What if the Stalker Files for a Stalking Protection Injunction?

If you ever want to find the crazy people then visit a courtroom for injunction hearings. In those courtroom you will find the most bizarre allegations of domestic violence. If you want to find the craziest people of all - wait for the neighbor vs. neighbor injunction hearings for "repeat violence" or "stalking."

Over the years I've defended more than my share of neighbor vs. neighbor injunction cases in Tampa and Hillsborough County, FL. I always represent the respondent in these cases. I'm morally opposed to representing a petitioner in an injunction case but particularly in a neighbor vs. neighbor case.

I've seen cases involving allegations of poisoning the cat, fighting over hanging tree limbs, letting chickens run free in the backyard, and making obscene gestures while looking out the kitchen window. The craziest cases always involve hours of blurry surveillance videos.

The individuals involved in these fights end up filing for an injunction because no law enforcement officer or prosecutor would believe their claims.

Most normal people have no idea that such a place exists. Who knew you could ask for an injunction for protection? Well, the crazy people know about it. The crazy people use that process when it suits them. The craziest people use the system to stalk and harass their victims.

Of course, hidden in the chaos are the few cases where a real victim actually needs help from the court. It's up to the judge to sort through it all.

Florida's New Staking and Cyberstalking Laws

The Florida legislature just added a new level of chaos to the process by introducing yet another category for protection injunctions - the stalking protection injunction. On October 1, 2012, House Bill 1099 for Stalking and Aggravated Stalking took effect. The bill makes a wide variety of changes to s. 784.048, F.S., the stalking statute, and s. 784.0485 for stalking protection injunctions.

If you thought the stalking definition was vague before, just wait until you read all the new provisions:
  • It broadens the stalking-related definitions, primarily the definition of “credible threat.”
  • It broadens the definition of "aggravated stalking."
  • It creates a statutory cause of action for an injunction for protection against stalking and cyberstalking.
  • It creates a new mechanism for collecting economic damages for an injury or loss that results from a violation of the stalking injunction.
  • It creates a new first degree misdemeanor crime for violating an injunction against stalking or cyberstalking.
  • It creates a new first degree misdemeanor crime for the respondent to have in his possession a firearm or ammunition after the issuance of an injunction for protection against stalking while that injunction is in effect.
  • It requires the court, for any sentence, to consider issuing an injunction restraining a defendant from victim contact for up to ten years.

Injunction for Protection Against Stalking and Cyberstalking under §784.0485

Prior to the new law, a statutory cause of action did not exist specifically for protection against stalking or aggravated stalking. So if a person wanted an injunction based on stalking behavior then the person had to pursue injunctive relief through the domestic violence, dating violence or the repeat violence injunction statutes.
  • Domestic violence injunctions required stalking or aggravated stalking resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another member.
  • Dating violence injunctions required stalking or aggravated stalking resulting in physical injury or death between individuals who have or have had a continuing and significant relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
  • Repeat violence injunctions require two incidents of stalking or aggravated stalking, one being within six months of the petition’s filing, which are directed against the petitioner or an immediate family member.
The new law in Florida creates a separate statutory cause of action for an injunction for protection against stalking and cyberstalking. It is similar to, but considerable broader than, the current causes of action for injunctions for protection against domestic violence, repeat violence, and dating violence.

Unlike other types of allegations in injunction for protection cases, allegations of stalking are particularly broad and just became even broader.

Making Stalking-Related Definitions Even More Vague

At the same time the legislature created an entire new category for protection injunctions, it also watered down the stalking-related definitions.

For instance, it substantively changes the definition of the term “credible threat” to “a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including a threat delivered by electronic communication or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.”

Now, Florida law provides that it is not even necessary to prove that the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat.

The law also deleted the prior language requiring that the threat be against the life of, or a threat to cause bodily injury to, a person.

The bill removes “intent to place the person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury” as an element of aggravated stalking as defined in s. 784.048(3), F.S.

Consequently, under subsection (3), aggravated stalking occurs when a person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person, and makes a credible threat to that person.

So now the focus is on the "fear for safety" of the complaining witness instead of the actual intentions of the person accused. When you add it all up, just about anything now constitutes stalking or cyberstaking.

Has anyone considered the fact that the stalkers will just use the new petitions for stalking protection injunctions to terrorize their victims? If you accept the fact that a person might stalk another person then why would you doubt the fact that a stalker will make false or exaggerated claims in a petition for a staking protection injunction?

The pendulum has swung too far.

Leslie Sammis fights to protect her clients in injunction hearings against false claims of domestic violence, repeat violence, dating violence and stalking at the courthouse in Tampa and Plant City for Hillsborough County, FL.

"Day of Action" to Gather Signatures on Petitions to Legalize Medical Marijuana in FL in 2014

So what are the chances that the medical marijuana issue will end up on the Florida ballot in 2014?

Time is running out for United for Care to gather enough signatures to get the medical marijuana issue on the 2014 ballot. This Saturday, United for Care is planning a "Day of Action." The organization is looking for volunteers to come out this Saturday to help them collect petitions. Volunteers go to certain locations throughout Tampa Bay to collect petitions that are returned to United for Care at the end of the day.

If you are intereted in volunteering your time then meet the Tampa Leader, Bianca Garza for the morning pick-up from 10 a.m. to 12 o'clock noon at:
Avid Brew and Grow Supplies 1745 1st Ave S. St. Petersburg, FL 33712

After you have collected the signatures on the petitions then drop off the petitions in the evening between 5 p.m. to 8p.m. at:
Chic-A-Boom Room 319 Main St. Dunedin, FL 34698

When you arrive you will be handed a stack of petitions. Regional leaders can answer all your questions and help you find good locations for collecting signatures from registured voters. Then in the evening drop off the petitions.

Also - follow United for Care on Twitter or Facebook for all the updates.

Tag Readers Used by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

The Hillsborough County Sheriff Office spent $25,000 to install automatic license plate readers (often called "tag readers"). The tag reader collects certain data, including the tag numbers for every vehicle that passes near the intersection at 15th Street and 122nd Avenue in Tampa, FL. 

The equipment includes two cameras installed on a pole. It has been reading tags for the last year.

HCSO has estimated that the tag reader collects data on 1.3 million tags over a three month period. Once the tags are read, the data is send through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) databases.

If the tag belongs to a person with an outstanding warrant, for instance, law enforcement officers might be able to use that data to track down the owner of the vehicle. Other purposes for collecting the data might include finding stolen plates or vehicle, finding vehicles used in the commission of a crime or finding wanted persons.

Law enforcement officers are testing out the equipment in a pilot program. If law enforcement likes this new high tech tool, the cameras might pop up at more intersections near you. 

If you thought it was a waste of taxpayer money to pay $25,000 to install a tag reader, then don't worry. The money came from a $1.3 million federal grant. The rest of the money was used to install additional "Eye on Crime" surveillance systems in the neighborhoods around the University of South Florida campus.

The tag readers could be used to set up permanent records to track the movement of citizens going about their daily activities. In the wrong hands, the data could be prone for abuse. The ACLU has gathered some startling data on how often these types of camera are being used throughout the country.
Automatic license plate readers have the potential to create permanent records of virtually everywhere any of us has driven, radically transforming the consequences of leaving home to pursue private life, and opening up many opportunities for abuse. The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit.
In our society, it is a core principle that the government does not invade people’s privacy and collect information about citizens’ innocent activities just in case they do something wrong. Clear regulations must be put in place to keep the government from tracking our movements on a massive scale.
 Read more about the dangers of automatic license plate readers. Are you being tracked?

