Information on Potential Laws with Criminal Penalties

April 30, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

There are multiple pieces of proposed legislation heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for approval. If he signs his approval, there will be new and increased penalties for several areas of criminal justice. The bills focus on issues relating to illegal street racing, squatters, porch pirating, sexual conversations with minors, and video voyeurism.

This page will provide definitions relating to the Florida Legislature, along with detailed information on each potential bill if it becomes a law.

The Florida Legislature

In the state of Florida, the Legislature is made up of the Senate and the House.

According to the Florida Senate, either house can originate any type of legislation; however, the process differs between the two houses. Once a legislator sponsors a bill, it is referred to one or more committees related to the subject of the bill. From there, the committee reviews the bill’s text and determines whether it should be amended. If it passes, it will move on to the other committees of reference, or to the full house.

If the proposed bill passes in one house, it moves forward to the next house for their review and then follows the same steps. It is possible for a proposed bill to go back and forth between houses until a consensus is reached.

If a bill is engrossed, it means it has been amended, which can happen multiple times throughout the process. If a bill is enrolled, it means it “has passed both houses of the legislature in identical form and has been converted into an act for presentation to the Governor or Secretary of State.”

Once it passes in both houses, it goes to the Governor’s desk, where it can either be signed into law or be vetoed. The Governor has one week (7 days) following the presentation of the bill to sign or veto it. If the bill is vetoed, it means it’s being prevented from turning into a law. It will be sent back to the house that created it. However, if two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill will become law.

To find out more about the Florida Legislature, find the Florida Senate’s FAQ page here.

Potential Florida Laws with Harsher Penalties

There are several potential criminal justice bills awaiting Gov. DeSantis’ sign of approval. Each of the five proposed laws would create harsher penalties for certain offenses. Information on each bill and its resulting penalties are listed below:

  • HB 549 Titled “Theft,” this bill would lower the threshold for both petit and grand theft offenses. First, HB 549 makes it a grand theft offense for certain stolen property from a dwelling. Where the previous threshold was at $100, now a person can face a third-degree felony grand theft charge for stolen property valued at $40 or more “from a dwelling as defined in s. 810.09(1) or from the unenclosed curtilage of a dwelling pursuant to s. 810.09(1).” A person who steals an item or property valued at $40 or more and was previously convicted of a theft crime also faces a third-degree felony. HB 549 would make it a second-degree felony for property stolen from more than 20 dwellings. The threshold for petit theft is also lowered, as a person can face a first-degree misdemeanor petit theft charge for stolen property valued at less than $40 and is taken from a dwelling.
  • HB 1389 Titled “Digital Voyeurism,” this bill would first redesignate “video voyeurism” as “digital voyeurism.” A new definition for position of authority or trust is provided to mean “a position occupied by a person 18 years of age or older who is a relative, caregiver, coach, employer or other person who, by reason of his or her relationship with the victim, is able to exercise undue influence over him or her or exploit his or her trust.” HB 1389 proposes to revise its elements and make each instance of secretly viewing a person in the form of digital voyeurism by broadcasting, recording, disseminating, distributing, or transferring an image or recording is considered a separate offense for which a separate penalty is authorized. A person younger than 19 who commits an act of digital voyeurism faces a first-degree misdemeanor for each offense. A person 19 years of age or older who commits an act of digital voyeurism faces a third-degree felony for each offense. Additionally, if the alleged offender is considered a family or household member of the victim or holds a position of authority or trust with the victim, the court will reclassify the felony to the next higher degree. For example, a third-degree felony is reclassified to a second-degree felony and a second-degree felony is reclassified to a first-degree felony.
  • SB 1764 Titled “Car Racing Penalties,” the bill would raise the fines for participating in drag races, stunt driving, or street takeovers to no less than $500 and no more than $2,000, along with having their driver’s license revoked for one (1) year. If a person is accused of a second or subsequent violation within one (1) year, they can be charged with a third-degree felony, along with paying a fine no less than $2,500 and no more than $4,000. If a person is accused of engaging in unlawful car racing conduct and in course of such conduct, knowingly impedes, obstructs, or interferes with an authorized emergency vehicle can face a third-degree felony. A person accused of committing a second or subsequent violation faces a second-degree felony, along with having their driver’s license revoked for four (4) years. A new definition for coordinated street takeover is provided to mean, “ten (10) or more vehicles operated in an organized manner to effect a street takeover.” A person accused of unlawful car racing conduct while engaged in a coordinated street takeover faces a third-degree felony, along with a fine between $2,500 and $4,000 and a license suspension for two (2) years.
  • HB 1545 Titled “Child Exploitation Offenses,” this bill creates a new law preventing harmful communication to minors. The bill defines “communication” as any verbal or written communication. A person who “engages in a pattern of communication to a minor that includes explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual activity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement and that is harmful to minors” can be charged with a third-degree felony. The bill specifies that the defendant’s ignorance of the minor’s age, misrepresentation of their age, a bona fide belief of a minor’s age, or a minor’s consent may not be raised as a defense.
  • HB 621 Titled “Property Rights,” a new law is created to allow property owners to request that a county sheriff’s officer remove a squatter if certain conditions are first met. The conditions include:
    • The request of removal must come from the property owner or their authorized agent;
    • The real property being occupied must include a residential dwelling;
    • An unauthorized person must have unlawfully entered and remained or continued to reside on the property;
    • The real property was not open to the public at the time the unauthorized person was present or entered the property;
    • The property owner has directed the unauthorized person to leave the real property;
    • The unauthorized person or persons are not current or former tenants pursuant to written or oral rental agreements authorized by the property owner;
    • The unauthorized person or persons are not immediate family members to the property owner; and
    • There is no pending litigation related to the real property between the property owner and unauthorized person.

If all these conditions are met and the real property owners submits a formal request meeting the verbal requirements and a signature by the property owner, a sheriff has the authority to serve a notice to an occupant or posting such notice on the property to vacate the property. The sheriff will also attempt to find out all the identities of those occupying the dwelling or property. If appropriate, “the sheriff may arrest any person found in the dwelling for trespass, outstanding warrants, or any other legal cause.” Additionally, the rights of the property owner or the authority of a law enforcement officer is not limited to arresting an unlawful occupant for trespassing, vandalism, theft, or other crimes. A person who unlawfully detains, occupies, or trespasses upon a residential dwelling and who intentionally causes $1,000 or more in damages to the dwelling faces a second-degree felony. HB 621 makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for any person who presents a false housing document regarding real property with the intent to detain or remain upon such property. The bill will also make it a first-degree felony for any person who lists or advertises residential real property for sale while knowing such seller has no legal title or authority to rent, lease, or sell the property.

All the above bills have been enrolled, while several have been both engrossed and enrolled. If DeSantis signs these potential bills into law, the dates they will go into effect will either be July 1 or October 1, 2024.

Contact the Criminal Defense Team with Pumphrey Law

It’s important for Florida citizens to be aware of the legal procedures, especially regarding potential criminal justice bills. Once both houses pass a potential bill and it’s signed by the governor, it becomes state law. If the proposed bills above are all approved by DeSantis, it means people can now face new or more severe penalties for certain conduct. If you are arrested for an alleged criminal offense, you should know where to turn for legal guidance.

The criminal defense attorneys with Pumphrey Law have decades of combined experience representing those accused of criminal conduct. We can provide you with a free consultation to review your case details. Contact our office today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us a message online.

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