Can I Get Arrested for Polluting?

December 3, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

In the state of Florida, there are penalties put into place for individuals who choose to not abide by the rules or regulations created to prevent pollution. In addition to civil citations, a person may be faced with criminal charges for willful disregard for the environment.

There have been two recent cases in South Florida—specifically Biscayne Bay—of willful disregard for the environment. This page will define the Statute along with providing details from the two cases.

Littering in Florida

When most people think of dumping trash, the idea of littering comes to mind. Florida’s legislation takes littering seriously, which is why they enacted Florida Statute Section 403.413. Under this law, a person who litters could be facing a civil fine of $150 for any trash under 15 pounds and possible jail time.

If the person that litters more than 15 pounds but is less than 500 pounds commits a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor may be punished with a $1,000 fine, up to one year in jail, or both. Additionally, the legislation requires the court that the violator be required to conduct community service by picking up litter.

To find out more about Florida’s litter law and its penalties, read our blog here.

Because Florida takes crimes against the environment very seriously, the legislation enacted even harsher penalties for those that pollute the environment.

Willful Disregard for the Environment

Florida Statute section 403.161 explains the prohibitions, violations, and penalties for environmental control and pollution. The law states that it is prohibited for any individual:

  1. To cause pollution that could harm or injure human health or welfare, animals, plants, aquatic life, or property;
  2. To fail to obtain any permit required by this chapter or by rule or regulation, or to violate any rule, regulation, permit, order, or certification adopted or issued by the department pursuant to its lawful authority; and
  3. To knowingly make a false statement, representation, or certification in any application, record, report, or other document filed or required to be maintained. It is also unlawful to tamper with, falsify, or knowingly render inaccurate permit, rule, regulation, or order issues under this chapter.

Any person who willfully violates section (a) of section 403.161 may be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. A third-degree felony has a penalty of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years of imprisonment.

Any person who willfully commits a violation specified in section (b) or who commits a violation specified in section (c) may be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. A first-degree misdemeanor has a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Any person who violates section (a) or (b) due to reckless indifference or gross careless disregard can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. A second-degree misdemeanor has a penalty of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

Willful vs. Reckless

To better understand the above Statute, it is important to know the difference between willful and reckless misconduct.

Willful misconduct refers to intentional actions that the person knows will likely result in an injury, loss, or damage to a person or property.

Reckless misconduct refers to actions that a person takes when they are aware of, and consciously disregard, the potential risks that their actions will possibly cause.

This is why willful conduct carries harsher penalties than reckless conduct since a person is intentionally causing the criminal offense.

Example Cases

There have been two recent examples of willful disregard for the environment charges in Biscayne Bay, Florida:

May 2022

Two individuals were arrested after the illegal disposal of balloons. According to the report, David Torres-Bocanegra, 29, and Martina Gaspoz, 26, were working on a charter boat in Miami during a planned proposal. The charter boat had been decorated with pink and white balloons attached to the front.

Witnesses shared a video that shows someone popping the balloons and leaving all of the discarded, popped pieces in the water. After the video was published environmentalists were outraged—marine life animals often mistake deflated nonbiodegradable balloons for jellyfish, which can be extremely dangerous if ingested.

Miami-Dade police officers arrested both individuals, charging them with willful disregard for the environment. Torres-Bocanegra was initially charged with reckless disregard for the environment, which is only a second-degree misdemeanor. However, Detective Angel Rodriguez later informed the defendant that there was a mistake made with the charge.

Both defendants were then charged with willful disregard for the environment, which is a third-degree felony. In addition, they were charged with civil citations for more than $23,000 for illegal dumping.

Nov 2022

One man was arrested, and three others received citations after getting caught trashing Ragged Keys, one of the islands in Biscayne National Park. Nicholas Rey is a boater who witnessed the group littering on the protected site.

Rey took out his camera to get proof of the illegal dumping. Yordani Serrano-Pereda, 43, is shown in a straw hat and blue shirt as he dumped an empty propane tank and “multiple garbage bags” on Ragged Keys.

Miami-Dade Police’s Illegal Dumping Unit was able to track down and identify the suspects from Rey’s video, which showed the vessel’s registration number. When police questioned the suspect, Yordani Serrano-Pereda admitted to leaving the trash and propane tanks.

Serrano-Pereda is now being charged with willful disregard for the environment. The three other men with him have been issued civil citations for littering, with fines up to $1,000.

“It is our responsibility to protect our beautiful environment, and I remain committed to working tirelessly with our local and federal partners and our State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in the fight against environmental crimes,” said Miami-Dade Director Freddy Ramirez.

Illegal Dumping

When someone illegally dumps trash or substances, it can cause serious harm to the environment. Items like old furniture, tires, and hazardous materials can harm animals and humans, lower property values, and take millions of dollars for clean-up costs.

Police advise citizens to never address a person who is illegally dumping. Instead, anyone who witnesses reckless or illegal dumping in Florida should contact 911. If possible, get an image, video, or license plate number.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Environmental laws are taken very seriously in Florida. The charges can range in severity depending on the specifics of the case. For instance, a pollution charge has harsher penalties than a littering charge. An experienced defense attorney can potentially help change a pollution charge into a lesser offense, such as a littering charge.

If you or someone you love has been accused of an environmental law violation, we advise you to seek out the advice of a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney. While some may assume littering can only result in fines, there are instances where they could face criminal charges, such as in the example cases above.

Working with an experienced attorney is your best bet for strategizing a strong defense for your case. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have worked with clients in Florida on all types of criminal cases. We will work endlessly to fight for your freedom. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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