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Florida law allows for the expungement of criminal records in certain circumstances. An expungement can provide a defendant with a better chance to start over following a criminal conviction, but they are only granted in certain circumstances, regardless of how sympathetic the defendant’s case is.

For example, in a recent case, a Florida court of appeals held that the law did not allow for a victim of human trafficking to expunge kidnapping charges from her record, despite the fact that she was forced to commit crimes while she was subject to someone else’s control. If you are a resident of Tampa with prior convictions, you should confer with an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss your options going forward.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Background

It is reported that the defendant was controlled by a human trafficker for many years. During the time she was controlled by the human trafficker, she was arrested three times for crimes committed as part of the human trafficking scheme. Following an arrest in 2010, she was charged with multiple crimes, including kidnapping. She entered into a plea agreement in which she agreed to assist to cooperate with the State and testify against the human trafficker. As part of the negotiated plea, the state nolle prossed the kidnapping crime. The defendant plead guilty to sex trafficking and other crimes, for which she was sentenced. After her sentence was complete, she petitioned the court to expunge all of her criminal history records pursuant to the Human Trafficking Expunction Statue. Following a hearing, the court granted her petition with the exception of the records related to her kidnapping charge. The defendant subsequently appealed.

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Under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), if a person convicted of a crime is deemed a career criminal, he or she may face increased penalties. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in Johnson v. United States, that the residual clause in the ACCA was unconstitutionally vague. As such, offenders previously sentenced to increased prison terms under the residual clause of the ACCA may be eligible for a reduced sentence. Each case must be evaluated on an individual basis, however, to determine whether the Johnson ruling will affect an enhanced sentence.

Recently, in a case appealed from the Southern District of Florida, a federal appellate court ruled that attempted murder is a violent felony and therefore grounds for increased penalties under the ACCA. If you are a resident of Tampa who has prior convictions and are currently facing criminal charges, you should meet with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss your available options and defenses.

Defendant’s Prior and Current Convictions

Reportedly, the defendant was convicted in Florida for first-degree attempted murder. He was subsequently charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition. He was tried and convicted of the charges. The defendant’s presentence investigation report showed he was subject to an enhanced sentence under the ACCA for attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery, and aggravated battery. He was sentenced to 204 months in prison. Following the Johnson ruling, he filed a motion to reduce his enhanced sentence, arguing his prior convictions could no longer be considered violent felonies. His motion was dismissed. The defendant then appealed on the issue of whether his conviction for attempted first-degree murder constituted a violent felony. On appeal, the court affirmed his enhanced sentence.

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In each criminal case, the defendant must choose which plea to enter, and in some cases it is prudent for a defendant to enter a guilty plea. Even if a defendant waives his or her right to a trial by conceding guilt, however, he or she is still afforded certain rights with regard to sentencing.

A district court in Florida recently vacated a sentence in a DUI case and remanded the case for resentencing, due to an error made by the trial court in the evidence considered in sentencing the defendant. If you are a Tampa resident charged with a crime, it is important to retain an experienced attorney who can assist you in trying to prevent the state from introducing any prohibited evidence against you.

Charges and Sentencing

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with DUI manslaughter following a fatal crash and entered an open guilty plea. During the defendant’s sentencing, the sentencing scoresheet submitted listed eleven prior offenses, each of which occurred in or before 1999. The total points for the defendant’s prior record, as indicated by the scoresheet, was 9.4. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 132 months’ imprisonment, with a mandatory four year sentence, to be followed by two years of community control and two years of probation. The defendant subsequently appealed. On appeal, the defendant argued that none of the prior offenses on his sentencing scoresheet should have been listed due to the age of the offense.

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If you are a minor charged with a crime, it is essential to understand what sentence you might face prior to deciding to enter into a plea agreement. While certain crimes have mandatory sentences, in some cases it may not be clear what penalty applies to an offense under the terms of the statute.

For example, a Florida Court of appeals recently ruled that actual possession of a gun is not required for a court to impose a mandatory firearm enhancement sentence on a minor defendant who entered a plea for an armed burglary charge.  If you are a minor resident of Tampa facing criminal charges, you should consult with a Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss whether entering a plea agreement may be appropriate in your case.

Factual Background

Reportedly, a witness saw four males trying to open a car in a parking lot. She contacted the police, who responded and ultimately detained the defendant. The officers became aware that a gun had been taken from a car burglarized by one of the four males. The minor defendant advised the officer that he knew where the gun was, and proceeded to lead the officers to the gun. A second male who was detained told the officers that a third male handed him the gun and he did it in a bush. None of the men indicated who removed the gun from the car.

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A defendant charged with a crime in Florida can enter any plea provided for by the law. While a person charged should not enter a plea without thoroughly weighing the consequences, in some cases even if a plea was entered after careful consideration a defendant may wish to change his plea. Under Florida law, a defendant can file a motion to withdraw a plea at any time prior to sentencing. In a recent case ruled on by the District Court of Appeals for the Second District of Florida, if a defendant’s attorney does not honor his or her wish to withdraw a plea, it can result in a conviction being overturned.

Reportedly, the defendant entered a no contest plea to burglary and grand theft charges. The defendant was then found incompetent and his sentencing hearing was delayed for two years. He was represented by one attorney while negotiating his plea deal and a second attorney at his sentencing. At the sentencing hearing, per the defendant’s request, his attorney requested a renegotiation of his plea deal, due to the fact he did not understand the plea colloquy and proceedings.

