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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

Posted In:
Updated:

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.

black gun

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Many criminal drug cases come down to search and seizure issues concerning how law enforcement gains evidence of the alleged crime. Generally, police officers need a warrant from a judge in order to search your home or other property. There are several exceptions to this rule, but even cases in which a search warrant has been issued can raise tricky legal issues. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is a good example of how cops can establish probable cause to get a warrant in drug cases.

marijuana plantsTwo defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, stemming from their alleged roles in an Orlando marijuana trafficking operation. Much of the evidence against the pair came from a series of property searches and surveillance operations conducted after Drug Enforcement Agency investigators obtained warrants from a federal judge. The defendants at trial later moved to block prosecutors from entering into the record any evidence obtained during the searches and surveillance operations. They argued that the investigators misled the judge by providing incomplete information on their warrant requests and that those requests didn’t establish the probable cause needed to justify the warrants.

The first warrant, which the DEA agents used to search a self-storage facility in Orlando, was based on information gained from a confidential source and from two undercover officers. The confidential source told agents that a South African drug dealer had been selling 200 pounds of marijuana a month to Dominican buyers in Orlando. He said the dealer had asked the source to contact the Dominicans about some $250,000 still owed for the drugs and to try to re-establish the relationship. The confidential source and two undercover agents met with Cassara and Almeida four times. They agreed to facilitate a marijuana sale to the Dominicans, according to the court. One defendant said he would load 25 pounds of marijuana in a truck and leave it for the Dominicans to pick up in exchange for leaving cash in the truck.

Continue Reading

A high-profile Pinellas County murder case recently got new life from the Florida Supreme Court. The decision is a good example of how seriously courts take murder charges, and also of the strict legal requirements that have to be met before a person can be sentenced to death.

business-law-1238207-300x200-300x200The defendant was charged in 2006 with the murder of two victims. He had worked as the couple’s personal fitness trainer and allegedly murdered the couple during a robbery in which he stole a safe containing $88,000 in cash. The couple was stabbed to death, and their home was set on fire after the robbery. A jury trial took place in 2010, at the close of which the jury convicted the defendant on two counts of first-degree murder. During a separate penalty phase of the trial, the 12-member jury voted 7-5 in favor of recommending the death sentence. Although the defendant’s lawyers presented evidence showing that he suffered from extreme mental and emotional impairments, the judge declined to mitigate his sentence. Instead, the judge sentenced the defendant to death.

The defendant later appealed the sentence to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that putting him to death under the circumstances was unconstitutional. The state’s highest court agreed, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Hurst v. Florida. In that case, the justices said that a jury, rather than a judge, has to find every fact necessary to impose a death sentence. A mere recommendation is not enough. When the Hurst case was sent from the U.S. Supreme Court to the Florida Supreme Court, the state justices added that the jury must vote unanimously in order to impose a death sentence.

Continue Reading

Plea deals are an important tool for anyone facing criminal charges in Florida. These arrangements often allow you to avoid long, drawn-out court battles. They also give you the chance in many cases to lessen the impact of a conviction on you and your family. When considering these deals, however, judges still have some leeway to decide how the person involved in the deal will be punished for the crime. As a recent case out of Central Florida shows, one of the factors that federal judges consider in Florida white collar crime cases is the nature of the person’s role in the crime.

judge's gavelThe defendant was arrested in 2013 and charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, stemming from his alleged involvement in a tax refund and Social Security check theft scheme. Workers at two Tampa post offices gave the checks to a man who then turned the checks over to the defendant to forge signatures on them, according to the court. The other man paced the checks in individual envelopes, the court said, and put them in the mailbox outside the defendant’s home in Dade City. The defendant deposited some $260,000 worth of stolen checks into three bank accounts. The theft victims ranged in age and location, but several lived in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

The defendant eventually reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, in which he admitted to being involved in the conspiracy and was sentenced to 24 to 30 months in jail. The judge, as part of the sentencing, took into account that the defendant had accepted responsibility for the conspiracy and did not have a previous criminal record. He later appealed the conviction, however, arguing that the judge also should have further reduced his sentence because he had a “minor role” in the conspiracy.

Continue Reading

Florida police and courts take driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol very seriously. A DUI conviction can come with stiff penalties, including jail time, heavy fines, and the loss of driving privileges. The consequences of a conviction are particularly severe in cases involving repeat offenders and those in which the person charged caused an accident while they were intoxicated behind the wheel. Just take the recent case of a Clearwater man whom a federal court recently decided will be staying in jail for decades.

ball and chainThe case centered on an accident that happened in April 2010. Clearwater police were after the defendant on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant and received a tip that he was hanging out at a local bar. An officer observed the defendant’s truck in the bar parking lot and pulled the truck over shortly after he saw the defendant leave in it. When the officer approached the vehicle, however, the defendant sped away. A chase ensued, during which the defendant ran a red light and collided with a taxi cab. The cab driver died in the accident.

The defendant, whose driver’s license had already been revoked, was taken to a hospital, where a blood test showed that he had a blood alcohol content of about 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit. He was convicted of DUI manslaughter and other offenses and sentenced to 20 years in jail. He later asked the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to scrap the conviction. He argued that prospective jurors in the case had inappropriate conversations with a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the cab driver’s family, in which they discussed some of his previous convictions for DUI.

Continue Reading

Posted In:
Updated: