Thursday, January 18, 2018

Expungement and Record Sealing

People often ask about record expungement.  In Florida, record expungement is defined as court-ordered physical destruction of a record by any criminal justice agency or other public entity in possession of such information.  In order to obtain an expungement, the State must not have filed an indictment, information, or other charging document in the case.  If one was issued, it was dismissed by the State.  There are also disqualifying offenses that can prevent an expungement.

If one does not qualify for an expungement, there is the option of record sealing.  Sealing is defined as the court-ordered maintenance of a record where it is secure and inaccessible to any person not having a legal right of access to the information contained within it.  In order to obtain a sealing, one must not have been adjudicated guilty or delinquent, never have secured a prior sealing or expunction, or have committed a disqualifying offense, and not be under court supervision.

Basically, whether one expunges or seals their record, it allows a person to remove access to their criminal history.  There is only a limited record remaining with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is required by statute, but it is free from public disclosure.
One thing to keep is mind is that there are entities that are still entitled to your sealed/expunged information.  By statute one is required to truthfully disclose the sealed history under certain situations.  These include:

1. When one is a candidate for employment with a criminal justice agency;
2. When one is a defendant in a criminal prosecution;
3. When one is a candidate for admission to the Florida Bar; 
4. When one is seeking employment or licensure or contract with the Department of Children and Family Services, The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Education, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Health, the Department of Elderly Affairs, or the Department of Juvenile Justice or to be employed or used by such contractor or licensee in a sensitive position having direct contact with children, the disabled, or the elderly;
5. When one is seeking to be employed or licensed by the Department of Education, any district school board, any university laboratory school, any charter school, any private or parochial school, or any local government entity that licenses child care facilities;
6. When one is attempting to purchase a firearm from a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer and is the subject to a criminal history background check under state or federal law;
7. When one is seeking to be licensed by the Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services within the Department of Financial Services; 
8. When one is seeking to be appointed as guardian pursuant to Section 744.31125; or 
9. When one is seeking to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to carry a concealed weapon or concealed firearm.


If you need help expunging or sealing your record, call Heather Bryan Law today at 863-825-5309, or contact us online.  We are here to help!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Do I Approach Defending Criminal Charges?

First, I meet with my potential client to make sure that I am the right lawyer for him or her.  A client needs to feel comfortable with her or her lawyer.  This initial meeting is extremely important.  If at this initial meeting a potential client does not have a gut feeling that the lawyer is the right one for the job, then suggest he or she hire a different lawyer.  The relationship must be one of trust.  Once the engagement agreement is signed, then it is time to get down to the business of defending the case.

I always begin with reading the statute, even if I have read it hundreds of times and I know it like the back of my hand.   The client needs to understand each and every element that the state has the burden of proving.  If the state cannot prove just one of those elements, then their case is over.  Think of it like a table with four legs.  If one of the legs is cut off, then the table falls.  Therefore, it is important to discuss each element of the alleged charge(s) with the client. 

It is very important to gather as much information as possible when discussing each element of the alleged charge(s).  Even though the state has the burden of proving their case, it makes the defense’s job much easier if the client happens to have an alibi or witnesses. 

The next step for me is to think about how the case law and how my client’s rights apply to the situation.  Have his or her rights been violated in any way?  For example, if the situation started because of a traffic stop, was the stop a legal stop?  Did the officer have the right to pull him or her over in the first place? 

During this process I demand discovery from the State.  The State has 15 days to comply with the demand from the date they officially charge a defendant and the date of the demand.  When I receive the State’s witness list, it will have a list of persons they intend to call as witnesses and all exhibits they intend to use in a trial.  The State must list all people and evidence, including exculpatory evidence.  If there are items on this list, like pictures or recorded interviews, I immediately order them from the agency (whichever police department conducted the interview or took the pictures).  This process of ordering all evidence can take a bit of time. 

As it starts to come in, I may discover that I need to order something from another agency.  For example, if my client was a passenger in a vehicle, when I get the police report, I will see the VIN number and tag number on the police report.  I will then need to order a certified copy of the vehicle registration from the Department of Motor Vehicles to prove the vehicle did not belong to my client.  This document may take another 6-8 weeks to arrive. 

Also, when I receive the State’s witness list, I may determine that I need to conduct a deposition of a State witness.  This decision is a delicate one.  A deposition is a sworn, statement given out of court before the attorneys and a court reporter.  Attorneys conduct depositions ahead of a trial to see what a witness might say at trial.  It also allows attorneys to get the witness to commit to a certain statement ahead of time, then if the witness changes his or her mind during the trial, he is perjuring himself.  There is no right or wrong decision in determining whether to conduct a deposition.  It is a strategy and another reason why you need to trust your attorney. 

