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Recent Posts in Pinellas County Category

December 4, 2013

Human Trafficking not to be Confused with Prostitution

The recent spate of human trafficking cases in Pinellas County has prompted one defense attorney to remind prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that they should take extra caution when charging those involved in the crime.

Jorge Argulo, who has been representing at least two people who have been charged with human trafficking in the county recently, says that there is a temptation for prosecutors to take one more step and charge those involved with prostitution with human trafficking. He says there is a danger that these cases are more likely to be dismissed when it comes to trial and the public is then less likely to treat the more serious charge of human trafficking so seriously.

The issue of human trafficking has been widely acknowledged as more serious than previously thought in Pinellas County and there have been several cases of human trafficking in young girls and women this year which illustrate the seriousness of the crime in the county.

Human trafficking is something which in most people’s minds occurs when poor or defenseless people are ruthlessly taken from their own countries, often under false promises, or simply abducted, and made to work or provide sex under force elsewhere. The case of migrant workers in the United States may sometimes be a case of human trafficking. However, it appears that the crime is more widespread than previously thought and may involve American citizens preying on the weak and vulnerable in U.S. society.

The Sheriff of Pinellas County, Bob Galtieri, says that there have been recent cases of human trafficking in not only the sex industry but in the food industry and lawn business as well. He acknowledges that he is unsure whether the extent of the human trafficking in the county really has increased in recent years or is simply more widely reported and recognized.

Human trafficking always involves an element of force. The victims of human trafficking may have been literally kidnapped and put to work or made to commit a crime because they have no other choice. Three cases this year illustrate the depth of the problem. In November, a 60 year old woman was charged with trafficking a fostered child of 14 who was forced to have sex with a 25 year old man. The man has been charged with lascivious behavior and sexual battery. In September, a 21 year old woman from St Petersburg was charged with forcing two runaway teenagers to have sex with men in several motels around the county. In May, three people were charged with a similar offense involving supposedly runaway girls.

There has also been a case where three people were charged with human trafficking involving women at a strip club. The women were drugged with cocaine, oxycodone or another drug and then forced to work in a brothel. A 55 year old woman has already pleaded guilty in this case and has agreed to testify against the other two people who have been alleged to have worked with her.

According to Mr. Argulo, the danger is the confusion between prostitution and human trafficking due to the overlap in some cases between these activities.

The executive director of the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, Jeremy Lewis, says that there is a clear distinction between those who are prostitutes and those who are victims of human trafficking. He says that prostitutes knowingly and willingly offer their services in return for cash, while the victims that his association deals with are being exploited by others and may be forced to commit a crime because they have no other choice.

October 28, 2013

DUI Arrest Numbers Up in Pinellas County

The number of DUI arrests in Pinellas County has increased substantially this year compared to the last two years. The arrest rate has gone up largely because of the reinstatement of the Pinellas DUI squad this year after a three year absence due to budget cuts.

Before 2009, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office used to regularly return around 1,500 DUI arrests annually. The squad consisted of, at that time, a dozen deputies and was supported by citizens’ groups like Tampa Bay RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers), set up by a woman whose son was killed in 1987 by a drunk driver.

In 2009, the squad was disbanded, a victim of the financial crisis and a need to make budget cuts throughout the state. Newly elected Sheriff Bob Gualteri has reinstated the DUI squad this year and it has been busy looking for intoxicated drivers to remove from the state’s road ways.

Gualteri says that the number of DUI arrests in the last few years embarrassed him and he points to the number of DUI related crashes as a good reason for boosting police presence on county roads after dark.

The DUI squad now consists of six deputies and a sergeant. The number of arrests has risen from 521 last year to over 1,200 in the first 9 months of this year. It operates from sundown to dawn from Wednesday through to Sunday morning.

There is no evidence yet of a decrease in the number of DUI related crashes. There were around 60 of these in the same 9 months of this year as last year, but Sheriff Gualteri is hoping that the number of accidents will decrease with increased vigilance.

Gualteri explained what deputies looked for when they were on patrol. They would observe the behavior of drivers as they approached them. They looked for drivers who drove particularly slowly, or were weaving from one side of a lane to another, made signaling errors or braked unnecessarily.

The squad also kept a look out for the places which were offering special deals on drinks, or whether there were events like ladies nights which might mean impaired drivers driving home afterwards.

The squad’s supervisor is Sergeant Howard Skaggs, who worked with the old DUI squad for 8 years before it was disbanded and has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 26 years in total.

Skaggs said that he thought that a lot of the squad’s work was about educating drivers, not just arresting them. He explained how deputies would talk to drivers who were close to the state’s 0.08% legal limit for blood alcohol level and get them home safely rather than arrest them. He also said that the squad had arrested some drivers with BAC levels of above 0.30, more than three times the legal limit. Even someone who was driving a golf cart has been arrested with a BAC that was around that figure.

If you are a resident of Pinellas County or anywhere else in the TAMPA Bay area you should be aware of the increased DUI surveillance that is now being carried out. There is a lot of pressure on the police patrols to make arrests and this means you could be caught up in their net whether you have been drinking or not.

The best way to avoid being arrested for DUI is of course to make sure you do not drink and drive. If you have had a drink, then try and avoid driving back home in your own car. Catch a cab, use a bus if you can, or get someone else to drive you home. If you really insist on driving, you should make sure you do nothing to alert the attention of those who are looking out for impaired rivers. Make sure you stick to the road rules, and be controlled and cooperative if you do get stopped at a DUI checkpoint or by a mobile patrol.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Pinellas County or anywhere else around Tampa, you will need the help of an experienced DUI attorney.

Just because of an increased DUI presence does not always mean that a DUI arrest is justified. You have the right to challenge a DUI charge and prosecutors must be able to provide sufficient evidence of your impairment beyond reasonable doubt. A skilful DUI defense can help reduce penalties imposed on you, or change a conviction to a less severe one, even if the charge cannot be dismissed altogether.

October 23, 2013

DUI Squad’s Night Out on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor

The reinstated Pinellas County’s DUI squad had a checkpoint in action last Friday night, netting a handful of DUI arrests and a dozen other infractions. The checkpoint was carried out on Highway 19 between Curlew and Tampa Roads in the northbound direction only.

The DUI squad had been disbanded in 2008 due to budget cuts at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. It was reinstated on a part time basis last year with a change in Sheriff. Newly elected Sheriff Bob Gualteri ensured that the reinstated squad worked through Wednesday and Saturday nights.

The reasoning for the reinstatement was a reported drop in DUI arrests, not unexpected considering the disbandment of the squad. However, more worrying was the doubling of fatalities due to DUI affected accidents. There was an assumption that more lives and injuries may be saved with an increased enforcement of Florida’s strict DUI laws in the county.

The number of DUI arrests last Friday night may not seem very high, but police spokesmen claimed that the checkpoint had a deterrent effect greater than the limited number of arrests might imply.

DUI checkpoints have been criticized before for their seemingly limited success in terms of arrests. Checkpoints rely on being able to scoop up those who drink and drive through random sampling of drivers. Sometimes, those drivers who give the game away by driving erratically or driving vehicles that are visually faulty are caught in the police department’s net. Otherwise it is a game of chance. In last Friday’s operation, every sixth vehicle was stopped until 1 a.m. on Saturday morning, after which time every one in three was stopped.

In all, 300 vehicles were stopped and questioned. Normally, the police officer would ask to see the driver’s license. This was checked, together with the registration plates, and the driver was asked a series of what might have appeared to be light hearted questions. The questions were not meant to be social, of course, but gave the officer an impression whether the driver had been drinking or was under the influence of drugs. Anyone suspected then had to complete a series of field sobriety tests. The majority of drivers were detained for a few minutes only, although there were a number who were given citations for revoked or suspended licenses as well as someone who had a domestic violation injunction against his name.

The stepping up of DUI operations in Pinellas County is expected to mean more DUI arrests in future. Not all DUI arrests are justified, of course, and any DUI charge must be proved beyond a doubt in court. Being stopped on suspicion of DUI can be a very intimidating experience. The sobriety tests in particular can lead to unexpected and subjective results.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Pinellas County or elsewhere in and around Tampa, then be prepared to expect a determined prosecution. The Florida Law Enforcement Agency and police departments across the state go to great lengths to make sure they get convictions. Sometimes, the protocol that should be used when a driver is stopped for DUI is forgotten and an arrest is made which is not justified.

