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At Jones Chesnutt, PLLC, we believe it is vital that every person knows their rights during police encounters.

As a law student at Cardozo School of law and a member of the National Lawyers Guild, attorney Meredith Jones was trained to give “Streetlaw” presentations to community groups of students and adults to let them know what their constitutional rights were and how they can protect them. She has presented to various audiences from high schoolers in the Bronx to all ages community members at the Dasie Hope Center in Fellsmere.

Have you ever wondered if you have to answer questions if the police stop you? Or if you can film a police encounter? Have you wondered if there are “magic words” that will set you free or stop an unwanted encounter with law enforcement?

Do you have questions about your Miranda rights? What are Miranda rights, anyway? Or whether or not you can refuse to let the police search you, your bag, or your car?

Have you heard that if the police don’t “read your your rights” then your case will be thrown out? Do you want to know if that is, in fact, true? (Hint: It is not, in fact, that simple.)

When individuals know their rights, and know how to communicate that knowledge to law enforcement, their rights are more likely to be respected. Even if an encounter results in an arrest, if a person knows what may happen the experience may be less traumatic and easier to discuss later with their attorney. Their criminal defense lawyer can then use the information to assist in defending the case. Knowledge truly is power.

If you have a community group that would be interested in hearing more about this topic, we are happy to arrange a presentation. Please contact our office to schedule.

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Today is the Winter Solstice (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), meaning it is the shortest day of the year. Why do we care about that at a law firm? Well, as family law practitioners we know that it can be difficult for families going through divorce or other changes to maintain and build positive relationships between children and adults. The Solstice offers a great topic of conversation and learning for parents and their children.

Parents are their children’s first teachers. When parents teach things to their children, or are taught by them, they form memories and stronger bonds. Most parents have heard about summer learning loss, but it’s possible that other academic breaks can have a similar effect. Does that mean that during winter break experts want children to be doing worksheets all day? No. But families can learn together as they participate in existing holiday traditions or create new ones.

The solstice is a convenient starting point for learning and discovery. Here’s a great overview of what a solstice is: Understanding the Winter Solstice

Are your kids interested in geography? There are monuments all over the world that are related to the solstice. Stonehenge in England, Newgrange in Ireland, and the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming are just a few.

Are your children more interested in reading? The Winter Solstice, since it is the shortest day of the year, is a great time to suggest a joining in Celebrate Short Fiction Day. Do you have a favorite short story you can share with your teens? Have they read one this year in school that they’d like to share with the family? One timely example is O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”

Here’s a short video that explains the solstice and its relationship to the seasons.

Even when families are facing their first holiday season since a separation, there are opportunities for connection, bonding, and learning. No matter the situation, it is a parent’s responsibility to model the adult behavior that they want their children aspiring to. We look forward to helping you find ways to do just that.

Attorney Meredith Jones was recently invited to speak on a Town Hall panel hosted by Substance Abuse Free Indian River (SAFIR) on the dangers of social hosting and underage and binge drinking. The Town Hall was at the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office in Vero Beach.

The other panel participants were Robin Dapp, SAFIR Coalition Chair, Eric Flowers, Lieutenant of Public Affairs, Sheriff’s Department, Liana Urfer, M.D.,  and Brian Lange, father of two children in the School District of Indian River County. The discussion was moderated by two talented public school students.

The panel participants spoke to the audience about statistics of teenage drinking and drug use in our community, some potential criminal and civil consequences for both youths and adults who are involved  with underage drinking, and the importance of building the relationships within families and communities to protect children from the dangers associated with alcohol.

Dr. Urfer talked about how studies show that a person who is exposed to alcohol before they are 15 is four times more likely to be dependent on alcohol as an adult. Meredith pointed out that while parents may think that by allowing their teenaged children to drink at home, where the parents can monitor the situation and maintain safety, the statistics show that plan backfires – teenagers that are allowed to drink at home are more likely to drink elsewhere and more often than those who are not permitted to drink at home.

Adults who supply alcohol to teenagers could be charged with many crimes, including being in violation of Florida Statute 856.015 on Open House Parties or Contributing to the Delinquency or Dependency of a Minor.

However, preventing teenage drug and alcohol use is about much more than not committing a crime. When teenagers drink, they are introducing a harmful chemical substance to their developing brains and other organs, potentially having lifelong consequences. Parents want to keep their children safe, and actively taking steps to talk to them about how and why it’s important to avoid alcohol is one way to do that.

