Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

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 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 Florida there is a classification called “habitual felony offender,” or “HFO.” Florida law specifically defines who can be sentenced as an HFO. In this case the defendant was sentenced as an HFO but he argues that he should not have been classified as an HFO, because according to him the court lacked neutrality since they were looking for the alleged victim to appear and testify. In order to be classified as an HFO, defendants must meet certain requirements.

HFO Statute

Florida law requires that the court find three things in order for a defendant to be classified as an HFO. First, the state needs to prove that the defendant has previous separate felony convictions. These convictions cannot have been set aside or pardoned. The defendant must have two or more felony convictions in Florida or convictions for other qualified offenses.

The second prong of the test to determine who qualifies as an HFO requires that the defendant have committed the most recent felony while incarcerated or under supervision for a prior felony. Alternatively, the defendant can be considered an HFO if it has been five years or less since their last felony conviction or five years since they were released from prison or other confinement or monitoring. Finally, the statute makes clear that the felonies cannot be for purchase or possession of a controlled substance. Continue reading

Laws change all the time. When the legislature is in session and passing new laws, these laws will usually have a date that they go into effect. However, sometimes a law can also apply retroactively. That means that even if the conduct occurred before the law was passed, the new law will still apply to it. One of the jobs of the court is to look at the rules around different kinds of laws and decide whether they should apply prospectively – meaning, only apply to conduct in the future from the date it was passed – or retroactively. If you have been charged with a crime, a skilled St. Petersburg defense attorney may be able to help you find new laws that could apply to your case.

Changes in the Stand Your Ground Law

A notable case revolves around the changes made to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This law has been in effect since 2005. The “Stand Your Ground” law makes it so that individuals no longer have a duty to retreat before using force in self-defense. In the past, before resorting to self-defense, an individual had a duty to leave the premises if they could do so safely. It also protects those who use force in self-defense from legal charges. Initially, the burden was on the person who used force to prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the use of force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm or imminent death. However, a new law signed by the governor of Florida on June 9, 2017 changed the burden of persuasion in “Stand Your Ground” cases. The defendant only needs to make a prima facie showing of self-defense. Then, the new law puts the burden on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the self-defense was not justified.

During a trial, there are many decisions that a defendant and their counsel need to make. One of the most important decisions in many trials is whether or not the defendant should take the stand and testify on their own behalf. Many of the aspects of a trial, such as legal strategy and specific arguments to make, are generally the decision of the attorney. However, defendants have an absolute right to take the stand on their own behalf, whether or not their lawyer thinks this is a good plan. If an attorney does not allow the defendant to act as a witness on their own behalf, and the defendant is convicted, under some circumstances, the conviction may be thrown out due to ineffective assistance of counsel. If you are charged with a sex crime in St. Petersburg or the surrounding areas, it is important that you contact a skilled St. Petersburg sex crime attorney as soon as possible to help you craft your legal strategy.Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In this case, the defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation, unlawful sexual activity with a minor, and capital sexual battery. During the trial, the state presented a witness who had also accused the defendant of sexual abuse. A Florida law called the “Williams” rule allows the trial court to permit evidence leading to the conclusion that the defendant had committed similar crimes in the past. Since there was no physical evidence in the case that was being tried, the testimony of the alleged victim of a similar crime by the defendant was a large part of the state’s case. The victim of the crime with which the defendant was charged testified, but due to his mental disabilities, the other witness’ testimony was considered especially illuminating.

During the trial, the defendant stated that he knew he had a right to testify but chose not to testify. The defendant was later arguing that he had ineffective assistance of counsel because he was not allowed to testify. The trial court denied the post-conviction motion. Here, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida held that the appropriate rule was two-pronged. The first part was whether the defendant was able to testify if they wanted. The appeals court held that the affirmations made by the defendant during the trial were sufficient to conclude that he was aware of his right to testify and chose not to use it. However, the court here also looked at the second part of the test, which allows a claim for ineffective assistance to go forward if it was unreasonable for the attorney to not let the defendant testify.

The jury selection process is a crucial part of any Florida homicide or other criminal trial. Decisions about who winds up determining whether you committed the crime with which you are charged can make or break a case. A Florida appeals court recently reiterated an important protection against discrimination in the jury selection process. The Fourth District Court of Appeal said a judge can’t remove a potential juror from the pool based on his or her religion.The defendant in this case was among a group of criminal defendants charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in Broward County. During the jury selection phase, state prosecutors sought to use one of their peremptory strikes to keep a woman off the jury because she is a Jehovah’s Witness. One prosecutor told the judge he was concerned that in his experience, Jehovah’s Witnesses decline to “sit in judgment” of others. Although the woman said she would have no problem finding the defendant and the others guilty if the evidence was sufficient, the prosecutor said he thought she would apply a higher burden of proof than required under the law.

The judge eventually agreed to strike the juror from the panel. The defendant filed a motion for a mistrial, which the judge denied. He and the other defendants were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But the Fourth District reversed that conviction on appeal. The court said the woman’s religion was not a sufficient reason for removing her from the panel.

