Florida, like most states, treats minors charged with crimes differently than adults. The Florida Rules of Juvenile Proceeding provide more safeguards for protecting the rights of juveniles charged with crimes, and the failure to comply with the rules can result in the reversal of a conviction. This was illustrated in a recent case out of the Florida appellate courts, where the court reversed a juvenile conviction on the grounds that the trial court had not properly established the juvenile defendant’s right to counsel. If you are a juvenile resident of Clearwater facing criminal charges it is in your best interest to consult a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help protect your rights.

Trial Court Proceedings

Allegedly, the defendant, who was a minor, was on probation for various charges. The state filed affidavits alleging the defendant was in violation of his probation. The case proceeded to a plea hearing, which the defendant attended alone without the presence of a parent, guardian, or adult relative. He advised the court that he wished to waive his right to an attorney and admit to violating the terms of his probation. The court subsequently found the defendant waived his right to counsel freely and voluntarily and scheduled a date for the disposition of defendant’s charges. The defendant was not represented by counsel at the disposition hearing. He was adjudicated delinquent and committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice to be placed in a residential program. The defendant subsequently appealed, arguing that the trial court erred as a matter of law by failing to properly investigate his waiver of the right to counsel.

If you are convicted of a crime, that does not necessarily mean you can no longer appeal your conviction or sentence. If subsequent rulings determine that a law or method used to evaluate your guilt is unconstitutional, your conviction may be overturned or your sentence may be reduced.

For example, in a recent case, a Florida Court of Appeals held that a defendant convicted of crimes of violence may be entitled to have a jury re-evaluate his sentencing due to recent case law that determined the method previously used to evaluate crimes of violence for purposes of enhanced sentencing was unconstitutionally vague. If you are a Clearwater resident charged with a crime you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to determine how previous convictions may affect your case.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Subsequent Appeal

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with and convicted of multiple crimes, including knowingly carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which permitted enhanced penalties for defendants with prior convictions. The defendant’s total sentence was 335 months in prison, which included 120 months for the section 924 charge. Shortly after the defendant was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court determined in Johnson v. United States that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was void due to vagueness. The defendant subsequently moved to vacate his sentence for the section 924 violation, arguing that his conviction was invalid under Johnson. The court denied his motion, holding that Johnson did not render section 924 unconstitutional. The defendant appealed.

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Some people mistakenly believe that circumstantial evidence is insufficient to convict a defendant of a crime. Direct evidence a defendant committed a crime is not required to support a conviction, however. In certain cases, what seems like trivial evidence can support a conviction for serious crimes.  For example, in a recent case, the First District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida held that eyewitness testimony alone was sufficient to convict a defendant of multiple felony charges. If you are a resident of Clearwater and are charged with a crime, you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the victim and his cousin were sitting in a car outside of a nightclub when two men with guns opened the car doors and robbed the victim and his cousin and then shot and killed the victim. The cousin left with another relative and called 911. Later that evening, the defendant asked two women if he could use their phone. The defendant was sweaty and covered in grass, and reportedly told the women he was involved in an altercation in the nightclub and subsequently “unloaded a whole clip” into someone. The defendant proceeded to make phone calls with the phone borrowed from the women. A short time later, one of the women got a phone call from one of the victim’s friends and the defendant ran away. The women called 911 and the defendant was arrested based on their description. The women identified the defendant as the man who used her phone. Additionally, the victim’s cousin identified the defendant in a photographic lineup as the man who opened the rear car door.

Courts and judges do not have total discretion when sentencing defendants who have been convicted of crimes. Along with the general sentencing guidelines that lay out the potential penalties for each crime, there are also a number of statutory factors that courts must consider. An experienced Clearwater violent crimes defense attorney can help you understand the potential penalties that you or a loved one may face if you are convicted of particular crimes.

Motion for Resentencing

In this case, a juvenile defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, after his conviction, he made a motion for resentencing under section 921.1401 of the Florida Statutes. That section addresses when life imprisonment is an appropriate penalty for a juvenile. It states that the defendant’s youth and the attendant circumstances should be considered, as well as the effect of the crime on the community and the victim’s family, the defendant’s age and maturity, the extent of the defendant’s participation in the offense, and other similar factors. Pursuant to this section, the court resentenced the defendant to 28 years in prison. In their order, the court addressed each of the factors one-by-one.

As part of the penalty for being convicted of a crime, some defendants are sentenced to probation. This may be in addition to or instead of jail time. Many defendants prefer a longer term of probation over a shorter term of incarceration because they are able to live in the community. However, if a defendant is found to have violated the conditions of their probation, then they may be sentenced to serve more time in jail or prison. Probation violations are a serious matter so if you are accused of violating probation you should contact a skilled Clearwater probation violation attorney as soon as possible.

