Florida Child Abuse Statute, Broad Definitions and Overzealous DCF Workers

A Boynton Beach woman is accused of abusing a child after she allegedly bit her boyfriend’s young son during a bout of roughhousing.

Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that when it comes to allegations of child abuse, sometimes even minor mistakes can lead to severe consequences. It has to do with the way the law is written.

Child abuse laws in Florida are governed under Florida Statute 827.03. It allows that child abuse is ANY intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child or any intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

Based solely on that definition, the continued use of the paddle by principals in Florida schools could reasonably be determined to be child abuse. Further, barring the aggravating factor of causing some great harm, permanent disfigurement or permanent disability, we don’t have specifics with regard to how severe the injury must be in order to qualify. Therefore, anything as small as a scratch or a red bottom from spanking could legally qualify as abuse.

Combine that with overzealous and/or underqualified agents of the Department of Children and Famlies, which is constantly taking heat for not doing enough to prevent abuse amid high rates of staff turnover and a number of high-profile tragedies, and too many find themselves facing the prospect of unfair prosecution. This is a terrifying prospect to both parents and caregivers, and it lends itself to the possibility that anything from horseplay to legitimate discipline may result in criminal charges.

Abuse of a child without great bodily harm is ranked as a third-degree felony in Florida, which is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment. Not to mention, a conviction on a felony child abuse charge will no doubt harm future employment prospects, and may prevent you from certain career fields (such as teaching or police work) altogether. Additionally, you may be prevented from obtaining public benefits, such as low-income housing, with this type of felony conviction. It may also affect current child custody arrangements.

We say this not to scare you but to make you aware of how critical it is to secure legal representation from a firm with proven experience. Some parents and caregivers in these situations make the mistake of assuming that because they know they weren’t trying to hurt their child that they will be taken at their word in court. But even the prospect of having DCF in your life on an ongoing basis can all but insure a headache that will last well into the future.

In this case, a 24-year-old woman was wrestling with her boyfriend’s 6-year-old while playing “the bite game.” Ill-advised? Sure. Malicious? Probably not.

The boy later told investigators that the game consisted of seeing who could bite the hardest. The reward for winning would have been additional flair for his Halloween costume. However, the boy said he lost the game after his father’s girlfriend bit him very hard on the thigh and shoulder.

Police were called by the child’s mother after the boy returned from spending a weekend with his father. The father’s girlfriend was arrested and subsequently gave an interview to police (which you should never do without the presence of your lawyer). She reportedly admitted to biting the child harder than normal – a statement that could literally come back to bite her later.

Future of Fortune Tellers’ Fraud Case May Lie With Detective Ethics

A family of fortune tellers is facing a host of federal fraud charges, accused of fleecing customers out of some $40 million.

But whether they are convicted may hinge, in part, on the actions of the lead detective, who the family now alleges accepted a business loan from one of the alleged victims, a well-known romance novelist.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that while not all cases are as high-profile, a good attorney must analyze every available aspect – and that includes not only the quality and details of the actual investigation, but any possible alternative motives held by witnesses, or potentially even those spearheading the case.

Here, nine family members are accused of a multimillion-dollar fortune-telling scam in which they allegedly told people that if their advice wasn’t followed, awful events would befall them.

Federal prosecutors are alleging that the individuals targeted by the fortune tellers were vulnerable, often having recently lost loved ones or jobs or otherwise enduring tough times. They were convinced to give the fortune tellers money, gold, jewelry and other valuables. The defendants reportedly promised not to spend the money. However, prosecutors say they then refused to return it.

In the case of the novelist, federal prosecutors say the family scammed her out of $20 million after telling her that her deceased son was “somewhere between heaven and hell.”

Authorities say the family operated in South Florida since the early 1990s. When authorities raided the home where they resided, they reportedly found hundreds of rings, watches, diamonds and upscale jewelry.

However, the defense has said that the family provided valuable counseling services to those with nowhere else to go. The family’s business was licensed by the state and operated with the full knowledge of local authorities as well.

They were arrested in August of last year. But now, as they await trial, new details have emerged about the relationship with the lead detective and one of the victims, who is slated to be one of the star witnesses against the defendants.

According to the family, the primary investigator in the case has part ownership in a local gym. It’s alleged that he borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for the venture from the novelist back in July of last year, just before the family was arrested. The novelist was reportedly repaid just a month later.

The family also alleges that the detective and his businesses received more money from the witness, and say that prosecutors have actively sought to conceal this fact, which essentially amounts to an improper relationship that would cast doubt on the prosecutors’ case.

The investigator maintains he’s done nothing wrong. He also denies allegations that he helped the novelist edit one of her books for profit.

The defense team is requesting that prosecutors turn over any and all evidence of the alleged business deals. If those claims are validated, it’s possible the defense could ask the judge to dismiss charges against each of the family members, who have pleaded not guilty.

We can’t say what the future holds for this case, but we know that if you are facing criminal charges, having an experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer on your side often makes all the difference.

U.S. v. Owen – Guilty Verdict Reversed On Appeal

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently reversed the guilty verdict handed down in U.S. v. Owen to a city zoning inspector convicted of accepting bribes in exchange for issuing certificates of occupancy on four new homes.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that to have a guilty verdict overturned by an appellate court is the exception. That’s why it’s critical to secure a solid defense team in the early stages of a criminal investigation, if possible, prior to arrest.

Appeals are typically generated on issues of law and challenges that the lower court in some way abused its discretion. Even when an appellate court rules in favor of the defendant, trial verdicts are rarely reversed. Instead, usually some aspect of the case – whether a sentencing error or an interpretation of law – is remanded back to the lower court for a closer look.

As this case shows, it’s not that appeals are never successful. However, it’s always wise to make sure your attorney is qualified with proven experience before you move forward in the first case. Here, the defendant had been a zoning inspector in Chicago and was responsible for enforcing city ordinances and approving architectural plans for new constructions of single-family homes. If a new home met all the specifications, it was to a receive a certificate of occupancy. Without that certificate, a structure can’t be used as a residence.

According to court records, the contractor had allegedly previously accepted bribes from an acquaintance of his working as an “expeditor” on behalf of certain developers. Then, the expeditor became a confidential informant for federal investigators. After that, the informant staged two incidents in which he stated he needed expedited certificates of occupancy for two residences. The acquaintance later met him on the side of the road and paid him $600 in cash, and a certificate was issued, despite the fact that the homes hadn’t actually undergone inspection. A similar transaction was arranged a short time later.

Soon after, the inspector was arrested by the FBI on two counts of federal program bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B). A jury subsequently convicted him and he was sentenced to one year in prison.

However, the inspector appealed the verdict, saying there was insufficient evidence to support it. The court reviewed whether there was no rational trier of fact, when viewed in the light most favorable to the government, which is the standard upon appeal.

At particular issue here was the statute itself, which requires that a conviction must be the result of federally-funded workers soliciting or accepting anything of value in connection with a business transaction or series of transactions over $5,000. The inspector’s defense conceded that prosecutors had proven all but one element of the case – that he accepted bribes that were worth at least $5,000.

The government, in turn, conceded that the certificate of occupancy doesn’t have an easily-quantifiable value. We know that the valuation of the actual bribes accepted were far short of the $5,000 threshold, but prosecutors attempted to say that the value of the homes themselves and/or construction costs should be considered.

However, the appellate panel ruled that, based on case law, this did not fit the requirement of the statute.

This, of course, is a technicality, but with the burden of proof in criminal cases placed upon the government, sometimes that’s all it takes. At the trial level, your defense attorney must understand each element of the crimes of which you are accused and must force the prosecutor to attempt to prove each and every one of them.

U.S. v. Johnson: Sentencing Enhancements Require Additional Evidence

Justices with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently vacated the sentence of a defendant who had argued prosecutors did not prove in trial the elements necessary for imposing an enhanced, two-level sentence.

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers
understand that in U.S. v. Johnson the issue was the enhancement imposed for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or injury in the course of fleeing from a law enforcement officer. Federal prosecutors, like those in state-level cases, have a number of enhancements that can be enacted to increase penalties upon conviction for serious crimes.

Under U.S.S.G. 3C1.2 (2010), federal prosecutors applied a two-level enhancement to Johnson for his role in the robbery of a drug store.

According to the court documents, Johnson and his co-defendant entered a CVS pharmacy with their faces obscured by bandanas and hands covered by gloves. They were armed, and reportedly stole several cases of cigarettes before demanding a store employee open the safe. They then stole an undisclosed amount of cash.

While the pair was still in the store, police officers arrived and sealed off the parking lot exits with their vehicles.