The Stand-Your-Ground Laws in Florida

On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee conducted a five hour hearing on House Bill 4003, which is legislation to repeal Florida's self-defense immunity statute (commonly known as the Stand-Your-Ground law).  The measure was soundly defeated by a vote of 11 to 2.

The hearing occurred after the 30 plus day protect against the Stand Your Law ground by the Dream Defenders. The Dream Defenders are a group of activist who camped out at the Florida State Capital promising not to leave until Governor Rick Scott held a special session to talk about repealing Florida's Stand-Your-Ground statute.

Florida's self-defense immunity statute passed unanimously in the Florida Senate in 2005 with overwhelming and bipartisan support in the Florida House. In fact, the legislation passed 94 to 20.

What Protections are Contained in Florida's Stand Your Ground Laws?

Among other protections, Florida's self-defense immunity statute allows the defense to file a pretrial motion to dismiss the charges. The statute also provides for special jury instructions if immunity from prosecution is not granted on a pre-trial basis.

Filing the pre-trial motion triggers a evidentiary hearing during which the trial court must either grant or deny the pretrial motion to dismiss after hearing testimony and reviewing evidence in the case.

If the court denies the motion, the defense can appeal the decision to deny a “Stand Your Ground” motion before trial and the refusal to invoke self-defense immunity by filing a petition for writ of prohibition.

During the hearing on the "Stand Your Ground" motion at the trial level, the state will argue that the defense bears the burden of proving his entitlement to self-defense immunity by the preponderance of evidence. The defense will often argue that the statute requires the State to bears the burden.

At the motion the defense will argue that the defendant was justified in his actions. A person is justified in using deadly force when he or she reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to him or herself or another, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. § 776.012, Fla. Stat. (2011) such as false imprisonment.

False imprisonment, for example, is defined as “forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will.” § 787.02(1)(a), Fla. Stat. (2011).

If the trial court finds that the other side's actions rise to the level of a forcible felony such as false imprisonment, aggravated assault, or another type of forcible felony, then the Defendant might be justified in his use of force on this basis. The trial court will consider whether there was an imminent threat and whether the Defendant's subjective fear was objectively unreasonable.

Read more about Florida's self-defense immunity statute known as Florida's Stand Your Ground statute in this article written by criminal defense attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. 

Good Lawyers Know the Law - Great Lawyers Know the Judge

Today I attended a Judicial CLE Luncheon presented by the Hillsborough County Bar Association with the Criminal Felony Bench.

The title of the event was "Motions: How to Present, Persuade and Defend in Motion Practice." The luncheon was held at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center in Tampa, FL.

These Judicial CLE Luncheons really give the criminal defense bar a wonderful chance to see the judges in a more relaxed setting. The seminars give us a unique glimpse into how the different judges make decisions in different types of pre-trial motion hearings.

It has been said that good lawyers know the law and great lawyers know the judge. Attending a seminar like this really drives that point home. Almost all of the judges on the criminal bench in Circuit Court in Hillsborough County participated including:
  • Judge Tom Barber; 
  • Judge Lisa D. Campbell;
  • Judge Kimberly K. Fernandez;
  • Judge Ronald Ficarrotta;
  • Judge Gregory P. Holder;
  • Judge Christopher C. Sabella;
  • Judge Michelle Sisco;
  • Judge Caroline J. Tesche; and 
  • Judge Samantha L. Ward.
Topics for the discussion included:
  • Motions for Bond or Bail

    • The importance of listing facts to cover each of the statutory factors in the motions.
    • The benefits of using the Pretrial Global Positioning System ("GPS") House Arrest Program managed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office when the person accused is released on their own recognizance ("ROR") in lieu of posting bond in serious violent felony cases and protecting the safety of the community is the primary concern.
    • Factors the different judges find most important in setting the bond amounts and pre-trial release conditions.
  • Motions to Dismiss under Florida Rule 3.190(c)(4)

    • Tips for the criminal defense attorney including clearly explaining what facts are disputed and undisputed, and why the disputed facts are not material to a prima facie case.
    • Tips for the prosecutor including the difference between the traverse and the demurrer.
    • Reasons to file motions to dismiss in possession of controlled substances cases involving knowledge / intent and dominion / control problems.
    • Recent cases discussing when judges can grant the Rule 3.190(c)(4) motion to dismiss and when defense counsel should opt for a bench trial when a judgment of acquittal is appropriate.
  • Motions for Speedy Trial

    • The statutory vs. constitutional provisions for a speedy trial. 
    • Strategies when filing for speedy trial or the notice of expiration of speedy trial while still preserving the right to litigate pre-trial motions. 
    • How judges view the motions for speedy trial and expiration notices.
  • Motions for Suppression of Evidence

    • The importance of being thoroughly prepared.
    • Why judges like it when you attach the case law to the motions.
    • Stipulating when facts are not in dispute and sticking to relevant evidence.
    • How the Standard Operating Procedures of Tampa Police Department impact inventory searches after an arrest
  • Stand Your Ground Motions

    • Recent appellate decisions that influence how judges are making rulings in these cases; 
    • Important distinctions between Florida Statute Section 776.012 and 776.013 on "engaging on unlawful activities" factor.
    • Strategies in determining whether your client should testify at the hearing.
The Hillsborough County Bar Association works hard to put together these Judicial CLE Luncheons. The criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors here are lucky that the judges participate in these quality CLE seminars. Hopefully, the HCBA will have a few more of these throughout the year.

Women in Pinellas County Drug Court Allege Sexually Abuse at Simply Hope, Inc.

The website for Simply Hope, Inc., promises a transitional housing program serving adults recovering from substance abuse. Through grant money, the company was able to expand into Pasco County in 2010.

It was awarded a 300 Club Grant through the court system which provides more than $35,000 a year from 2010-2013. It became qualified housing for the Jail Diversion Program and received additional support through the Pinellas County Public Defenders Office, members of the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition and co-chairs of the Coalition Housing Committee.

For the CEO of Simply Hope, Ray Harris, the program also granted him an opportunity to exert his influence over vulnerable young women caught up in the Pinellas County Drug Court Program. Over the years, hundreds of these women were required to live at the Simply Hope transitional houses. Ray Harris has a checkered past. He is a former drug addict with felony convictions, including a crime of dishonesty for grand theft.

One of the biggest supports of the Ray Harris and his company, Simply Hope, Inc., was Judge Dee Anna Farnell. In her courtroom, the progress reports from Ray Harris carried great weight. His allegations would send a women to prison for a long time. Anyone who dared to contradict his allegations faced the consequences.

Now dozens of these women have come forward to alleged sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Ray Harris dating back to 2007.  Those women might risk a hefty prison sentence for complaining except for the fact that one woman was able to record the misconduct on her cell phone.

In the recording you can clearly hear Ray Harris kissing her. She avoids further sexual contact by telling him that she doesn't feel well and asks for a pass. The recording suggests that Ray Harris knows he can get what he wants with women he supervises in the program.

The media has found at least one instances showing a woman in the program reported the abuse to their probation officer, even as early as 2010. For years, nothing was done. The recording on the cell phone leaves little doubt about Ray Harris' intentions.

The local media is reporting that so far, Judge Farnell is not commenting on the allegations. Although no more referrals are being made to Simply Hope, Inc., the court has been slow to act. Drug Court participants are still in the program. After the phone recording surfaced, the Public Defender's Office didn't hesitate to pull female clients it represents out of the program.
Other members of the board of directors include Tommy Gillis, a rehabilitated ex-offender, and Tonya Cardinali, the marketing manager.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into two of the complaints. It forwarded its findings to the State Attorney's Office in Pinellas County to determine whether charges should be filed against Ray Harris.

