Stand Your Ground Changes Have Wide Impact

A recent court decision has put the controversial “stand your ground” law back under the microscope. Passed in Florida in 2005, the law changes traditional self-defense guidelines immensely. “Stand your ground” eliminates the responsibility to retreat from dangerous situations and authorizes individuals to forcefully defend themselves to “prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” Since it’s passing there has been debate over consequences and convictions, and now, more concerns are surfacing.

A 2017 amendment reversing the burden of proof, is the origin of a state-wide disagreement. Originally, the burden of proof, or responsibility to prove one’s claim, was left to the defense. However, the amendment now leaves it up to the prosecution to refute a “stand your ground” claim. One contentious question that arises from this change is whether the change can be applied retroactively to active cases. Not all courts agree, as the Second District Court of Appeals has decided to apply the rule retroactively to various cases in Hillsborough and Pinellas County, while the Third District Court of Appeals, located in Miami, has deemed the amendment unconstitutional and has decided not to apply it retroactively.

These conflicting decisions mean that the final decision on retroactive application rests with the Florida Supreme Court; a process that could take as long as a year. Until the Florida Supreme Court reaches a decision, each district will handle cases as their district court has directed. In the meantime, there is a lot of uncertainty amongst defendants, victims, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

One of the first cases to apply the amended law is the Pinellas County trial of Bobby Ryan. Accused of taking part in a fight in 2016 that turned fatal, Ryan claimed a “stand your ground” defense under the new rules and prevailed. Although the charges against Mr. Ryan were dismissed, the Attorney General’s Office has appealed the decision because they do not believe that the law should be applied retroactively to crimes committed before June 9, 2017. While his case is under appeal, Mr. Ryan has cited great uncertainty for himself and his family as his fate is once again in the hands of the courts.

In Hillsborough County, Tymothy Ray Martin was previously convicted of felony battery against his girlfriend. He unsuccessfully attempted a “stand your ground” defense and was convicted. Martin’s attorneys appealed the conviction on the grounds that the amended law should apply to his case. The Second District Court of Appeals agreed, and Mr. Martin will get a second shot at a “stand-your-ground” defense.

Cases such as Martin’s raise concerns from both victims and prosecutors. Retrying cases that have already been decided carry heavy costs to the prosecution as time and expense must be allocated to retrying cases. Additionally, the necessity of reliving trials and the possibility of reversals can be very painful to victims.

Those in Pasco County are particularly curious about the long-standing case of retired Tampa police captain, Curtis Reeves. Reeves has been awaiting trial since he shot and killed Chad Oulson in a movie theatre in 2014, claiming a “stand your ground” defense. The judge did rule against him, rejecting his “stand your ground” defense. Unsurprisingly, his lawyers appealed the decision. Now, with the amendment in place, prosecutors, defenders and family members alike are unsure of what this means for Reeves or the Oulson family.

The decision of the Second District Court of Appeals impacts everyone involved in the case. For Curtis Reeves, the more time passes, the more time he will live free of any consequences for his actions. Oulson family attorney TJ Grimaldi stated, “An opportunity for a second chance at a stand your ground defense can only be seen as a win for Mr. Reeves and his attorneys.”

For the widow of Chad Oulson, this waiting game only adds to the suffering she experienced by losing her husband. Waiting for these decisions means anxiously anticipating another potential hearing, and more importantly, further delaying justice.

The individuals from the cases highlighted above are not the only ones who will be directly affected by this conflict. The uncertainty the amendment creates can be costly to the state itself and its citizens, and especially painful for both defendants and victims. It also impacts the dockets which will be pushed back for both the state and defense attorneys to focus on cases they had deemed done. The debate over this amendment is causing statewide chaos and is ultimately doing more harm than good. If you have any further questions, comments or concerns please comment below.

Can Bankruptcy Help with Past-Due HOA Fees?

The short answer is yes! Often times when dealing with mounting homeowner’s fees, you may feel there is no available option to remedy the situation. The bills continue to pile and fees add up with no end in sight. However, there are several options available to you with respect to alleviating some of this financial strain.

