Florida dui defense attorneyThe Washington Times has a brief blurb on a drunk man and his 15 minutes of fame as he crashed into Rod Stewart‘s Palm Beach home’s mailbox…

A Niceville, Florida man was charged with driving under the influence with property damage after he crashed his Toyota into singer Rod Stewart’s Palm Beach home.  The only casualty was the “Do you think I’m sexy” crooner’s mailbox.

37-year-old Michael Hutson Lutz was pulled over by the Palm Beach police shortly before 8:00 p.m. when the officer noticed his vehicle weaving on the road and crossing the center lane.  As he pulled over for the police, his car struck Stewart’s mailbox along South Ocean Boulevard.  Mr. Lutz’s night only went down from there.

When asked for his driver’s license, the defendant gave the cop his credit card.  The arrest report noted that the man had bloodshot, watery eyes, a “distinct odor of alcohol on him” and spoke with a heavily slurred speech.

The officer called in the DUI squad and Michael performed and failed five separate “Field Sobriety Exercises”.  These included the “walk and turn”, “finger-to-nose” and “one leg stand”.

The impaired suspect was arrested and per the police report he made “several inappropriate statements” on the way to the police station.  He was booked in and was offered a breathalyzer.  He blew almost three times the legal limit of a .08!

As far as the innocent mailbox, the Palm Beach Police Department estimated damage in the amount of $500.  Being that Rod Stewart is worth between 25-100 million dollars (at least), it is safe to say that the mailbox will be replaced.

At the time of this writing, Michael Lutz was unavailable for comment and his criminal defense attorney declined to make a statement.  It was unclear if the defendant had any prior DUIs but his driving record showed traffic infractions for speeding, running a stop sign and others.
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pinellas policeTwo former Tampa’s finest were arrested and charged with federal tax fraud last Wednesday and the husband and wife team are looking at serious time.

Shortly after claims that thousands of dollars in fraudulent tax refund money was used for bills, 54-year-old Eric Houston and 49-year-old LaJoyce Houston surrendered to United States Marshals.

The former Tampa police detectives were released on their own recognizance (ROR) and ordered to surrender their passports and sat in the state.

At press time they had hired federal criminal defense lawyers who had pled them not guilty.

The government claims in their indictment of the couple that there is overwhelming evidence of tax refund fraud.  They further state that this fraud is being committed by a small group of former and current Tampa Bay policemen and employees.  The indictment goes into details of police identities stolen by thieves including the identity of a policeman killed in the line of duty!

Federal officials state that evidence shows an extremely close relationship between the Houstons and Rita Girven a police informant whose name came up in the tax-fraud investigation.  The Houstons adopted Girven’s child, gave her money and spent social time with her.

Rita Girven had previously pled guilty in March to two federal charges of stolen identity tax refund fraud totaling over $33,000!  She is scheduled to be sentenced this month and may testify against her former friends.  The government is claiming that part of this money was used to pay for Gary and LaJoyce Houston’s pool service and credit card bills.

The affidavit continued by stating in an odd bit of coincidence that over 4,500 people that Eric Houston ran through police databases over three years had later filed fake federal tax returns in their names…with the money going to Eric!

Home town Tampa Bay is almost always in the national top 10 nationally in identity fraud which costs American tax payers billions per year. Continue reading

Pinellas DUI defense attorneyA local man is arrested for a DUI after fleeing from police.  He blames his four-legged best friend, saying his dog was driving.  Police investigated and found out a problem with his story…

26-year-old Reliford Cooper was arrested in Manatee and booked for Driving under the influence with property damage and obstruction after police found him hiding in a church.

The suspect led police on a long chase through residential neighborhoods before crashing into a ditch and fleeing on foot.  He was found hiding in a bathroom at a local church where parishioners helped the cops gather up the defendant.

“My dog was driving that car. I ran because I wanted to. You ain’t gonna find no drugs or guns on me.”  These were the first words out of Cooper’s mouth, according to the police.

The report also stated that he smelled of alcohol and marijuana.  The suspect then threw up and complained that his back was injured.  At the time of this writing, the man was still in jail.dui 3

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A guest post from Maria Stefanski, who is part of a nonprofit.  The link has several interesting articles on heroin and drug abuse.  If you or someone you love is facing addiction, please get the help that is needed!