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Jury instructions are a key part of any Florida sexual battery case. They can mean the difference between a conviction and a not guilty decision. In a recent case out of the Fifth District Court of Appeals involving an attempted sexual battery in Central Florida, the court explained how improper instructions can create lots of confusion.The defendant was charged with attempted sexual battery on a physically helpless person, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly attempted to have sex with a female coworker who had passed out from drinking. He was at a bar with colleagues when the victim passed out in a grassy area outside the bar, according to the court. The defendant and others took the woman to another coworker’s van and returned to the bar. He later went back to the van, claiming that he was going to check on the woman. When the van’s owner went to the vehicle, however, she allegedly found the defendant with his pants down, standing over the victim. The victim’s pants and underwear were down.

At trial, the jury heard taped phone conversations between the defendant and the victim. The defendant, who did not testify at trial, said in those conversations that he “attempted and probably did try to have sex with” the victim, according to the court. He was convicted. He later appealed the decision, arguing that the jury received improper instructions at the close of trial. Specifically, the jury was instructed that he was charged with attempt to commit attempted sexual battery. That crime doesn’t exist. As a result, the jury was wrongly told that he could be convicted if he attempted to attempt sexual battery on the victim.

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The concept of “scrivener’s error” is certainly applicable to the legal system, although it’s not especially technical. In fact, it’s known by most as a “typo.” Courts systems require human labor to draft legislation, motions, and written judgments, so sometimes mistakes are made. In the criminal law context, the omission of a word or phrase can lead to unintended consequences. Fortunately, there’s a mechanism for addressing scrivener’s error in trial court decisions. In fact, the appellate court for the Second District addressed this issue in a recent Florida burglary case, Morgan v. State.Florida appeals court decisions in criminal cases show that scrivener’s error is not uncommon and can lead to significant changes to a judgment entered against a defendant. In 2004, the Second District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the trial court orally imposed concurrent sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment. The written judgment, however, reflected consecutive sentences for a total of 20 years’ imprisonment.  Moreover, in 2010, the First District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the defendant had been found guilty of a violation of his probation for “not possessing any firearm or weapon.” However, the defendant was only convicted of marijuana possession, and no gun was present. The appeals court ruled that this was a scrivener’s error and that the defendant’s probation violation could not have been attributed to a gun crime. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure also allow for the modification of a sentence in order to correct a scrivener’s error, but only if the correction would benefit a criminal defendant.

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Law enforcement has broad discretion to enforce the laws. Still, it’s sometimes surprising to see how far a case can proceed before a court overturns a conviction. In fact, the defendant in a recent Florida grand theft decision was arguably doing his job as a repo man when he was charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. It wasn’t until the appeals court heard his case, after a conviction, that he was cleared of the crimes.The defendant was formerly a bail bond agent, who had his license revoked. He started working with another agent to provide bond premium financing. One individual sought his services for a loan and provided the title to her vehicle as security. After she defaulted on the loan, the defendant re-possessed her vehicle. The defendant and his co-worker notified the police that the re-possession occurred as a result of delinquent loan payments. The car owner had several personal belongings in the car. She reported to the police that her car and its contents had been stolen. The defendant was arrested and charged with grand theft auto and theft of property. His defense attorney moved for judgment of acquittal on all of the charges because the defendant lacked the requisite intent for grand theft auto, and the theft charge would be a double jeopardy violation. The trial court denied the motion.

The crime of theft is a specific intent offense. Under Florida law, specific intent requires that the prosecution show that the defendant was aware that he or she was unlawfully taking another party’s property. In contrast, Florida courts have held that a person who takes possession of another party’s property with the good-faith belief that he or she has a right to the property lacks the specific intent to commit theft.

The court noted that the defendant re-possessed the vehicle in broad daylight and contacted police to report that he re-possessed the vehicle as a result of non-payment on the loan. The court rejected a statement made by the defendant that he would not return the vehicle even if its owner paid the amount past due. Reliance on that statement was improper because the analysis should fixate on the defendant’s intent at the time the dispossession occurred. The court could only identify one possible conclusion as to the defendant’s intent:  he took it as collateral for the unpaid loan. The court also ruled that the theft charge be dropped because it constituted a double jeopardy violation. As a result, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision with an order to vacate the convictions for grand theft auto and theft of property.

Crimes with a statute of limitations are required to be prosecuted within a defined period of time. This helps ensure that evidence for the prosecution is still available at trial and encourages law enforcement to actively seek to resolve crimes. A Florida appeals court recently determined that the limitations period had expired against a criminal defendant who was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, a Florida sex crime.The defendant was the former boyfriend of the alleged victims’ mother. After the mother abandoned her children, they were placed in their grandmother’s care. The defendant continued to be a part of the children’s lives. The two children, along with their brother, went to the defendant’s apartment one day to clean it. At the time, the two children in question were 12 years old and 10 years old. The defendant allegedly engaged in sexual acts with both the 12-year-old and the 10-year-old while they were cleaning his home. On the 12-year-old’s next birthday, the defendant gave her an inappropriate, sexually suggestive birthday gift. When the girl’s grandmother found it, she prohibited the defendant from having any further contact with the children.

The applicable statute of limitations, at the time of the crime, for lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between the ages of 12 and 16 years (Florida Statutes Section 800.04(5)(c)) was three years from the date that the crime was committed. However, the limitations period for that offense does not begin to run until the victim has reached the age of 18 or the violation has been reported to law enforcement.

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