Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

In the context of criminal proceedings, the defendant’s guilt typically hinges on the interpretation of circumstantial rather than direct evidence. When viewed in its entirety, if the evidence in question does not demonstrate the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant should be able to avoid a conviction. In a recent Florida ruling issued in a weapons crime case, the court discussed what constitutes adequate evidence to sustain a conviction, ultimately upholding the jury’s guilty verdict. If you are charged with a weapons crime, it is in your best interest to talk to a Clearwater gun crime defense attorney about your rights.

Background of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was indicted for knowingly possessing ammunition as a felon, a federal offense. During the trial, an FBI special agent described a search of the defendant’s family residence. During the search, ammunition was discovered in various locations, including a black backpack in the defendant’s closet. The jury found him guilty, and he appealed, arguing that the evidence presented during the trial failed to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for possessing ammunition as a felon.

Evaluating the Sufficiency of Evidence in Weapons Crime Cases

On appeal, the court ruled that the evidence put forth during the trial was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for possessing ammunition as a felon. In doing so, the court explained that the test for determining whether evidence is adequate is the same regardless of whether the evidence is circumstantial or direct. While no greater weight is given to either type of evidence when the state relies on circumstantial evidence, reasonable inferences, not mere speculation, are necessary to support a conviction.

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If a person is suspected of a crime, he or she nonetheless has rights under the law, including the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Even if a person consents to a search, any evidence obtained during the search may be tainted if the consent was not properly obtained or if the search exceeded the scope of the consent.

A Florida district court of appeals recently discharged a defendant’s conviction based on a firearm found during a search, on the grounds that the state could not prove the weapon was found within the areas the defendant gave the police permission to search. If you were charged with a crime after the police searched your home, you should consult a knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss whether you may be able to preclude evidence found during the search.

Facts Regarding the Search of the Defendant’s Property

Allegedly, the police responded to a call that shots had been fired at the defendant’s apartment. Upon arriving at the scene, the police did an initial security sweep, in which they found shell casings and smelled gunpowder. The police escorted the defendant’s girlfriend and children out of the home, and the area was sealed until detectives arrived to conduct a shooting investigation. A detective arrived shortly thereafter and entered the home to secure the scene and begin the investigation. He later testified that this entry was not part of the protective sweep.

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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.

Florida has specific sentencing laws that govern the sentence for those convicted of crimes. There are a number of different ways that sentencing laws come into play, including mandatory minimums and increasing penalties for subsequent crimes of the same nature (think of DUI, for example). Your skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you to minimize the amount of time you need to serve by taking advantage of statutory opportunities to reduce the sentence.

Consecutive vs. Concurrent

Another example of a way that sentencing laws can affect the amount of time actually served is whether a sentence is served consecutively or concurrently. Let’s say someone is convicted of two crimes arising out of the same incident, with minimum penalties of five years each. The judge can order the defendant to serve the sentences consecutively, which would lead to a total of ten years in prison, because the sentences are served one after the other. However, in many circumstances, the judge can order the sentences to be served concurrently. Concurrent sentences mean that the sentences for all the crimes are served at the same time. So in this example it would be a total of five years, because both charges’ sentences would be served concurrently.

The U.S. Constitution and Florida law protect people from unlawful searches and seizures by police officers. That includes stops and frisks on the street. Cops must have a reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity is afoot to stop someone in the first place and then have a separate reasonable suspicion to believe that you are armed and dangerous to frisk you for weapons, as Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained in a Florida gun crime case.A defendant was on probation when he was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was also hit with a new charge for violating the terms of his probation. The charges stemmed from an incident in which a worker at a restaurant called local police to tell them that a customer appeared to have a gun in his waistband. The employee said she never actually saw the gun and told the cops she wasn’t sure what the object in the waistband was. She pointed out the defendant as the customer in question when police arrived on the scene.

An officer who approached the defendant later told a judge that he saw a “bulge” in his waistband that appeared to be a gun. The officer didn’t know that he was a convicted felon at the time and didn’t ask whether he had a permit for a weapon. The officer instead proceeded to pat the defendant down. He found a gun on him in the process. A trial judge rejected the defendant’s request that the evidence be excluded from the case against him, arguing that the officer didn’t have a reasonable suspicion to frisk him at the time the weapon was recovered. The trial judge denied that request, but the Fifth District sided with the defendant on appeal.

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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.A 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 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.A 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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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.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’s laws criminalize various activities involving a gun, and the prosecution of gun crimes in Florida often hinges on what it means to “possess a firearm,” a determination that isn’t as obvious as it might seem. In fact, a Florida appeals court recently ruled that “possession” of a firearm might not be the same thing under two different Florida laws.

The defendant was the passenger of a Cadillac that crashed into a police vehicle. The driver fled the scene, but the passenger remained in the vehicle. The Longwood Police Department conducted a search of the Cadillac and discovered a loaded handgun on the passenger side floorboard and cocaine in the vehicle’s center console. As a result of the search, the passenger was charged with two gun crimes:  (i) trafficking in cocaine while armed with a firearm, known as armed trafficking, and (ii) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, known as felon-in-possession.At trial, the jury determined that the defendant “carried” a firearm in furtherance of the armed trafficking crime; however, the jury also found that the defendant did not “actually possess a firearm,” which would have led to a further enhancement. The judge then dismissed the severed felon-in-possession charge because additional prosecution of that charge was barred by collateral estoppel, a doctrine that forecloses the further consideration of a previously determined fact that was necessarily determined in the defendant’s favor; it is not sufficient that the fact might have been determined by the first trial.

The appeals court examined whether the jury’s determination that the defendant did not “actually possess” a firearm in the armed trafficking case necessarily determined that he also did not possess the firearm for the purposes of the felon-in-possession charge. The court placed itself in the mindset of the jurors and suggested that while the firearm was readily available in the vehicle’s center console, the defendant did not have the firearm on his person or have ready access to it with the intent to use it during the trafficking offense. The court determined that this did not necessarily determine that the defendant did not “possess” a firearm to dismiss the felon-in-possession charge.

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