If you are facing a fish and wildlife violation in Florida
, you need to take it seriously. Even though the offense may seem trivial, animal activists put a lot of pressure on prosecutors to be tough. These charges are crimes and you don’t want to suffer the penalties or have them on your record. These cases can be found on a background check and they don’t sound good to employers or others who don’t know the full story.
As diverse as the wildlife of Florida is, the laws that protect it are equally as complex. Unfortunately, not understanding the law or thinking your violation was merely a mistake is not a legal defense, and the penalties you face can be as harsh as drug possession
or driving under the influence
. Whether you’re a local Floridian or a visitor, these laws equally apply, and representing yourself against these charges can put you at risk. Failure to take action in your case can result in heavy fines, a warrant for your arrest, and even jail time. To better understand the penalties you may face, it is best to examine the law and those who enforce it with the help of an experienced fish and wildlife attorney.
Understanding the Fish and Wildlife Violation Laws in Florida
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
is a government agency that was founded in 1999. FWC is tasked with protecting Florida’s natural resources including fish, wildlife, and the environment. To fulfill this mission, FWC established rules and regulations codified in Chapter 68 of the Florida Administrative Code and Chapter 379 of the Florida Statutes
. These rules and regulations encompass fishing, hunting, and boating. To enforce these rules and regulations, FWC is staffed with law enforcement officers who patrol onshore and offshore areas, as well as wildlife areas across the state. These officers have the legal authority to conduct investigations, issue citations for any violation they discover, and even effectuate an arrest.
Fish and wildlife violations can range from a noncriminal infraction to a misdemeanor or even a felony offense. The specific laws and penalties for fish and wildlife cases are outlined in Chapter 379 Florida Statutes. Section 379.401
of the Florida Statutes establishes the penalties for violations. Penalties typically depend on the nature and frequency of the violations. The penalties are listed by levels one through four, with one being the least severe and four the most severe. The violations and penalties are as follows:
Level One – Fish and Wildlife Violation
Level One violations involve licensing, permits, reporting, and management areas. Level One violations are noncriminal infractions requiring payment of civil penalties. Level One violations carry the following penalties:
- First Conviction: $50 plus the cost of the license or permit;
- Second or Subsequent Conviction (within three years): $250 plus the cost of the license or permit.
Level Two – Fish and Wildlife Violation
Violations involving fishing or hunting out of season, size and bag limits, fishing or hunting methods, restricted areas, tagging requirements, and feeding wildlife. Level Two violations are criminal charges classified as second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Level Two violations can be enhanced to a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. For criminal violations, court appearance is required. Level Two violations carry the following penalties:
- First Violation: second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine;
- Second Offense (outside of three years): second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine;
- Second Violation of Level Two or Higher (within the last three years): first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. There is a minimum mandatory fine of $250;
- Third Level Two Conviction or Higher (within five years): first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. There is a minimum mandatory fine of $500 and a suspension of recreational license or permit for one year;
- Fourth Level Two Conviction or Higher (within ten years): maximum sentence of up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. There is a minimum mandatory fine of $750 and a three-year recreational license suspension.
Level Three – Fish and Wildlife Violation
Level Three violations involve the sale of saltwater fish, exotic marine plants or animals, taking game or fish while a required license is suspended, importation of freshwater fish, transportation of commercial quantities of freshwater fish, possession of deer and wild turkey, sale or possession of alligators, among other violations. Level Three violations carry the following penalties:
- First Violation or No Convictions of a Level-Three Violation or Higher (within the last 10 years): first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $1000 and up to 364 days in jail;
- Second or Subsequent Violation of a Level-Three Violation (within the last 10 years): first-degree misdemeanor punishable by $1000 fine and up to 364 days in jail. There is a minimum mandatory fine of $750 and a suspension of your recreational license for three years; for offenses involving the taking of fish or game with a suspended license, a mandatory fine of $1,000 will be imposed.
Level Four – Fish and Wildlife Violation
Level Four violations involve the taking of stone crabs, blue crabs, unlawful production of spiny lobster trap tags, willful molestation of gear, forging recreational licenses, killing alligator eggs, and sale of illegally taken deer or wild turkey. Level Four violations carry the following penalties:
- Level Four violations are a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Contact a Fish and Wildlife Violation Attorney Today
As you can see, fish and wildlife violations in Florida
are no walk in the park. Attempting to navigate these laws and the legal system on your own can put you at serious risk. There is a lot that a criminal defense attorney can do to protect you, so please reach out for advice quickly.
It is important to know that simply paying a civil citation constitutes a guilty plea and a conviction on your record. Rather than paying the citation, it may be best to request a court date to allow you the opportunity to negotiate with law enforcement and the court for leniency, or to outright challenge the charges against you. If you have been issued a Notice to Appear, the Clerk of Court will mail you a Notice of Hearing which will include a date, time, and place for your arraignment (formal reading of the charges). At your arraignment, you will be given the option to enter a plea, “guilty” or “not guilty”; entering a plea of “not guilty” means you will have to attend future court dates until your case is resolved. This will allow you time to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney
to act on behalf.
A Fish and Wildlife Violation Attorney can properly evaluate your case, prepare a defense, and/or negotiate with the prosecutor for a potential plea deal. Hiring an attorney can also allow you to waive your appearance at court dates. It is important not to take these charges lightly. Do not let a momentary mistake last a lifetime, contact us today