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Expungement or Sealing Juvenile Record in Florida

Expungement or Sealing Juvenile Record in Florida

The idea that one event or mistake made in youth can have lasting negative consequences on one’s adult life is a frightening prospect. That is the situation minors face when they are arrested and charged for a criminal offense. An experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney can defend minors’ rights in court and ensure the best possible outcome.

Still, some will be left with a juvenile record that could be an obstacle to their educational and professional futures. Fortunately, in certain cases, a juvenile record in Florida can be sealed or expunged.

Eligibility for Expungement or Sealing

In Florida, a juvenile record is automatically eligible for expungement or sealing when the offender turns 24 years old or, for a serious or habitual offender, 26 years old. However, typical offenders can try to get their juvenile record sealed or expunged at an earlier age.

Minors that were arrested for nonviolent offenses and/or completed a court-ordered diversion program can petition for expungement or sealing of their juvenile record. This petition can only be done once to clear the record of only one arrest. Most juvenile records are eligible unless the offender fits the following characteristics.

      • found guilty or adjudicated delinquent for the offenses on the juvenile record they wish to seal
      • found guilty or adjudicated delinquent for serious criminal offenses, especially violent and sex crime offenses
      • previously had a criminal record sealed or expunged
      • concurrently filed another petition for expungement or sealing

Procedure

In order to seal or expunge a juvenile record in Florida, offenders must first apply for a Certificate of Eligibility for Sealing. Only once they receive this certificate can they petition the juvenile court that handled their case for expungement or sealing of their record. Trying to have a juvenile record cleared is often a complex process and, in such cases, the guidance of an experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney is incredibly valuable.

If you were arrested or charged with a criminal offense as a minor, the attorneys at Pimentel & Castillo can guide you every step of the way toward achieving a expungement or sealing of your juvenile record in Florida. Once your juvenile is record cleared, you will not have to reveal your juvenile offenses to most people and employers, eliminating significant obstacles to your future educational and professional endeavors.

Call us to request a free consultation with a seasoned Miami juvenile defense attorney today.

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Is Teen Sexting a Crime in Florida?

Is Teen Sexting a Crime in Florida?

The answer is yes, sexting between two minors is considered a crime in Florida. In 2011, the Florida legislature passed a law that specifically pertained to teen sexting. Children and teenagers under the age of 18 should have some understanding of this law and the penalties for violating it.

Prior to this law, minors caught sexting would be charged according to more severe Florida child pornography laws. While this is no longer the case, the consequences for minors who violate the current law can still be harsh with long-lasting effects for the offender. If a you are a parent or guardian of a minor cited for a sexting violation, seeking the legal counsel of an experienced Miami juvenile defense attorney is recommended.

What is Sexting and Teen Sexting?

Sexting is defined as people sharing nude or sexually explicit messages, typically photos or videos, through the use of electronic communication channels and devices such cell phones, the Internet, social media, and so on. Teen sexting occurs when the above behavior happens between two minors and the messages in question depict minors.

Under Florida sexting law, sexting between two consenting adults is not a criminal activity. However, teen sexting is considered a criminal offense. Minors commit the crime of sexting when they knowingly distribute, receive, possess, or create a nude or sexually explicit image or video of another minor.

If a minor receives an image or video depicting a minor in situations of nudity or sexual conduct, but they (i) did not solicit the image, (ii) did not distribute the image to another party, and (iii) took steps to report the image to a parent, guardian, school official, or law enforcement official, they are unlikely to be charged with violating the Florida sexting law.

What are the Penalties of Teen Sexting?

The consequences minors may face because of sexting vary in severity and depend on the specific circumstances of each case. Generally, punishments get harsher the more offenses a minor is charged with. Any images or videos transmitted or received within a 24 hour period are counted as one offense.

      • First Offense — Minor charged with non-criminal violation, could face a $60 fine, 8 hours of community service, and/or mandatory classes on the dangers of sexting.
      • Second Offense — Minor charged with first degree misdemeanor, could be faced with steeper fines, probation, and/or placement in a juvenile detention center.
      • Third Offense — Minor charged with third degree felony, could face a prison sentence of up to 15 years and may be required to register as a sex offender.

To learn more about the Florida sexting law and Florida child pornography laws as they pertain to juvenile defendants, speak with a seasoned Miami juvenile defense attorney. The attorneys at Pimentel & Castillo are experienced at defending juveniles from criminal charges, including sexting violations. If you are a parent or guardian of a minor that is facing teen sexting charges, call us today for a free consultation.

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5 Key Dangers of Not Signing a Contract

5 Key Dangers of Not Signing a Contract

The Miami civil litigation lawyers at Pimentel & Castillo have represented countless clients whose cases could have been avoided if only they had operated under a well-constructed contract. The purpose of a contract is to legally hold all parties engaging in business with one another to agreed-upon terms. When one does not exist or is simply not signed, navigating the process of holding another party accountable should those terms be broken is far more difficult. Often, it involves a civil trial that could have otherwise been avoided, costing the party who is not at fault both time and money.

Here are five problems that can be avoided by signing a contract.

1. Unclear Expectations

The only way to judge the success of an outcome is to weigh it against what was expected. If expectations are not clearly communicated by all involved, the likelihood that one of the parties will be left unsatisfied is much greater than if a signed contract outlines what is to be expected.

2. Payment Issues

If a business renders a service, getting paid for that service is expected. Yet, without a contract detailing how much will be charged and when that amount must be paid, clients or customers may be uncooperative. A contract benefits the party receiving the services in this scenario as well, by providing legal protections from additional charges that aren’t noted in the signed agreement.

3. Difficulties Understanding the Law

Very rarely are the parties entering into an agreement legal experts. A contract drawn up by an experienced contract attorney provides a legal framework for the agreement. This makes clear the obligations of all involved and who exactly is liable for what. More importantly, it helps the parties understand if they have legal standing for a dispute should problems arise.

4. Lack of Trust

All relationships are built on trust, whether they be business or personal. A signed contract can help establish this trust, giving all parties a clear understanding of what can be expected from them. Additionally, it provides a reference point for any questions that may arise.

5. Lost Disputes

When there is no signed contract to fall back on, the odds that a dispute will arise increase significantly. Without a written agreement, the party who is not at fault will likely need to seek legal recourse in this situation. In the worst case scenario, the party could lose the dispute due to a lack of legal framework outlining the terms.

Whether you need assistance drafting a solid contract or representation in a civil trial, our Miami civil litigation lawyers are here to help. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

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Consequences of Overstaying a Student Visa

Consequences of Overstaying a Student Visa

Overstaying one’s temporary U.S. visa is something immigration officials take very seriously. According to U.S. immigration law, a person who overstays their visa is residing in the country illegally and treated similarly to someone who entered the country illegally – it is a serious matter that should be avoided. However, for some student visa holders, the expiration of their allowed stay may not be as obvious. If you have already overstayed your visa, consult with a Miami immigration attorney to learn more about your options. Below, we will review the potential consequences of overstaying a student visa.

Authorized Period of Stay

Many are unaware that the expiration date on a visa is not what determines a nonimmigrant’s authorized period of stay, the date shown on the card is actually the last day that the card can be used to enter the U.S. The expiration for the stay is specified on the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record card or downloadable online document, given by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials to those who enter the U.S. If the visa holder stays beyond that date, they are guilty of overstaying.

However, nonimmigrants who enter on an F-1 or J-1 student visa are not given a specific date on their I-94 cards and online records. Instead, the I-94 will say, “D/S” which stands for Duration of Stay. Taking into account that the duration of many academic programs is not fixed, D/S allows for F-1 and J-1 students to stay until their studies program is complete and the grace period ends, assuming that the visa holder is fully compliant with the rules of the visa. If students stay past the allowed period and make no effort to apply for a Change of Status within a reasonable time, they are likely “Out-of-Status,” and therefore overstaying.