Over the past few decades, politicians, corporations, and community leaders have focused much attention and effort in an attempt to curb drunk driving. Much of this social movement can be traced back 35 years, to the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Since 1980, MADD has become one of the most widely supported and respected non-profit organizations in the U.S.

To understand the impact MADD has had on American society, some milestones are worth considering:

  • 1982
    • Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving formed
    • Bill enacted giving states federal highway funds for anti-drunk driving efforts
    • 100 MADD chapters by year-end
  • 1983
    • An NBC made-for-TV movie about MADD airs
    • 129 new anti-drunk driving laws pass by year-end
  • 1984
  • Federal 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act signed into law on July 17
  • More than 330 MADD chapters in 47 states by year-end
  • 1988
    • All states and D.C. pass federal 21 drinking age law
    • Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act signed—amendments include extending crime victim compensation rights to DUI/DWI victims and increased incentives for states enacting key DUI?DWI laws
  • 1994
    • Alcohol-related deaths drop to a 30-year low
    • Chronicle of Philanthropy survey names MADD America’s most popular charity
  • 2000
    • MADD grows to approximately 600 chapters and 2 million member/supporters
    • National .08 BAC measure (part of the Federal Transportation Appropriations Bill) signed into law Oct. 23
  • 2004
    • First Law Enforcement Leadership Council held
    • MADD testifies before Congress in the U.S. House Education Reform Subcommittee on underage drinking issues
    • All states and D.C. pass .08 BAC as the legal drunk driving limit (MADD).


The changes MADD has spearheaded rival those of any other social movement in American history. In the U.S., because of MADD, since it was founded in 1980, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Perhaps now it is time begin efforts at targeting and isolating the dangers of driving while high—that is, the dangers of driving under the influence of prescription pills, heroin and other illicit drugs.

Studies have shown that, much the same as alcohol, heroin, prescription opiates, and the class of sedatives known as benzodiazepines slow reaction time, decrease motor coordination, and cause dizziness and drowsiness—each of these factors alone increase the likelihood of accidents. At present, no measure of drug impairment (like BAC in drunk driving) has been determined to reflect exactly how much of a drug effects ones driving ability. But, because even small amounts of certain drugs can have a measurable effect, some states have zero tolerance laws for drugged driving: if there is any amount of drug in the blood or urine of a driver in these states, the driver can face charges for driving under the influence (DUI). Some drugged driving detection techniques used by law enforcement include testing drivers identified as impaired who do not have a BAC exceeding the legal limit and employing Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) at roadside checkpoints (Stop Drugged Driving). While the prevalence rates of drugged driving are difficult to determine because of this lack of specific legal limit for BAC, the following data clearly illustrates a need for further, and prompt, research and action:

In 2013, 9.9 million persons, or 3.8 percent of the population aged 12 or older, reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. This rate was lower than the rate in 2002 (4.7 percent), but was similar to the rate in 2012 (3.9 percent). Across age groups, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs in 2013 was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25 (10.6 percent); this rate for young adults was lower than the rate in 2012 (11.9 percent). Additionally, the rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased from 2.3 percent in 2012 to 1.9 percent in 2013 (SAMHSA 2014).

Just as it is difficult to accurately determine the prevalence of drugged driving, determining the number of accidents caused by drugged driving offers a similar challenge. A few reasons for this challenge include: a) a good roadside test (like the breathalyzer test for alcohol) for drug levels in the body does not yet exist. b) people are not usually tested for drugs if they are above the legal limit for alcohol because there is already enough evidence for a DUI charge. c) many drivers who cause accidents are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know what substance had the greater effect (NIH, 2015).

The problem, and dangers, of drugged driving are most apparent within the teen/young adult portion of the population. According to data presented by Teen Driver Source (2015), putting aside the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among adolescents and the greatest lifetime chance of crashing occurs during the first six months after obtaining a driver’s license. While distractions, following too closely, and an overall underestimation of the dangerousness of a situation are commonly cited factors in teen crashes, add drugs to the equation and it’s a recipe for disaster. For example:

A study of college students with access to a car found that 1 in 6 (about 17 percent) had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the past year. Of those students, 57 to 67 percent did so at least three times and 27 to 37 percent at least 10 times. Marijuana was the most common drug used, followed by cocaine Continue reading

Florida theft crimesTheft can cover just about anything, but as a quick article in the Orlando Sentinel shows, this theft had a distinct Florida flair to it…

In nearby Winter Haven, Florida local resident Brad Reiter is accused of a most unusual crime.  Think of the plot of Ocean’s 11 but with more vitamin C.

