Ambiguous Florida Tampering Law Under Attack
Florida’s food tampering statute is at the center of a criminal case involving allegations that a bar owner spiked an employee’s drink. The Orlando Sentinel reported the story about a Longwood bar owner who is facing up to 30 years in prison. According to the article, the 49-year-old owner was drinking shots with a female bartender after the establishment closed one night. The bartender told police officers that her drink tasted strange. She also reported seeing small black dots in the glass, but assumed it was dust or ashes. When she began feeling sick, she contacted her boyfriend, according to the article. He took her to the hospital, where amphetamines were found in her system. The police were contacted and an official investigation was launched. Surveillance video was observed and the newspaper reported that the bar owner was seen pouring the drinks and putting something into them that he retrieved from his pocket.
The Florida Anti-Tampering Law
The bartender was reportedly charged under a rarely prosecuted food tampering law, which can result in a prison sentence of up to 30 years. Under the law, it is a felony to engage in the following behaviors:
- Tampering with, or conspiring or attempting to tamper with, any consumer product or the labeling of, or container with reckless disregard for the risk to others;
- Tampering with any consumer product or rendering materially false or misleading the labeling of, or container for, a consumer product, with the intent to cause serious injury to the business of another person;
- Knowingly communicating false information that a consumer product has been tampered with, if such tampering, had it occurred, would create a risk of death or bodily injury to another person; and
- Knowingly threatening, under circumstances in which the threat may reasonably be expected to be believed, that he or she will commit or cause to be committed an act relating to tampering with a consumer product.
According to the article, the defendant is asking the court to declare the statute unconstitutional, under the rationale that it is overly broad and carries a penalty that is considerably harsher than its federal counterpart. While the Florida law can result in 30 years of imprisonment, even if the victim was not seriously hurt, conviction under the federal law only results in a sentence less than 10 years.
The defendant is additionally requesting the dismissal of his criminal charges, asserting that the elements of the statute are not met. He is arguing that the drink served to the bartender was his creation, and not a consumer product under the definition of the statute. The judge reportedly asked the state attorney to clarify whether the law applies to all drinks or only those that are in sealed containers. Questioning the validity of a law is a tactic that experienced defense attorneys can use in the representation of client.
If you or a loved one is facing charges under a seldom used or ambiguous statute, contact the capable attorneys of Miami based Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at 305-600-3519 for a confidential and free consultation.