The court declined to renegotiate. The defendant’s attorney stated he did not believe a good faith basis existed for withdrawing the plea and did not move to withdraw the plea. Additionally, the court never asked the defendant if he wanted to withdraw his plea. The trial court subsequently sentenced the defendant to fifteen years in prison followed by fifteen years of probation. The defendant then filed an appeal, arguing ineffective assistance of appellate counsel on several grounds. The appellate court found in favor of the defendant and reversed his sentencing.

In most criminal cases, whether a defendant is convicted or found innocent depends on the sufficiency of the evidence presented by both parties. If you are charged with a crime, it is important that any evidence that may be helpful to your defense be presented at your trial. Evidence is not always concrete but includes testimony from any eyewitnesses who have information regarding the alleged crime.

While it is not necessary to present duplicative testimony, as illustrated in a recent Florida Court of Appeals case, Martin v. Florida, if a defense attorney fails to call a beneficial witness due to the fact that some testimony may be cumulative, it can be fatal to a defendant’s case and may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. If you face criminal charges, it is essential to retain a proficient Tampa criminal defense attorney who will gather any evidence that may help you to obtain a favorable result.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

Allegedly, the police responded to a call that methamphetamines were being sold out of the defendant’s house. There were five people in the house when the police arrived, including the defendant and two women. The first woman locked herself in the bathroom when the police arrived. The defendant permitted the police to begin searching the house while they obtained a warrant. After the police obtained the warrant, the woman left the bathroom and the police found a bag of methamphetamines in the trash can. Consequently, the defendant was charged with drug trafficking.

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Under Florida law, the state is required to produce evidence that an officer is engaged in a lawful duty to convict a defendant charged with resisting arrest.  In a recent case, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District reversed a conviction for resisting an officer without violence, due to the state’s failure to introduce sufficient evidence to support the argument that the arresting officers had probable cause to arrest the defendant. If you face charges for resisting an arrest, it is important to retain an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts regarding your arrest and any evidence the state may attempt to introduce against you. 

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, it is the internal practice of the Tampa Police Department to regularly check in on juveniles on probation to ensure they are complying with the terms of the probation.  If the police determine a juvenile is violating the terms of his or her probation, a “local pickup order” call will then be placed to pick up the juvenile for violation of probation. In this case, two police officers received a dispatch call to pick up the defendant for violation of probation. The officers went to the defendant’s house to arrest him and found him hiding in a closet. The defendant refused to walk down the stairs of the apartment and had to be carried out by the police officers. After the defendant was placed in the police car, he kicked out a window, and the officers had to restrain him. The defendant was subsequently charged and convicted of criminal mischief and resisting an officer without violence. The defendant subsequently appealed his conviction.

The U.S. criminal justice system understands that juveniles do not have the same brain development and decision-making capacity as adults. To acknowledge this, Florida passed the Florida Youthful Offender Act (the “Act”) which gives alternative sentencing options for certain individuals who are under the age of 21 at the time of sentencing. Your knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether you or a loved one are eligible for youthful offender status.

Florida Youthful Offender Act

In order to be eligible for consideration as a youthful offender, the defendant must meet certain requirements. Of course there is an age requirement. Defendants need to be between 18 and 21 at the time of sentencing. Defendants under 18 are also potentially eligible for youthful offender status if the case has been transferred to the adult court.

Youthful offender status is available only for felonies, however; it is not available for those who have been convicted of capital or life felonies. Defendants also need to have been found guilty or have pled nolo contendere (no contest) to their charges. Finally, defendants are only eligible for youthful offender status one time. Therefore, if they have already been sentenced as a youthful offender before, they are not eligible a second time.

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Criminal courts have very specific rules around what kind of evidence can and cannot be admitted at trial. This includes the kind of things that different witnesses can testify about. Your knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you understand how these rules can apply in your situation.

Expert vs. Lay Witnesses

Generally, there are two kinds of witnesses that may testify at trial: lay and expert witnesses. Obviously, expert witnesses are people who have some kind of specialized knowledge or expertise in an area. For example, in an arson case a fire expert may be able to testify as to how fires spread when accelerant is used. Whereas a lay witness is supposed to testify about things that they experienced themselves, rather than things they know. So if someone witnessed the defendant running away from the scene of the crime, they may testify about that but not about anything that requires expertise. If a lay witness testifies about something that requires expertise, the attorney for the other side can object to the testimony.

In the United States, criminal defendants do have the right to defend themselves. However, a United State Supreme Court case called Faretta clarified that a defendant’s waiver of counsel is only valid as long as it is knowingly and intelligently made. Essentially, a defendant needs to be competent enough to understand the ramifications of their actions. While defendants do have the right to represent themselves, it is generally a bad idea. That’s why defendants should always contact a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as they are arrested.

General Competency

Whether a defendant is represented by counsel or representing themselves, they need to be competent in order to stand trial. This is different than an insanity defense. Competency refers to the defendant’s mental state at trial. They need to be competent enough to understand the nature of the proceedings against them and meaningfully assist in their own defense.

In a case heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the defendant represented himself at trial after dismissing two different attorneys. Before the trial began, the defendant was determined to be incompetent to stand trial. However, after a period of hospitalization without medication, he was deemed competent enough to stand trial. At several points throughout the trial the court did a Faretta inquiry and each time the defendant was found competent to stand trial and represent himself.

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