Read more about the problems at the Simply Hope Halfway House in Pinellas Park, FL.

Will Medical Marijuana be on the ballot in Florida in 2014?

Over the next six weeks, the advocates to legalize medical marijuana will face off with the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi before the Florida Supreme Court. 

Opposition Petitions for Advisory Opinion

Last week, Pam Bondi and the Florida Attorney General's Office petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on the validity of the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana under Florida law. 

Pam Bondi argued that under Florida law the proposal was not presented fairly and accurately. The petition alleged that the language was too vague and misleading to be on the ballot. She asked the Florida Supreme Court to issue an opinion that would end the ballot initiative.
The Florida Supreme Court's Advisory Opinion on Florida Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

The Florida Supreme Court has set the deadlines for making its ruling. United for Care and the Florida Attorney General's Office have until November 8, 2013 to submit their written arguments. Then each side has until November 18, 2013 to respond to the arguments of the other side. The court will hear oral arguments on December 5, 2013. 

If the Florida Supreme Court does not find the language to be vague or misleading, then the proposed amendment would be one step closer to to getting on the ballot. 

More than 200,000 Petitions Have Been Signed

People United for Medical Marijuana just announced that it has collected over 200,000 petitions to legalize medical marijuana in Florida in 2014. So far the organization has largely relied on volunteers. United for Care has hinted recently that it is ready to hire professionals to start collecting the remaining signatures. 

Just under 700,000 petitions must be signed and approved by the February 1, 2014 deadline. If the proposed amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida is on the ballot, votes must approve it by 60% before it become law.

Get Involved

United for Care needs to raise more money and find more volunteers. Visit the website for United for Care for more information.

Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Hillsborough County, FL

When a veteran with military service-related illness or injuries is charged with a misdemeanor, special considerations apply. In many of these cases, the veteran is eligible for services through the Veterans Administration that might address the underlying conduct that lead to the allegations.

By funneling those cases into a special division, the cases can be handled more effectively and efficiently. The stated goal of Veterans Court is creating a "coordinated strategy of treatment specific to the needs of the veteran and modeled after principles of therapeutic jurisprudence."

To carry out this purpose, Judge Richard Weis has been selected for the new Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL.

UPDATE: Starting January 1, 2015, all cases pending in County Court Criminal Division "V" are being transferred to Circuit Criminal Division "V." Judge Gregory P. Holder was selected to preside over the new division which will include both misdemeanor and felony cases. Read more about Hillsborough County's Veterans Treatment Court

The Administrative Order Establishing Veterans Court

The administrative order setting out the rules for the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court was signed on August 12, 2013. Administrative Order S-2013-054, which created County Criminal Division "V" becomes effective on October 1, 2013.

The original administrative order was filed with Pat Frank, Clerk of the Court, and copies were sent to all of the Criminal Division Judges, the Veterans Administration (VA),  Mark Ober, State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and Julianne Holt, Public Defender for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.

The Purpose of Veterans Court

The purpose of Veterans Court is spelled out in the administrative order: 
It is necessary and appropriate to create a new subdivision of the County Criminal Division to focus on individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses who are veterans suffering from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem. 
This specialized Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court division will enable consideration of the unique nature of the issues related to veterans, the need for appropriate treatment in an environment conducive to wellness, as well as the continuing necessity to ensure the protection of the public.
The Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court (Veterans Court) will authorize a judge to expeditiously and efficiently divert veterans with service-related issues into available veteran treatment programs without compromising the safety of the public. 
This specialized court will increase the efficiency of the county criminal  court system and permit access to state, local and federal services and resources by utilizing Veterans Administration and Veteran Mentor Volunteer resources and support systems.
Eligibility to Participate in Veterans Court

Under section two of the administrative order, in order to participate in the Veterans Court, a defendant must meet the following four criteria:
1. Voluntary Participation
The defendant must voluntarily agree to participation in the the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court for Hillsborough County, FL. 
2. Discharge and Condition
The defendant must be a veteran discharged with honorable conditions who suffers from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem.
3. Veterans Administration Services Eligibility
The defendant must be eligible to receive services for evaluation and treatment planning through the Veterans Administration and Veteran Mentor Volunteer resources and support systems, or other available court-approved state, local or federal resources.
4. Offense Charged
The defendant must be charged with a misdemeanor offense, county ordinance violation or municipal ordinance violation enumerated below. 
If the defendant has multiple pending charges and all of the charges are on the list of enumerated offenses, the defendant remains eligible to participate on all pending charges. 
If the defendant is charged with a non-DUI criminal traffic offense in addition to the enumerated offense, the companion criminal traffic charge may also be included in the Veterans Court. 
If the defendant is charged with a violation of a  City of Tampa criminal ordinance that is ancillary to an enumerated state statute violation, the companion ordinance violation may also be included in the Veterans Court. 
What are the enumerated offenses? 

The enumerated offenses include misdemeanors under the Florida Statutes, Hillsborough County Ordinance Violations, City of Plant City Ordinance Violations, City of Temple Terrace Ordinance Violations and any other offense approved by the State Attorney's Office.

The State Attorney's Office also has the discretion of dropping felony charges down to misdemeanor charges so that the defendant will be eligible to participate in the program.

State Statute Misdemeanor Offenses

Statute               Offense
365.172(13)      False 911 call
562.11               Possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age
810.08              Trespass in structure or conveyance (not occurring at a private residene, unless the                  residence is vacant)
810.09              Trespass on property other than structure or conveyance (not occuring at a private residence unless the residence is vacant);
843.02              Resisting an officer without violence;
843.03              Obstruction by a disguised person;
856.011            Disorderly intoxication
877.03              Disorderly conduct
893.13(6)(b)     Possession of cannabis (often called "marijuana");
893.145            Possession of drug paraphernalia;
901.36(1)         False name to law enforcement officer
________        Any other criminal offense approved by the State Attorney's Office in Tampa or Plant City, FL.

Hillsborough County Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
84-16 sec. 6 Failure to vacate a condemned structure
92-7 Public consumption of alcohol
00-34 Unlawful distribution of handbills
27-34                Unlawful plant removal
08-17                Crimes involving county parks
11-2                  Solicitation on public road
______             Any other county ordinance violation approved by the State Attorney's Office in and for Hillsborough County, FL

City of Plant City Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
90-04                Unauthorized entry into city park
10-2                  Alcohol beverages in public areas
10-96                Consuming alcoholic beverages in prohibited area
50-2                  Prohibited camping
50-3                  Remaining in city park
____                 Any other ordinance violation approved by the State Attorney's Office for the Fourtheen Judicial Circuit normally prosecuted in the Plant City, Courthouse.

City of Temple Terrace Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
3.335                   Open container violation
____                    Any other violation of the City of Temple Terrace Ordinances approved by the State Attorney's Office

How are cases referred into the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court?

The administrative order provides for the referral of cases into the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court.
If a defendant appears for arraignment or disposition on eligible charges, and  appears to be a veteran eligible for the Veterans Court, the defendant will be given a new disposition date within the originating division within 20 days. 
Prior to the disposition date, the defendant must be assessed by the Veterans Administration Criminal Justice Outreach Liaison to determine whether the defendant is a veteran who was discharged under honorable conditions, and if so, whether the defendant is eligible for treatment planning with the Veterans Administration or alternative community resources. 
If the defendant is not eligible, the case will remain in the originating division and proceed through the criminal justice system. 
If the defendant is eligible and wishes to participate in the Veterans Court, the defendant must waive speedy trial. The assistant state attorney will announce that the file is being transferred for participation in the Veterans Court. The originating division judge will order the case transferred to Veterans Court, Division "V," and order the case set on the next Veterans Court docket. 
A felony charge which has been reduced to an eligible misdemeanor charge may also be transferred to Veterans Court.
What happens in the misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court for Hillsborough County, FL?

