Tampa Decriminalizes Marijuana—Sometimes

tampa_marijuana_lawWith Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Chief of Police backing the change, as of April 1, 2016, carrying marijuana in small quantities has been decriminalized in the city of Tampa-under certain circumstances.

Prior to the new ordinance that was passed in a council vote of 5-1 on March 17, 2016, anyone stopped in possession of any quantity of the substance could face criminal charges and a minimum of up to a year in the county jail. Under the new measure, people with 20 grams or less of marijuana could receive a citation instead of being arrested for criminal charges and pay a $75 fine for a first offense.

While the charge for possession has been greatly reduced, the city and police officials assert that the penalties rise to $150 for a second offense, $300 for a third and $450 subsequently.

Stephen A. Leal is a criminal defense attorney at McIntyre Thanasides in downtown Tampa. He points out that while the City of Tampa has joined other municipalities in Florida that have adopted similar local ordinances, possessing marijuana is still a criminal offense under state law.

“Tampa Police Department Officers now have the option to not arrest you for simple possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. If you aren’t doing anything else that’s illegal at the time you’re caught, then this ordinance will likely keep you from being arrested by an officer from T.P.D.” He said.

“However, Marijuana arrests often lead to or result from other charges in many, many cases. Police will continue to investigate cases in the same manner as they have in the past, and if they find evidence of other crimes, the new ordinance allows them to arrest you for everything, including the marijuana offense.”

He also cautioned that in Hillsborough County “this ordinance only applies to the city limits of Tampa, and, therefore, The Tampa Police Department’s jurisdiction. It is not binding on any of the other law enforcement agencies operating in Hillsborough County. So if you are investigated by The Hillsborough County Sherriff’s Office, or The Police Departments for the cities of Temple Terrace or Plant City, the Tampa International Airport, or the Seminole Indian Reservation, the Florida law still applies. The same is true for any State Officers operating in Hillsborough County such as the Highway Patrol, for example.

In January of this year, Mayor Buckhorn expressed one of the core reasons why he is in favor of the new ordinance, because of the detrimental effects a criminal record would have on a young person’s life.

“What the country and certainly mayors have realized is incarcerating people, particularly young people, for a very small amount of marijuana absolutely alters their career path for the rest of their life,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “Once they get into that prison system, they are forever scarred; they forever have a prison record.”

If you need more information about the new Tampa marijuana law, or want to discuss other drug-related criminal charges, contact the Tampa criminal defense attorneys at McIntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito, P.A.

Are Red-Light Camera Tickets Enforceable in Florida?

red_lightOften you are faced with a split-second decision when you approach an intersection as to whether it is safer to slow down or continue through an intersection upon the light first changing from green to yellow. You may also know that the length of time during that yellow light differs depending on the particular intersection you are driving through or even the city you are in. If your vehicle does not make it through that intersection prior to the light turning red, you are at risk for receiving a red-light camera citation.

Certainly you’ve heard the buzz over disputes related to the enforceability of red light cameras in Tampa Bay. The city of Tampa currently has 57 red-light cameras. According to auto accident lawyers from Denton & Zachary, PLLC,  camera-issued fines are set at $158 for the offense, but can rise to $264 plus court costs should you contest violations in court. Further, Tampa has issued approximately 190,000 tickets since it started the red-light camera program and collected $11.1 million in fines, with $6.8 million of that amount going to the company who provides them, American Traffic Solutions, according to city records. Despite more than 12 cities getting rid of traffic light cameras in 2014, the system issued $148 million in tickets in Florida last year, according to data recently collected by the state’s Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) as part of its annual survey.

Are they enforceable?

The short answer is yes. Basically, if you receive a red-light camera ticket in Florida, you are required to pay the citation, but you do receive a 60-day period in which you can contest the charge.

There are currently a couple of lawsuits pending in Florida which claim using camera providers to review citation data and issue tickets violates a Florida law that says only law enforcement and traffic enforcement officers have legal authority to determine a violation and to issue a citation. The way it works in Tampa’s program is that potential violations are reviewed by American Traffic Solutions before being sent to the Tampa Police Department, where officers then review the video footage and any photographs taken by the cameras to determine whether a violation in fact did occur.

Should you fight the citation?

A red light camera ticket does not carry points, unlike other traffic violations. In essence red light camera tickets are like parking tickets. However, if you fight them and lose, that is when the penalties increase. According to a recent article in Florida Today, about two-thirds of the people who fought their red light camera tickets had their cases dismissed or they were found not guilty. In nearly all the other cases, the vehicle owners received an “adjudication withheld” decision, which means they paid a fine that was typically less than the initial fine, or they attended driving school.

Working with an experienced attorneys helping with civil litigation cases who can review your case and examine the video data captured by the red-light cameras is key. These types of cases are typically dismissed, because there is no police officer who can argue that a driver ran the red light. In court, a photo of the incident is not evidence that the person who received the violation was driving the car. In some cases, a police department will drop the case when it ends up in court.

If you have questions or if you would like to discuss a pending red-light camera ticket with an attorney, do not delay. Contact TJ Grimaldi at McIntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito, P.A. to learn what you can do and whether your citation is enforceable.