Once all of the evidence is collected, I sit down with the evidence, the case law, and the statutes, and I think about how the case looks.  Do I think the State will be able to prove its case?  Then I look at the penalties (I have already discussed this with my client in the initial meeting) that my client is facing again.  I have another meeting with my client and go over it all with my client.  The final decision on whether to negotiate a plea or go to trial is ultimately up to my client.  But I do understand that my client is relying on my opinion of the case. That weighs heavily on me and I don’t take it lightly. 


I hope this summary helps you understand what a criminal defense lawyer does to help prepare your case.  If you have been charged with a crime, you need an aggressive, yet compassionate lawyer by your side.  Call Heather Bryan Law today for your consultation, at 863-825-5309, or contact us online.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

DUI's: What qualifies as a vehicle?

DUI’s have been in the news lately, especially with what seems absurd charges like a DUI on a horse!  One might wonder what qualifies as a vehicle? Can a person get a DUI on a horse? What about a bicycle? What about a golf cart?

The Florida DUI statute states that in order for a person to be found guilty of a DUI, the person must be found to be driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle.  We can discuss “actual physical control” in another blog post, as our purposes here are to define “vehicle.” 

So what is a “vehicle”.  Florida statute defines a vehicle as “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except personal delivery devices and devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”  By this definition a vehicle is any device by which a person or property may be transported.  Devices are manmade.  They are objects.  This definition of a vehicle, which does not include having any sort of motor or engine, allows bicycles to be included in the definition of a vehicle.  Therefore, a person can be found guilty of a DUI on a bicycle.  You can also be found guilty of a DUI on a golf cart, or any other type of device that fits the definition of a vehicle.

That brings us to a horse.  As a defense attorney, I would argue first that the horse is a mammal and not a device.  Therefore, a horse does not fit the definition of a vehicle.  Next, there is an exception within the Motor Vehicle statutes for “animals and animal-drawn vehicles” that allows them to be treated as pedestrians.  Finally within the statute, it states that whenever sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians can walk on the shoulder of a highway on the left side facing traffic. As there are no precedent horse DUI cases that I can find, this particular case should be interesting. 


If you have been charged with a DUI, you need an aggressive attorney by your side.  Call Heather Bryan Law, at 863-825-5309, for your consultation, or contact us online.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Types of Protective Injunctions in Florida

There are 5 very specific types of injunctions, or restraining orders, that you can apply for in Florida.  It is important that you know the difference between them, because if you apply for the wrong one, the injunction can be denied. 

On the other hand, if you are defending against an injunction, that is the first line of defense.  Was the proper injunction applied for? 

Below is a listing of the types of Injunctions in Florida:

1.      Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence – This injunction is specifically for persons who have been the victim of domestic violence or who are afraid of imminent domestic violence.  Domestic violence includes assault, battery, sexual battery, stalking, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. A domestic relationship means that the person is either your spouse, former spouse, related to you by blood or marriage, living with you presently, or has lived with you in the past, or the person is the parent of your child(ren) even if you have not lived with the person.  If the person you are attempting to file an injunction for protection against has not hurt you in one of the above listed ways, and you are not in a domestic relationship with that person, then you cannot get this type of injunction. 

2.      Injunction for Protection for Repeat Violence – This injunction is specifically for persons who are victims of repeat violence.  Repeat violence means that two incidents of violence have been committed against you by another person, one of which must have been within 6 months of filing the petition.  Repeat violence includes assault, battery, sexual assault, stalking, kidnapping, or false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury.  This type of injunction is intended for non-relatives.

3.      Injunction for Protection Against Dating Violence – This injunction is specifically for persons who are victims of dating violence, but who never lived together.  If you are in imminent danger or have been in danger for the past 6 months, this injunction is for you.  The dating relationship must have existed in the past 6 months, the nature of the relationship must have been characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement between the parties, and the frequency and type of interaction must have included that the persons have been involved over time and on a continuous basis during the course of the relationship.  It does not include violence in a casual acquaintanceship.  This injunction is intended for non-relatives.

4.      Injunction for Protection Against Sexual Violence – This injunction was intended to correspond with an active criminal investigation.  You must have reported the sexual violence to a law enforcement agency and be cooperating in the criminal proceeding (if there is one).  You may file this petition if you are the parent or legal guardian in behalf of your minor child who is living at home and is the victim of sexual violence.  You may also seek this injunction for protection if the offender was sent to prison and you discover that the offender is getting out of prison within 90 days of your petition. 