The suspects got into a stolen vehicle, with Johnson’s co-defendant in the driver’s seat. The driver then rammed into one of the police officer’s vehicles, and forced their way out of the parking lot. The driver continued to flee, speeding through traffic signals along the way.

Officers stopped the chase due to safety concerns, but the driver reportedly crashed into a utility pole soon thereafter.

The driver was trapped in the vehicle, but Johnson, the passenger, was able to get out and flee on foot. He was later tracked and stopped by the canine unit.

Both were convicted.

However, at issue upon appeal was the sentencing.

Although the facts of the case would suggest that the driver of the vehicle would be eligible for sentencing enhancements under federal statute, the passenger technically had no control over the vehicle. Therefore, an enhancement for reckless driving would not apply, according to their argument.

The government had argued the circumstantial evidence should have been enough to justify the enhancement, namely that he was an active participant in the robbery and the fact that he voluntarily got into the vehicle after police were already on the scene.

The district court had overruled Johnson’s initial objections.

However, the appellate court reviewed for plain error – that is, error that is clear, plain and obvious and was not harmless to his case. Johnson never contended that reckless endangerment did not occur, only that he was not responsible for it.

The appellate court found that under U.S. 3C1.2, a defendant can only be held accountable for his own conduct and for conduct that he aided and abetted, commanded, counseled, procured, induced or otherwise willfully caused.

This is the standard the appellate court applied in determining whether the sentencing enhancement was just. Previous case law suggested that passengers could not be held responsible for the reckless conduct of drivers when those passengers had not forced the driver to act in a reckless manner and had no control over the vehicle.

Further, case law from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals suggested specifically that one’s role in planning a robbery does not automatically render him or her accountable for reckless endangerment when they are not behind the wheel of the getaway car.

Ultimately, the appellate court sided with the defendant, who will be re-sentenced, minus the two-level enhancement, which should shave significant time off his sentence.

Broward Fast Food Restaurant Robberies on the Rise

Law enforcement officials in Broward have highlighted a new trend in Broward County – “Drive-thru robberies.”

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers wanted to address this issue and underscore that the robbery charge filed will be no less serious simply because you didn’t get out of your vehicle.

Robbery is charged under Florida Statute 812.13. There are indeed varying degrees, but it has more to do with whether you used a firearm and your prior criminal history than anything else.

In simple terms, robbery is the taking of money or property from another person with the intent to deprive that person of the property. The primary element that separates burglary from robbery is that when you take this property, you do so by using either force, assault, violence or by subjecting the alleged victim to fear.

If you don’t have a weapon, the crime is punished as a second-degree felony. If you are carrying a gun or some other deadly weapon, the crime will be upgraded to a first-degree felony. The latter carries a potential sentence of life in prison.

According to Broward officials, there were reportedly three in one day on a recent Friday. Officials say drive thru establishments tend to be an easy target, because there is no barrier between the cashier and the suspects. There is easy access to cash, and the robbers are already in the getaway vehicle. Plus, you reduce the number of witnesses when the crime is committed in the drive-thru lane, as opposed to inside the restaurant.

But these individuals also need to be aware that these facilities are often loaded with security cameras. It’s not tough for police to track a vehicle if they can make out the license plate number from the footage.

Some of the more recent cases in Broward include:

–Last month, shortly before 5 a.m., a car pulled up to the window, placed an order and was soon followed by a man who approached on foot with his face covered by a bandana. Fearing a robbery was about to occur, the employee slammed the window shut and locked the door. The man with the bandana got into the vehicle and the two sped off.

–Also last month, a Burger King in Sunrise was held up around 3:30 a.m. when the masked man reportedly grabbed the arm of the person working the drive-thru window, took the cash from the register and then fled.

–Two men and a woman, including a former employee of a McDonald’s, were arrested for a string of armed, drive-thru robberies.

–In May, two masked men robbed a Dunkin Donuts in Delray Beach, at around 9:15 a.m. on a Wednesday.

In Broward County, rates of business robberies has remained about the same overall, with about 330 committed in both 2010 and 2011. Statistics for so far this year aren’t yet available.

A few of these cases have tragically turned fatal.

It’s important to understand that even if you are a passenger in one of these vehicles, you may still be charged with robbery.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

Florida Criminal Lawyers

1200 S Pine Island Rd #220 Plantation, FL 33324
(954) 424-7433 954-424-2200
2160 W Atlantic Ave 2nd Floor Delray Beach, FL 33445
(561) 922-8103 561-988-8100