Consequences of Overstaying

The following are possible consequences of overstaying a student visa.

    • Existing visa is automatically voided and can no longer be used to enter the U.S.
    • Restricted from applying for an Extension of Stay or Change of Status
    • Cannot obtain another visa at any U.S. consulate outside of country of nationality
    • Barred from re-entering the U.S. for three to ten years if “unlawful presence” accrued

Unlawful Presence and Time Bars

One of the harshest consequences of overstaying a student visa is a time bar. Those guilty of overstaying are only subject to time bars if they are deemed inadmissible for accruing “unlawful presence,” meaning they overstayed for more than 180 days. For M-1 students, it is easy to determine whether unlawful presence has occurred because the accrual to time starts after the specific “Out-of-Status” date in their I-94.

On the other hand, F-1 and J-1 students can only be guilty of unlawful presence if U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a related government authority formally determines they were residing in the country unlawfully. Only after that official determination is made does the counting off of days start for F-1 and J-1 students. Thus, F-1 and J-1 student visa holders are rarely subject to any of the two types of time bars.

        1. Three-Year Time Bar — Unlawful presence of more than 180 days but less than one year.
        2. Ten-Year Time Bar — Unlawful presence of more than one year.

The best course of action for nonimmigrants should be to avoid overstaying a student visa. However, if you or a loved one has overstayed a temporary U.S. visa, consult with a knowledgeable Miami immigration attorney.

Out team of U.S. immigration law professionals is experienced at defending our clients from deportation as well as having grounds of inadmissibility waived. Call Pimentel & Castillo today for a free consultation.

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Florida is a Surrogacy-Friendly State

Florida is a Surrogacy-Friendly State

Surrogacy has become an increasingly popular option for those struggling to conceive or carry a child. Even though entering into a surrogacy agreement is illegal in some states, that is not the case in Florida. In fact, Florida surrogacy laws are some of the least restrictive in the country. Nonetheless, surrogacy law is complex and a qualified Miami surrogacy attorney can guide clients through the surrogacy process.

Two Legal Surrogacy Agreements

Under Florida surrogacy laws both forms of surrogacies are allowed, gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy. Florida statute 742.15 governs Gestational Surrogacy Agreements, while statute 62.213 governs Pre-Planned Adoption Agreements, also called Traditional Surrogacy Agreements. Intended parents, legally referred to as the “commissioning couple,” can enter either of these agreements.

    • Gestational Surrogacy Agreement (GSA)

Pregnancy is created through in vitro fertilization, at least one of the intended parents must contribute genetic material, and the surrogate is prohibited from donating her own egg. Permitted combinations include:

    • egg and sperm from the intended parents
    • egg from intended mother and sperm from separate donor
    • sperm from intended father and egg from separate donor

To enter this type of agreement, the commissioning couple must establish the health risks, confirmed by a physician’s diagnosis, that prevent the intended mother from carrying the child herself.

    • Traditional Surrogacy Agreement (TSA)

Traditional surrogacy is significantly less popular than gestational due to legal issues. In this type of agreement, the surrogate can donate her own egg to create the pregnancy. The egg is fertilized with the intended father’s sperm, inside the surrogate’s uterus. Therefore, the child is biologically connected to the surrogate.

Parental Rights in Surrogacy Agreements

As dictated by Florida surrogacy laws, a written contract needs to be signed for either type of surrogacy agreement. An experienced Miami surrogacy attorney can help commissioning couples draft these contracts. However, the assignment of parental rights may depend on whether the surrogacy was gestational or traditional.

Gestational Surrogacy — The surrogate is not biologically connected to the child and therefore has no legal parental right to the child after giving birth. She relinquishes away any and all of her parental rights when signing the contract. The commissioning couple automatically has the parental and custodial rights of the child after the birth.

