Surprise! You’ve got a misdemeanor on your record. How could this possibly happen without prior knowledge? Well, in Florida, up until recently, it was in fact possible.
Judge Ends Practice of Surprise Misdemeanors
Frederick Lauten, the chief judge of Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, recently overturned a practice of misdemeanor charges going on the records of Florida residents without them knowing. The process, which is unique to Florida, offers citizens the option to pay a fine to the court clerk to avoid appearing before a judge. But what most people don’t understand is that in paying the fine, they automatically plead guilty to a misdemeanor that then goes on their record. Judge Lauten issued an order ending the practice, arguing that a plea should be heard in open court, where the judge can decide if it is in the accused’s best interest, and that they are making the plea of their own volition.
College Student Discovers Conviction from a Denied Rental Application
In a case representative of the practice, established by the Florida court three decades ago, University of Central Florida student Jared Boler was found with a small amount of marijuana. He was given a notice to appear in court, and was presented with two options: he could challenge it in court, or pay a fine to the clerk of courts. Unwilling to have his parents find out, Boler, like many others, paid the fine, thinking the matter was done with. It wasn’t until Boler was denied housing after an apartment application that he found out about the criminal conviction. He had no knowledge when he paid the clerk of courts that charge would then appear on his record.
The surprise convictions are most often issued for offenses such as underage drinking or small amounts of marijuana, like in Boler’s case. A conviction on one’s record can affect housing and employment prospects, among other significant areas of a person’s life. After doing researching the practice of surprise misdemeanors, Judge Lauten came to the realization that it was in fact unique to Florida. He ultimately ended the practice because of the potential for far-reaching consequences, in hopes that anyone involved in such legal issues in the future would be able to make an informed decision.
Any type of criminal accusation can have an impact on your reputation, your livelihood, and your future. Don’t leave it to chance. A reliable criminal defense attorney will ensure that your rights are represented under the law.
Schneider, M. (2016, March 14). APNewsBreak: Florida judge ends surprise-conviction practice. Retrieved March 21, 2016 from http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_268748/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=6VKKXhc0