Anyone who is convicted for DUI can face serious consequences that can affect the way they and their family live in the future.  The financial effects not only include a fine and court fees, but there are longer term effects, too, including the potential effect on one’s job, insurance rates and credit rating with a criminal conviction.

Fight a DUI charge with the help of an experienced and dedicated DUI attorney. In many instances, a good attorney can get your DUI charged or at least the penalties reduced.

October 18, 2013

WARNING: DUI Checkpoint TONIGHT (10-18-13) in Palm Harbor – Pinellas County, Fl

Tonight’s (10-18-2013) scheduled DUI checkpoint on U.S. 19 at 31975 between Curlew and Tampa road will involve the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office as well as a number of other agencies, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, the Pinellas Park and Largo police departments. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Mobile Command bus will be on hand to carry out breathalyzer tests and deal with any drivers who are arrested.

The checkpoint has been widely advertised and will be conducted between 8 p.m. tonight and 4 a.m. Saturday, i.e. tomorrow morning. To ensure maximum effect, vehicles will be diverted from U.S. 19 on the northbound section of the highway.

DUI checkpoints are designed to catch any impaired drivers who are using that particular stretch of highway as well as any driver who may be driving with license, registration, insurance or vehicle safety irregularities.

Checkpoints are a regular feature on Florida roads, but remain somewhat controversial, partly because they have proven to be less successful in numbers of arrests compared to other DUI strategies employed, such as wolf packs. The checkpoint location is clearly announced before it takes place, allowing drivers who may think they are a potential target an opportunity to use another route home.

Officers who operate a checkpoint are also not allowed to stop a driver simply because they think they are a DUI suspect. A random method, such as every car in 5, must be used. They may also stop any driver who is apparently driving erratically or may have an obvious fault with their vehicle, such as a missing light. These methods have proven in the past to net a substantially reduced number of DUI arrests compared to mobile patrols, such as wolf packs.

Tonight’s checkpoint has been organized in memory of the untimely death of an 18 year old woman, Yvonne Myers, who died 21 years ago. Yvonne was killed because the driver of the car she was in that night was drunk. The driver ran a red light and was struck by another vehicle passing through the intersection.

The best way to avoid being stopped at any checkpoint anywhere in Florida is to not drink and drive and drive carefully. Police officers will be aware of how you drive towards them. Your demeanor and appearance if you are stopped will also be an indicator of whether you may be a DUI suspect.

If you do need to drive past this checkpoint location tonight, ensure that you drive according to the road rules and that your car is in good condition. If you are stopped, be cooperative and answer questions politely. You may be asked to complete a series of sobriety tests. If you refuse, this could be used as evidence that you are DUI. You should remain calm and quiet and attempt the sobriety tests as well as you can. If you have a medical condition, or have been taking prescription medications which could affect your tests, let the officer know before the tests begin.

If you are arrested for DUI, do not attempt to make a fuss. You will need the help of a dedicated and experienced DUI attorney to help you fight a DUI charge. The consequences of a DUI conviction are too serious to not contemplate fighting your charge. Just because you get arrested for DUI does not mean that you will be automatically convicted. Many DUI charges can be defended successfully. Your defense attorney will know how to examine the arrest procedure and the sobriety and blood alcohol tests to determine what can be done in your defense.

October 25, 2010

Pinellas Drug Charges – St. Petersburg Lawyer Arrested On Charges Of Trafficking In Oxycodone

Florida Oxycodone Trafficking

A Pinellas County lawyer has been arrested in Clearwater on drug charges for allegedly attempting to smuggle the painkiller Oxycdone into the Pinellas County Jail. The lawyer was arrested Friday at a Clearwater gas station where he was set to make an exchange with undercover deputies. The investigation began following a tip to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s.

The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that the sheriff’s received a tip on Thursday that the lawyer was bringing illegal substances into the jail. At that point detectives reached out to the lawyer to and set up a deal where the lawyer would take 50 oxycodone pills into the jail in exchange for 20 of the painkillers for himself. The attorney was arrested at the time of the exchange. The arrest took place at a Mobil gas station located on the 4800 block of Ulmerton Road.

