Ways to Sabotage Your Criminal Case

It may seem like common sense to not want to sabotage you own criminal case, but people seem to do things than can damage their own defense.  Below are the top issues that I have seen to cause problems for clients’ cases:

5. Party Like a Rock Star

Your goal during your criminal case is to remain free of any drama.  If you are out drinking, you can end up in a situation which may lead to activities or situations which allowed your criminal charges in the first place.  Drinking may even be a violation of your pretrial release depending upon your charge.  If this is the case, you may find your bond revoked and there will be nothing that your attorney can do to help you. 

4. Fail to Show Up

Failure to show up for Court is a HUGE issue.  We all have unavoidable issues or accidents arise.  And if that happens once, it is explainable to a judge.  You may get a capias issued, but your attorney can more than likely get it withdrawn.  However, if you are habitually late for court, or fail to appear, your bond will probably be revoked and you will find yourself sitting in jail until your case is resolved.  The same goes for meeting with your attorney.  Your attorney is there to help you.  Your attorney cannot help you if you are constantly late or do not show for appointments.

3. Post It on Social Media

We all love posting our lives on social media.  I am posting this blog on social media.  However, #IJustGotArrested is not advisable.  You have the right to remain silent.  Use it.  Anything that you post will be used against you.  The State Attorney’s Office is constantly searching social media for anything about you.  In addition, your privacy settings do not matter. The courts have consistently ruled that if you are posting it, they can get it, regardless of your privacy settings.

2. Not Retaining Counsel

Some people make the mistake of thinking that they can handle their case themselves, without the help of an attorney.  There are many technical aspects to the law, including the evidence code, administrative license issues, sentencing laws, etc., that are overwhelming and complicated.  When you fail to obtain counsel, you are not making informed decisions.  You may think you know your basic rights, and I am certain that you do. However, you cannot put a price on your liberty.  Hire the lawyer

1. Picking up New Charges

Some people just gravitate towards trouble.  They continue to hang around with the same crowd or continue the same pattern of behavior that got them into the situation to begin with.  Stay away from these people!  For example, if you have domestic violence battery charges that a significant other has alleged, that significant other has signed a waiver of prosecution, and you are allowed contact, you should probably still stay away from that person until the case is over.  Even though the court is allowing contact, it is obvious that you and that person have some sort of issue that needs to be worked out.  If that person makes another allegation, your pretrial release will likely be revoked, you will have another domestic violence battery charge, and you will likely be “parkered,” meaning you will be held no bond until the cases are resolved.  It is imperative that you be very careful about who you are around and what you are doing while you are on pretrial release!

If you have been charged with a crime, you need the help of an aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney who will stand by your side and protect your rights.  Call Heather Bryan Law today for your consultation at 863-825-5309, or contact us online.

"Sexting" and Florida Law

Yes, “sexting” has been defined by Florida law and can been found in Florida Statutes section 847.0141.  Sexting is when a minor uses an electronic device to transmit a photo or video which depicts nudity and is considered harmful.  It is against the law to solicit and to be the recipient if the recipient does not report specifically to the minor’s legal guardian or to a school or law enforcement official within 24 hours. 

A first-time offense is a noncriminal violation.  The minor will receive 8 hours of community service work or pay a $60 civil penalty.    A second-time offense is a first-degree misdemeanor and a subsequent offense is a third-degree felony.   

Young adults who may have turned 18, but are still in high school, who engage in the same sort of behavior described above, could be charged with an even more serious sex crime and could possibly be labelled a sex offender the rest of their lives. 

Finding a place to live, a job, and other activities of daily live can become nearly impossible.  If you fail to register, you can be charged with a new felony crime—failure to register as a sex offender

Florida does have the “Romeo and Juliet” statute to address concerns about high school age youth being labelled as sexual offenders or sexual predators as a result of participating in a consensual sexual relationship.  The stigma and life-long consequences that come with such a classification affect every aspect of life.  The registry provides no clear distinction between the young “Romeo and Juliet” sex offenders who had consensual sex and the true offenders who harm children and pose a risk to society.  Section 943.04354 creates a mechanism for this group of offenders to file a motion or petition in state court for removal of the registration requirement if the offender meets certain criteria.  The law only addresses the registry requirement and does not make the offense legal. 

If you have been charged with a sexual offense or need help filing a petition under the “Romeo and Juliet” statute, contact Heather Bryan Law online today for your confidential consultation, or call 863-825-5309.

What is Pretrial Diversion?

Pretrial Diversion programs are available usually only to first time offenders to resolve their cases and successful completion results in the State dropping the charges.  The qualifications for these programs do differ from county to county. 