Traditional Surrogacy — Since the surrogate has a biological connection with the child, the assignment of parental and custody can become complicated. She may consent in the contract to give up her parental rights, but she has the right to rescind her consent and terminate the contract within 48 hours of the birth of the child. In which case, the legal counsel of a Miami surrogacy attorney becomes necessary for the commissioning couple.

The assistance of a seasoned Miami surrogacy attorney is beneficial for those who want to enter a surrogacy agreement, whether you are an intended parent or the surrogate. At Pimentel & Castillo, we are committed to make the process as smooth as possible for our every client. If legal drawbacks do occur, we are skilled at defending our client’s rights in court. Call us today for a free consultation.

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Governing and Jurisdiction Clauses in Contracts Q&A

Governing and Jurisdiction Clauses in Contracts Q&A

A contract represents a legally binding agreement between two or more parties. However, even when all the parties sign on the dotted line contract disputes may still come up. When a dispute occurs and both parties have chosen to resolve it through civil litigation important questions come up, particularly when the two parties operate in different states. Where will the case be heard? Who will interpret the contract’s terms and based on what set of laws?

To significantly reduce the possibility of a lengthy and expensive dispute, it is advisable to get ahead of the problem by answering these questions before contract disputes arise by enlisting the expertise of a Miami civil litigation lawyer during the drafting of any contract. They will be sure to include both a Governing Clause and Jurisdiction Clause.

What is a Governing Clause?

The first step in determining which laws will be applied toward the resolution of contract disputes is to include a governing clause (also called choice of law clause) within the contract. Laws, especially those governing business contracts, vary by state. So, there may be various legal interpretations of the same contract depending on which state laws are applied. By including a governing clause, both parties agree on which state’s laws will govern the contract and interpret its terms should a dispute arise. Governing clauses are especially important when the parties signing the contract, such as businesses, are operating in separate states.

What is a Jurisdiction Clause?

Once a governing clause is agreed on, it is now time for the parties to choose which court(s) will have the right to hear any resulting contract disputes. This agreed-upon condition must be explicitly stated in the form of a jurisdiction clause (also called forum selection clause). By including a jurisdiction clause, both parties establish and agree on which court(s) will hear and decide on any disputes that arise from the contract. The jurisdiction clause and governing clause do not necessarily have to match, a specified state court can be made to apply laws from another state. There are two types of jurisdiction clauses.

      • Exclusive Jurisdiction — Only the court(s) specified in the clause have the right to handle contract disputes. Parties must litigate their case in those specified courts.
      • Non-Exclusive Jurisdiction — Both the specified court(s) and other courts not explicitly stated in the clause can handle disputes. Parties can choose to file their lawsuit in these unspecified courts.

Governing and jurisdiction clauses must be written precisely to prevent any misunderstandings and disagreements over jurisdiction in the future. The right choice of state laws and forum can also benefit a party and help them avoid disadvantages such as costly out-of-state litigation or unfavorable state laws. Consult with an experienced Miami civil litigation lawyer to ensure both these clauses, as well as the contract itself, are properly drafted.

At Pimentel & Castillo, our Florida civil litigation attorneys are skilled at drafting contracts and representing our clients in contract disputes. Call and request a free consultation with our experienced Florida civil litigation attorneys today.

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Medical Marijuana in Florida is Legally Available

Medical Marijuana in Florida is Legally Available

On Election Day, Floridians overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 2 which legalized access to medical marijuana for people with certain conditions. The constitutional amendment was put into effect on January 2017. Now, certain people can obtain medical marijuana in Florida, but the requirements are strict and the process is not simple. People interested in legally purchasing marijuana should consult with a Miami criminal defense attorney knowledgable with Florida marijuana laws which are briefly explained below.

Qualifying for Medical Marijuana in Florida

Under Amendment 2, patients can legally possess and use medical marijuana to treat one of the following “debilitating medical conditions.”

