Facing a criminal charge in Florida is a serious matter that can come with severe consequences. In addition to jail time and legal costs, the specter of a potential conviction can loom heavily over criminal defendants as they prepare for adjudication. That’s why, as the Fourth District Court of Appeals explained in Mora v. State, the law requires prosecutors to commence proceedings by certain deadlines, depending on the nature of the case.

Luis Mora was charged with three counts of contracting without a license – a misdemeanor that applies to individuals who operate a contracting business without the requisite certification – in July 2008. Arguing that Mora had previously been convicted of the same offense, prosecutors also charged him with a third degree felony four months later. Because notice of the new charge was sent to the wrong address, Mora did not become aware of the felony count until December 2011, more than three years after he was notified of the misdemeanor charges.

Florida law requires the state to commence prosecution for a third-degree felony within three years from the date on which the crime was allegedly committed. Following a hearing on the matter, a trial court denied Mora’s motion to dismiss the felony charge for failure to prosecute, ruling that the elements of proof required for a conviction under the misdemeanors mirrored those for the felony and therefore Mora was not harmed by and delay in prosecution.

The Fourth District disagreed on appeal, however. “Petitioner correctly argues that the felony unlicensed contracting charge is a different crime” than the misdemeanors, the Court explained. Specifically, while all of the elements of the misdemeanors still had to be proved in order to convict Mora for the felony offense, the felony offense also required at least one additional element of proof: that Mora had previously been convicted for misdemeanor contracting without a license.

The Court compared the matter to its 2007 decision in Cicilian v. State, a DUI case in which the Court ruled that a felony DUI charge was separate and distinct from a misdemeanor charge, and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the felony charge for failure to prosecute. “Analogously, in this case, the felony unlicensed contracting offense requires proof of an element that the misdemeanor does not; that is, the existence of a prior conviction,” the Court said.

As a result, the Fourth District found that prosecution for the felony charge was not timely and therefore the charge should have been dismissed.

As this case makes clear, a person charged with a crime in Florida has a number of defenses available under the law, including those related to whether or not he committed the crime, as well as those concerning whether the state has properly prosecuted. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you who can explain the rights and defenses to which you are entitled.

The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling a wide range of criminal cases throughout the state, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. We are dedicated to providing our clients with aggressive, competent and high-quality representation. Contact us at our Ft. Lauderdale office to schedule a confidential consultation.

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