The administrative order provides for certain general procedures including:
Once a defendant has been transferred to Veterans Court, the defendant is required to attend court hearings as set by the assigned Veterans Court judge. 
The defendant must participate in continued assessment and treatment and engage in discharge planning. 
Neither the Office of the State Attorney nor the Office of the Public Defender will be required to attend hearings set in Veterans Court. 
If the court determines that the defendant should be unsuccessfully discharged from Veterans Court, the court will enter an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. 
Copies of the transfer order must be provided to the defendant, the Office of the State Attorney and the Office of the Public Defender, or other counsel of record (all parties). 
If the court determines that the defendant has successfully completed Veterans Court, the court will issue an Order of Administrative Dismissal of the pending charges. 
Copies of the dismissal order will be provided to all parties. A defendant will not be required to participate in the Veterans Court any longer than 12 months.
What happens if the participant is arrested for a new misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation?

The consequences to the participant if he is arrested for a new misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation depend on whether the new misdemeanor charge is on the enumerated list or not.
i. Enumerated Charge or Violation
If a defendant is arrested for a new enumerated misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation (i.e., section 2B of this administrative order) while participating in Veterans Court, the Veterans Court judge will determine whether or not the defendant remains amenable for treatment and should be allowed to continue to participate in the program. 
If so, and the defendant agrees, the new charge will be transferred in the same manner provided for in section 3 of this administrative order. If the Veterans Court judge determines that the defendant should not remain in the program, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged by the court entering an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the unsuccessful discharge transfer order will be provided to all parties.
ii. Non-Enumerated Charge
If a defendant is arrested for a new non-enumerated misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation (i.e., not listed in section 2B of this administrative order) while participating in Veterans Court, the Office of the State Attorney will review the new case to determine if it should also be referred to Veterans Court. 
The Veterans Court judge will also determine whether or not the defendant remains amenable for treatment and should be allowed to continue to participate in Veterans Court. If both the Office of the State Attorney and the Veterans Court judge agree to allow the defendant to remain in Veterans Court, and the defendant agrees, the new charge will be transferred in the same manner provided for in section 3 of this administrative order. 
If the Office of the State Attorney or the Veterans Court judge determines that the defendant should not remain in Veterans Court, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged by the court entering an order  transferring the case( s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the transfer order will be provided to all parties.
C. New Felony Arrest
If a defendant is arrested for a new felony charge while participating in Veterans Court, the Office of the State Attorney will determine whether the new felony charge is one which may be considered for reduction to a misdemeanor and eligible for the defendant to continue participating in Veterans Court. 
If the Office of the State Attorney reduces the felony charge to an eligible misdemeanor charge and the presiding judge of Veterans Court agrees to allow the defendant to  continue participating in Veterans Court, then the felony charge which has been reduced to an eligible misdemeanor charge will be transferred to Veterans Court.
If the defendant is arrested for a new felony charge while participating in Veterans Court, and the Office of the State Attorney does not reduce the charge to an eligible misdemeanor charge, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged from Veterans Court by the presiding judge entering an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the transfer order will be provided to all parties.
The Records in Veterans Court Should Remain Confidential

The administrative order provides that the treatment records for the participants should remain confidential.
Patient treatment records are deemed confidential as provided by Florida law and generally must not be filed in the court file. If it is necessary that a treatment record or report or any portion of a treatment record or report be filed with the Clerk of Court for placement in the court file of a defendant in Veterans Court, the filer must also file a "Motion to Determine Confidentiality of Court Records" in accordance with Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420. The court will enter any appropriate order in accordance with Rule 2.420.

By recognizing the unique challenges for veterans with military service-related mental illness or physical injury, the Veterans Court promises better solutions for complicated problems.

Failure to Appear Warrant in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL

In many misdemeanor cases, the arresting officer wants to avoid making a formal arrest. The officer is allowed under most circumstances to issue the person a piece of paper called the "Notice to Appear."

The NTA operates much like a summons to appear in court. In most jurisdictions, the NTA will actually tell the person when and where they are to appear to answer the charges (also called the "arraignment date").

The notice to appear is common for charges like possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia, driving while license suspended with knowledge, or petit theft (also known as "shoplifting").

Unfortunately, in Hillsborough County, the citations do NOT actually provide notice of the arraignment date or time. This article explores the hoops someone must jump through after being issued a notice to appear.

One false move and you will be assessed additional fees, a service fee, or a reinstatement fee, the delinquency fee, the fee for a D-6 clearance, plus the expense of posting bond on the FTA warrant (not to mention the money you will pay in an attempt to get your mug shot off the internet). 

In Hillsborough County the Notice to Appear Doesn't Provide Notice of Anything

It seems to me that if the Notice to Appear simply did what it promised and provided notice of when and where to appear that people would have a much easier time complying. In fact, the other day I received a call from a lady who told me about the journey she went on trying to comply.

She had been issued a citation for DWLS with Knowledge, a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. She missed the court date set by the clerk's office and eventually turned herself into the jail and posted a $5,000 cash bond. 

She asked me, "What was I suppose to do?" I explained that if she had hired a private attorney then the attorney could file a "Motion to Withdraw the Capius." In misdemeanor traffic cases in Tampa, I've never seen a judge not grant the motion for an attorney with good grounds for the request. Then the court sets a new court date and the capius disappears.

Her next question was - "I went to the clerk's office on multiple days and then I went to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on multiple days. I had to keep going back to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office waiting for the capius to show up. Why didn't anyone just tell me that I could hire a private attorney could file a "Motion to Withdraw the Capius?"

Her main reason for being concerned was that after being released from jail she learned from a friend that her mug shot would be all over the internet. The problem with surrendering at the jail is that now a mug shot and arrest record is created.

Pretty soon that mug shot will be showcased on a variety of third party "Mug Shot" websites. These private companies will create a page with all of your information on it. If you want your mug shot taken down then these companies will charge you thousands of dollars. Even if you pay the money they will put your profile up on their sister sites in an attempt to extort even more money from you. 

How could all of this be avoided? What if the notice to appear just told the person the time and place they should appear? Let's explore what happens in the typically case:

What Does the Notice to Appear Say?

Instead of providing notice of the time and place to appear to answer the allegation, the notice to appear will say "Schedule a Court Date within 10 Days of citation date. Hillsborough County Court." The back of the Notice to Appear will says: 





Hillsborough Court (10 days)
419 Pierce Street, Room 107
Tampa, Fl 33602

Court Phone: 

What Happens When You Try to Schedule the Court Appearance?

If you call that number then you will probably get a busy signal. If you are lucky enough to have your call answered, it is an automated system that directs you to press "7" for "information on scheduling a court date."

You will not actually talk with anyone at the clerk's office who will schedule a court appearance. Instead, you will hear a message that tells you that you must appear at the clerks office "in person" to schedule a court appearance. 

The automated system also tells you that you can mail in a "request for a court date" in writing and must include "as much information as possible," including: a copy of the citation, your full name, driver's license number, date of offense, citation ticket number and current mailing address.

Hopefully, the clerk will grant your "request" and send you notice of the court date.  

If you go to the clerk's office in person or request a court date in writing within the first ten days, the clerk may tell you that no such citation has been received by their office from the arresting officer. The clerk will tell you that you are required to call or visit EACH DAY to see whether the citation has been received. 

