Articles Posted in Felony Murder

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.

The United States criminal justice system is based on the idea that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. The court wants to make sure that when someone is found guilty by a jury, they are actually guilty. There are safeguards built into the criminal justice system to protect innocent defendants from being found guilty. In practice, that means that there needs to be adequate evidence to uphold a conviction. If you have been charged with or convicted of a crime, your experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you make sure that the prosecution is forced to meet their burden of proof. If they don’t, or later an appeals court determines that there was not enough evidence to uphold the conviction, your conviction may be overturned.

Florida Evidentiary Burden

In Florida – as in the rest of the country – the prosecution has the burden of proving each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. It is up to the jury to decide whether or not the prosecution has met their burden. Whether there is enough evidence to sustain the conviction is a question that only comes up on appeal, since of course there cannot be a conviction until after the trial. Thus, if a defendant is convicted of a crime and believes there was not enough evidence to uphold the conviction, they can appeal the decision.

In Florida, people convicted of certain crimes may be sentenced to death for those crimes. However, there are some people who are constitutionally protected from the death penalty due to their status or characteristics. For example, the United States Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to sentence someone to death if they committed their crimes when they were less than 18 years of age. The laws around violent crimes and sentencing change periodically as federal and state courts clarify their positions. A knowledgeable Florida violent crimes defense attorney can help you understand any potential penalties of the crimes you have been charged with.

Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty

Another one of the categories of people that cannot be executed are people with intellectual disabilities. This is because they are not seen as having the same decision-making ability as people without these kinds of disabilities, and so the death penalty is considered cruel. Florida amended their death penalty statute in 2003 to include this prohibition. Under the 2003 Florida statutes, a defendant has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they are intellectually disabled. To do this, they needed to show three things: significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, with concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior, that manifested before age 18. At the time, Florida used a strict cutoff of an IQ score of 70 to determine what counted as “significantly subaverage” intellectual functioning.

When a person commits a felony, he or she is on the hook not only for that crime but also for any other crime that happens during the commission of the felony. A recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is a good example of how a simple burglary became a murder conviction for someone who never entered the home where the killing occurred.A defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for his role in a Fort Lauderdale home robbery in which the home owner died. A neighbor heard gun shots, saw a car drive off, and found the home owner dead inside the home. Another neighbor had a video surveillance system that taped a pair of men getting out of one car and into another. The tape also showed one of the men inside the car putting on gloves and picked up the sound of gun shots less than five minutes after the car left the surveillance area.

A police officer who observed the video later pulled over a car matching the one in the video and driven by the defendant, who matched the description of a man wearing Adidas shorts in the video. They later tracked down the second car and, after obtaining search warrants, found the victim’s blood in both cars. At trial, one of the men who said he was involved in the burglary said the defendant and another man watched for police, while two other men checked to see if anyone was in the home before breaking in. They rang the doorbell, and there was a struggle with the home owner, during which he was shot, according to the testimony.

The defendant argued that he was on the scene simply to sell marijuana and give one of the men a ride home. He said he knew nothing about the planned home invasion. The jury was instructed that if the defendant helped the others commit a crime, he was responsible for all of the things the other people did, even if he wasn’t there. The court also informed the jury that the defendant could potentially be convicted of murder if the killing was premeditated or if it happened during the commission of another felony.