First and foremost, the crime the defendant is accused of usually must be a misdemeanor.  In Polk County, the most common charges that defendants are offered diversion for are possession of cannabis, driving while license suspended or revoked, and domestic violence battery.  The second qualification is that the defendant must not have been found guilty of a prior offense. 

Diversion usually consists of an evaluation and some sort of counseling, depending upon the charge.  It might even consist of drug testing.  The defendant must pay for the diversion program and all related testing.  The program takes anywhere from a couple of months to about 6 months. 

If the defendant can meet the qualifications of the diversion program and successfully complete the diversion program, the State Attorney’s Office will drop the charges. 

For a person who has never been in trouble and wants to avoid a trial, diversion is an excellent option.  Contact Heather Bryan Law online or call 863-825-5309, today for your consultation.

Body and Dash Cameras

One of the first conversations I usually have with my clients that hire me for their criminal case here in Polk County usually involves something like, “get the body camera or dash camera footage; it will show you what happened.” Unfortunately, here in Polk County, there are no body cameras or dash cameras.  Our Sheriff has made it abundantly clear that he does not support such technology.

 However, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers released a report entitled “Policing Body Cameras: Policies and Procedures to Safety the Right of the Accused.”  This report supports police agencies using such technology and makes several recommendations for police departments including:

·        Having clear policies in place that establish when officers are to begin recording (not leaving it up to individual officers).

·        Recordings should be stored for specific time periods and long enough for the accused to support his or her defense.

·        Allowing the accused prompt access to the recordings.

·        Officers should not have access to the videos prior to preparing their reports.

·        Officers should not have access to the videos after encounters in order to bring additional charges.

This advice, and more, comes from legal scholars and criminal justice experts.

Larger cities across our country are beginning to come on board with body cameras and dash cameras.  Unfortunately, there is no uniform set of rules for the use of the technology.  Officers tend to not turn their body cameras on, in some circumstances, until after the event has taken place. 

After the recent shooting of the Australian woman by a Minneapolis officer, the technology depends on officers turning on their devices immediately upon dispatch.

These cameras are not intended to catch officers’ bad behavior.  In fact, this technology can protect officers from being unfairly accused.  They can clear officers when officers are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. 

If you are pulled over for a traffic stop, make sure you are respectful and cooperative while still maintaining your rights.  Read my other blog posts on saying no to searches and videotaping the police.

If you have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who will protect your rights and fight for you. Contact Heather Bryan law today online, or call 863-825-5309, for your consultation.

Top 10 Things NOT To Do During A Divorce

A divorce is one of the most significant and emotional experiences that a person can go through.  Not only are you going through this life-changing event, but you have concerns about your finances, moving, belongings, and most importantly your children.  It is important not let this process turn you into a person that you don’t want to be—a person that you don’t even recognize.  Be the better person, even if your soon to be ex-spouse is not.  In the long run, you will be a healthier, happier person.  The following list is a compilation of my suggestions of how NOT to act during a divorce.

10. Don’t go pro se…if your spouse has hired an attorney, you have a lot of assets, debt, or income, or if you have children.  Too many things can go wrong.  It is best that you have a skilled attorney that knows the law and can represent your interests and advocate in your behalf.

9. Don’t disparage your spouse or discuss your divorce on social media.  You are hurting and this may seem like a great idea in the moment, but more than likely will come back to haunt you, especially if you have children.  You really don’t want your disparaging posts read in open court. 

8. Don’t flaunt a new partner. You are eager to put yourself back out there and excited when you find that someone.  However, do NOT post pictures of you with that someone on social media, bring that person to court proceedings, and most definitely do NOT bring that person around your children during the divorce process. These activities will instantly turn the most civil divorce into the most contested, drawn out divorce imaginable.  You do not want that.  You can wait until the divorce is final. (And for your own personal health, you really should anyway, but that is another blog topic).

7. Don’t attempt to hide your assets.  MORE than likely, they will be found.  Your spouse’s attorney will hire an expert and the divorce process will get costly and drag on.  You might even end up having to pay for your spouse’s fees and costs.  It is not worth it and you end up paying anyway. 

6.  Don’t fight over the television.  Stuff is stuff.  Is it really worth it?  Are you arguing over items because you are hurting?  Are you really going to pay your lawyer $300.00 per hour over that item?  You could have already replaced that item.  Think about it.  Relinquish your attachment to replaceable items and let the healing process begin.

5. My ex needs to “pay” for what happened. Divorce is painful. You may be hurting from abuse or an affair.  However, for the most part, no fault divorces under Florida law are NOT designed to punish parties.  Assets and liabilities are distributed equitably and alimony is awarded by need and ability to pay. 