The 31-year-old suspect has been charged with trafficking in oxycodone and possession of a controlled substance. A former Hillsborough County assistant state attorney, the current defense lawyer has been a licensed attorney in Florida for five years. He came under heavy criticism by Hillsborough County Judge William Fuente in 2008 for his defense of a shooting suspect. The trial involved David Rolon who was accused of shooting his neighbor in Sulphur Springs. The judge granted a motion for a new trial based on his in adequate representation of his client. There are no disciplinary actions on record against the man with the Florida Bar despite that judge’s ruling in the case.

In August the man was arrested on spousal battery charges that were eventually dropped. He is currently in the Pinellas County Jail on $105,000 bail on his current Florida felony drug charges. According to another newspaper report the investigation into the attorney is on-going and more information could be forthcoming.

October 11, 2010

Pinellas Traffic Blog – Suspect In Hit And Run In Pinellas Park Still On The Loose After Leaving The Scene

Pinellas County Lawyer

A young woman who was the victim of a hit and run in Pinellas Park hung onto the roof of the car that hit her for about a half a mile after it was leaving the scene of the accident according to police reports. Karri Elizabeth Bush was crossing 86th Avenue in Pinellas Park Sunday night on her bicycle when she hit by what she described as a Toyota SUV.

The 20-year-old Bush landed on top of the Toyota that hit her and held on for dear life for approximately a half-mile. The driver fled on 49th Street after hitting the bicyclist. The driver apparently was being followed after leaving the scene of the accident by a witness. After realizing that, the driver made a hard U-Turn that threw Bush off the roof of the SUV. Bush was taken to the hospital and had a broken leg. Bayfront Medical Center staff described Bush’s condition as stable.

Police are now trying to track down the driver of the Toyota, which they believe would have serious front-end damage and a possible broken windshield. Officer Michael Piacenza is the point of contact for anyone with information on the hit and run. His contact number is (727) 541-0758. Police have a portion of the grill from the Toyota SUV and they are now visiting local area dealerships to try and match the grill to a car.

Bush was recently married and news of the accident was broken to the girl’s mother by a Tampa Tribune reporter who called for a quote about the car crash. Bush and her husband lived with family in Pinellas Park. Her mother said the 20-year-old likes to get tattoos and also likes riding her bike. Bush is one of many bicycle accident victims in the Tampa Bay area as this problem continues to grow.

September 21, 2010

Pinellas DUI News – Woman Arrested For DUI Three Times Has Second Loved One Hit By A Drunk Driver

Pinellas County DUI Lawyer

Tina Pellegrino’s 17-year old daughter was in a coma for 56 days after she was hit by drunk driver nine years ago and now Pellegrino has lost her fiancé in a drunk driver accident. Pellegrino was crossing a Treasure Island street with 49-year-old David Happeney when the father of three was struck by a drunk driver and pronounced dead at Palms of Passadena Hospital.

The St. Pete Times is reporting 39-year-old Ann Marie Nunn has been charged with DUI manslaughter in St. Petersburg for the crash that took Happeney’s life. Nunn allegedly had a blood-alcohol level of 0.263, which is more than triple the legal limit. Police report she had just left a bar before the crash and was not only drunk but also taking prescription medication. Happeney was not inside the crosswalk at the time of the crash. That was also the case with eight of the 14 pedestrians who have been killed on Teasure Island’s Gulf Boulevard or Blind Pas Road. Six of those eight deaths was the result of a drunk driver according to police.

Happeney leaves behind three daughters. They ranged in age from 22 to 11. He had moved to the Tampa Bay area four years ago after losing his job. He rented a hotel room on Treasure Island to celebrate Pellegrino’s 43rd birthday. The couple met three years ago and Happeney told family two years later that he was going to marry Pellegrino. The couple was headed back to the hotel when Nunn allegedly ran the man down.

Pellegrino has a history with DUI that is not limited to just having her loved ones involved in drunk driving crashes. The 43-year-old has been arrested three times for DUI herself. The most recent arrest was in 2006. The St. Petersburg Times tried to reach the woman for comment but they were unable to speak with her.