      • cancer
      • epilepsy
      • glaucoma
      • positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
      • acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
      • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
      • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
      • Crohn’s disease
      • Parkinson’s disease
      • multiple sclerosis (MS)
      • other debilitating medical conditions similar to those above and that a qualified physician recommends being treated with medical marijuana

There are other requirements patients must fulfill to be eligible for treatment using medical marijuana in Florida, including the following.

      • Must be a Florida resident.
      • Diagnosed by their qualified ordering physician with a qualifying condition.
      • Treated by said physician for at least 3 months immediately prior to an order of medical marijuana being placed.
      • Registered with the Compassionate Use Registry by the ordering physician.
      • Must have valid Compassionate Use Registry identification card.
      • If under 18, must have an additional recommendation from a second physician.
      • Tried other treatments without success.
      • Risk of using marijuana was determined to be reasonable by the ordering physician.

It is the responsibility of a qualified physician authorized to order marijuana (either low-THC cannabis or medical cannabis) to follow Florida marijuana laws, diagnose patients properly, and decide whether to recommend medical marijuana as the most suitable treatment.

Ordering physicians can order up to a 45-day supply of medical marijuana and one cannabis delivery device for their qualifying patients. With a valid Compassionate Use Registry identification card (which needs to be renewed annually), a patient or their legal representative can then contact a licensed dispensing organization to have the order filled.

Once the patient has the medical marijuana, they must follow certain rules and restrictions concerning use, including where it can be used or administered.

If you are considering legally obtaining medical marijuana to treat your debilitating ailments, consult with a Miami criminal defense attorney to become more familiar with Florida marijuana laws. A legal professional can help you avoid to criminal liability and strongly defend your rights in the event that you are charged with a drug offense.

Call Pimentel & Castillo to request a free consultation with an experienced Miami criminal defense attorney today.

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When to Update a Florida Parenting Plan

When to Update a Florida Parenting Plan

According to Florida family law, parents in a divorce case are encouraged to develop and agree to a parenting plan. The parenting plan is a legally-binding agreement that must be approved by the court. If they are unable to agree to a parenting plan, the court will intervene and decide what parenting plan is in the best interest of the child. However, after some time, a parenting plan can prove to be ineffective or outdated and may need to be modified.

Parenting plan modifications must also be approved by a Florida family court. The process of modifying a Florida parenting plan can be complex, so it is best to consult with a seasoned Miami family law attorney when petitioning the court for a modification.

Events That May Trigger Parenting Plan Modifications

There are a variety of reasons for wanting to modify a parenting plan. Any revisions and modifications one wishes to make to a Florida parenting plan must be based on the child’s best interest. Still, some life events and/or changes in the child’s needs may prompt a parenting plan modification. These changes may concern financial support calculations, visitation schedules, time-sharing arrangements, and even custody arrangements.

      • Remarriage Especially if it involves relocation or step-children.
      • Relocation Especially if the new distance between the parents’ households is significant.
      • Maturation of the child Especially if the current plan is no longer age-appropriate.
      • Changes in the child’s schools or school schedules
      • Changes in jobs Especially if it involves relocation, significant changes in income, or unemployment.
      • Negative effects of current Florida parenting plan on the child’s development
      • Unfit parenting status Especially if it concerns recent domestic violence charges.

What Florida Family Court Considers

Just like in child custody cases, the Florida family court will make a decision it believes to be in the child’s best interest. After one or both parents files a petition for modifying the parenting plan to the court, there will be a hearing to determine if there is just cause for a modification. The court will judge the severity of the major life changes cited as the reasons for the requested parenting plan modification. One parent or both parents have to prove to the court that the current plan no longer meets the child’s needs.

Not all modifications are approved by the Florida family court. Working with an experienced Miami family law attorney can increase your chances of successfully modifying your Florida parenting plan.

The Florida family law professionals at Pimentel & Castillo can provide the right legal guidance and assist in petitioning the court on your behalf. Call us today for a free consolation.

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What Does the Florida Court Consider When Deciding Child Custody?

What Does the Florida Court Consider When Deciding Child Custody?