If you don't like the automated system then you can press "8" to talk to the clerk. It has been a long time since I last called the clerk's office, so I gave it a try. I sat on hold for more than 20 minutes after being told there were 27 people ahead of me. Eventually, I was connected with a clerk. I had a simple question:
"If someone receives a citation for a criminal traffic infraction (like Driving While License Suspended (1st Conviction)) can the person call to set the court date?"
Although the notice doesn't tell you the answer to that question the answer is "No." The person must appear in person or make a "request" in writing. The clerk's website explains it this way:

How do I set a court date [for a criminal traffic infraction in Hillsborough County, FL]?
If you are charged with a criminal traffic violation (DUI, driving with a suspended license, driving without a valid drivers license, etc.), you must appear in person at one of the Clerk's office locations that process Traffic violations or mail a request in writing within 10 days of the offense date to request a court date....
During that conversation, the clerk told me that the Chief Judge just signed an administrative order that now requires the Clerk's office to set a court date if it is not requested within the 10 day period.

In many of those case, it is IMPOSSIBLE to set the court date within 10 days because the clerk hadn't even entered the paperwork into their system within 10 days.

I said, "Under the new system how would the person know what day and time to appear?" The clerk said the person should just call back "every day" until the clerk is able to tell them the court date. 

What Does the New Administrative Order Say About a Failure to Appear?

I had to look up the administrative order, S-2013-044, which became effective July 22, 2013. It provides:
10. Criminal Traffic Offenses 
A. Failure to Appear 
Failure of any defendant to appear at the Traffic Violations Bureau within 10 days from the date of issuance of the citation and make disposition of any citation for any criminal traffic violations within Chapter 316, 320, and 322, Florida Statutes, will result in the clerk setting a court date and notifying the defendant. if the defendant fails to appear at the hearing set by the clerk, the court may issue a capias for the arrest of the defendant, together with a Form D-6 (license suspension.) The capias will be issued with an appropriate bond amount to ensure the defendant's appearance before the court. A capius may be issued when the defendant is a minor, but the minor will be released on the minor's own recognizance. 
What Does the Clerk Do? 

Not surprisingly, many people are unable to set a court date under the old system or find out the court date under the new system. If they fail to set a court date or miss the court date set by the clerk (often because they didn't receive notice of that date or time) then the clerk will send out a form letter.

For instance, if you received a notice to appear with a traffic offense such as "DWLS w/Knowledge" then your form letter might say: 
Clerk of the Circuit Court 
Hillsborough County - Traffic

Charge: __________

Date Failed to Comply: _______________


You have failed to comply with all directives of the court within the time allotted as indicated by the date above. You must contact the Clerk of Court at the address listed above and comply as originally required. 

A capius may have been issued or may be issued for your arrest for failure to comply. Failure to comply with this notice by 11/06/2013 will result in the suspension of your driver's license. Additional fees may be assessed. 

For reinstatement of your driver's license, you may be required to pay a service fee after all court directives have been satisfied.    

Pat Frank, 
Clerk of the Circuit Court
Hillsborough County, FL

If the capius is issued then the clerk will tell you to turn yourself in at the jail. If you go to the jail the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office might tell you that the capius is not in their system yet. HCSO has even created a flyer for people in this position. It reads:

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office - Tampa FL
Sheriff David Gee


1. Check HCSO website.
2. www.hcso.tampa.fl.us
3. Click on Inquiries Online
4. Click on Warrant inquiry
5. Type your name in the box and enter.
6. If your name appears with an active warrant contact us at 813-247-8460.

It takes approximately 10-14 days from the day you miss your court date for a warrant to appear in our system. If the Warrant does not appear at the end of the 14 days contact the Clerk of the Circuit Court @ 813-276-8200. Have your citation number available.

Nothing this woman received told her that a private attorney could file a "Motion to Withdraw the Capius." I assume that if a private attorney can fix it in a matter of days by filing a motion, that the woman might have just represented herself and filed a pro se "Motion to Withdraw the Capius."

The Public Defender's Office hasn't even been appointed in these cases, so I'm not sure what procedures there might be for indigent people who need assistants with this type of motion.

I'm pretty sure that if the clerk just put the court date on the actual Notice to Appear the way they do in other counties, then less people will be calling or visiting the clerk's office.

Does the clerk have some reason why it wants all of these people calling every single day trying to figure out their next court date? Most importantly, far less people would be calling or visiting the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to surrender on the Failure to Appear warrant.

Solution - The Clerk could publish the arraignment schedule for each judge and publish those dates in advance. That way any officer on the street could look at the schedule and write the time and date to appear on the citation or notice to appear.

The officers already determine whether the arraignment will occur at the courthouse in Tampa or Plant City, FL. For cases in Tampa, the officers already know the division and judge who will be assigned the case because it goes by the first letter of the Defendant's last name. The officers could just look at the schedule and write the time and date on the citation. Problem solved.

So why is it that the notice to appear doesn't just tell you the date and time to appear?

Leslie Sammis is a criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm who represents clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Tampa or Plant City, Hillsborough County, FL.

Judge Richard Weis Assigned to Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL

UPDATE: Starting January 1, 2015, all cases pending in County Court Criminal Division "V" are being transferred to Circuit Criminal Division "V." Judge Gregory P. Holder was selected to preside over the new division which will include both misdemeanor and felony cases. Read more about Hillsborough County's Veterans Treatment Court.  

Judge Richard Weis has been selected as the judge for the new Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. Beginning on October 1, 2013, certain misdemeanor cases in Hillsborough County will be eligible for the new specialized division. The new court has been designated as the County Criminal Division "V".

The Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court will handle certain types of misdemeanor charges pending against veterans who were honorably discharged from the military. Individuals who are deemed eligible will have the option of voluntarily agreeing to enter the program.

The new division will recognize the unique issues facing our veterans including service-related problems such as mental illness or disorders, post-traumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and substance abuse.

The program also recognizes the resources available to veterans through the Veterans Administration including Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital for evaluations and follow up treatment and counseling.

Misdemeanor offenses that might be eligible for the program include but are not limited to trespass, petit theft, disorderly intoxication, resisting arrest without violence, possession of cannabis, making false 911 calls.

Part of entering the program involves attending hearings and participating in ongoing evaluations and treatment for substance abuse or mental health treatment. The Misdemeanor Veterans Court in Tampa will be similar in some respects to the misdemeanor pretrial intervention program.

The benefit of entering the program is that once all the special conditions are met, the Court will dismiss the charges. On the other hand, if the individual does not successfully complete a condition of the program or has a new arrest, then the case can be sent back to the original division for further prosecution.

Hillsborough County Public Defender Julie Holt supported the changes and has suggested expanding the division to include felony charges as well.

Similar specialized divisions exist for veterans in Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Okaloosa County, FL. Pinellas County has created a specialized division of drug court for veterans. Because of his military experience and leadership Judge Richard Weis was able to made the specialized division a reality for veterans in Hillsborough County.

10% of Petitions Collected - Legalization of Medical Marijuana on the Ballot in Florida

The Campaign Manager, Ben Pollara, has announced that in just a few short weeks United for Care has collected over 10% of the petitions needed to get the legalization of medical marijuana on the Florida ballot. United for Care has less than five months to collect the other 90% of petitions needed. 

You can download print, sign and mail the petition found here -  www.unitedforcare.org/petition.

In order for it to be counted, they must be mailed to 

People United for Medical Marijuana
Post Office Box 560296
Orlando, FL 32856

Ben Pollara also pointed out that public opinion seems to be shifting even more since Dr. Sanjay Gupta produced a special for CNN and wrote an article in support of Medical Marijuana. He even went as far as apologizing for his previous public opposition to it.  

