The Handcuff Key, another obscure "Tag! Your Guilty" crime.

There is a Florida Statute that penalizes you for simply possessing a handcuff key. It is found in section 843.021, Florida Statutes, and is titled, "Unlawful possession of a concealed handcuff key." I'm writing this post because this is the kind of "slow creep" law that the government produces without anyone noticing. Yet year over year they add up making more and more unwitting individuals criminals.

This law prohibits the following behavior: Any person who possesses a concealed handcuff key commits a felony of the third degree, punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison.

Notice that the "title" and the "prohibited behavior" of the law says that there an unlawful way to possess a handcuff key when you conceal it. At least that is what I take from it. Luckily, the creators of this crime have included some definitions that cannot be overlooked (but usually are - mainly by law enforcement).

The first definition is the “In custody” definition. This is defined as "any time while a person has been placed in handcuffs by a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether such person is under formal arrest." Why do we have this definition? The title nor the actual prohibited conduct includes anything about being in custody. Think about that.

Then it goes on to describe what a “Handcuff key” means. If you had a picture in your mind it is time to expand your horizon. A handcuff key is "any key, tool, device, implement, or other thing used, designed, or intended to aid in unlocking or removing handcuffs." Think bobby-pin.

But wait. We are talking about something that is concealed. What if I have a bobby-pin in my hair? Good question. Let's see. A “Concealed handcuff key” means any handcuff key (see definition) carried by a person in a manner that indicates an intent to prevent discovery of the key by a law enforcement officer, including, but not limited to, a handcuff key (see definition) carried:

  1. In a pocket of a piece of clothing of a person, and unconnected to any key ring;
  2. On a necklace of a person;
  3. On the body part of a person or on any item of clothing of such person, when the handcuff key is secured on the body part or item of clothing by use of tape, glue, line, or other material;
  4. In or within any compartment, seam, fold, or other encasement within any item of clothing, belt, shoe, or jewelry of a person;
  5. In or within any sock, hose, shoe, belt, undergarment, glove, hat, or similar item of clothing or accessory of a person;
  6. By a person and disguised as jewelry or other object; or
  7. In or within any body cavity of a person.

The key idea behind any criminal offense is the idea of "intent." So you would think, by reading the law, that so long as YOU do not INTEND to carry a handcuff key (see definition) in a way to prevent discovery you'd be okay. The problem is it is not you who decides what YOUR intent was. The law enforcement officer gets to decide that in a sworn affidavit presented to the court.

Sure, you get to defend yourself. That is a great pleasure. And they even include defenses within this law (that you never even knew existed but you must specifically do). First, "[i]t is a defense to a charge of violating this section that, immediately upon being placed in custody, the person in custody actually and effectively disclosed to the law enforcement officer that he or she was in possession of a concealed handcuff key." Note that (a) you probably need to know this to do this, and (b) you have to "actually and effectively" do this - another area where the law enforcement officer gets to decide.

But what about those people who typically carry a handcuff key? They have covered them too. "It is a defense to a charge of violating this section that the person in custody and in possession of a concealed handcuff key is:

  1. A federal, state, or local law enforcement officer, including a reserve or auxiliary officer, a licensed security officer, or a private investigator; or
  2. A professional bail bond agent, temporary bail bond agent, runner, or limited surety agent.

However, the defense is not available to any officer, investigator, agent, or runner listed in this subsection if the officer, investigator, agent, or runner, immediately upon being placed in custody, fails to actually and effectively disclose possession of the concealed handcuff key."

Does that seem weird to you? Does me. Seems as if those people are under the same obligation as everyone else - so why have a separate defense?

This is called the "Police Union Get Out of Jail" card. Whereas, if you or I are arrested and, because we have no idea this law even exists, we have a handcuff key on us, we are going to get "tagged" with another charge (besides the one we were arrested for). And this new charge has us looking at 5-years in prison. The section dealing with "those people who typically carry a handcuff key" let's the police and the jailors know to ask that arrestee about a handcuff key.

Think about this. Every year the Florida legislature passes and amends hundreds of laws. Luckily for us Floridians, they are required to follow the "single subject" rule. In Washington DC they have no single subject rule. Those people get to pass laws with nice sounding names like "Affordable Care Act" (who doesn't want affordable care?) and then stuff it with all sorts of laws, penalties, and definitions that have nothing to do with the Act.

If you still believe that the government should be able to invade your privacy in order to "protect" you because you have nothing to hide (you haven't done anything wrong) - you are sorely mistaken.

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