State agricultural investigators are claiming that Reiter unlawfully took over 4 million pounds of oranges and other citrus.  These fruits came at an estimated loss of over half a million dollars!

The agricultural commissioner held a press conference in which he explained the details of the grand theft crime.  Brad Reiter entered into at least three contracts to harvest citrus groves back in March, 2014.

The grove owners clearly did not do their research as it turned out that the suspect was not even a licensed citrus dealer!  That didn’t stop him from harvesting all of the oranges and grapefruits from the groves.

The scurvy-resistant thief made off with over 50,000 boxes full of fruit without paying for it.  The estimated amount of the stealing?  Over $530,000!

The unlucky suspect was booked into Polk County Jail on first degree larceny and fraud charges.  At the time of this writing he did not yet have a criminal defense attorney



Grand Theft is found under Florida Statute 812.014.  Because the amount that allegedly was taken was over $100,000, this would be a first degree theft, punishable by up to 30 years in prison!  This does not even take the separate felony fraud cases into consideration.

Common sense will tell you that many times prosecutors are willing to reduce prison time or even agree to probation if the defendant pays back restitution.  In this case what was stolen were perishable items.  These are not stolen goods that can just be returned and almost certainly the defendant did not sell all the citrus.  This means a lot of the fruit he stole became spoiled and worthless.  Any fruit he managed to sell would probably not cover the over half a million dollars in loss.  In other words, unless he happens to have hundreds of thousands of dollars ready for restitution, he is almost certainly looking at a lengthy prison stay.

Finally, if he had attempted to resell any of this fruit, the state can add second degree felony charges of dealing in stolen property to him.

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Florida violent crimes defenseThis blog has previously wrote several articles involving the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case that captivated the country back in 2012 and 2013.  The volunteer neighborhood watchman shot teenage Trayvon Martin.  Prosecutors called it murder, George Zimmerman’s criminal defense attorney called it self defense.  After much media attention, multiple protests and new phrases being introduced into our vocabulary (such as “white hispanic” and “stand your ground”-which was never even used in the trial by either side), the trial ended with a not guilty for Zimmerman.

Now George Zimmerman prepares for ANOTHER trial...but this time he is the alleged victim and the new defendant is charged with his attempted murder!

Same courtroom, same judge; but this time George Zimmerman is back in court as a victim.  Unlike his previous trial in 2013, this time George elected to take the stand and testify.

After hearing testimony, the judge ruled that the attempted murder charge can go to trial.  The allegations are frighting.  On May 11, Winter Park, Florida resident Matthew Apperson fired his .357 revolver at Zimmerman as they drove in separate vehicles.

As a result, Apperson was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

On the witness stand George Zimmerman testified that he was driving on a street alone in his car.  Another vehicle, driven by Matt Apperson, approached him rapidly while flashing his lights and honking his horn.  The defendant pulled up next to him and began yelling at George.

trayvon“Do you remember me, you fat f___?  You owe me your life”!  Zimmerman testified that after hearing that, he laughed and called Matthew a clown.

At that time he saw into the defendant’s car, noticed a barrel of a gun and then heard a loud bang.

George continued his testimony, claiming that the gunshot went through his windshield, leaving blood on his face and clothes.  At first he feared he was shot but a trip to the emergency room confirmed that shattered glass caused the minor injury.

Zimmerman further told the judge that he kept driving until he saw a parked sheriff’s deputy whom he flagged down.