Read the Petition for Medical Marijuana in Florida by Constitutional Amendment

The Constitutional Amendment Petition Form is now available for download here:

Petition for Medical Marijuana in Florida

United for Care, the sponsor of the initiative, has until February 1, 2014 to gather approximately 700,000 valid signatures. The Florida Secretary of State gave final approval yesterday for signature gathering to begin. If the required signatures are collected, then the measure will appear on the general election ballot in November of 2014. Because the initiative is for a constitutional amendment, it must pass by 60% before it becomes law.

Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions

The title of the ballow is "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions."

The summary of the ballot initiative reads:
Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.
If it becomes law, the new constitutional amendment would be Article X, Section 29 which protects the production, possession and use of medical marijuana.

The public policy section of the initiative provides that "[t]he medical use of marijuana by a qualifying patient or personal caregiver is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law except as provided in this section."

Protection for Physicians who issue a "Physician Certificate"

It provides that a physician licensed in Florida "shall not be subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law for issuing a physician certification to a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition in a manner consistent with this section."
Medical Marijuana Treatment Center

The initiative also protects the "actions and conduct by a medical marijuana treatment center registered with the Department, or its employees, as permitted by this section" when the medical marijuana treatment center is in "compliance with Department regulations."

Definitions under Florida's Medical Marijuana Initiative

The medical marijuana initiative defines the term "Debilitating Medical Condition" to include any condition for which a physician believes the "medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient" specifically including but not limited to the following
  • glaucoma;
  • multiple sclerosis
  • cancer;
  • hepatitis C;
  • lateral sclerosis (ALS);
  • Parkinson's disease, 
  • Crohn's disease; 
  • amyotrophic;
  • acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); or
  • positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The term "Identification card" is defined to means a document issued by the Florida Department of Health or its successor agency that "identifies a person who has a physician certification or a personal caregiver who is at least twenty-one (21) years old and has agreed to assist with a qualifying patient's medical use marijuana."

The term "Marijuana" is defined to have the same meaning given cannabis under Florida Section 893.02(3), Florida Statutes (2013).

The Definition of a "Medical Marijuana Treatment Center"

The proposed constitutional amendment defines the Florida "Medical Marijuana Treatment Center" as an entity registered by the Florida Department of Health or its successor agency that can cultivate and sell marijuana, produce containing marijuana, related supplies and educational materials to patients and their caregivers.

So what do you think of the language?

Leave a comment if you have an opinion on the language in the proposed constitutional amendment.

Florida's Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment on the 2014 Ballot?

The United for Care campaign, run by the People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM), just announced that it plans to file a petition next week with the Florida Secretary of State.  I'll post a copy of the petition as soon as it is available next week. 

Update July 12, 2013: Click here to read the 
Petition to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Florida  

Florida's Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment Expected to be on 2014 Ballot

The petition is the first step towards amending the Florida Constitution to provide for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. PUFMM will need approximately 700,000 signatures during a petition drive in order for the issue to be included on the general election ballot in 2014.

Wording of the Petition was Drafted by Expert Jon Mills

The legislation was drafted by Florida constitutional expert Jon Mills, a former Florida House Speaker and the past dean of the University of Florida College of Law. Jon Mills has been working on the wording of the petition for months.

Polling Shows 70% of Floridians Support a Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana

Statewide polling from earlier this year showed that seventy percent (70%) of Florida voters supported a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. Nineteen states have already enacted medical marijuana laws that vary widely. In order for the ballot initiative to become law, it must receive 60% of the vote as opposed to a simple majority.

Fierce Opposition to Legalizing Medical Marijuana in Florida

We can expect fierce opposition to any efforts to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. The most common argument against legalization is that cannabis serves as an entry point for the use of other illegal drugs in a theory called the "gateway effect."

Floridians that want to legalize medical marijuana are in for a long and difficult battle. Then Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition recently posted an article opposing medical marijuana on its website. The article is from the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association (FADAA) which published a "Medical Marijuana White Paper" dated April of 2012. According to the article:
"States that have established medical marijuana programs have experienced widespread program abuse. In states that track conditions under which people qualify to use medical marijuana, on average, only 7 percent of patients have terminal or life-threatening illnesses. The vast majority are smoking marijuana for pain (a subjective term that is being used to cover medical conditions such as menstrual cramps, headaches and minor arthritis). The idea of treating pain with smoked marijuana is of particular concern for Florida, as we are experiencing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse."
Raising Money for the Legalization of Medical Cannabis in Florida

The new directory of PUFMM, personal injury attorney John Morgan said he plans to help raise between 2 to 3 million dollars for the petition drive. To run a successful campaign, he estimates it will take more than than 20 million dollars.

Leave a Comment

If you support or oppose the idea of a constitutional amendment to the Florida Constitution to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in 2014, then leave a comment. Get involved by raising money for the petition drive or volunteering your time.

Florida's Criminal Jury Instructions Under Review

The Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases is currently reviewing the following jury instructions because of recent legislation or case law:
  • Jury instructions for Aggravated Fleeing and Eluding (Instruction 28.82, 28.84). See Dorsett v. State, No. 4D11-1530 (Fla. 4th DCA January 30, 2013)(reversible error when judge rejected requested special instruction that "[a]ctual knowledge of the accident is an essential element of this crime, for one cannot “willfully” leave an accident without awareness that an accident has occurred" and that an element of the crime was that "the defendant knew that he was involved in an accident.").
  • Jury instruction for Leaving the Scene of a Crash with Injury or Death (Jury Instruction 28.4) –  See Dorsett v. State, No. 4D11-1530 (Fla. 4th DCA January 30, 2013).
  • Jury instruction for Boating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Chemical or Controlled Substances (Instruction 28.14 - 28.17). See State v. Davis, No. 2D12-1409 (Fla. 2nd DCA February 27, 2013)(finding that despite the definition of vessel the State was not required to prove that the boat was subject to a license tax in order to prove the crime of BUI).
  • Jury instructions for lesser-included offenses for controlled substances (Instruction 25.2 - 25.19). See Ewing v. State, No. 2D09-6020 (Fla. 2d DCA February 25, 2011)(trial court should have instructed jury on simple possession of methamphetamine as a necessary lesser-included offense of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell even though  this lesser-included offense is not listed in the standard instructions as a necessary lesser-included offense).
  • Jury instructions for Failure to Register for Sexual Offenders and Sexual Predators (Instruction 11.14-11.14(g) and 11.15 – 11.15(k)). See Barnes v. State, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D487e (Fla. 1st DCA February 27, 2013).
  • Jury instruction for Self-defense (Instruction 3.6(f) and (g)). See Talley v. State, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D426a (Fla. 2nd DCA Feb. 22, 2013); Bassallo v. State, 46 So. 3d 1205 (Fla. 4th DCA November 10, 2010)(trial court abused its discretion in giving a self-defense instruction that indicated the defense applied only if the victim suffered an “injury,” when no injury occurred, which negated the theory of the defense).

A New Kind of Online Attorney Directory Called "Lawyer Legion"

Check out a new kind of online attorney directory called "Lawyer Legion." The website, www.lawyerlegion.com, just launched on March 22, 2013. All of the listings are completely free. In fact, no paid listings are allowed.

Lawyer Legion is a project of Internet LAVA, LLC, in Houston, TX. By way of disclaimer, my brother (who is 10 years younger than me) is the president of the company. I also own part of the company.

