrants expire, they do not.  Additionally, warrants can be executed at anytime.  Just because you may not be located within the territory of the state that issued a warrant, you are not safe from exposure to arrest.  It is common for warrants to be issued for both felonies and misdemeanors in Florida.  A warrant will be active until it is served, the individual dies, or the judge recalls the warrant.  It is important to resolve a warrant promptly, so one does not have to deal with a multitude of problems unexpectedly.  Your arrest could result from the most minor traffic stop for a tailgate light.

The FDLE has a database which usually lists active warrants and may be found online at http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/.  You can select “search wanted persons” and you will be taken to a search screen.

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