Further testimony suggested that this was not the first time that Apperson and Zimmerman had a confrontation.  There were reports back in September 2014 that Matt began taunting and pushing George about his role in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

In an ironic twist, Matthew’s criminal defense lawyer told reporters that his client most likely will claim self defense and may even do a stand-your-ground motion to dismiss. Continue reading

Clearwater marijuana defenseA quick blurb from the Miami Herald about the federal government stepping up their efforts to curb synthetic marijuana.  Also known as “spice”, this drug is potentially deadly.  What makes it so dangerous is the unknown chemical mixtures that are added, sometimes at random.  As there is no purity and no set recipe, “spice” has already been implicated in dozens of hospitalizations and even deaths in Florida.  Now the feds may be striking back…

Last week, ten men were charged with conspiracy for their roles in manufacturing synthetic marijuana, some of it laced with dangerous or deadly chemicals.  Their plan?  To distribute the drug throughout New York City.

Known as “spice” or K2, this drug is smoked like normal pot.  As mentioned above, hospitals nationwide are seeing the results of bad “spice”.  There has been a large uptick in emergency room visits because of bad reactions to this drug.  Victims are suffering from hallucinations, psychotic episodes and even heart problems.

In this case, the federal indictment came from a yearlong investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  The indictment claims the defendants were importing large amounts of illegal synthetic ingredients from China.  This included a mix of chemicals that are illegal in the United States.  The defendants were mixing the chemicals with tea leaves and selling them for only $5 a packet.  Using brand names such as “Green Giant”, “Psycho” and “AK-47”, the defendants were doing a brisk business, selling them in head shops and convenience stores.

While the men were being arrested, agents were simultaneously raiding businesses and warehouses that were suspected of making and/or selling the “spice”.  Agents seized 275,000 of the K2 packets (valued at $30 million!) and  over 450 pounds of chemicals used to make the product.

Pinellas drug defense lawyers

In New York alone, there were over 1,100 emergency room visits per month as a result of synthetic marijuana.   Poison control centers calls about this drug were up over 225 percent over 2014 calls.  Will this federal crackdown help?  It is a good start.  From the ten defendants named, four are currently fugitives and six have already appeared in a Manhattan federal court.

When marijuana is being decriminalized in so many states, why the uptick in this synthetic drug that is proven to be so dangerous?  Experts don’t know for sure but think that the low price and easy availability in most cities make it a “go to” drug for both poor addicts and bored suburban teens alike. Continue reading

Saint pete violent crimes defenseA major case gets going this week as a man prosecutors accuse of killing not one but two of his wives goes to trial in Colorado.  Did Harold Henthorn murder two of his wives for insurance money or is he a victim of horrible luck?

59-year-old Harold Henthorn went to trial this week, accused of pushing his second wife off a cliff in the Rocky mountains.  Per the federal prosecutor, the suspect might also have killed his first wife in what appeared to be a freak accident almost 20 years earlier!

In both deaths, Harold was both the only witness and made out with large life insurance policies twice.  Harold’s criminal defense lawyer countered the prosecutors arguments, saying these were mere tragic accidents.

Henthorn is charged with first-degree murder Continue reading

Saint pete drug crimes defenseOur fair state and our county gets another national nod as the New York Daily News writes up a brief story about a woman who was arrested for driving under the influence as well as possession of a controlled substance.  Perhaps feeling the alcohol, she soon made an offer to the police that got her in way deeper trouble…


24-year-old Arielle Engert was pulled over by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office early morning on Monday, August 31.  Ironically she was pulled over on 49th street, a few blocks away from the criminal courthouse.  What she later offered to do to the Deputy resulted in multiple felony charges against her!

The Deputy noticed that Ms. Engert seemed drunk and called in a DUI squad for further investigation.  They gave her a series of “field sobriety exercises” and determined she was under the influence of alcohol.  She later blew a .162, an enhanced blow and over twice the legal limit.

Making matters worse, she had marijuana in her purse and at the jail, cocaine was discovered in her bra!  She was then charged with a DUI, possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine and introduction of contraband into a detention facility.

A bad night by any stretch.  Unfortunately she was about to make it worse!  Arielle offered the arresting officer oral sex in exchange for letting her go at the scene, an offer he refused.  Not wanting to quit while she was behind, she then offered sexual favors to two other deputies in exchange for her release!  Her smooth talking was rewarded with three more felony charges added to her impressive stack.  She was then charged with three counts of attempted bribery of a law enforcement official.

Pinellas cocaine possession defenseThe woman was eventually released on bond.  For a woman who had stacked up the criminal charges in a hurry, she doesn’t seem to have much in the way of priors.  It appears that she only has prior DUI arrests.

