Florida law generally allows a person to use physical force to ward off an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. Self-defense often comes up in domestic violence and other cases involving physical altercations. As the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained, self-defense is a legal defense for a person charged with a crime. It’s not relevant as some sort of justification for the victim’s alleged use of force.

ScalesThe defendant was convicted of felony battery following an incident involving his ex-girlfriend and the mother of one of his children. At trial, the victim said she was still seeing the defendant on and off and had just learned days earlier that another woman whom the defendant was seeing was pregnant. The defendant asked the victim to come to his home so that he could explain the situation. Their daughter and the victim’s aunt, cousin, and grandmother were all in the house at the time the argument ensued.

The victim moved to leave the bedroom where she was arguing with the defendant when a physical altercation occurred, according to the court. The victim was holding the couple’s child and grabbed a cereal box from a dresser. The defendant grabbed her arm, according to the court, until the victim dropped the box. He said “do you see this [expletive]?” and then hit the victim in the back while she was carrying the child. The defendant allegedly backed the woman into a corner, pushed her, and said “now I have to [expletive] you up.” In response, the victim flung a bag containing a glass bottle at the defendant. That’s when the defendant punched the woman in the face repeatedly, according to the court. The victim lost two teeth, had her jaw broken, and suffered two black eyes.

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Plea deals can be a valuable tool for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. These arrangements allow a person to start to move on with his or her life after being charged with a Florida gun crime or another offense by working out a resolution that often includes a lesser punishment in exchange for pleading guilty. It is important, however, for anyone considering a plea deal to understand that the punishment can be enhanced if you don’t abide by the terms of the deal. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently took on the case of a Florida man who was thrown behind bars after allegedly violating the terms of his house arrest.

barbed wireThe defendant entered into a plea deal with Florida prosecutors after he was charged with armed robbery, grand theft, and petit theft. He agreed to plead guilty to the grand theft charge, and the prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges. He was sentenced to two years of supervised house arrest, followed by three years of probation. As part of the house arrest, he was required to stay at his home and permitted to leave the property only for school, work, community service, and other limited purposes.

The defendant was later charged with violating the terms of his release by leaving the residence without an approved reason and failing to submit to electronic monitoring. Following a hearing, he was sentenced to three years in state prison. The judge said the defendant posed a threat to the community, based partly on some of the original allegations against the defendant in the robbery and theft case. He appealed the decision, arguing that the judge should not have taken into account any allegations related to the charges that were dropped. The Fifth District agreed in part.

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Search and seizure issues are often critical elements of Florida theft crime cases. The state’s First District Court of Appeal recently explained one way in which cops can use cell phone data and victim descriptions to track down criminal suspects. The court also said the police properly used the same information to establish the reasonable suspicion and probable cause necessary to justify pulling over a car, detaining its occupants, and searching its interior.

old phoneA defendant was charged with burglary, assault, and armed robbery following an incident in which he and two other people allegedly broke into a home and held the four people inside at gunpoint. The defendant claimed that he went to the house simply to reclaim some marijuana that he’d been shorted during a recent transaction. Prosecutors said the group took turns holding the people inside the home at gunpoint, while the others collected various valuables.

The police tracked down the defendant and the others by using the “find my phone” application on one of the iPhones stolen from the house. They put out a “be on the lookout” alert with the general location of the iPhone and a description of the three people who committed the crime. A cop patrolling the area pulled over Jackson’s car after seeing three people in it who matched the description. The officer removed all three people from the car and handcuffed them while she did a protective sweep of the car. She also checked the trunk, according to a police policy to look for people hiding in the trunk of any car stopped under suspicion of a felony. The officer found marijuana and a hand gun with an altered serial number.

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When a police officer flashes his lights, activates his siren, or otherwise directs a person to pull over, it’s a good idea to do so. As a recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal shows, declining an officer’s direction to pull over is a felony, even if you don’t understand why the officer wants you to stop your car.

