Florida Passes Bill That Jails People for Using Bitcoin
If you’re a criminal using bitcoin in Florida, you’re now much more likely to end up in jail thanks to a new bill passed by state legislators.
Florida Brings Bitcoin Under Existing Money Laundering Laws
Florida lawmakers finally passed an April 2017 bill adding the term “virtual currency” to the state’s money-laundering statute, reported the Miami Herald. While small, the addition will allow the state to jail criminals using the digital currency to launder money.
This bill came in response to a 2016 money laundering case involving bitcoin, where the judge dismissed the charges against Michel Espinoza on the basis of uncertainty regarding how existing laws applied to the new currency.
“The court is unwilling to punish a man for selling his property to another,” judge Teresa Mary Pooler wrote in her official statement.
“His actions fall under a statute that is so vaguely written that even legal professionals have difficulty finding a singular meaning.”
According to the Herald, prosecutors are appealing the ruling. Now, with the state one step closer to changing its money laundering statute, they may have more luck putting Espinoza and others like him behind bars.
Bringing Money Laundering into the 21st Century
And that seems to be the motivation behind passing this new bill: updating current legislation for the modern day economy.
House representative Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, told the Herald:
“Cyber criminals have taken advantage of our antiquated laws for too long. Bitcoin bypasses the traditional banking system, and our state’s laws simply had not caught up to the upsurge in criminality in the world of cybercurrency.”
Not everyone agrees with this reasoning, however. Economist Charles Evans — who testified in the Espinoza case — argues that bitcoin is not actually money, making money laundering laws inapplicable.
Likening bitcoin to tokens or coupons, Evans told the Herald, “before long, we might see coat checks, tickets to Disney World, and discount coupons regulated as money in Florida,” implying that lawmakers are mistaken in applying monetary laws to bitcoin.
Regardless of bitcoin’s status as money, Florida lawmakers believe the new bill will cut down on bitcoin-related crime within the state.
The bill is now on its way to governor Rick Scott, who will decide whether or not to sign the bill into law.
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