Building Better Membership Directories for Legal Organizations

Lawyer Legion was designed to work with different trusted legal organizations. Many of these legal organizations have a "Find a Lawyer" feature on their website.

Lawyer Legion created an easy way to feed over the members profiles into the organization's own "Find a Lawyer" feature on its website.

Lawyer Legion has already partnered with several legal organizations. In fact, they just launched the membership directory for the NORML Legal Committee (NLC) which is comprised of more than 600 attorneys that support the legalization of marijuana.

Lawyer Legion also just launched a redesigned website for the Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association. It also features this type of membership directory that lets the public begin their search for an attorney out of the organization's pool of members.

More of these sites are coming soon. If your voluntary or specialty bar association or other type of non-profit legal organization needs a membership directory or even a redesigned website, then contact Lawyer Legion for more information. Send them an e-mail at support@lawyerlegion.com.

The Only Nationwide Directory for Board Certified Attorneys

The directory is also unique because it is the only nationwide directory that puts a strong emphasis on recognizing attorneys who are certified specialist in any state program or accredited national program. By using the directory, members of the public can narrow their search to find only board certified specialist attorneys.

The directory also features badges for membership or leadership within other types of legal organizations. It is still a work in progress, but click here to see how it works for finding criminal defense attorneys in Florida. This is another example for criminal defense lawyers in San Francisco, CA.

Claim and Complete Your Free Listing on Lawyer Legion

The directory already has profiles for more than 100,000 attorneys. Especially if you are an attorney focused on criminal defense DUI, family law, personal injury, bankruptcy and immigration, chances are your profile is already in the Lawyer Legion directory. Claim and complete your profile and let us know what you think.

Defending Domestic Violence Injunction Case in Hillsborough County, FL

If you were just served with an injunction for protection against domestic violence then you have come to the right place.

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm defend both men and women in these types of cases against unfounded or exaggerated allegations of violence.

We only represent the Respondent in these types of cases. Our offices are located in downtown Tampa, just a few blocks from the courthouse.

Our attorneys are experienced in aggressively defending these actions in both the Tampa Courthouse and the Plant City Courthouse. 

We represent clients in petitions for protective orders (injunctions or restraining orders) against domestic violence, dating violence, repeat violence and stalking throughout Hillsborough County, FL. Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case.

I've just been served with a petition for a protective order against domestic violence, what now?

For cases in Tampa, Florida, a petitioner for a violence injunction will be heard in the Circuit Court Division "G" and "H." For violence injunction cases in the Tampa Courthouse assigned to Division G, the judge assigned to that division is The Honorable Frances M. Perrone in courtroom 302 in the Edgecomb Building.

The judge assigned to Division H is The Honorable Walter R. Heinrich, in courtroom 303 in the Edgecomb building at 800 E. Twiggs St., Tampa, FL.

For violence injunction cases in Plant City, Florida, the hearing takes place in the East Circuit Division "S" and East Circuit Division "V." The location where one party resides determines whether a filing in the east Division is appropriate.

For violence injunction cases in the Plant City courthouse assigned in division "S" are heard by The Honorable Art E. McNeil in courtroom 1, and in Division "V" are heard by the Honorable Jennifer X. Gabbard in courtroom 2 at 301 North Michigan Ave., Plant City, FL 33563.

What is a violence injunction?

Under Florida law, the term "violence injunction" is defined to include injunctions for protection against domestic violence, repeat violence, sexual violence, dating violence and stalking. These types of actions are commonly referred to as "restraining orders."

Under Florida law, no bond is ever required for entry of an injunction. Florida Statute § 741.30(2)(b). Likewise, the Petitioner does not have to pay any filing fee or suffer an expense at all.

Common Defenses in Domestic Violence Injunction Case

The Petitioner Must Have Standing to Bring the Petition

When defending against a domestic violence injunction in Hillsborough County, including in Tampa or Plant City, Florida, one of the first issues to consider is whether the Petitioner has standing. Under Florida law, the Petitioner and Respondent must be domestically related which means they must be either family or household members. Florida Statute §741.30(1)(e).

Florida Statute §741.28(3) provides a definition for the term “family or household member.” Under Florida law, the term "family or household member" means spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently living together as if a family or who have lived together in the past as if a family and persons who are parents of a child together regardless of whether or not they have been married or lived together. .

With the exception of persons who have a child in common, the family or household members must be currently residing together or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit. Florida Statute § 741.28(3).

The Petitioner can bring the action on behalf of the minor child. Those actions list the Petitioner as the “next best friend” of the child.

Minimum Residency Requirement

In a domestic violence injunction cases, there is no minimum residency requirement. In other words, even if the Petitioner just moved to Hillsborough County, the Petitioner can still file the petition for a protective order against domestic violence at the Tampa or Plant City Courthouse.

A petition for protection against domestic violence may be filed in the circuit where the petitioner currently or temporarily resides, where the respondent resides, or where the domestic violence occurred. Florida Statutes § 741.30(1)(j).

In the petition for a protective order against domestic violence, the Petitioner must allege sufficient facts to show that the Petitioner is a victim of domestic violence or in imminent danger of becoming a victim. Florida Statute § 741.30(1)(a).

Florida Statute § 741.28(2) defines the term "domestic violence" to include any criminal offense results in physical injury or death to one family or household member by another family or household member, specifically including but not limited to the following: 
  • assault;
  • aggravated assault;
  • battery;
  • aggravated battery;
  • sexual assault; 
  • sexual battery; 
  • stalking; 
  • aggravated stalking; 
  • kidnapping; or 
  • false imprisonment.

Reasonable Cause of Imminent Danger of Domestic Violence

In determining whether Petitioner has reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence, the courts in Tampa or Plant City, Hillsborough County, FL, must consider all relevant factors alleged in the petition for injunction for protection against domestic violence, including, but not limited to:
  • Whether the respondent engaged in any other behavior or conduct that leads the petitioner to have reasonable cause to believe that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence. § 741.30(6)(b).
  • Whether the respondent has used, or has threatened to use, against the petitioner any weapons such as guns or knives.
  • Whether the respondent has threatened to conceal, kidnap, or harm the petitioner’s child or children.
  • The history between the petitioner and the respondent, including threats, harassment, stalking, and physical abuse.
  • Whether the respondent has attempted to harm the petitioner or family members or individuals closely associated with the petitioner.
  • Whether the respondent has a criminal history involving violence or the threat of violence.
  • Whether the respondent has intentionally injured or killed a family pet.
  • Whether the respondent has physically restrained the petitioner from leaving the home or calling law enforcement.
  • The existence of a verifiable order of protection issued previously or from another jurisdiction.
  • Whether the respondent has destroyed personal property, including, but not limited to, telephones or other communication equipment, clothing, or other items belonging to the petitioner.

Ex-Parte Injunctions (Also Known as the "Temporary Injunction")

When reviewing the petition for a protective order on an ex-parte basis, the court must determine whether it appears to the court that an immediate and present danger of domestic violence exists. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(a).

The court can only consider the verified pleadings or affidavits unless respondent appears at the hearing or has received reasonable notice of the hearing. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(b).

The Court can either grant or deny the ex parte (temporary) injunction either with a return hearing or without a return hearing.
  • If the court finds no basis for the issuance of an injunction, the petition may be denied without a return hearing; however, a denial of a petition for an ex-parte (temporary) injunction shall be by written order noting the legal grounds for denial. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(b).
  • When the only ground for denial is no appearance of an immediate and present danger of domestic violence, the petition for ex parte (temporary) injunction may be denied but the court shall set a full hearing on the petition for injunction with notice at the earliest possible time. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(b). 
If the ex parte (temporary) injunction is granted: Any such temporary injunction shall be effective for a fixed period not to exceed 15 days. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(c). A full hearing shall be set for a date no later than the date when the temporary injunction ceases to be effective. Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(c).