5.      Injunction for Protection Against Stalking – This injunction is specifically for persons who are victims of repeat harassment, following, or cyberstalking.  Cyberstalking means to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving to legitimate purpose.  This injunction is intended for non-relatives.

Whether you are applying for an injunction for protection or you are defending against one, it is important that you have a knowledgeable attorney by your side.  Even though injunctions are civil in nature, injunctions have elements of both family and criminal defense law intertwined.  You should have an experienced family and criminal defense attorney to walk you through the process.  Call Heather Bryan Law today at 863-825-5309, for your consultation, or contact us online


Monday, October 23, 2017

Helping Your Lawyer Prepare For Your Criminal Case

So you have been charged with a criminal offense.  You feel like your world is falling apart.  It is a difficult time that affects every aspect of your life.  You need a knowledgeable and experienced attorney by your side.  Hopefully you have hired one.  

What can you do to help?  There are several things.

First and foremost: do not talk to anyone about your case except your attorney.  You have the right to remain silent.  Use it!  It is extremely damaging to your case if you speak about it with anyone. And it can kill your case if you put anything on social media.  You also have this right even with your attorney.  Your attorney will probably ask you very specific questions.  Think about how your attorney is asking those questions and answer the question that is being asked. 

Think of any evidence that you may have. Although the burden to prove their case is on the State, anything that you may have to disprove the State's case will definitely make things easier.  Do you have any witnesses?  Give their names and contact information to your attorney immediately.  The longer the amount of time that passes may make it difficult for your witnesses to be reached, or their memory may start to fade.  Do you have any documentation that may help like receipts, registrations, leases, or phone records?  For some of these items, certified copies may need to be ordered, and your attorney will need to have the time to do so. 

It is also important to stay in contact with your attorney.  Keep him or her updated with contact information.  You may have an unexpected court date arise, the state may disclose evidence at the last minute, or any number of things can happen to where your attorney needs to speak with you right away.

The most important thing that you can do is listen to the advise of your attorney.  Your attorney knows the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence.  What you believe may be important, unfortunately may not be admissible or legally relevant.  It is imperative that you have a relationship of trust with your attorney.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact Heather Bryan Law for your consultation online, or call 863-825-5309.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Marijuana and Decriminalization in Florida

The process of decriminalization of marijuana in Florida is slow, but occurring.  In all there are 14, counties, cities, and/or municipalities that have passed ordinances that give police officers the option to issue civil citations or fines rather than arrest a person who is caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. It is important to note that in these cities or counties, the choice still lies with the individual officer whether to issue the citation or make an arrest for misdemeanor possession.  Each place’s ordinance varies, so it is important to read the specific ordinance.  Below is a list of places thus far that have passed such ordinances with links to more specific information about the ordinances.


On a national level, twenty states have enacted legislation decriminalizing possession under specific circumstances.  However, in Florida, there has been a resistance among the voters at the state level.  Arguments for decriminalization include: 1) law enforcement should use their time going after much more serious matters and criminalization is expensive, including the cost of prosecution, 2) the idea that legalization would lead to higher crime has been rebutted by data in Colorado, 3) marijuana is (relatively) harmless, and 4) minorities are arrested and charged for possession at a much higher rate than whites.

Here in Polk County, possession of marijuana is still aggressively prosecuted as a first-degree misdemeanor.  If you are in possession of less than 20 grams, you can face up to 365 days in Polk County Jail. 

If you have been charged with possession of cannabis, or any other drug crime, contact Heather Bryan Law for your consultation today at 863-825-5309, or contact us online


Friday, September 22, 2017

StingRays and Your Right to Privacy

In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court protected privacy by ruling that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to track cell phone location data without a warrant.  Police departments in Florida and around the country have been using metadata from cell phones to track a person’s location in real time without obtaining warrant.  The ruling also covered the use of StingRays, a technology often used by law enforcement to track people.  This device tricks cellphones into sending it their location information, as it is a cell-site simulator.     

The ACLU defended the 2014 Florida decision by saying that it not only gives location information, but the most private information in our lives—like doctor’s visits. 

Even though this has been the ruling in Florida since 2014, other states have continued to use StingRays.  However, on September 21, 2017, an appellate court in D.C. ruled with Florida, finding that warrants must be issued prior to StingRays being used.  This ruling is now the fourth such ruling in the country.

There are still 72 simulators in 24 states according to the ACLU; and there could be many more.  It looks like this issue could go before the highest court in the land for a final decision. 

If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you need the help of an experienced criminal attorney to stand beside you and fight for you.  Contact Heather Bryan Law for your consultation today, at 863-825-5309.