4. Don’t wipe out the bank accounts. You are not entitled to all of the money in your bank accounts.  Even if your spouse did not earn the money in the accounts, you are not entitled to all of it.  Florida follows what is called equitable distribution of the assets.  All assets, and debts, will be divided up equitably.  If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the court will decide, and the court does a good job of making sure that is pretty equal.  If you have wiped out all of the accounts and left your spouse with nothing, it will upset the judge and make you look bad, which might not go over so well for you at a future court date.  If you feel like you need to protect money that is in your bank accounts, contact an attorney immediately to find out how to do so.

3. Don’t go into the marriage home after you have moved out and take things without your spouse knowing.  Once you have officially separated, you and your spouse need to agree before you just go back into the home and take items.  If you cannot agree, and it is an item that you need, you can talk to your attorney about how to get the item prior to a final judgement. 

2. Don’t disparage your spouse in front of the children.  No matter how hurt you are or what your spouse has done, even if it is illegal, the parent of your children.  Nothing will ever change that.  And your children will love their parent, as they should.  If you think, even if rightly so, that your spouse is being a horrible parent, your children do not need to hear that from you.  If you can’t say anything nice, just don’t say anything at all.  One day, your children will figure it all out on their own. And they will love you and appreciate you more for it.

1. Don’t think of the children as “my” children and that your way is the only way. The children are both you and your spouse’s children.  And the court is presumptively going to give you and your spouse shared parental responsibility.  There is probably no way around that, unless you can prove that your spouse is somehow unfit.  It is best that you figure out a way to get along and to find a way to raise the children together.  Understand that in most cases, the court will order a parenting plan that puts both parents in the children’s lives.  So get used to it.  And read this article.

If you are in need of a family law attorney, contact Heather Bryan Law online or call 863-825-5309. 

 

Why I Do What I Do

I am often asked one of several questions by people with no understanding of what I do:

I am very proud of what I do.  I work each and every day to protect people and their Constitutional rights.  I protect them from an overzealous government.  I protect innocent people and people who have made mistakes.  And make no doubt about it, everyone makes mistakes.  

I have always been a public servant. I worked for over ten years as a public school teacher.  There did come a point however, when I decided I needed to do more.  I saw kids that I could not reach. They were not going to do their homework for me or learn from me when they weren't safe at home (think back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs).  

When I started law school, I immediately became an intern at the Public Defender's Office.  My first week on the job I saw a ten-year old in handcuffs. I cried.  This wasn't justice.  I knew at that moment, that this area of the law was what I was meant for.  

It was also through my work at the Public Defender's Office that I met James Bain.  Through a joint effort of the PD's office and the Innocence Project, he was exonerated after 35 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  He is such a wonderful man. He has no hate in his heart.  It is truly amazing.

I have represented people who have been harassed for no reason by our government simply because they looked different or poor or "like trouble."  I have represented people whom I know were completely innocent of what they were accused of, yet their lives were potentially ruined because of the stigma.  

And yes, I have represented people whom I have no idea if they were guilty or not.  But that is not my job.  My job is to protect their rights.  Every person in this country has certain rights and protections guaranteed by our Constitution. The Constitution is not a technicality.  These rights are not only given to innocent people--they are given and guaranteed to all people.  If those protections are eroded, our country as a whole has lost. Whose rights will they come after next?

If you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, contact Heather Bryan Law online, or call her today at 863-825-5309.

 

Common Offenses With Driver's License Suspensions and Revocations

Offense                  Suspension/Revocation

Murder resulting from operation of a motor vehicle; DUI manslaughter where conviction represents a subsequent DUI-related conviction; 4th DUI (See 322.26, Florida Statutes)

Permanent revocation

 

Any felony where a motor vehicle is used; failure to stop and render aid when required in a crash resulting in death or personal injury; perjury to the Department under 322.26; conviction of 3 charges of reckless driving within 3 months; conviction of lewdness or prostitution with the use of a motor vehicle; conviction of any offense where there is the use of a motor vehicle and the Court feels it warrants the revocation of a driving; fraudulent insurance claims (See 322.26, Florida Statutes)

Indefinite revocation

 

DUI; Refusal (See 316.193, Florida Statutes)

Anywhere from 6 months to permanent revocation

 

Fleeing/Eluding law enforcement (See 316.1935, Florida Statutes)

Anywhere from 1 year to 5 year suspension

 

Possession of Controlled Substances (See 322.055, Florida Statutes)

1 year suspension

 

Theft (See 812.014, Florida Statutes)

Anywhere from 6 months to 1 year suspension

 

Racing on Highways (See 316.191, Florida Statutes)

1 year suspension

 

Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) (See 322.264, Florida Statutes)

5 year suspension

 

Failure to pay child support

Suspended until paid

 

If you have been charged with a crime or need help obtaining a hardship license, you need an experienced attorney by your side.  Call Heather Bryan Law today, at 863-825-5309, for your free and confidential consultation, or contact us online.

