New Ruling Sheds Light on What Constitutes a 'Diligent Search'

By Lowry Law Firm | Posted on September 25, 2015

In a recent blog post, we explained Florida’s law against “doctor shopping.” A recent doctor shopping case, Kari-Lynn Norton v. State of Florida, has established an important precedent in the state of Florida – not only for doctor shopping, but for criminal law in general.

In the case, the District Court of Appeal for Florida’s Second District ruled in favor of a woman (Kari-Lynn Norton) accused of doctor-shopping. The court held that the state failed to prosecute her within the three-year statute of limitations for a third degree felony such as doctor shopping.

The Statute of Limitations

Florida Statute 775.15(4)(b) states that when a defendant has not been arrested or served with a summons on a particular charge, a prosecution on that charge will begin when an indictment or information is filed – but only if the capias, summons or other process issued on the indictment or information is executed without unreasonable delay. It also states that in order to determine whether a delay is reasonable, considerations shall include the defendant’s absence from the state, and the inability to locate the defendant after a diligent search.

In Ms. Norton’s case, a warrant was served for her arrest in 2010. The authorities were unable to locate her until 2014, when she was arrested. There were four efforts to contact Ms. Norton prior to her arrest.

  • In 2010, a law enforcement official attempted to serve Ms. Norton at her mother’s home, but Ms. Norton was not present.
  • Later in 2010, the warrant for her arrest was posted on the websites for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
  • In October 2011, there was another attempt to serve Ms. Norton at her mother’s home, but again she was not present.
  • Later in October 2011, an attempt was made to serve her at a different address, but the property was vacant.

After her arrest in July 2014, Ms. Norton filed a petition to prevent the state from proceeding with a criminal prosecution against her. She argued that the statute of limitations had expired, because she was prosecuted more than three years since the last diligent search for her had taken place.

A trial court ruled that the state’s fourth attempt in 2011 constituted a diligent search, and thus the statute of limitations had not expired. However, the appeals court disagreed, holding that the search was not diligent.

The appeals court dismissed the prosecution of Ms. Norton. Its ruling stated:

“This is not to suggest that the State must exhaust every source of readily available information to satisfy its burden of demonstrating a diligent search. However, the State failed to present any evidence that would explain why it left so many stones unturned when the only attempts to contact Ms. Norton occurred eleven months apart and when it searched a limited number of readily available sources of public information only once during a nearly four-year period.”

Know Your Rights

A case like this demonstrates the importance of being represented by an attorney when facing criminal charges. Without the help of qualified legal advice, Kari-Lynn Norton may have entered a guilty plea without ever realizing that there was an issue with the statute of limitations.

If you have been charged with any crime, it is important that you speak to a lawyer about your rights. If you are in the Fort Lauderdale area, experienced criminal defense attorney Mark S. Lowry can help. You can call or email his office today to schedule a consultation.