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Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

When a person is charged with a crime in Florida, the State sets forth the charges in an information. An information must set forth the facts regarding the alleged crime and the statute of the offense charged. An information is not immune from human error, and in some cases, the State will set forth the wrong statute, or indicate different statutes on which the charge is based in the heading and the body of the information. A Florida appellate court recently analyzed whether an inaccurate information was grounds for reversal of a conviction for driving with a revoked license, ultimately ruling that it was not. If you are a resident of Clearwater and face charges of driving with a suspended or revoked license, it is prudent to retain a capable Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you formulate a defense.

The Charges as Set Forth in the Information

Allegedly, the defendant was stopped by a police officer for failing to wear his seat belt. When the officer asked the defendant for his driver’s license, the defendant stated that his license was suspended. The officer investigated the defendant’s identity and learned that the defendant’s license was in fact revoked due to three charges of driving while his license was suspended and charges of failing to appear. Additionally, the defendant was considered a habitual traffic offender.

Florida law provides criminal defendants with certain rights and protections, in an effort to avoid unjust convictions. One example of these protections is that a defendant must be mentally competent to proceed with a trial. If a defendant is incompetent, or his or her competence is not adequately evaluated prior to a criminal hearing, it may result in a dismissal of any conviction.

In a recent case decided by a Florida appellate court, the court discussed the burden of recognizing incompetence in criminal cases. If you are charged with a criminal offense and you live in Clearwater, you should meet with a trusted Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and possible defenses to the charges you face.

Alleged Facts Regarding the Defendant’s Competence

Reportedly, the defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. He filed a motion to vacate his conviction alleging, in part, that his attorney was ineffective for failing to obtain a competency evaluation. Specifically, he alleged that his attorney obtained an order authorizing a mental health evaluation, but did not make sure an evaluation was completed. The defendant further alleged that he could not adequately communicate with his attorney or exercise his right to a fair trial due to his incompetence. The post-conviction court denied the defendant’s claim, after which he appealed. On appeal, the court granted his motion.

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When a defendant is convicted of a crime there are certain factors that the court can consider when determining an appropriate sentence. For example, a court is not permitted to consider a defendant’s arrest for a subsequent crime when imposing a sentence for the primary offense the defendant was convicted of committing.

A Florida appellate court recently ruled, however, that a trial court is permitted to consider facts underlying a subsequent arrest when considering whether to revoke a convicted felon’s community control.  If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a crime, it is important to retain an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will work diligently to help you retain your rights.

Facts Regarding the Defendant’s Criminal History

Reportedly, the defendant was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to eighteen years in prison followed by two years of community control. Four months after his release to community control the State filed an affidavit alleging the defendant violated his community control. Specifically, he failed to remain in his residence and refused to submit to a urinalysis. The State later amended the affidavit to include allegations that the defendant had recently been arrested for burglary, resisting officers without violence, and drug crimes.

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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, 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.

The justice system understands that sometimes an individual needs to use deadly force against another in order to defend themselves. “Self-defense” is what is called an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense means that the defendant is acknowledging that they committed the crime they are charged with, but that they had a reason that is legally sufficient to make them not culpable. In other words, typically the prosecution is the only side that needs to prove something. However, with an affirmative defense, the defense also has a burden now to prove the elements of the defense. This case addresses what specifically the defense needs to prove, and the jury instructions around this proof. If you are involved in a situation where you needed to use self-defense to protect yourself or another, you should contact a knowledgeable Clearwater violent crimes defense attorney to help you with your defense.

Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of his employer/landlord and the attempted first-degree murder of a neighbor. There was a confrontation between the defendant and his landlord and he began shooting. The defendant alleges that he acted in self-defense based on his landlord reaching for a dark object in his pocket and previous threats by his landlord. The defendant also alleged that the neighbor threatened him as well and attempted to throw a microwave at him. The neighbor survived the shooting but the landlord did not.

The state’s version of events differed. They alleged that the defendant was the aggressor and that both of the victims were unarmed. Under this version of events, self-defense would not be an applicable affirmative defense, since it cannot be used when the defendant was the aggressor.

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If you are charged with a crime, the prosecution has the burden of proving that you committed all the elements of the crime in order to convict you of that crime. Some crimes involve an element that requires a specific mental state which depends on what a defendant was intending to do and what he or she knew. For example, the law treats someone differently if they accidentally kill someone versus if they intentionally kill someone, with the latter being punished more harshly. What a defendant does or does not know, and the intentions of the defendant, can be proven by circumstantial evidence. A skilled Florida murder defense attorney may use the defense that a defendant did not have the requisite mental state to commit the crime.

Mens Rea

Mens rea is a latin term which means “guilty mind.” Proving the mens rea, or mental state, of a defendant is a burden for the prosecution if a specific mental state is part of the crime. One of the mental states that may need to be proven is “recklessness.” Recklessness goes beyond general carelessness or negligence. (Negligence can land you in court, but only civil court, not criminal.) Recklessness goes beyond just negligence, and entails doing something that anyone should know is extremely dangerous. For example, leaving a loaded gun out somewhere that children have access to or another equally unreasonably dangerous scenario.

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.A 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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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.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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The United States Constitution grants criminal defendants the right not to testify in their trial. See U.S. Const., Amend. V. From this right, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that commenting in such a way that can be interpreted to cast light on the defendant’s failure to testify is an error and strongly discouraged. In a recent case, the Third District Court of Appeals heard a defendant’s appeal on this issue. The defendant was appealing from a Florida manslaughter conviction in which he was sentenced to 30 years in state prison, followed by 10 years’ probation.

The defendant argued on appeal that the State made an improper comment during its closing argument regarding the defendant’s decision not to testify at trial. Specifically, the prosecution said that he did not testify because he engaged in potentially incriminating conduct. However, the court took a more expansive view of the statements made, based on the trial transcript. The key distinction that the prosecution made was not to point out why the defendant was not testifying but instead to argue why the defendant was on trial.

The defendant’s counsel, during her closing argument, argued that the State was improperly relying upon innocent conduct to prove its case, such as the fact that he cut his dreadlocks. The defendant’s position at trial was that since this conduct was not illegal, it should not be used as evidence of guilt. The appeals court, therefore, read the prosecution’s closing argument as responding to the defense’s argument.

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