Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

Anyone charged with a crime has the inalienable right to a trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. Under Florida law, a trial for a capital case requires a panel of twelve jurors, while all other crimes may be tried before six jurors.

A Florida District Court of Appeal recently analyzed whether a defendant was entitled to a panel of twelve jurors in a case in which the state waived the right to seek the death penalty, and ultimately ruled that the decision not to impose the death penalty did not change the capital nature of the crime. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with a criminal offense it is prudent to consult a seasoned St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and develop a plan of action to help you retain your rights.

Procedural Background

The defendant was indicted for several crimes, including first-degree murder, which is a capital offense. The State waived the right to seek the death penalty. The trial court issued an order that required the defendant to be tried before a six-person jury. The State filed a petition seeking to quash the motion. The appellate court granted the petition.

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Criminal defendants are protected from being tried or convicted more than once for the same crime by the rule against Double Jeopardy. The rule only applies in limited circumstances, however.

For example, a Florida District Court of Appeal recently ruled that dual battery convictions did not violate double jeopardy, despite the fact that the charges both arose out of the same set of facts. If you are a St. Petersburg resident charged with a crime, you should retain an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and assist you in developing a strong defense.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the defendant was arrested following a fight in the parking lot of a restaurant. He was charged with several crimes, including burglarizing a conveyance with assault or battery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Following a trial, he was convicted of burglarizing a conveyance with assault or battery, and the jury specifically determined that he had committed both an assault and a battery during the course of the burglary. He was also convicted of the included lesser offense of battery for the aggravated battery charge. He appealed, arguing in part that the convictions for both battery offenses violated double jeopardy. On appeal, the court affirmed his convictions.

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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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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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