ORLANDO (CBSMiami/NSF) – A section of a state law which makes it illegal to possess a “counterfeit payment instrument” has been found unconstitutional by a Central Florida appeals court.

The Orange County case stems from the 2011 trespassing arrest of Brian Thomas, who was carrying a suitcase that included 35 checks with other people’s names on them, blank check stock, a printer and Florida identification that did not belong to Thomas, according to court documents.

A circuit court ruled that it was unconstitutional to make it illegal to simply possess counterfeit checks. Prosecutors argued that the law was meant to address people who have counterfeit checks with the intent to defraud someone else.

Thomas’ attorneys, however, contended that the law could lead, for example, to a contractor being prosecuted for unknowingly accepting a counterfeit check from a customer.

A three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal agreed, saying the Legislature cannot pass criminal laws that violate constitutional due-process rights.

“Criminalizing the mere possession of counterfeit payment instruments criminalizes behavior that is otherwise inherently innocent and thus violates substantive due process,” said the opinion, written by Judge Jacqueline Griffin and joined by Chief Judge Vincent Torpy and Judge Wendy Berger.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)


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