There are several stages to a criminal prosecution and therefore several different opportunities to limit the impact of a conviction. Even if you are convicted of a crime, it is important to fight aggressively at the sentencing hearing to try to reduce jail times, fines, and other penalties. For instance, one question that may come up for a person convicted of multiple offenses is whether any jail time imposed for each offense should be done concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other). Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently looked at that question in a Pinellas County gun crime case.

prison wireA defendant was charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with the use of a firearm, stemming from an incident in which Pinellas County police officers were attempting to arrest him on separate charges. The cops were after him for a number of robberies, one of which allegedly happened with the use of a stolen gun. He was eventually convicted of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and sentenced to 20 years in prison for that crime. The judge said the prison time was to be served consecutively, or after the defendant finished his time on the robbery charges.

The judge rejected the defendant’s argument that the sentences should be concurrent (at the same time) because the incident with the police was part of the same criminal sequence as the robberies, which happened a day earlier. The judge said he was required under the law to impose consecutive sentences.

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Search and seizure laws offer important protections to anyone suspected of or charged with a Florida drug crime or another crime. These laws set the ground rules for when police officers can stop a person on the street, pull over a car, or enter a home without a warrant. They also set strict limits on when the cops can search a person and his or her car and home. In a recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the privacy expectations that are at the center of many of these protections. The justices limited police officers’ ability to search rental vehicles.

Supreme CourthouseThe defendant was driving a rental car when police officers stopped him outside Pittsburgh. The woman who had rented the vehicle gave the defendant the keys to the car, even though his name wasn’t on the rental agreement, and he wasn’t authorized to drive the vehicle. State troopers searched the car’s trunk, where they found 49 bricks of heroin and some body armor. They turned that evidence over to federal authorities, who charged the defendant with various drug crimes.

A federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument that the evidence should be excluded at trial because it was obtained in an unlawful search. But the Supreme Court eventually sided with the defendant.

The rule against double jeopardy generally bans judges from convicting a person multiple times for the same crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals provides some interesting insight into how the double jeopardy protection applies in Florida DUI and reckless driving cases. That includes cases in which the person charged with the crimes was involved in a car accident. As the court explains, a driver can be convicted of both DUI and reckless driving, but he or she can’t be convicted of multiple counts of DUI or reckless driving if the crash involves only one victim.

Car at NightA defendant was charged with several crimes related to his involvement in a car accident that left one person severely injured, according to the court. He pleaded guilty to five offenses, including DUI with serious bodily injury, DUI with property damage, reckless driving with serious bodily injury, and reckless driving with property damage. At a later sentencing hearing, the trial judge rejected his argument that he couldn’t be convicted separately on the various charges because of double jeopardy protections. The judge sentenced him to an unidentified period of time in jail, followed by probation.

On appeal, the Fourth District agreed with the defendant that the trial judge violated the double jeopardy rule. The court began by explaining that multiple DUI convictions can stem from the same accident when there are multiple victims injured in the crash. But the court added that “there can be but one conviction for each victim, regardless of whether that victim sustains property damage, serious bodily injury, or both.” That’s because both charges are essentially varying degrees of the same offense. In other words, the court said the defendant could not be charged with both DUI with serious bodily injury and DUI with property damage when the same person is the victim of both the injury and the property damage.

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Florida gun crime cases often involve charges of multiple criminal offenses. When a person is convicted of more than one offense, courts may be called on to decide if prison time should run concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other). A recent case out of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal provides some insight on the limits on consecutive sentences for cases involving gun crimes.

parkingA defendant was charged with robbery with a firearm and attempted robbery with a firearm, stemming from an incident in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in Pensacola. He was carrying a firearm when he allegedly approached six people and demanded money from them. He then moved toward one of the people, pointed the gun inches from the man’s head, and again demanded money. He allegedly approached each person in the group in the same manner and struck one of them with the gun, but he did not fire the weapon. He was convicted and sentenced to consecutive 10-year sentences, for a total of 20 years behind bars.

The defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred by sentencing him to consecutive sentences for two separate offenses that were part of the same criminal episode. The First District agreed.

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Confidential informant evidence can make or break a criminal case in Florida. This evidence often includes secretly taped conversations between an informant and a person charged with a crime. Although there are a number of safeguards and defenses available to a person who is caught on tape talking about a potential crime, a recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal shows that such evidence may very well be admissible in court.campers

A defendant was charged with a number of criminal offenses related to an armed burglary in a recreational vehicle park. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant and another man tried to rob a couple (Husband and Wife) for whom the defendant worked. The wife told the cops that two men – one of whom she recognized as the defendant – accosted her outside the couple’s RV. She said the other man hit her multiple times with a gun and demanded that she tell him where the couple kept their jewelry. The other man caught her and forced her to lie on the ground when the woman attempted to run away. Meanwhile, the defendant went back to the couple’s home, where a fight ensued with the husband. At some point, the husband chased the defendant back to the community entrance, where both of them fled the scene without any of the couple’s jewelry.

