The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that Florida’s capital sentencing scheme was unconstitutional, in Hurst v. Florida. The Hurst ruling continues to have lasting effects in Clearwater and throughout the state, as many death sentences imposed prior to Hurst may be unconstitutional.

For example, the Supreme Court of Florida recently held that the Hurst ruling required resentencing in a case where the death penalty was imposed absent a unanimous jury recommendation.  If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest retain an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you retain your rights.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Trial

Reportedly, the defendant was stopped by a police officer while driving a vehicle, when he attempted to flee. The officer followed the defendant and eventually caught up with him. The defendant stopped his vehicle, after which the officer stopped his vehicle. The defendant then exited his vehicle with a handgun and fired three shots into the officer’s vehicle. The shots hit the officer and he died from his injuries. The defendant then returned to his vehicle and fled. He was ultimately arrested without incident by other officers. The defendant was charged with and convicted by a jury of first degree murder. During the penalty phase of the trial, nine out of twelve jurors recommended death. The Florida statute in effect at that time permitted a judge to impose a death sentence if seven jurors recommended death. The judge released the jurors following the penalty recommendation.

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In the Florida criminal court system, a career offender designation can result in increased jail time. There are specific criteria that must be met before a defendant can be designated a career offender, and an improper designation can result in unjust penalties.

Recently, a federal court issued an opinion clarifying what convictions count toward a defendant’s career offender status under the Florida sentencing guidelines. If you are a resident of Clearwater with a prior criminal history and are currently charged with a crime, you should meet with a seasoned Clearwater criminal defense attorney to develop a plan that will provide you with a strong chance of a good outcome under the circumstances surrounding your charges. 

Defendant’s Prior Convictions

The defendant had previously been convicted of two counts of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and one count of robbery. He was subsequently convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court designated the defendant as a career offender under Florida’s sentencing guidelines and sentenced him to 120 months in prison. The defendant then appealed his sentence, arguing that he was improperly designated a career offender. On appeal, the court affirmed his sentence.

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Florida law sets forth the evidentiary standards that apply in both criminal and civil proceedings. An important rule of evidence that is often invoked is the prohibition of hearsay evidence at a criminal trial. The standards applicable at a criminal trial may not be the same as those that apply at a supervised release revocation hearing, however.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District of Florida recently clarified this issue, in a case where the defendant appealed the revocation of his supervised release, arguing that the state improperly relied on hearsay evidence in obtaining the revocation.  If you are a Clearwater resident currently facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to retain a seasoned Clearwater criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you formulate a defense.

Prior Conviction and Subsequent Alleged Violation 

Allegedly, in 2009, the defendant pled guilty to possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense and was sentenced to 111 months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release. His supervised release began in 2016. Approximately one year later, the district attorney sought a warrant for the defendant’s arrest, alleging he violated the terms of his supervised release by committing a multitude of crimes, including aggravated battery.

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Criminal cases involving multiple defendants can be complicated. When defendants conspire to commit a crime, what crime each defendant is charged with depends on the original intent of the defendants, and whether the crimes ultimately committed fell within the scope of the initial plan. Under Florida law, the independent act doctrine allows a co-conspirator to avoid conviction for a crime if it was not foreseeable under the original plan.

In a recent case arising in a Florida Court of Appeals, the court explained when an instruction on the independent act doctrine is appropriate.  If you live in Clearwater and are facing criminal charges, you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and what defenses you may be able to set forth.

 Trial Testimony

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with first-degree felony murder and armed burglary. During the trial, the state presented evidence the defendant and three other individuals went to the victim’s apartment, with the intent to rob the victim. While he was in the victim’s apartment, the defendant took the victim into a room and threatened to kill the victim’s fiancé if the victim did not tell the defendant where drugs where hidden. Additionally, the defendant hit the victim in the head with a gun. The defendant subsequently told the victim’s fiancé he was going to kidnap the victim for ransom. The victim was forced into the trunk of his car which was driven from the scene by one of the defendant’s co-conspirators. The victim subsequently escaped from the trunk and was shot and killed by one of the defendant’s co-conspirators.

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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.