Car_NightA defendant was charged with fleeing a law enforcement officer at a high speed or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, a second-degree felony, after a run in with the police in 2016. On the day in question, a Martin County police officer was driving in a marked police cruiser when he noticed a truck matching the description of a vehicle for which he was looking. He also noticed some sort of undisclosed “equipment infraction” on the truck. The officer said he turned on the car’s police lights – but did not use the siren – after the car cut from one lane into a turn lane. The defendant pulled the truck into a nearby bank parking lot. When the police cruiser followed, he accelerated, according to the officer.

That’s when the officer activated his sirens. In response, according to the officer, the defendant began weaving through traffic. Another officer who witnessed the incident said neither car reached speeds faster than 40 miles per hour. The speed limit for the area was 35 miles an hour. What the officer following the defendant didn’t know is that the defendant called 911 during this time. He said during the call that he was being followed by a police officer and wanted to pull over in a safe, well-lit area. The officer eventually ended the pursuit by nudging the defendant car in a way that forced it to lose control, spin around, and stop.

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The “double jeopardy” rule essentially provides that a person can’t be charged more than once for the same crime. It bars prosecutors from seeking to recharge a person for the same crime after being acquitted, convicted, or found not guilty. It also stops them from seeking double punishment for the same crime. The rule is an important legal protection for anyone charged with a crime in Florida. The state’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained how the rule works in a drug case out of Polk County.drugs

A defendant was arrested and charged with three criminal offenses after he allegedly sold cocaine to an undercover police officer using a confidential informant. He had one stash of the drug that he removed from a nightstand to sell a portion to the informant, according to the court. Prosecutors charged him with delivery of cocaine (a second-degree felony), possession of cocaine with intent to sell or deliver (a second-degree felony), and possession of cocaine (a third-degree felony). He was convicted on all three charges.

The defendant later appealed the conviction, arguing that it violated the double jeopardy rule. Specifically, he claimed that he could not be charged with both cocaine possession with intent to sell and cocaine possession, generally stemming from the same incident. The Second Circuit agreed.

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Florida battery and other criminal cases often come largely down to one person’s version of the events against another person’s version. Witness and victim testimony is crucial in these cases. There are, however, a number of evidence rules that may limit the type of testimony that actually gets to a jury. The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained that evidence about what happens after an alleged crime, for example, may not be relevant to the case. That’s unless the evidence is “inextricably intertwined” to the supposed crime itself.

Judge's GavelA defendant was charged with battery following an incident in which he allegedly tried to strangle his daughter. The father and daughter were arguing in their home, the court said, when the daughter retreated to her bedroom with her small child. The defendant followed and pushed his daughter onto the bed, according to the court. He then allegedly held his daughter by the throat for about 30 seconds, after another family member took the child. The daughter then left the home and called the police.

The daughter testified in a deposition that many of her personal belongings were smashed and scattered on the floor when she later returned to the room. Prosecutors introduced that testimony as evidence at trial. Although the defendant’s lawyer argued that the aftermath of the incident was not relevant to the question of whether the battery occurred, a trial judge allowed the deposition testimony to be introduced. The defendant was eventually convicted of battery by strangulation.

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Blood alcohol tests are often a key part of Florida DUI cases. Although police officers generally have to get a warrant or your consent to submit to such a test, there are a number of exceptions to that rule. The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained one of those exceptions.

beer glassesA defendant was charged with DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid and vehicular homicide with failure to render aid, stemming from a late-night car accident near West Palm Beach. The other driver involved in the crash died after his vehicle ended up in a nearby canal. The defendant, who the court said left the scene of the crash on foot and called 911 nearly an hour after the crash, argued that a problem with the throttle on his car had caused the collision. He also asked a court to throw out the results of a blood alcohol test taken after the crash, which showed that he had a blood alcohol content of more than 0.17 percent. A toxicologist estimated based on that test – which happened hours after the accident – that his BAC was as high as 0.23 percent at the time of the collision. That’s nearly three times the legal limit.