Police apprehended the defendant later the same day. He told the cops that the defendant and he had planned to go to the RV park to steal the victim’s Segway. He claimed he didn’t know that the other man had a gun until he took out the weapon and told the defendant they were going to take the jewelry. A police informant who first met the two men in jail approached the cops with information about the crime and later agreed to tape a conversation with the defendant. That conversation – which took place while both men were in a car, using drugs – was later played for the jury. In it, the defendant described participating in the burglary, according to the court. He was convicted, classified as a habitual offender, and sentenced to life in prison.

A conviction for a drug crime in Florida can come with significant penalties, including substantial time behind bars. In some cases, a judge has the right to makes those penalties worse based on the circumstances of the crime or the person’s criminal history. For example, state law provides for stiffer penalties for people who are designated as “habitual offenders” based on previous felony convictions. There are a number of defenses to this designation, however. That includes challenging the actual criminal charges against you and fighting the designation itself. As a recent case out of Florida’s Second District shows, certain crimes are exempt from the habitual offender tag.

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A defendant was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted for charges of possession of cocaine, a third-degree felony, and sale of cocaine, a second-degree felony. He was designated a habitual offender for both offenses based on his prior criminal history. Habitual offender status applies to situations in which a person has been convicted of two or more separate felonies over a certain time period. The current felony must have been committed while the person was in jail on another felony conviction or within five years of his or her release from imprisonment.

Reversing the decision on appeal, the Second District said the judge made a mistake by treating the defendant as a habitual offender for the possession charge. Florida law exempts from the habitual offender scheme criminal charges involving the purchase or possession of drugs. The court cited its own 2006 decision in a case called Coleman v. State. In that case, a criminal defendant was also given habitual offender status for cocaine possession. The Second District overturned that decision.

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Florida law allows a person who is under the age of 21 and commits certain crimes to be sentenced as a “youthful offender,” eligible for a reduced prison sentence and/or supervised release. To be eligible for youthful offender status, you must be convicted of a noncapital crime that doesn’t carry the possibility of a life sentence. If you are treated as a youthful offender, the maximum sentence that you can serve is six years in prison. Still, as a recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeal shows, a youthful offender who is given the opportunity to complete probation instead of prison time can still be thrown behind bars following a Florida burglary offense or another serious crime if he or she doesn’t live up to his or her end of the deal.

prison wireThe defendant was under 21 when he was arrested, charged, and later convicted of burglary of a dwelling. He was sentenced as a youthful offender and originally ordered to serve probation. The defendant violated the terms of that probation multiple times, however, including by being caught using drugs. In a hearing in which a judge considered revoking his probation, he allegedly told the judge that he had previously perjured himself on instruction from an attorney in order to get a better sentence.

The judge eventually sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for the crime. He said that the defendant “showed a flagrant disregard for the law” by violating the terms of probation and lying in court. “All I see is an individual who is willing to say and do and manipulate anything in order to get his own way,” the judge said. “And that once he does get his own way, he doesn’t follow through on his commitments.” As a result, the judge found that the defendant was a “violent felony offender of special concern posing a danger to the community.”

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Jury instructions are a critical part of any criminal case. They focus the attention of the jury on the factual determinations that they have to make in order to find someone guilty of a crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal is a good example of just how big an impact bad instructions can have, as well as some of the ways courts try to remedy an instructions mistake.

GavelA defendant was charged with exploiting an elderly person or disabled adult in 2009 after he and his girlfriend allegedly took advantage of his 79-year-old aunt. The woman had an eighth grade education and had been living in her home for more than 40 years when the defendant and his girlfriend moved in. He convinced his aunt to take out a reverse mortgage on the property, according to the court. She obtained more than $150,000 as a result of the transaction, which the defendant then allegedly used to buy himself two luxury cars. Prosecutors presented evidence showing that the aunt suffered from dementia at the time and was unable to understand or consent to the reverse mortgage transaction.

At the time, state law made it a crime for a person in a position of confidence or trust to take advantage of an elderly or disabled person by knowingly deceiving or intimidating them. The law also made it a crime if the person simply knew or should have known that the victim lacked the capacity to consent. Although prosecutors proceeded on the second theory, the court didn’t tell the jury that prosecutors were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or should have known that his aunt couldn’t consent. In fact, the judge didn’t mention the “knew or should have known” element at all. The defendant was eventually convicted.

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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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