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Police begin using 'enhancer' penalties during Florida's state of emergency. Will the charges stick?

State Attorney Dave Aronberg weighs in
Posted at 5:15 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 17:34:20-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Law enforcement officers in Palm Beach County have already started to charge people with an enhanced penalty for committing a crime during a state of emergency. But will the charges stick?

“Well, they could,” said State Attorney Dave Aronberg. “When it’s a hurricane [however], it is much easier to include the enhancer penalty."

RELATED: Sheriff Bradshaw issues message urging compliance with 'stay at home' order

In Florida, the enhancer penalty, also known as an anti-looting law, qualifies if someone commits a theft or burglary-related crime during a state of emergency.

“For example, a second-degree felony could become a first-degree felony,” said Aronberg.

But the current law on the book says the crime has to be committed because of the state of emergency, and it deals with more hurricane-type scenarios.

“So, when it is during a hurricane and the power is out, stealing a generator, I mean, that is clearly a violation that would result in an enhancer,” Aronberg told Contact 5 investigator Merris Badcock.

Right now, Aronberg’s office is carefully reviewing each enhanced penalty case to see if they can get these charges to stick.

“If you commit certain designated crimes, then that is worse than during normal times,” said Aronberg. “You are exploiting us when we are at our most vulnerable.”

Aronberg says both he and Martin County Sheriff William Synder helped turn the bill into law, but it might be time for an update.

“The Legislature may need to review several laws to reflect the reality of today’s pandemic,” said Aronberg.