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Florida has been at the center of constitutional disputes that have led to greater legal protections for citizens nationwide. Yet, the Sunshine State’s adoption and tax laws remain a target of disapproval for disenfranchising minority and low-income individuals.
In 1963, the meaning of the Sixth Amendment was forever expanded by the landmark decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared that assistance of counsel is a fundamental right. In Gideon, the Court found a Florida law which only appointed public defense attorneys to criminal defendants accused of capital crimes to be unconstitutional. The Court unanimously held that state courts must provide counsel for all criminal defendants who cannot afford private lawyers, whether such defendants are accused of capital crimes or not. Gideon also paved the way for future decisions which expanded the rights of criminal defendants, such as the right to counsel during trial, on appeal, and during police interrogation.
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While the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Florida law in Gideon, it has not yet found Florida’s adoption statute to be unconstitutional. Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas are the only states in the nation that explicitly prohibit homosexuals from adopting children. Recently, however, a judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit Court found the provision of the Florida statute to be unconstitutional. It’s not clear if this ruling will be overturned as the provision survived scrutiny by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Lofton v. Secretary of Dept. of Children and Family Services. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and other gay-rights organizations are currently attempting to bring the law under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court based on the argument that the law violates the constitution as it discriminates against homosexuals and decreases the chances for Florida foster children to be adopted.
Florida has also drawn criticism for its tax policy, which is said to be one of the most regressive in the nation; this means that lower-income Floridians pay a proportionately higher share of taxes than upper-income residents. Florida is also one of just nine states that do not tax personal income. As such, the state government relies heavily on sales tax (which is currently set at 6%) to fund public services.
There are currently 2,056 members of the Florida Bar Association Tax Section, which aims to educate members about federal and state tax law developments, and to promote the ethical practice of tax law. Of course, Florida lawyers practice in many areas besides tax, including criminal law, elder law, and family law. Many of the lawyers practicing in these areas have solo practices or are affiliated with a small firm; as such, they find it useful to connect with clients by becoming a member of LegalMatch. Lawyers who meet LegalMatch’s qualifications are matched with clients who need help with a variety of legal issues.
The following websites contain additional legal information about Florida: