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To convict a defendant of a crime, the state is required to prove each element of the crime. Many crimes require the state to prove the defendant’s state of mind at the time the crime was allegedly committed. For example, to convict a defendant of trespass in an unoccupied conveyance, also known as a car, the state must prove that the trespass was willful, meaning the defendant either knew or should have known the car was stolen.  If the state does not produce sufficient evidence the trespass was willful, a conviction for trespass in an unoccupied conveyance will not stand.

In T.A.K. v. Floridaa recent case arising out of a Florida Court of Appeals, the court held that hiding from the police in a stolen car is insufficient evidence to prove the defendant knew the car was stolen. If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges in St. Petersburg, it is essential that your attorney understands the state’s burden in proving its case against you to help you prepare a strong defense.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly, the owner of a car reported her car was missing and denied giving anyone else permission to take her car. The police tracked down the car to a nearby apartment building. When the officers first saw the car, they observed a man reclining in the driver’s seat. They did not notice any movement in the car or see anyone leave the car. When the officers approached the car, they opened the passenger door and saw only a man in the passenger seat. The police officers then opened the driver’s side door and noticed the defendant on the floor in the back of the vehicle, in between the front and back seats. The defendant was subsequently charged with trespass in an unoccupied conveyance. At the close of the state’s case, the defendant moved for the dismissal of the charges against him, on the grounds the state failed to show he knew or should have known the car was stolen. The court denied the defendant’s motion and he was convicted of the charges and placed on juvenile probation. The defendant subsequently appealed.

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Under Florida law, you do not have to actually commit a crime to be convicted of an offense. Rather, a person can be found guilty for a criminal attempt if he or she takes any action toward the commission of the offense but is prevented from actually executing the crime.  While a defendant can be charged with an attempt to commit numerous crimes, attempt charges frequently arise in cases involving sex crimes.

The standard of what is necessary to prove an attempted sex crime was recently clarified by a Florida Court of Appeals in Berger v. State, a case involving a conviction for attempted sexual battery. The Berger ruling enlarged the definition of an overt act in cases involving attempted sex crimes, potentially exposing defendants to a higher risk of conviction. If you are charged with an attempted sex crime in St. Petersburg, it is important to retain an experienced St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney who is adept at navigating the criminal court system and can assist you in preparing your defense.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the defendant engaged in online communication with an undercover police officer who purported to be a man trying to engage a person to teach his minor daughter about sex, as part of an operation to catch child predators. The defendant indicated specific sexual acts he intended to commit on the child and discussed the logistics of traveling to visit the child. The defendant then drove to what he believed to be the child’s residence and knocked on the door, after which he was arrested. He was subsequently charged with and convicted of attempt to commit sexual battery on a person under twelve years old. Defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds he did not commit an overt act towards the commission of the crime. On appeal, the court affirmed his conviction.

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In a case recently heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, a defendant who was convicted of first degree murder with a firearm appealed his case. His argument rests on his contention that he should have been able to speak directly with his attorney during a ten-minute break between his direct testimony and being cross-examined by the prosecutor. The assistance of counsel is an integral part of the American justice system. In fact, this right is so fundamental that defendants who are not able to afford attorney will have one provided for them. However, defendants can still use their own skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney if they so choose.

Evidence at Trial

During the trial, the evidence showed that the defendant had called 911 from a hotel room where the victim was lying dead with gunshot wounds. Analysis from the crime lab showed that the deadly shot had come from the defendant’s firearm. Initially, the defendant claimed that the woman had shot herself. During a later part of the videotaped interview, he changed his story and said that he the victim after voices from the TV commanded him to kill her. He explained that he lied at first because he was worried about going to prison.

There are many types of sex crimes under Florida law. One of those is video voyeurism. Video voyeurism is when someone secretly records another person in an intimate state, generally for the sexual gratification purposes. Your skilled St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorney can help you understand what the potential penalties may be for a video voyeurism conviction.

Requirements for a Video Voyeurism Conviction

Like all criminal laws, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions met all the elements of the statute in order to get a conviction. In order to prove that the defendant committed video voyeurism, one thing the prosecution must show is that the offense was committed with the aid of an imaging device. It also requires that the defendant intentionally used the imaging device to secretly view someone taking off their clothes or privately exposing their body in a place where the person being recorded had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is also video voyeurism when a defendant uses a recording device to took under or through someone’s clothes.

Video Voyeurism and Evidence

In order to prove that a defendant is guilty of video voyeurism, like with all other charges, the prosecution must use evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there are specific laws that police and the court must follow in order for evidence to be admissible at trial. If evidence is obtained illegally, it is not permitted to be shown to the jury. A case recently heard by the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, the court looked at video evidence in a video voyeurism case.

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The defendant in this case was allegedly driving a vehicle when the police attempted to pull him over. There was also a passenger in the car. According to the police, the car sped off when the officer tried to approach it. The driver was speeding at up to 90 miles an hour and committed many traffic infractions, including running red lights and stop signs. Another officer testified that he saw someone jump out of the driver side of the car and go into a house.

The officers followed the suspect into the house and the defendant later emerged from the room sweaty and out of breath. The home belonged to the defendant’s mother, though she testified that he was at home with her all evening. The passenger in the car also testified that the vehicle was not being driven by the defendant but was instead being driven by the passenger’s cousin. Nonetheless, the defendant was convicted of high speed or wanton fleeing and resisting an officer without violence. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The defendant argues on appeal that his counsel was ineffective. His argument centers on the failure of his attorney in objecting to the prosecutor’s impeachment of defendant’s witness. Specifically, during the trial, the prosecutor questioned the passenger about his pending charges. These charges included robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a firearm, and grand theft.

The Sixth Amendment includes what is referred to as the “Confrontation Clause.” The Confrontation Clause gives criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers. Generally this means that defendant’s counsel can cross examine any witnesses for the state. However, there are some cases where an accuser may be permitted to testify remotely instead of being in the courtroom. One situation where this is somewhat common is in sex crimes cases. Your experienced St. Petersburg sex crimes attorney can help you understand how the Confrontation Clause applies in your situation.

Confrontation Clause

As noted above, the Supreme Court has interpreted the confrontation clause to mean that there is a preference for face-to-face testimony. However, this preference will occasionally be set aside when there are significant public policy and/or other reasons for a victim not to appear in person. For example, child witnesses where the trauma of facing their alleged assailant in court would make their testimony unreliable.

The jury is one of the cornerstones of the American justice system. Though most cases end with a plea deal rather than a trial, these decisions are often made on the basis of what the jury is likely to do. Juries are only allowed to be exposed to certain things during the trial, and the rules around what juries are allowed to see, examine, and ask for are very specific. Your skilled St. Petersburg violent crimes criminal defense attorney can help you to understand what evidence the jury may be allowed to see in your case. This can help you decide together whether or not you should go to trial or accept a plea offer. The rules for what juries can see and hear don’t end when the trial is over. There are specific laws around what juries can have access to during deliberation as well. This case involves just those issues.

Facts of the Case

The defendant here was charged with aggravated battery with great bodily harm upon a woman and her fiancé. Specifically, the defendant is alleged to have stabbed the woman with a knife that injured the victim badly enough to require stitches. During the trial, the woman who was stabbed testified that the defendant was the person who stabbed her with the knife.

During the jury deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge. The note asked what the victim’s answer was when she was asked who stabbed her. In response, the court located the transcript of the trial testimony and read that portion back to the jury. The defense objected to the read-back, and argued that the jury should have been told to rely on their memory of the testimony. The trial court overruled the objection of the defense and allowed the court reporter to read back the victim’s response to the question “who stabbed you?” The jury resumed deliberating and found the defendant guilty of simple battery of the woman and her fiancé.

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In 1998, the Florida legislature passed the “Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act” (“Ryce Act”). This is a mechanism for Florida courts to use civil commitment for individuals who have been designated as sexually violent predators. In other words, after someone has been convicted of a Florida crime and served their sentence, this law allows a way for the state to keep them isolated from the community.

Requirements for Sexually Violent Predator Status

In order for the state to take away someone’s right to be in the community beyond the time they are sentenced to, they need to prove that the defendant meets certain criteria. The purpose of this law is to keep the community safe from sex offenders who are likely to continue to commit sex crimes in the future.

The process for a defendant to be deemed a sexually violent predator (“SVP”) is not a criminal proceeding, but a civil proceeding. That means that defendants do not have all of the same rights that a defendant would have in a criminal trial. However, due to the significant liberty interests at stake, defendants are afforded many protections. (I am using the word “defendant” though it is not entirely accurate for the sake of simplicity as at one time the individual was a defendant from the original sex crime charges.)

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Part of why it is so important to have a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney on your side is that they may know about plea options that most people don’t know about. In other words, they may be able to ask the prosecutor for a plea deal that can help a defendant avoid some of the most harmful consequences of a conviction. Asking the judge to withhold adjudication is one of these potential options.

Withholding Adjudication

Florida law has a statute that allows judges to withhold adjudication in some circumstances. When adjudication is withheld, the defendant will usually have some kind of penalty, but since it is not a conviction it will not be on their record. The penalties vary but frequently include some kind of diversion program, counseling, probation, and/or community service hours. Of course the defendant needs to complete all of the requirements imposed by the court or else they will be convicted.

The main benefit of a withholding of adjudication is that the defendant will still have a clean record if this is their first offense. This can be a huge benefit when looking for employment, as many employers will ask applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime. If your adjudication has been withheld, you can honestly answer “no.” However, applicants should read the question closely because sometimes potential employers will ask instead whether applicants have been arrested, which defendant would then have to answer “yes” even if the conviction was withheld.

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After a jury finds a defendant guilty, it does not necessarily mean that the process ends there. Defendants are given an opportunity to appeal their conviction, sometimes several opportunities depending on the circumstances. In order to be successful on appeal, the defendant needs to prove that there was an error during the trial. In other words, the defendant is essentially claiming that there was something unfair or erroneous that happened during the trial that makes the jury verdict invalid. Depending on the circumstances and specific grounds the defendant is basing their appeal on, if the defendant is successful in their appeal the charges may be thrown out completely or the defendant may get a new trial. Your knowledgeable St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorney can tell you what is likely to happen in your case if you are successful in your appeal.

The Case At Issue

In a case recently heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a man was convicted of three counts of sexual battery of a child under twelve. The alleged victim is the defendant’s daughter. In his appeal he argued that he should get a new trial because he was not able to confront the witnesses against him. He also argued that he did not have meaningful assistance of counsel.