In 2016, Judge Teresa Mary Pooler of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida made headlines for a ruling she made during the Michell Espinoza trial. Judge Pooler ruled Espinoza could not be charged with illegal money transmission offenses because bitcoin was not considered legal tender. However, a motion filed with the Florida appeals court has overturned the decision and Espinoza may face the state’s trial courts for an alleged crime back in 2014.
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Bitcoin Was Not the Equivalent of Money According to a Florida Judge in 2016 – the State Disagrees
Five years ago Michell Espinoza was arrested for illegal money transmission for selling bitcoins to Miami police officers and other federal law enforcement officials. The February 2014 arrest of Espinoza and Pascal Reid was the state’s first big case that involved illegal money transmission and laundering charges coupled with bitcoins. However, after two years of legal battles, Espinoza’s charges were ultimately dismissed by Judge Pooler and in her dismissal verdict she detailed bitcoin was not considered money.
“Bitcoin[s] may have some attributes in common with what we commonly refer to as money, but differ in many important aspects — While bitcoin[s] can be exchanged for items of value, they are not a commonly used means of exchange,” Judge Pooler’s ruling explained on July 22, 2016.
Pooler’s verdict continued:
It is very clear, even to someone with limited knowledge in the area, that bitcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money.
Judge’s Ruling in the Espinoza Case Reversed and Requires Further Action
After the dismissal two weeks later in August, the state of Florida gave its notice of appeal towards the dismissed charges in an effort to reverse the decision. The dismissal appeal made its rounds through the district court system and two years later the appeals court overturned the ruling and Espinoza may still stand trial. The appellate court’s filing on Jan. 30 explains that Pooler’s understanding of the state’s money transmission statutes wasn’t up to snuff and the state took issue with most of the dismissed charges.
“The trial court erred in dismission Count 1 (illicit money transmission) because Espinoza acted as both a money transmitter and a payment instrument seller and, as such, was required to register with the State of Florida as a money services business,” it ruled.
Furthermore, the state of Florida and prosecutors believe bitcoin is in fact money as the filing continues by emphasizing:
Based on the undisputed facts, Espinoza was acting as a payment instrument seller or engaging in the business of a money transmitter, either of which require registration as a money services business under Florida law — Given the plain language of the Florida statutes governing money service businesses and the nature of Bitcoin and how it functions, Espinoza was acting as both.
Even if the trial court doubts the sufficiency of the state’s evidence, it cannot grant a motion to dismiss the appellate court, the ruling further explains. The filing reverses the trial court’s order granting Espinoza’s motion to dismiss and the state is demanding further action. “Reversed and remanded with instructions,” the court filing concedes. The latest filing on Wednesday details the decision is not final, however, until disposition of a timely filed motion for rehearing commences.
What do you think of the state of Florida appealing the Michell Espinoza dismissal? Let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below.
Image credits: Shutterstock, Pixabay, and David Ovalle.
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