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Florida Lawmakers Target Criminal Use of Digital Currency

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

May 18, 2017

Bitcoin and other forms of digital or virtual currency have been hailed for their anonymity in a technological age where privacy has taken on new meaning. For the same reasons that many throughout the world chose to use virtual currency for legitimate and lawful transactions, many people also use them in the facilitation of criminal activity. In an effort to target criminal activity that occurs over the internet, Florida lawmakers recently voted to approve a measure that adds “virtual currency” to the statutory definition of monetary instruments that may be used in the commission of money laundering.

Under the new changes to Florida’s Money Laundering Act, which are expected to be signed into law by the Governor, bitcoin and other virtual currency will now be included among bank deposits, wire transfers, and investments as tools for laundering money obtained through unlawful means.

What this means in the context of criminal law is that individuals who are arrested and charged with using encrypted digital currencies may face money laundering charges in addition to charges for their underlying criminal activity. The measure to update the state’s law stemmed from Miami-Dade Police officials who stated that Florida’s outdated laws created a loophole through which criminals could commit serious offenses with less exposure to penalties.

This was the notable issue in a case involving a Miami woman who was targeted in an undercover sting operation. Following filing of criminal charges, the woman argued that money laundering charges filed against her should be dropped on the grounds that bitcoin is not considered legal money under law.

Laws regarding bitcoins and their use in criminal activity have been slow to evolve, and few states have laws or precedent in place addressing these issues. Although it may lead the pack in creating legislation to target bitcoin use, Florida will likely continue to face legal debates on criminal cases involving digital currency. As such, there are many challenges to be raised in these criminal cases, especially given the technical nature of digital currency and definitions of what is and what is not considered legal conduct.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A. our criminal defense attorneys are former Florida prosecutors who have extensive experience protecting the rights of clients facing all types of criminal charges, including those involving money laundering, drug crimes, internet crimes, and even federal allegations. Our legal team has seen the evolution of criminal laws and how prosecutors handle new issues that fall within the “gray area,” which provides us with the insight needed to effectively fight for our clients’ freedoms and futures.

Our background and experience enables us to handle a range of difficult cases on behalf of clients who are under investigation or who have already been charged with a crime. If you have questions regarding a potential case, contact us today for an immediate consultation.