This election season has been filled with drama and high emotion. At the end of the day, it’s the votes cast that will decide the outcome. So who can vote? Can a person with a criminal conviction vote?

Florida Statute 97.041 answers these questions.

Qualifications to register or vote.

(1)(a) A person may become a registered voter only if that person:

1. Is at least 18 years of age;
2. Is a citizen of the United States;
3. Is a legal resident of the State of Florida;
4. Is a legal resident of the county in which that person seeks to be registered; and
5. Registers pursuant to the Florida Election Code.

(b) A person who is otherwise qualified may preregister on or after that person’s 16th birthday and may vote in any election occurring on or after that person’s 18th birthday.

(2) The following persons, who might be otherwise qualified, are not entitled to register or vote:

(a) A person who has been adjudicated mentally incapacitated with respect to voting in this or any other state and who has not had his or her right to vote restored pursuant to law.
(b) A person who has been convicted of any felony by any court of record and who has not had his or her right to vote restored pursuant to law.
(3) A person who is not registered may not vote.

Voting and Criminal Convictions

An earlier post discussed the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. Losing your right to vote is a huge blow for people. Voting is one of the most direct ways citizens have to participate in their government, from deciding who will serve as school board representative to the President of the United States.
Not all criminal convictions will take away voting rights. If you are convicted of misdemeanor your right to vote will not be impacted. However, if you are adjudicated guilty of a felony, you can no longer vote.

Can I vote in Jail?

Yes, you can vote while you are in jail – that is, as long as you haven’t been convicted of a felony. If you are serving a sentence for a misdemeanor or are in jail awaiting trial, you can vote. Contact your local Supervisor of Elections to see how you can request your absentee ballot.

Can I vote in Prison?

No, you cannot. In Florida, it is impossible to be in prison without being convicted of a felony. If you are convicted of a felony, you can’t vote.

I was convicted of a felony, but I want to get my right to vote back. Can I do that?

Possibly. You have to apply for clemency, sometimes referred to as a “pardon” from the Governor. There are different types of clemency, some of which will restore your right to vote.

Where can I get more information on restoring my right to vote?

The Florida Commission on Offender Review has a Clemency Overview

The Brennan Center for Justice recently released information on efforts on voting rights restoration in Florida.

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Attorney Meredith D. Jones with YPN Committee Member and Attorney Micheal Kissner

Today Meredith Jones spoke at the Indian River Chamber of Commerce Young Professional Network monthly luncheon about being a small business owner.

At Jones Chesnutt, PLLC we know it’s important to give back not just through our legal work, but through all kinds of community involvement. Our firm has been a member of the Indian River Chamber of Commerce since shortly after we opened. We love being part of this community of local business professionals.

It’s important to connect with other lawyers so that we can suggest names to our clients when they are looking for work that we don’t do, and we love knowing that other professionals trust us enough to suggest us to their clients, friends, and family. Our practice areas are family law, criminal defense, and dependency law. We pride ourselves on building relationships with our clients, and want them to call us no matter what kind of potential legal situation they might find themselves in. Are they starting a small business? Are they having an issue with an aging parent’s nursing home or home health care? Were they involved in a  car accident? While we would love to personally help our clients with all of their legal needs, we also know that focusing our efforts on where we have the most experience works best for everyone.

Chamber membership also lets us know what is going on around town, who might be able to help a divorcing client move, what companies understand and will hire people with criminal convictions, what non-profits are having community service projects that would be excellent family bonding opportunities, and more. We want to be able to help our clients handle all the issues surrounding their cases. Community involvement helps us do just that.

The theme for Law Day 2016 was “Miranda: More Than Just Words.”

The Indian River County Bar Association and the Indian River County Lawyers Auxiliary always does a wonderful job promoting and organizing several events on not just one day, but over an entire week.

As part of the celebration this year, attorney Meredith Jones presented to 88 fifth grade students at Osceola Magnet School about Miranda Warnings: what they are, how we got them, and how the warnings can apply in real world settings.

Thank you so much to all who made this week a success!

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Thank you cards from the Principal and students of Osceola Magnets School

Divorce is a difficult process, but it is a process, and you can get through it. The more centered and calm you stay, the smoother the process can be. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but this TEDTalk gives some pointers that can help you do just that.

Briefly, Davis Sbarra suggests:
1. Sleep – getting your rest is key (but don’t rely on drugs or alcohol to knock yourself out).
2. Cultivate a sense of self-compassion and common humanity – don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself the love and care that you need.
3. Pull yourself back together – divorce can make you question who you are. Tap into the relationships and activities that enhance your sense of self.