In a case that recently came out of the First District Court of Appeals in Florida, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s finding of a probation violation. If you are given a suspended sentence or probation, and you believe that you were wrongly accused of violating those conditions, you should contact a skilled Clearwater probation violation attorney as soon as possible.prisoner

Probation and Suspended Sentences

In some cases, especially for minor and first offenses, instead of incarceration, the judge may order probation or a suspended sentence. A suspended sentence means that the defendant will not have to serve the sentence if they meet certain requirements for a specific period of time. During sentencing, the judge should make clear what the conditions of the suspended sentence are and what the conditions of probation are. Sometimes all that is needed for a suspended sentence is to stay out of trouble. In other cases, the defendant may need to attend rehab or pursue employment.

In a criminal trial, there is only certain evidence that a prosecutor is allowed to present in order to prove that the defendant is guilty. One kind of evidence that judges may exclude from trial is evidence that will prejudice the jury. In this context, that means that the jury will be predisposed to find the defendant guilty whether or not the evidence is sufficient to prove guilt. This helps protect the defendant from being found guilty due to assumptions about the kind of person the defendant is, rather than their actual actions.prison bars

Some evidence that is in danger of being prejudicial may be excluded before trial. For example, a previous alleged victim of the defendant can be barred from testifying. However, when the trial is happening sometimes things will happen in the moment. During the trial, sometimes a witness may say something prejudicial before the judge stops them. What happens then?

One option is for the judge to declare a mistrial. In Florida, if there is a reasonable possibility that prejudicial testimony influenced a guilty verdict, the defendant may be granted a new trial. There are many complicated rules about which evidence is and is not allowed into a criminal trial. That is why it is so important to contact a skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you or a loved one have been charged with a crime.

criminal lawFlorida law generally bans prosecutors from charging a person with a new crime after he or she has already been tried on related offenses. The state’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained how that ban works in a case involving a botched drug deal.

Defendant was charged with armed robbery, aggravated battery with a firearm, and the use of a firearm during the commission of a felony following a drug deal gone wrong. He admitted to going to a house to buy marijuana and shooting one of the men inside, but Defendant said he was acting in self-defense. He said two men tried to rob him when he got to the house. The person who was shot, however, claimed that Defendant tried to steal the marijuana without paying for it and fired the weapon at the men when they chased after him.

Prosecutors eventually decided not to charge Defendant with use of a firearm during a felony. After the case went to trial, a jury found him not guilty on the armed robbery charge and deadlocked on the aggravated battery charge. Prosecutors decided to retry Defendant on the aggravated robbery charge. They also tacked on a new charge of using a firearm during the commission of a felony. Defendant asked a judge to dismiss the charge, arguing that it was part of the same criminal episode as the armed robbery charge for which he was previously found not guilty. The trial court rejected that request.

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juvenile arrestA Florida man who was sentenced to four decades behind bars when he was 14 years old is getting a new chance at freedom after a recent decision from the Second District Court of Appeal.

Defendant was charged with first degree murder, stemming from an alleged 2010 robbery. One man was shot and three others were robbed during the incident. Witnesses told police officers the perpetrator—who made off with only a few dollars—was wearing a dark bandanna, possibly black, and carrying a black bag. Defendant went to a local police station two days later and confessed to the shooting. He said, however, that he didn’t rob the men and was simply acting in self-defense. Police officers later found a black bag with gun residue in it in Defendant’s home.

Defendant changed his story before trial. He said he was taking the blame for an older friend who committed the robbery and shot the man. The friend talked Defendant into making the false confession and even walked him to the police station, according to Defendant. But a neighborhood man testified at trial that he saw and briefly spoke with a person wearing a red bandana and carrying a black bag shortly after the shooting and near the place where the crime happened. The man wasn’t able to identify the person, but he said he was certain that it wasn’t the friend that Defendant said committed the crime. The man said he knew the friend, and was sure that he would have recognized the friend’s voice.

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Florida criminal law calls for enhanced punishment in cases that involve the sale of drugs within 1,000 feet of a church, school or convenience store. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently took up a case that shows some of the difficulties that can come with trying to show precisely where a transaction takes place. The decision is also a good reminder that many Florida drug cases come down to your word against that of the police officers who arrested you and the prosecutors trying to convict you. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer in your corner.

church-1217701-300x226Defendant was charged with selling cocaine within 1000 feet of a place of worship, stemming from an undercover police sting operation. Officers involved in the operation testified at trial that Defendant sold the drugs to an undercover officer in a moving car. The car was parked at 6th and Main streets, according to the officers, and a church was located two blocks away on the 700 block of Main. The car was moving away from the church for 19 seconds at a speed of 20-30 miles an hour at the time Defendant made the transaction, they said. Prosecutors also said that the street the car was traveling on runs into a dead end less than 1,000 feet from the church.

Defendant responded by asking the trial judge to acquit him, arguing that it was impossible for the cops to say with precision where the car was when the alleged transaction took place. The judge denied the request, concluding that a jury could reasonably conclude that Defendant was within 1,000 feet of the church. If the car was traveling at 25 miles an hour for 19 seconds after starting 240 feet from the church, it would have been 933 feet away when the transaction occurred, the judge said. Defendant was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In order to be convicted of a crime in Florida, a judge or jury has to find beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the specific offense with which you have been charged. That means the burden is on prosecutors to prove each individual element of an offense, including specific intent in many cases. Florida’s First District Court of appeal recently explained that shoplifting, for example, involves a different type of intent than fraud. The decision is important because a person can’t be convicted of a crime for which he or she hasn’t been charged, unless it’s considered a “lesser included offense.”

metal shopping cartDefendant was charged with participating in a scheme to defraud, stemming from a series of alleged Wal-Mart shoplifting incidents in Live Oak. Prosecutors alleged that on various occasions Defendant entered the store, loaded items into a shopping cart, and then ran out of the store with those items without paying. Defendant argued that he should be acquitted of the charge because prosecutors didn’t show that he acted with the intent to defraud or that he made any misrepresentations as part of the alleged thefts. Prosecutors countered that Defendant misrepresented that he was “a lawful paying customer” every time he left the store without paying for the items.

The trial judge denied Defendant’s motion for acquittal. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and another two years of probation. Defendant later appealed the conviction.

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Probation is an alternative to prison time in which a person convicted of a Florida crime is allowed to remain free if he or she complies with various terms and restrictions of the release. The requirements usually include meeting regularly with a probation officer and keeping the officer aware of where you are living. A recent case out of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal shows just how serious judges take those requirements, even if you’re homeless.

prison wireDefendant was charged with burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and third-degree grand theft in 2016. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a certain unidentified time in prison, followed by two years of probation. Defendant was released on probation in April 2016. Two months later, his probation officer filed an affidavit alleging that Defendant had already violated his probation. The officer said Defendant had failed to report, as directed, changed his residence without getting the probation officer’s prior approval, and failed to complete a recidivism prevention program. The probation officer also noted that Defendant had been charged with two crimes since his release: two counts of grand theft.

A judge eventually determined that Defendant willfully violated the terms of the probation. As a result, the judge revoked Defendant’s probation and sent him back to prison for 10 years. Defendant appealed that decision.

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If a jury is going to be expected to decide on whether a person is guilty or innocent in a Florida criminal case, it first has to first be properly instructed on the criminal offense with which the person is charged. A recent decision out of Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal in an attempted murder case is a good example of how critical jury instructions are in a criminal case.

Lawyer ScalesDefendant was 17 years old when he was charged with the attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence, attempted robbery with a firearm, and aggravated assault with a firearm. Prosecutors alleged that Defendant was attempting to commit an armed robbery at an apartment complex when an officer patrolling the area noticed. Defendant, according to the prosecutors, fired his gun at the officer (but missed) when the officer intervened. He was later apprehended at a nearby convenience store.

He argued mistaken identity, claiming that he was not the person who committed the crimes. Defendant said he was visiting friends at the apartment complex when he got into an argument over a basketball game. He said he was surprised when the cops approached him at the convenience store. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

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A Florida appeals court recently asked the state’s Supreme Court to answer a question that could have big implications for anyone who argues self-defense in a Florida criminal case. The issue concerns who bears the burden of proof in self-defense cases.

Judge's GavelDefendant was charged with felony battery stemming from an incident with his girlfriend in a McDonald’s parking lot. The couple argued about who should drive to their next destination, according to the court. Defendant’s girlfriend said he punched her twice in the face after she refused to get in the car. Defendant, however, said he was the one who wouldn’t get in the vehicle. He said his girlfriend then threatened him with a gun. Defendant said he was shot in the arm in the ensuing scuffle.

At the time of the trial, Florida law put the burden on Defendant to prove self-defense. A trial judge said he didn’t meet that burden. Defendant later appealed the decision. While the appeal was pending, the state legislature updated the self-defense law. Under the amended version, the burden shifts to the prosecution to disprove self-defense once the person charged with the crime makes a facially sufficient self-defense claim. That threw the Second District for a loop.

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When a person commits a felony, he or she is on the hook not only for that crime but also for any other crime that happens during the commission of the felony. A recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is a good example of how a simple burglary became a murder conviction for someone who never entered the home where the killing occurred.

black gun
A defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for his role in a Fort Lauderdale home robbery in which the home owner died. A neighbor heard gun shots, saw a car drive off, and found the home owner dead inside the home. Another neighbor had a video surveillance system that taped a pair of men getting out of one car and into another. The tape also showed one of the men inside the car putting on gloves and picked up the sound of gun shots less than five minutes after the car left the surveillance area.

A police officer who observed the video later pulled over a car matching the one in the video and driven by the defendant, who matched the description of a man wearing Adidas shorts in the video. They later tracked down the second car and, after obtaining search warrants, found the victim’s blood in both cars. At trial, one of the men who said he was involved in the burglary said the defendant and another man watched for police, while two other men checked to see if anyone was in the home before breaking in. They rang the doorbell, and there was a struggle with the home owner, during which he was shot, according to the testimony.