September 8, 2010

Pinellas County Arrest – Getting Bailed Out Of Pinellas County Jail Just Got A Little Easier

Pinellas Criminal Lawyer

If you happen to find yourself in a Pinellas jail needing bail following a Pinellas County arrest, there is good news for you. The Pinellas County Jail is now accepting credit and debit cards for bail of $750 or less. This is the first jail in the Tampa Bay area to offer this service. According to TampaBay.com there are only three other jails in the state that accept credit or debit cards.

According to Jim Coats, sheriff of Pinellas County, the program was put into place to lower the number of people stuck in jail while awaiting trial. The idea came out of a meeting of the minds between law enforcement, the county clerk, judges and public defenders offices.  The limit was set at $750 despite the fact the sheriff wanted it set higher. The sheriff pushed for $1000, the state attorney for $500 so they split the difference.

The program will only apply to a small portion of people in jail as the $750 threshold will include mostly those in jail for minor charges. TampaBay.com looked at the number of people arrested in Pinellas County and sitting in jail on Wednesday. Of the 3,252 people in Pinellas County jail, only 74 would qualify to use their credit or debit cards in order to post bail. The article reported that just over 20 people have utilized the program since August 23.

Most of the crimes that involve a bail of $750 or less are traffic offenses or non-violent misdemeanors. The processing fee will be seven percent and the sheriff’s and clerk’s offices will get ten percent of that cut. The Pinellas County clerk and sheriff see the idea as a winner as will many people who are arrested and need to use credit to get out. The losers under the new plan will most likely be the bail bondsmen who were called on in the past to help these people get out of jail.

August 19, 2010

St Pete DUI News – Frustrated Woman Assaults Officers And Tries To Grab Gun During DUI Arrest

St Pete DUI

The DUI process is frustrating and complicated but obviously no excuse for an assault on an officer but that is exactly what happened during a St. Pete DUI investigation. The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that a 38-year-old woman is under arrest after turning violent in the midst of a drunk driving arrest.

Kimberly M. Hyde, a St. Petersburg resident, was pulled over Thursday morning. According to police reports Hyde was speeding and she also failed to stop at a red light. Officers reported smelling alcohol when they approached the car. She agreed to perform field sobriety tests and according to the officers she seemed impaired during those tests. At that point she was put in the back of a police cruiser.

Hyde was described as agitated by the article in the St. Pete Times as she sat in the police car. She then reportedly became combative when police tried to move her from one car to another. During the transition she kicked one of the officers two times. She then tried to grab another officer’s gun, which was holstered at the time. She kicked an officer a third time after she was restrained on the ground.

She has been charged with numerous crimes. The list of charges against Hyde include, battery on a law enforcement officer, attempting to deprive a law enforcement officer of his means of protection, DUI and resisting arrest with violence. She is still in jail at last report where she is being held on $15,650 bail. There were no further details provided in the story about the woman’s state of mind or actions after she was taken to jail.

May 12, 2010

Tampa Criminal News – High Speed Chase From Tampa To St. Pete May Result In DUI Drug Charges

Tampa Criminal Lawyers

A man known as Pop Daddy led police on a high-speed chase from Tampa to St. Petersburg before being arrested on drug possession and fleeing and eluding charges. Artez Leon Hooker fled police on I-275 in Tampa in A BMW convertible driving so fast at times that the police helicopter tracking him couldn’t keep up with the car’s speed. Hooker was eventually found in St. Petersburg after abandoning his car.

According to police reports and a story on TampaBay.com, the chase began at 3:00 a.m. when Hooker was spotted running red lights on Tampa’s Armenia Avenue. Police then attempted to pull Hooker over in his 2004 BMW but he took off at speeds of 120 M.P.H. amid I-275 traffic. He eventually turned off his lights to avoid being caught, abandoned his car and hid in a staircase. The police helicopter was able to track Hooker and lead police on the ground to his location.

Hooker was arrested on felony fleeing and eluding charges and was then also hit with drug charges when police discovered marijuana in the backseat of the police car where Hooker was being held. Although he was not charged with DUI police noted in their arrest report that Hooker seemed to be under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.

Hooker has a long history of arrests according to TampaBay.com including charges of reckless driving, driving with a suspended license and cocaine possession. As a juvenile Hooker was arrested on numerous charges including robbery and also he was connected to the shooting of a man. Hooker allegedly shot a man three times after an altercation in which his bicycle was cut off.  He was found guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced to three years.

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