Florida law permits HOAs to impose a lien upon a property to secure payment. In Florida, under both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you can potentially strip off your HOA lien if the property is worth less than the amount you owe on your mortgage. While filing for bankruptcy may eliminate past due amounts, you will be responsible for paying current amounts as they become due after you file your bankruptcy case if you wish to retain the property. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy may also give you an opportunity to restructure past amounts due if you wish. To further understand your legal options it is best to discuss your particular case with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

For more information on how bankruptcy can help with past-due HOA fees, contact the bankruptcy lawyers at McIntyre Thanasides today.

Zombie Foreclosures Continue to Haunt Florida

One in five homes in the foreclosure process are zombies, according to RealtyTrac which says that Florida leads the list with roughly 55,000 homes that are abandoned by their owners and in a state of legal limbo.  Despite economic recovery in much of the nation, the foreclosure issue is not going away any time soon.  What do zombies mean if you are looking to list your property?  Most likely if there is one on your street, you will not be able to sell your home.  If you do, you’ll get much less than you were hoping for due to the proximity of the zombie foreclosure.  Zombie foreclosures not only lower property values of surrounding homes, but they also lead to lost property tax revenue – a double whammy for anyone considering listing a real estate property.

RealtyTrac’s most recent data on zombie foreclosures also reported that about 21 percent of the 141,406 total foreclosures reported in Q2 were of the zombie variety.  What makes a foreclosure a zombie?  This type of foreclosure occurs when a lender goes through all the steps of a foreclosure, but fails to complete the last step of registering the deed to move title from the borrower to the lender.  The owner then deserts the property leaving it abandoned which leads to an unkempt eyesore, making the surrounding properties less appealing.

One of the reasons that Florida is on the top of this list is because it is a judicial foreclosure state.  That means that in order to foreclose on a property a bank must go through the court process which takes a long time.   While new laws set out to protect borrowers and prevent servicers from reacting to foreclosures at the same rate they typically would, there are other ways service providers can provide assistance to borrowers while working directly with their business partners to prevent such a high vacancy rate.

Working with a qualified lawyer is the first step you should take if you are facing a foreclosure or currently involved in one.  A well informed homeowner can be counseled by a foreclosure attorney who can provide guidance in terms of what options are available to you and communicate with involved parties to find the best resolution and reduce the time period of the foreclosure sale right of redemption.  In some cases, this time period can be shortened from six months to as little as 30 days.

Servicers may also work directly with a lawyer who will contact the borrower.  For example, when a company has made an attempt to serve the borrower papers and finds the property to be vacant, they are often times legally required to search for the borrower.   This process will not eliminate zombie foreclosures, but does help expedite the foreclosure or proceed to workout.  By enlisting the help of an attorney from the start, you can be proactive and address the issue before vacancies increase and prevent zombie foreclosures from spreading.

If you find you are the victim of a zombie foreclosure, there may be a number of remedies available to you. Contact the Tampa foreclosure attorneys at McIntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito, P.A. today.

Development Extension Opportunities Through December 2014

The Florida legislature passed numerous bills over the last several years, giving property owners the right to obtain two-year extensions for certain types of development permits simply by sending a letter to the permitting agency by a specific deadline. This year the Florida legislature passed CS/HB 7023, which contains provisions very similar to the bills previously passed.  This new two-year extension is somewhat limited in its applicability, but presents an opportunity for projects that may have missed past extensions or were recently approved.

The statutory extension applies to those enumerated permits, including local government-issued development orders and building permits as well as permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, with an expiration date between January 1, 2014 and January 1, 2016. It is in addition to any existing permit extensions, provided that the total permit extension time does not exceed a total of four years.  For example, if you used a previously enacted bill to extend the expiration of a permit by a total of four years, then you will not be able to apply for a further extension.

In order to exercise the right to a permit extension under CS/HB 7023, the property owner must give written notice to the authorizing agency by no later than December 31, 2014. The letter must identify the specific permit or authorization for which the extension is for and the anticipated timeframe for the permit or authorization.

It is important to act quickly due to the impending deadline.  Those who are eligible should review all of their existing permits to see if an extension is authorized and begin making the required notifications to the appropriate agencies.

If you would like to take advantage of the filing extension and wish to discuss your options prior to conducting notifications, contact Blake Bringgold at 813.899.6059 or blake@mcintyrefirm.com.