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.
Conclusion

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: 

____________________

IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS TO INDIVIDUAL CHARGED WITH A TRAFFIC VIOLATION REQUIRES A MANDATORY COURT APPEARANCE

YOU MUST CONTACT CLERK OF TO SCHEDULE A MANDATORY COURT APPEARANCE

COURT LOCATION: 

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

Court Phone: 
813-276-8200
__________________

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: _______________

Subject: DELINQUENCY NOTICE OF FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH A CRIMINAL TRAFFIC CITATION AS REQUIRED BY F.S. 322.245

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

Warrants

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.

Visit our office in Tampa, Florida
Sammis Law Firm
1005 N. Marion St.
Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 250-0500