Request for a Continuance

The court may grant a continuance of the hearing before or during a hearing for good cause shown by either party, which shall include a continuance to obtain service of process. § 741.30(5)(c).

Any injunction shall be extended if necessary to remain in full force and effect during any period of continuance. § 741.30(5)(c).

What Relief Can the Court Grant in the Ex-Parte or Temporary Injunction

If the court grants the ex-parte or temporary injunction, then the court has a wide range of relief that can be granted to the Petitioner to restrain the conduct of the Petitioner such as:
  • Restraining the respondent from committing any acts of domestic violence against petitioner or any member of petitioner’s family or household members. § 741.30(5)(a)1.
  • Restraining the respondent from contact with petitioner or any member of petitioner’s immediate family or household. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Forms 12.98(c)(1) and (c)(2).
  • Awarding the  petitioner temporary exclusive use and occupancy of the dwelling that the parties share or excluding the respondent from the residence of the petitioner. § 741.30(5)(a)
  • Excluding the respondent from going to the petitioner’s place of employment or school. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Forms 12.980(c)(1) and (c)(2).
  • Excluding the respondent from places frequented regularly by petitioner and/or any named family or household member of petitioner. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Forms 12.980(c)(1) and (c)(2).
  • Awarding temporary custody of a minor child or children of the parties on the same basis as provided in section 61.13. § 741.30(5)(a)3. A UCCJEA form must be filed by petitioner if seeking such relief. § 741.30(3)(d).
  • Ordering respondent to surrender any firearms and ammunition in his or her possession to the specified sheriff’s office pending further order of the court. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.980(c)(2).
  • Ordering such other relief as the court deems necessary for the protection of a victim of domestic violence, including injunctions or directives to law enforcement agencies as provided in this section. § 741.30(6)(a)7.

The Final or Permanent Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence

The courts in Hillsborough County, including Tampa or Plant City, Florida, must allow certain advocates to be present with the petitioner or respondent during any court proceedings or hearings related to the injunction for protection, provided the petitioner or respondent has made such a request and the advocate is able to be present. Florida Statute § 741.30(7) including:
  • an advocate from a state attorney’s office;
  • an advocate from a law enforcement agency; or 
  • an advocate from a certified domestic violence center who is registered under Florida Statute section 39.905
All proceedings shall be recorded. Recording may be by electronic means as provided by the Rules of Judicial Administration. § 741.30(6)(h).

Upon notice and hearing, when it appears to the court that the petitioner is a victim of domestic violence or has reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim, the court may grant such relief as the court deems proper. § 741.30(6)(a).

If Granted at the Return Hearing, How Long with the Injunction Last?

The final judgment of injunction for protection against domestic violence may be effective
  • indefinitely; 
  • until modified or dissolved by the judge at either party’s request, upon notice and hearing; or
  • expire on a date certain at the judge’s discretion. 
See Florida Statute § 741.30(5)(c), Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.980(e).
The final injunction order must include the statement that the respondent (unless respondent is a law enforcement officer defined in section 943.10 holding an active certification) may not have in his or her care, custody, possession or control any firearm or ammunition. Florida Statute § 741.30(6)(g), § 790.233(1).

What Relief Can the Court Grant in the Final or Permanent Injunction

In addition to the types of possible relief listed in the ex-parte temporary injunction above, the court may also:
  • Establish temporary support for a minor child or children or the petitioner.
  • The temporary support, custody and or visitation provisions that are established in a permanent domestic violence injunction remain in effect until the order expires or an order, which addresses support, custody and or visitation, is entered in a pending or subsequent civil action. §741.30(6)(a)3.,4.
  • Refer the petitioner to a certified domestic violence center. The court must provide the petitioner with a list of certified domestic violence centers in the circuit. § 741.30(6)(a)6.
  • Order counseling for any minor children and order any other provisions relating to minor children. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.980(d)(1). Order a substance abuse and/or mental health evaluation for the respondent and order the respondent to attend any treatment recommended by the evaluation(s). § 741.30(6)(a)5.
  • Establish type of contact/visitation with minor child(ren) the noncustodial parent may have. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Form 12.980(d)(1).
  • Establish temporary alimony. Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Forms 12.980(d)(1) and (2).
  • Order the respondent to enroll and complete a certified batterers’ intervention program. It is mandatory that such programs be certified under section 741.32. If the court orders the respondent to this type of program the court must provide the respondent with a list of all certified batterers’ intervention programs and all programs that have submitted an application to DCF to become certified. § 741.30(6)(a)5.
Unless the court makes written factual findings in its judgment or order which are based on substantial evidence, stating why batterers’ intervention programs would be inappropriate, the court shall order the respondent to attend a batterers’ intervention program if:
  1. It finds that the respondent willfully violated the ex parte injunction;
  2. The respondent, in this state or any other state, has been convicted of, had adjudication withheld on, or pled nolo contendere to a crime involving violence or a threat of violence; or
  3. At any time in the past in this state or another state, an injunction has been entered against the respondent after a hearing with notice. § 741.30(6)(e).

What Does the Final Written Order Say?

The order will typically indicate on its face that:
  • The injunction is valid and enforceable in all counties in Florida. § 741.30(6)(d)1.
  • Law enforcement officers may use their arrest powers pursuant to section 901.15(6) to enforce the terms of injunction. § 741.30(6)(d)2.
  • The court had jurisdiction over the parties and matter.
  • Reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard was given to respondent sufficient to protect that person’s right to due process. § 741.30(6)(d)3.
  • The date respondent was served with the temporary or final order, if obtainable. § 741.30(6)(d)4.
Florida law also provides certain special requirement for final injunctions including the following:
  • A final injunction must, on its face, indicate that it is a violation of section 790.233, and a first degree misdemeanor, for respondent to have in his or her care, custody, possession, or control any firearm or ammunition. § 741.30(6)(g).

How are Domestic Violence Injunctions Enforced?

The Florida legislature has expressed an intention that domestic violence should be treated as a criminal act rather than a private matter. Consequently, in the Tampa and Plant City courtrooms in Hillsborough County, FL, criminal prosecution are the favored method of enforcing compliance with injunctions. Florida Statute § 741.2901(2).

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has established and maintains a Domestic, Dating, Sexual and Repeat Violence Injunction Statewide Verification System capable of electronically transmitting information to and between criminal justice agencies relating to domestic violence injunctions issued by the courts throughout the state. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) must have the respondent’s name, race, sex, and date of birth.

The court may enforce a violation of an injunction for protection against domestic violence through a civil or criminal contempt proceeding, or the state attorney may prosecute it as a criminal violation under Florida Statute Section 741.31. The court may enforce the respondent’s compliance with the injunction through any appropriate civil and criminal remedies, including but not limited to, a monetary assessment or fine. Florida Statute § 741.30(9)(a).

Finding the Best Attorney for a Violence Injunction Case in Tampa or Plant City, FL

Injunction cases are serious and come with a lifetime of consequences. If you were served with a petition for a protective order against domestic violence, dating violence, repeat violence or stalking, then contact an experienced attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. Read more about how we fight domestic violence injunction cases in Hillsborough County, FL.

In the meantime, read the paperwork carefully. Be extremely careful not to do anything to violate the letter or spirit of the injunction. Make sure that your family knows not to contact the Petitioner in any way while the case is pending. Seek out advice from a qualified attorney.

This article was last updated on Tuesday, November 3, 2015.