Probation in Florida

There are several different kinds of probation in Florida. The general kind of probation more or less allows defendants to live their normal lives, but requires them to check in with their probation officer periodically. Of course they must follow all laws and not engage in any criminal behavior. Along with the supervision requirements, probation often includes requirements to attend or complete programs such as drug or alcohol rehabilitation or counseling. Probation can also make certain generally lawful behaviors unlawful, such as possessing firearms or socializing with people who have criminal records.

Florida has specific sentencing laws that govern the sentence for those convicted of crimes. There are a number of different ways that sentencing laws come into play, including mandatory minimums and increasing penalties for subsequent crimes of the same nature (think of DUI, for example). Your skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you to minimize the amount of time you need to serve by taking advantage of statutory opportunities to reduce the sentence.

Consecutive vs. Concurrent

Another example of a way that sentencing laws can affect the amount of time actually served is whether a sentence is served consecutively or concurrently. Let’s say someone is convicted of two crimes arising out of the same incident, with minimum penalties of five years each. The judge can order the defendant to serve the sentences consecutively, which would lead to a total of ten years in prison, because the sentences are served one after the other. However, in many circumstances, the judge can order the sentences to be served concurrently. Concurrent sentences mean that the sentences for all the crimes are served at the same time. So in this example it would be a total of five years, because both charges’ sentences would be served concurrently.

The Constitution guarantees that all criminal defendants get a “speedy trial.” If you are familiar with the law, you will know that speedy is relative. If a defendant is denied a speedy trial, then they may be able to be released. The definition of what constitutes “speedy” will vary depending on the circumstances, and your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you to determine whether the speedy trial provision of the Constitution was violated in your case.

Clothing and Prejudice

While this case revolves centrally around a speedy trial issue, it is also about clothing. Defendants have a right to a speedy trial, and they also have a right to a fair and unbiased jury. One of the things that can prejudice the jury is when the defendant appears in front of them in jail clothing. In this case, a defendant was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. He was on pretrial release when he was brought back into custody after allegedly committing another offense.

The justice system understands that sometimes an individual needs to use deadly force against another in order to defend themselves. “Self-defense” is what is called an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense means that the defendant is acknowledging that they committed the crime they are charged with, but that they had a reason that is legally sufficient to make them not culpable. In other words, typically the prosecution is the only side that needs to prove something. However, with an affirmative defense, the defense also has a burden now to prove the elements of the defense. This case addresses what specifically the defense needs to prove, and the jury instructions around this proof. If you are involved in a situation where you needed to use self-defense to protect yourself or another, you should contact a knowledgeable Clearwater violent crimes defense attorney to help you with your defense.

Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of his employer/landlord and the attempted first-degree murder of a neighbor. There was a confrontation between the defendant and his landlord and he began shooting. The defendant alleges that he acted in self-defense based on his landlord reaching for a dark object in his pocket and previous threats by his landlord. The defendant also alleged that the neighbor threatened him as well and attempted to throw a microwave at him. The neighbor survived the shooting but the landlord did not.

The state’s version of events differed. They alleged that the defendant was the aggressor and that both of the victims were unarmed. Under this version of events, self-defense would not be an applicable affirmative defense, since it cannot be used when the defendant was the aggressor.

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In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant committed all the elements of the crime. Specifically, the prosecution has the burden to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case recently heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the court reversed a conviction after the prosecution was found to have impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to the defendant. Your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you understand exactly what the court needs to prove in your situation.

Facts of the Robbery

A woman was walking home from the grocery store when she was hit from behind. She turned around and was hit again. The man who hit her took her cell phone and ran off. A couple of weeks later when she was walking home from her son’s school, the woman saw the man that she believes robbed her. The defendant in this case testified that he was at school in band practice when the assault happened.

Many people who are convicted of crimes in Florida will have to serve a term of probation as part of their sentence. Probation is a punishment somewhat in between incarceration and freedom. The specifics can differ depending on the individual and their charges, but when someone is on probation they may be subject to drug testing, curfew, mandated counseling, or any other requirement that the court imposes. Many defendants prefer probation over incarceration for obvious reasons, but if someone violates the conditions of their probation they may face a longer jail sentence than they would have initially. If you are offered a plea deal that includes probation, you will want to make your decision in consultation with your knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney.

Probation Violation in Florida

Probation can make otherwise lawful activity unlawful. For example, while of course it is usually legal for adults to be out of their home after 9pm, if being home by 9pm is a condition of your probation, you can be arrested for being out later than that. Another interesting aspect of probation is that the standard of proof is different than with criminal court. In order to prove a violation of probation, the state does not have to prove the violation beyond a reasonable doubt. Those charged with a violation of probation will also not have the opportunity to go in front of a jury but will instead be subject to the judge’s ruling. If a judge finds that a defendant has violated their probation, they can be sentenced to the maximum amount of time permitted for the underlying charge. The court will look at the conviction which led to the probation, not the conduct that violated the probation.