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Florida Criminal Statutes

Florida criminal statutes are the means by which the state makes certain behaviors illegal and punishable by imprisonment, fines or other penalties. 

If you are charged with a crime in Florida, knowing the exact criminal statute cited can provide valuable insight into the specific elements that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. Florida statutes also detail the potential punishments if convicted.

As Broward criminal defense lawyers can explain, it is not uncommon for state attorneys (another name for “prosecutors” in Florida) to pile on the most severe charges at the outset of a case – even if they don’t have all the necessary evidence to easily secure a conviction. They do so because of cases that aren’t dismissed, most are resolved through plea deals. Piling on the most severe charges at the start of a case gives prosecutors an upper hand in these negotiations. Working with a highly skilled and experienced Florida criminal defense attorney helps even the playing field. 

That said, you don’t have to go to law school to read the statutes and break down the essential components of the corresponding criminal statute. This goes for minor charges (misdemeanors) and more serious charges (felonies). 

Florida Criminal Law - Foundations and Principles

Here in the United States, we employ a common law system, which works with a combination of state and federal statutes. Every state has its own penal code that defines crimes, severity, and respective punishments. States are free to draft as many new criminal laws as they want, just as long as it doesn’t violate the constitution. While most states have similar penal codes, it is possible that what’s a crime in Florida may not necessarily be a crime in other states – and visa versa. 

In general, federal criminal statutes only apply when a crime violates federal legal codes or involves multiple states, crosses state lines or interferes with trade between states. 

There may also be city-specific ordinances that can garner punishment. These are typically handled through citations and do not involve the potential for incarceration as a penalty for violation. 

In both the federal and state criminal justice systems, prosecutors have wide latitude in determining when, whom, how and even whether to prosecute for apparent violations of criminal law. They often will consider the nature and severity of the offense, the deterrent effect of prosecution, the interest of victims (if there are any victims), the probable sentence and the defendant’s culpability, criminal history, personal circumstances and willingness to cooperate.

As outlined in Florida Statute 775.012, the general purposes of Florida’s criminal code are to:

  • Proscribe conduct that improperly causes or threatens to cause harm to an individual or the public interest.
  • To give fair warning to people in Florida in understandable language of the conduct that is prohibited and the sentences that are authorized upon conviction for these acts.
  • To clearly define the key elements that constitute an offense and the state of mind or criminal intent that must be proven to secure a conviction. 
  • To differentiate on reasonable grounds between minor offenses.
  • To safeguard conduct that is allowable and to prevent legitimate state interests from being criminalized. 
  • To ensure public safety through deterrence measures, as well as provide opportunities for rehabilitation of offenders, and to confine offenders when it’s required in the interest of public safety.
How Understanding Florida Criminal Statutes Can Help You

Knowing the exact language of the criminal statute under which you are charged can help you better understand exactly what elements must be proven in order for you to be convicted, and whether the alleged severity of the offense matches the evidence. 

For instance, you may have a general understanding of what “burglary” is. But the state statute on burglary, F.S. 810.02, breaks down each element of the offense piece by piece. These elements include:

  • Entry into a dwelling, structure or car.
  • Dwelling, structure, or car belongs to another person. 
  • Dwelling, structure, or car is not open to the public and/or you do not have permission to enter. (If you do have permission initially but you stay after permission is withdrawn in order to commit a crime, that is burglary.) 
  • You enter with the intention to commit a crime. 

You can’t burglarize your own home or a place in which you are lawfully permitted to be. If you’re invited to a friend’s home and you enter, that’s not burglary. Even if you enter a home without permission but don’t intend to commit a crime, that’s not burglary. (Trespassing, maybe, but not burglary.)

Furthermore, the severity of the offense depends on:

  • The type of crime you intended to commit. 
  • Whether someone was inside the dwelling, structure, or car at the time.
  • The seriousness of the harm caused.
  • Whether you used a firearm or getaway car in commission of the burglary.

Burglary in Florida can be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison, if someone is inside and you commit assault or battery on them, particularly if you were armed with a gun. It can also be a life felony if you caused property damage of more than $1,000. It will be a second-degree felony punishable by 15 years in prison if you are not armed, but someone was inside - even if you did not cause any physical harm or property damage. It is a third-degree felony punishable by 5 years in prison if you unlawfully entered with intent to commit a crime, but no one was there, you were not armed, you did not hurt anyone, you didn’t cause significant damage, and you didn’t use a getaway car. 

Elements of a crime often come down to intention and impact. Reading the exact statute helps you to understand exactly what elements prosecutors must show in order to prevail in their case against you.

What About Case Law in Florida Criminal Defense? 

In addition to statutes, case law can play an important role in helping you to understand how your Florida criminal case may unfold. 

While statutory law is what we call the written laws enacted by federal, state and local legislative bodies, case law (also sometimes referred to as common law), refers to the legal principles and rules that are developed by courts when they are interpreting statutes and applying legal precedents. Different courts can read the same statute and reach totally different conclusions about what certain words or phrases mean and how they should be applied to each case. When there is a substantial conflict in how to interpret our laws, those cases can be appealed to higher and higher courts - sometimes up to the state supreme court, federal district courts or even (very rarely) the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Your Broward criminal defense lawyer will be looking carefully at state and federal case law to determine how courts applied existing statute to other cases with fact patterns similar to yours. 