Florida courts have wide discretionary authority when it comes to deciding Florida child custody in divorce cases, but they are most concerned with making a decision that will be in the “best interests of the child.” Essentially, this means the judge’s decisions on how custody rights and parental responsibilities will be divided are always tailored to fit the unique needs of the child.

An experienced Miami child custody attorney can address clients’ Florida child custody litigation needs and defend their parental and custody rights, so that the final custody arrangement will be favorable for both the child and parent.

In general, Florida family law upholds that children generally benefit from maintaining frequent contact and interaction with both parents and favors custody arrangements that accommodate this. The following are the best interest factors Florida courts most often consider before making a custody ruling in a divorce case.

Health, Safety, and Ethics

When deciding on a custody arrangement that will be in the best interests of the child, Florida courts consider the child’s health, safety, and moral development when determining best interest factors. A judge will review a parent’s behavior and the home environment thoroughly to uncover any elements that could disrupt the normal mental and physical development of the child. If there is evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, a parent or both parents could lose their custody and visitation rights. Additionally, to protect a child’s ethical development, a judge may consider a parent’s mental and physical state based on circumstances such as adulterous relationships prior to the divorce, frequent causal relationships with multiple partners, verbal abuse, substance abuse, and illegal activities.

Emotional and Developmental Needs

Other major best interest factors that are emphasized by Florida family law concern the emotional and developmental needs of a child especially concerning their general welfare, familial connections, education, and healthcare. These factors include:

    • Ability and willingness to be involved in their child’s life
    • Demonstrated ability to meet their child’s developmental needs
    • Love, affection, and existing relationship with their child
    • Awareness and participation in their child’s daily school and extracurricular activities
    • Familiarity with their child’s social circles and preferences
    • Home situation and the extent of its stability and permanence
    • Willingness to cooperate with other parent and honor time-sharing schedules

After reviewing all appropriate best interest factors, detailed in Florida Statute 61.13, a judge has the information needed to decide custody arrangements. In some instances, that decision may involve granting custody to a legal guardian. Sometimes, when a child is older and mature enough, a judge may allow the child to voice their custody preferences.

Florida family law, especially concerning child custody litigation, can be very complex. Call Pimentel & Castillo to have an experienced Miami child custody attorney represent you in a divorce case and defend your parental and custody rights.

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Adopting a Child With Birth Siblings

Adopting a Child With Birth Siblings

When one makes the decision to adopt a child who has birth siblings, it is understandable that there may be some added complexities. Even when a child does not have birth siblings at the time of the adoption, there is always the chance that his birth mother will go on to have other children. Navigating the situation can be difficult for the adoptive parents, as well as the children involved. Thus, it is important to not only know what the law says about sibling interactions, but consult with an experienced Miami family lawyer who has experience with adoptions involving these circumstances.

Laws Governing Sibling Relationships

It should serve as no surprise that keeping sibling relationships intact is typically (though not always) beneficial to the children involved. With that in mind, the courts have established some legal guidelines for these all important relationships. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 was the first piece of legislation that addressed this topic on a Federal level. It outlines the importance of keeping siblings in the same foster home whenever doing so is feasible. When this is not an option, the law requires that frequent visitations occur, permitted this would not be to the detriment of the children.

The issue of post-adoptive requirements of parents of adopted children with birth siblings is ultimately left up to the states. To date, Florida’s legislation only addresses adoptions completed by relatives, such as a grandparent. One of these is Statute 63.022, which seeks to keep siblings together whenever possible, whether it be in a foster home or an adoption. Another piece of legislation (63.0427) details the need for continued communication with birth siblings whenever the court deems appropriate. Both of these statutes come with quite a bit of gray area. Thus, the courts must consider the specifics of each unique case before determining what is best for the child.

If you are interested in welcoming a child into your home through adoption, selecting the right Miami family lawyer is of the utmost importance. Our office offers free consultations, and we would love to meet with you to discuss your unique situation. Give us a call today to schedule a meeting with one of our skilled attorneys.

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