Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

Under Florida law, the use of force is acceptable in certain circumstances. As such, a person charged with a crime involving the use of deadly force may be able to argue that the actions out of which the charges arose were justifiable self-defense. Self-defense is not justified if a person was committing or trying to commit a forceable felony when the act occurred, however. In a recent Florida case, a court issued an opinion discussing what forcible felonies preclude a defendant from arguing he acted in self-defense, in a case where the court ultimately affirmed the defendant’s convictions for third-degree murder and other offenses. If you are accused of a violent crime, it is smart to speak to a skilled Clearwater violent crime defense lawyer regarding your rights.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the state charged the defendant with numerous offenses after he shot a man who threatened his friend on social media. The man ultimately died as a result of his wounds. Following a trial, a jury convicted the defendant of third-degree murder with a weapon, grand theft of an automobile, and two counts of false imprisonment with a gun. The defendant appealed, arguing in part that the trial court gave an improper jury instruction regarding the justifiable use of force and that the homicide was self-defense. The appellate court rejected his assertions and affirmed his convictions.

Self-Defense in the Context of Forcible Felonies

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court made a fundamental error by instructing the jury regarding the justifiable use of deadly force where there was no independent forcible felony and that in doing so, the trial court prevented the jury from accepting his self-defense argument. The forcible felony instruction provided stated that deadly use of force is not permitted if the defendant was attempting to commit or committing numerous crimes, including third-degree murder.

Continue Reading ›

In Florida, people can be charged with assault and other violent crimes, even if they simply intend to damage property. Regardless of the nature of the crime a defendant is accused of committing, though, the State must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it fails to do so, the defendant should not be found guilty. Recently, in a matter where the defendant was accused of committing multiple offenses after he hit a mail truck, a Florida court issued an order clarifying the evidence the state must produce to show guilt for assault and criminal mischief. If you’ve been charged with assault or another violent offense, it is in your best interest to speak with a reputable Florida criminal defense lawyer about your options.

The Alleged Crime

Allegedly, the victim was in the driver’s seat of a mail truck when the defendant hit the truck with a large board. At the moment of the initial strike, the victim was sorting mail and heard a loud bang. When he looked up, he saw the defendant strike the truck with the plank a second time. When the victim began to drive the vehicle away, the defendant struck the truck with the plank once more. The victim dialed 911 once he was at a safe distance. The defendant was eventually apprehended and charged with criminal mischief in the first degree, aggravated assault, and other charges. He sought a dismissal of the assault and criminal mischief charges, but his motion was denied, and he was found guilty. He then filed an appeal.

Evidence Needed to Convict a Defendant Charged With Assault

The defendant’s conviction for assault was upheld on appeal. The court was not persuaded by the defendant’s contention that the State did not offer evidence sufficient to prove that he committed an act that was significantly likely to put the victim in fear of imminent harm. Instead, the court determined that the evidence, when assessed in a light most favorable to the state, was adequate to show that the defendant knew the victim was in the truck when he hit it. Specifically, he struck the truck three times at the driver’s side door, the third strike coming after the truck had gone forward. Continue Reading ›

In criminal matters, the prosecution bears the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the charged offense. Generally, the prosecution is permitted to introduce any relevant evidence in support of its position. Certain evidence, like prior convictions or bad acts, is typically deemed inadmissible, however, subject to certain exceptions. Recently, a Florida court discussed the instances in which the Government is allowed to introduce evidence of prior crimes and bad acts, in an opinion issued in a case in which the defendant moved to preclude evidence of his prior conviction for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. If you are charged with a violent offense, it is smart to speak to a trusted Clearwater violent crime defense lawyer to discuss what evidence the Government may use against you.

The Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with an unspecified criminal offense. Prior to trial, he filed a motion to preclude the Government from introducing evidence that he was previously convicted of brandishing a firearm during the commission of a crime. Specifically, the defendant argued that it was an extrinsic act that only served to impermissibly demonstrate a propensity to commit crimes of violence or brandish firearms, and any probative value was greatly outweighed by the risk of prejudice.

Allegedly, in response, the Government argued that the evidence was intrinsic, and therefore the prohibition of prior crimes did not apply, but that even if it was extrinsic, the prejudicial effect did not outweigh its probative value. After considering the pleadings, the court ultimately denied the defendant’s motion. Continue Reading ›

Under Florida law, a person does not actually have to participate in the physical act of killing another human to be charged with offenses related to the murder. In other words, a person who helps another person plan and commit a murder may be charged as a principal to first-degree murder. In a recent opinion, a Florida court discussed what constitutes sufficient evidence that a person aided and abetted another individual in the commission of a homicide in a case in which a woman allegedly convinced her boyfriend to kill her husband. If you are charged with a murder offense, it is critical to meet with a trusted Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.

Facts Surrounding the Murder

It is alleged that the defendant began having an extramarital affair with her husband’s best friend. The defendant did not want to obtain a divorce because she did not want to share custody of her young daughter. Therefore, she and the friend discussed a plan where the friend would take the husband duck hunting and push him into the water while he was wearing waders so that he would drown.

It is reported that things originally went as planned, but the husband was able to swim to shore and scream for help. The friend then shot and killed the husband and buried his body in another location. The friend and the defendant later married, but their marriage fell apart, and during the course of their divorce, the friend kidnapped the defendant. After the friend’s arrest, he admitted to the murder and relayed the defendant’s part in the crime. She was charged with and convicted of principal to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, after which she appealed.

Continue Reading ›

If you are convicted of a crime, that does not necessarily mean you can no longer appeal your conviction or sentence. If subsequent rulings determine that a law or method used to evaluate your guilt is unconstitutional, your conviction may be overturned or your sentence may be reduced.

For example, in a recent case, a Florida Court of Appeals held that a defendant convicted of crimes of violence may be entitled to have a jury re-evaluate his sentencing due to recent case law that determined the method previously used to evaluate crimes of violence for purposes of enhanced sentencing was unconstitutionally vague. If you are a Clearwater resident charged with a crime you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to determine how previous convictions may affect your case.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Subsequent Appeal

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with and convicted of multiple crimes, including knowingly carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which permitted enhanced penalties for defendants with prior convictions. The defendant’s total sentence was 335 months in prison, which included 120 months for the section 924 charge. Shortly after the defendant was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court determined in Johnson v. United States that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) was void due to vagueness. The defendant subsequently moved to vacate his sentence for the section 924 violation, arguing that his conviction was invalid under Johnson. The court denied his motion, holding that Johnson did not render section 924 unconstitutional. The defendant appealed.

Continue Reading ›

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.

Continue Reading ›

In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant committed all the elements of the crime. Specifically, the prosecution has the burden to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case recently heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the court reversed a conviction after the prosecution was found to have impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to the defendant. Your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can help you understand exactly what the court needs to prove in your situation.

Facts of the Robbery

A woman was walking home from the grocery store when she was hit from behind. She turned around and was hit again. The man who hit her took her cell phone and ran off. A couple of weeks later when she was walking home from her son’s school, the woman saw the man that she believes robbed her. The defendant in this case testified that he was at school in band practice when the assault happened.

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.

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.

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.

Contact Information