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"Conviction By Surprise" Ending in Orlando

A rather underhanded practice that some have termed “conviction by surprise” was declared to be coming to an end after the practice – and the negative consequences defendants suffer as a result of the practice – was made the topic of an ABC News story. The practice is believed to have occurred only in the judicial circuit covering the Orlando area in connection with (mostly) charges of underage drinking or possession of small amounts of marijuana. Police who stop and investigate suspects believed to be engaged in such behavior would give the suspects a ticket and indicate the suspect can either pay a fine as indicated on the ticket or contest the ticket by appearing in court. When the suspect would then pay the ticket, a conviction would be entered onto the person’s criminal record – oftentimes without the suspect knowing that such a conviction would be entered. The chief judge overseeing this particular judicial circuit has vowed to bring the practice to a halt.

Convictions Entered in Violation of Constitutional Protections

The problem with “conviction by surprise” tactics is that the convictions entered as a result of these practices are often entered in violation of the suspect’s constitutional rights. This is not as great of a concern where the charges involve merely infractions or civil penalties: a speeding ticket might impact your ability to get a license or affect your rate of insurance, but will not land you in jail or make others consider you a “criminal.” But the offenses resulting from these incidents of “conviction by surprise” were misdemeanors and would be reported on a defendant’s criminal record. At a bare minimum the U.S. Constitution affords a person charged with committing a criminal offense the rights to:

  • Confront and cross-examine his or her accusers;
  • Have an attorney assist him or her with preparing and presenting a defense – even if the suspect cannot afford an attorney; and
  • Due process wherein the suspect is informed of the charges against him or her in open court and has an opportunity to challenge the evidence against him or her before a conviction is entered and sentence imposed.

Suspects who are subjected to the “conviction by surprise” procedures often also miss out on being told about diversion programs that they may qualify for that would keep a criminal conviction from being entered on their records. Criminal convictions – even if all that is reported is something similar to “adjudication withheld” – can negatively impact a person’s ability to obtain employment, housing, and/or financial assistance.

What To Do When You are Charged with a Criminal Offense in Florida

If you receive a citation or notice to appear from a law enforcement officer and told that you can simply pay a fine instead of appearing in court, take a moment and have your charges reviewed by an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney first. This will help ensure you are not unknowingly pleading guilty to a criminal offense that can ruin your future.

Jeffrey S. Weiner is a Miami criminal defense attorney with years of experience representing individuals charged with criminal offenses and helping these individuals protect their freedom, reputations, and livelihoods. Contact his office for assistance with your criminal charges by calling (305) 670-9919 or contacting the law firm of Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. online today.

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