A deputy picked the defendant up and took him to the crash scene after he called 911. He told the police officer that he’d stopped a stop sign and hit something – he wasn’t aware what – after proceeding into an intersection. He said he then went home to call the police. The officer said he smelled of alcohol, and his speech was slurred. Although he refused a blood alcohol test when he was taken to the hospital, his blood was drawn and tested anyway. A trial judge later rejected his request to exclude the blood test evidence. Although the cops didn’t have a warrant at the time, the judge said the test was justified by “exigent circumstances.”

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Gun offenses are serious crimes in Florida, under both state and federal laws. In a recent case out of Pinellas County, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit explained that the feds have the right to impose strict penalties for gun crimes. The court also made clear that those penalties may be even more harsh when the person charged has a prior criminal record.

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A defendant was convicted of two counts of robbery in Pinellas County in 2008. Seven years later, he was charged with possessing a firearm. Federal law bans convicted felons from owning or possessing guns. After he pleaded guilty to the crime, prosecutors asked a federal judge to give him a longer stint behind bars because of his previous robbery convictions, which the prosecutors characterized as crimes of violence. Federal sentencing guidelines provide for an enhanced sentence when a person has previously been convicted of such a crime.

The court took the prosecutors’ advice, but it also said it would account for the fact that the defendant admitted his guilt. The court sentenced him to 30 months in prison and another three years of supervised release, near the high end of the recommended penalty. He later appealed the decision, arguing that the court wrongly determined that his previous convictions were for crimes of violence.

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Florida prosecutors have the burden in many white collar and other criminal cases to prove that the person charged with crime actually intended to commit it. Getting inside a person’s head at the time of the offense is easier said than done, so prosecutors often rely on evidence about the person’s words and actions to prove that he or she had criminal intent. A recent real estate fraud case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is a good example of how that works.

ScalesThe defendant was charged with various fraud crimes related to his operation of PIM, a Florida company that offered clients the opportunity to invest in property on the Bahamas island of Rum Cay. The company solicited clients to buy the property directly or loan money to the PIM with Rum Cay land as a security. They targeted people who had recently lost money in stock and precious metals markets by offering them a credit for those stocks and precious metals that was more than the market value, according to the court. They also managed to get pro football legend Joe Montana to sign on as a pitch man in return for a parcel of Rum Cay property.

“PIM, in fact, was a scam,” the Eleventh Circuit said. The Rum Cay land in which it said it was selling interests was actually owned by a Bahamian company “owned by a convicted felon and embroiled in litigation over title to the land.” PIM didn’t tell its investors about that piece of the puzzle, however, until after they transferred money. Investors never received title to the property, the court said, but the defendant gave exorbitant commissions to PIM salespersons and spent millions of dollars for his own benefits. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution.

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Police often use confidential informants to bolster criminal investigations, including in drug cases. These sources may have criminal records themselves, and cops’ reliance on informants raises a variety of legal issues. That’s especially true in situations in which the person charged with a crime says the police got the wrong man, as Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals recently pointed out.

white pillsA defendant was arrested and charged with numerous drug offenses after he allegedly sold hydrocodone and cocaine to an undercover St. Petersburg police officer. A confidential police informant set up the first transaction by contacting his brother. The CI and undercover officers met the brother and a person he introduced as “Dino” at a convenience store. Dino sold the officer Fioricet pills, which he said were hydrocodone. Dino contacted the officer to sell him actual hydrocodone pills two weeks later. It was another five months before the third and final transaction. The officer contacted Dino, who said he didn’t have hydrocodone but sold the officer an eight ball of cocaine instead.

The officer had some trouble finding out the defendant’s true identity. He took the plate number from the brother’s car and found police records from a traffic stop in which the defendant was in the car. He then found a photo of the defendant and identified him as “Dino.” Although the defendant claimed that the officer had found the wrong guy, he was convicted following a trial.

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