You Have A Right To Remain Silent...Use It!

Our founding fathers very specifically crafted the protection against self-incrimination located in the Fifth Amendment with a purpose.  The protection dates back to English common law when the courts sought to prohibit the use of inquisitorial methods of interrogation.  By the late 1700's, Parliament had begun to recognize the presumption of innocence.  Of course, these ideas were carried over into colonial America and adopted into our Constitution. Through decisions of our Supreme Court, the protection of the Fifth has been well grounded and preserved.  Justice Frankfurter, in Ullmann v. United States, 35 U.S. 422 (1956), stated:

"This constitutional protection must not be interpreted in a hostile...spirit. Too many, even those who should be better advised, view this privilege as a shelter for wrongdoers. They too readily assume that those who invoke it are either guilty of crime or commit perjury in claiming the privilege. Such a view does scant honor to the patriots who sponsored the Bill of Rights as a condition to acceptance of the Constitution by the ratifying States."

There is no shame or presumption that a person must have done something wrong or must have something to hide just because someone utilizes his or her constitutional right to remain silent.  

In fact, I would advise you to never speak to law enforcement without having a lawyer present. Far too often, your words will get turned in such a way that you never intended.  People tend to believe that since they are innocent and have nothing to hide, it is okay to speak to law enforcement.  Then the next thing, they know, they are in handcuffs, being charged with a crime that they did not commit.  You have the protection of the Fifth Amendment for a reason.  Use it!

If you have been charged with a crime, or need experienced representation for a legal matter, contact Heather Bryan Law online or call 863-825-5309 for a consultation.  

To Blow or Not to Blow...

If you have been pulled over for a DUI, failed the field sobriety exercises, and told you are under arrest, the next step is submission to a breath test.  You will be asked if you will submit to a breath test.  You can refuse.  You have to determine if this is the best choice for you in the moment.  

If you refuse to submit to a breath test, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for a year in Florida.  If it is your second refusal, the Department will suspend your driver's license for 18 months and the State Attorney's office can charge you with a first-degree misdemeanor just for the refusal.  Driving is considered a privilege in Florida, not a right.

DUIs can be proven without a BAC, blood alcohol content level. The statute reads that a person is guilty of driving under the influence if the person: 

1) is in actual physical control of a vehicle, AND

2) a) the person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance in section 877.111, or any substance controlled under chapter 893, when affected to the extent that the person's normal faculties are impaired;

   b) the person has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more; OR

   c) the person has a breath alcohol level or 0.08 or more.

Therefore, in addition to number 1, only a, b, or c needs to be met.  If you find yourself in this situation, it is imperative that you hire an experienced defense attorney to help you defend against your DUI charges. There may be issues with your traffic stop to begin with.  Did the officer have probable cause to pull you over?  Is there a motion to suppress issue?  If you did submit to a breath test, were there any technical issues with the machine?  These are all issues that an experienced DUI attorney can help you with.  

Contact Heather Bryan Law today at 863-825-5309, or online, for your consultation.  We are here to help!

Think Before You Post

Documenting our lives on social media has become second nature.  When an event occurs, we immediately take a picture and post it to some sort of social media account.  Most people do not consider the legal consequences of what they put on their social media accounts.

I recently put a meme on Instagram that read, “Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”  I would apply this quote to all social media outlets.  If you would not want what you are about to post to be read aloud in a deposition or shown to a jury one day in open court, it is probably best not to post it.

The courts have had to rule on privacy issues when it comes to Facebook and other social media outlets.  The trend has been, in federal courts and in Florida, that if you choose to post something on social media, you are waiving your privacy, even if you have your privacy settings set to the most private.  The courts have rationalized that you are putting it out there for the world to see; and therefore, you are waiving your constitutional privacy rights. 

For example, if you have been injured in a car accident and are involved in personal injury litigation, defense counsel will more than likely request that you produce all social media pictures from the date of injury to present.  The courts have ruled this request is relevant as it can show whether in fact you are injured. 

Courts have issued similar rulings in all types of litigation from family cases to criminal cases.  There must be a finding of relevance, which is not hard to do.

One final piece of advice, if you know you are preparing for litigation, it is a very bad idea, to think, “I need to clean up my social media accounts.”  If you start deleting posts and pictures, you are destroying potential evidence.  This could get you into more trouble, and is potentially illegal.  Keep your accounts to the most secure settings, and just think before you post.

Heather Bryan is an experienced criminal and family lawyer.  Contact us online or call us at 863-825-5309 for your consultation.