Because of the nature of the charges, it didn’t take long for reporters to do some background snooping.  Before her facebook page was taken down, she listed herself as a philosophy student at the University of Florida.  If true, she will have plenty to contemplate in the months ahead.  If all the counts are charged, she is looking at two misdemeanors and five third degree felonies!
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pinellas policeOne of the most common mistakes we come across is when people are first arrested.  Many people make the mistake of waiting until their first court date before hiring a criminal defense lawyer.  They figure that once they are arrested, they automatically are charged with a crime so what is the use?  This is not correct and in fact having a lawyer represent you BEFORE your first court date can be extremely beneficial.

In the State of Florida, the vast majority of people who are charged with a crime either receive: (1) a citation or (2) an Information is filed against them.

A citation is typically issued for traffic offenses (such as speeding or running a red light) or a misdemeanor criminal traffic offense such as a DUI. For a citation, the police officer who conducted the investigation will issue a citation to the accused person and file an identical copy with the clerk of court. In this scenario the prosecutor plays no role in the charges being filed. The moment the police file the citation with the clerk, the person is formally charged with the offense for which it was issued.  A criminal defense lawyer is still important at this time.  Even after the citation is filed, your lawyer can still negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or perhaps have them dismissed completely.

The second and by far the most common type of charging document is called an “Information“. The vast majority of misdemeanor and felony offenses in Florida are charged by information.

While the police make arrests, they do not charge suspects with crimes.   A suspect does not become a Defendant unless and until the prosecutor files an Information with the Court.  In Pinellas County, this can happen in one of two ways. A police officer may investigate an alleged crime but not make a physical arrest.  This may be because the suspect has fled the scene, there is not enough evidence to make an arrest or in the case of fingerprints or DNA, it will take time to identify the suspect. In this example the police meet with the prosecutor and present all the evidence the officer has obtained, including physical evidence, statements from witnesses, and sometimes statements from the accused. The prosecutor has complete discretion to file charges.  If he or she thinks there is enough evidence to proceed, the assistant state attorney drafts an Information and an arrest warrant, filing both with the clerk. Only when the suspect is located by police and taken into custody, the prosecution of that person begins.

In other cases a police officer will make a physical arrest of the accused person and take him or her to jail. The police officer will thereafter meet with the prosecutor and present the evidence.  Just like the first scenario, the prosecutor will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed.  A good prosecutor should determine if he/she will be able to prove the allegations against the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  If the prosecutor thinks so, he or she will file an Information, and the prosecution of the case starts.

In either scenario, if the prosecutor decides the evidence is not sufficient, or there is not a reasonable likelihood of successful prosecution, the state can file a document called a “No Information”. If a “No Information” is filed, the accused person is not charged and the matter is dropped. If the accused was arrested on the charge and unable to post bond, they would be released upon the filing of a “No Information”.  In Pinellas County, the assigned prosecutor usually needs to provide the reason they elected not to file a case.  There are many reasons such as lack of evidence, conflict in the evidence, and the victim or witnesses declining to press charges among others.

In Pinellas County, the prosecutor who makes the filing decision is typically the prosecutor assigned to the case until it is resolved. This puts more pressure on the prosecutor to make accurate filing decisions.  If they file haphazardly, the prosecutor may be stuck with cases that have potential evidence problems.

This is where having an aggressive criminal defense lawyer on your side can help you.  Instead of waiting for charges to be filed, your lawyer can be meeting with the assigned prosecutor and getting your side of the story out to them.  The prosecutor will almost always be open to hearing and considering additional information about your case from the defendant’s attorney. From the time of the arrest to the filing of an Information, there is usually a four to six week gap.  This time period is when your lawyer can have the most impact on the prosecutor’s decision in your case.  This gap gives your attorney time  to speak with the prosecutor and provide them additional information in an attempt to convince the prosecutor to not file an Information or to reduce the criminal charge.

Once the Information is filed, the case can only be dropped by the filing of a “Nolle Prosequi” by the assigned prosecutor.  This is not common and rarely happens in most counties.  If you or a loved one are arrested, any delay in retaining an attorney to fight on your behalf could put you at a significant disadvantage.

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