Types of Florida Criminal Offenses 

There are a few different ways to examine the types of criminal offenses in Florida. One is to look at it from the perspective of impact. In this regard, there are five primary categories: 

  • Crimes against a person. 

These are crimes that cause physical or mental harm to someone else. These would include murder F.S. 782.04 and other violent crimes like manslaughter, F.S. 782.07, assault F.S. 784.011, and battery F.S. 784.03, child abuse F.S. 827.03, domestic violence F.S. 741.29, F.S. 741.2901, kidnapping F.S. 787.01, rape, statutory rape and other sex offenses F.S. 794, sexual cyberharassment, F.S. 784.049, stalking and cyberstalking, F.S. 748.048, abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elderly or disabled adult, F.S. 825.102 etc. 

  • Crimes against property. 

These typically involve theft or interference with the property of another person. They can cause physical or mental harm to someone else, but that primarily stems from the deprivation of the use or enjoyment of their property. These can include burglary F.S. 810.02, larceny F.S. 812.061, robbery F.S. 812.13, carjacking F.S. 812.133, shoplifting, F.S. 812.015, etc. 

  • Inchoate crimes. 

These are crimes that are initiated, but not carried out, as well as assisting others in the commission of a crime. To be convicted of an inchoate crime, one must have taken a substantial step toward completing the crime. These can include aiding and abetting, F.S. 777.011, attempt, solicitation and conspiracy to commit a crime, as spelled out in F.S. 777.04, and accessory after the fact, F.S. 777.03. In some cases, Florida allows inchoate crimes to be punished to the same extent as if the crime had been completed or carried out directly by the defendant.

  • Statutory crimes.

These are crimes proscribed by statute. Of course, all crimes are spelled out in statutes, but this just means basically that, “It’s a crime because the state says it is.” Some examples would be alcohol-related crimes like DUI, F.S. 316.193, drug offenses (drug trafficking, F.S. 893.135, drug possession, F.S. 893.13, conspiracy to commit drug crimes, F.S. 777.04), gun crimes (carrying a concealed weapon, F.S. 790.01, discharge of a firearm in public, F.S. 790.15, felon in possession of a firearm, F.S. 790.23, improper exhibition of a firearm, F.S. 790.10)  and traffic violations (driving with a suspended license, F.S. 322.34leaving the scene of an accident, F.S. 316.061 & F.S. 316.062, reckless driving, F.S. 316.192, texting while driving, F.S. 316.305  etc.).

 Financial and other crimes. 

 These can also be crimes against property, but they basically involve some degree of deception or fraud for financial gain. We also sometimes refer to these as “white collar crimes” because of the corporate officers who sometimes are charged with them, but they can be perpetrated really by anyone - especially as technology has advanced and become more accessible to everyone. These can include money laundering, fraud (credit card fraud, F.S. 817.57-F.S. 817.685, insurance fraud, F.S. 817.234forgery F.S. 831.01, mortgage fraud, F.S. 817.545, worthless checks, F.S. 832.05(2)(a), health care fraud, F.S. 409.920), identity theft, F.S. 817.568, blackmail, embezzlement, tax evasion F.S. 189.40 and cybercrimes.

Florida Statutes Spell Out Crime Severity Levels

Another way we categorize crimes is based on the severity level of how they are punished. These are designated felonies, misdemeanors and infractions.

  • Felonies.

 These involve serious misconduct that may be punishable by imprisonment of more than one year. Felonies are classified by severity, and maximum penalties typically range between 5 years and life. Capital felonies are punishable by death. Felonies may be more severe if they are categorized as “forcible felonies” per F.S. 776.08, meaning it involved the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

  • Misdemeanors. 

Misdemeanors are punishable by no more than one year in jail or prison.

  • Infractions. 

 Offenses that are usually not punishable by any jail time and are minor are called infractions. These can include traffic violations, parking tickets, noise ordinance violations, etc. 

It’s worth noting that some crimes can be all three - an infraction, misdemeanor or felony - depending on the nature, severity level and impact. 

For example, possession of marijuana in many Florida jurisdictions is now considered a civil infraction by local ordinance, which can be resolved by paying a fine. However, Florida Statute technically still says that possession under 20 grams is a misdemeanor offense. And if you possess more than 20 grams, you could be facing state felony charges for trafficking. 

Another example is assault and battery. These are generally considered misdemeanor offenses. However, if the injury to the other person was severe or if it’s alleged a deadly weapon was used, the offense can be bumped up to a felony. 

Florida general penalties for crimes are found in Title XLVI, Chapter 775 of Florida Criminal Statutes.

If you have been arrested in Florida, hire a criminal defense lawyer right away and be sure to ask for an explanation of the Florida criminal statute(s) under which you’re being charged. 

Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm, by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (954) 761-4011.

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