Avvo Rating badge
NACDL badge
Martindale-Hubbell badge
Avvo Rating badge

First-degree murder is one of the most serious crimes the State can charge a person with, and a conviction has the potential to result in a death sentence. Generally, the State must prove that certain aggravating factors were present during the commission of a homicide crime for a person to be sentenced to death. The State’s burden in seeking the death penalty was the topic of a recent Florida opinion, in a case in which the defendant appealed his death sentences after following first-degree murder convictions. If you are charged with a violent crime, it is critical to speak to a seasoned Tampa criminal defense attorney to assess your potential defenses.

The Trial and Sentencing

It is reported that the defendant and the victim, his ex-girlfriend, were estranged, and the defendant was subject to a restraining order that prohibited him from contacting the victim. He suspected that she was dating another man, and he ransacked her home while she was out. She called the police but declined to press charges. The following day, he attended a hearing on another criminal matter, then called the victim and spoke to her for several minutes.

Allegedly, the defendant then proceeded to buy ammunition, travel to the victim’s home and shot the victim and one of her friends who was in the home with her. He attempted to shoot her boyfriend and another friend as well. He was charged with and convicted of multiple first-degree murder crimes and sentenced to death for each murder. He appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in instructing the jury and finding the murder was committed in a calculated, cold, and premediated manner which constituted an aggravating factor and lead to his death sentences.

Continue Reading ›

Judges have a duty to be fair and impartial when presiding over criminal matters, but many judges harbor implicit or explicit biases. A judge’s prejudices may make it difficult or impossible to receive a fair trial, but fortunately, parties that suspect a judge of being biased can file a motion for disqualification. Recently, a Florida court issued a ruling describing the grounds for granting such a motion in a case in which the defendant argued the court erred in denying his motion due to the judge’s conduct during his competency hearing. If you are accused of a crime, it is important to know your rights, and it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Competency Hearing

Allegedly, the defendant was charged with committing numerous crimes. Prior to trial, a hearing was held to determine the defendant’s competency. The State argued that the defendant was competent, while the defendant’s attorney argued he was not. Three expert witnesses testified regarding the defendant’s competency. The judge asked each witness regarding the information in his report. The witness who found the defendant to be incompetent stated he based his report on information from defense counsel, and the court discredited his testimony.

It is reported that the court asked if the defendant’s attorney wanted to call the defendant to the stand. She declined, after which the court stated it might be helpful for the court. The defendant then answered questions from the court about the medications he was taking and his ability to work with counsel. The court then deemed the defendant competent to stand trial, after which the defendant filed a motion to disqualify. The court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

Continue Reading ›

Florida-Court-Fourth-Amendment-Protections-300x169

When the police conduct a criminal investigation, they will typically obtain a warrant to uncover information that is private or otherwise not readily accessible. If the police gather certain evidence without a warrant, however, it may violate the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures, and the evidence may be deemed inadmissible. Not all information is protected against warrantless searches, though, as demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion issued in a homicide case, in which the court ruled that information from a third-party GPS system was not private. If you are charged with murder or a related offense, it is essential to retain an assertive Tampa criminal defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

The Alleged Crime and Investigation

Allegedly, the victim was found murdered in a park. He had been staying at a hotel prior to his death. The defendant resided at the hotel also, along with his girlfriend. The hotel had cameras, and when the police reviewed the surveillance footage, they observed the victim leaving the hotel with the defendant and the defendant returning alone a few hours later. The police learned that the defendant often used his girlfriend’s car, which was equipped with a GPS tracker.

Apparently, while the defendant generally had permission to use the car, the girlfriend did not know he took it on the night of the murder and reported it stolen. As such, she contacted her financing company, which had installed a GPS tracker, to track the car’s location. The police obtained GPS information from the company without a warrant. The information revealed that the defendant drove to the park where the victim was found on the night of the murder.

Continue Reading ›

What-Constitutes-a-Material-Probation-Violation-300x169

In some instances, a defendant convicted of a criminal offense will be sentenced to probation rather than imprisonment. Although people on probation have significantly more freedoms than those who are imprisoned, their liberties are not boundless. Specifically, they must comply with the restrictions imposed by their probation orders. If they violate the rules of probation, they may face additional penalties, but not all violations are significant enough for probation to be revoked. Recently, a Florida court addressed what constitutes a violation significant enough to lead to the revocation of probation. If you are accused of violating the terms of your probation, it is critical to meet with a seasoned Tampa criminal defense attorney to assess your possible defenses.

The Defendant’s Probation and Alleged Violation

It is reported that the defendant was convicted of several drug crimes. Following his conviction, he was sentenced to probation. One of the conditions of the defendant’s probation was that he had a curfew that dictated that he had to be home between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. One evening, the defendant’s girlfriend came home from work, after which they traveled to the store. They left the house at 11:15 pm and were stopped by a police officer at 1:40 am. The defendant’s probation was then revoked due to the violation of his curfew. The defendant appealed. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the revocation.

Material Probation Violations Under Florida Law

On appeal, the defendant argued that his violation was not substantial. The appellate court disagreed, noting that the defendant’s absence was extended and there was no emergency. The court also noted that under Florida law, an absence from home without permission is considered a willful and substantial violation of probation.

Continue Reading ›

Florida Court Discusses Categorization of Other Crimes During Sentencing

There are numerous factors that the court will weigh in determining what constitutes an appropriate sentence for a person convicted of a crime, including whether the defendant has a prior criminal record or has other criminal charges that are pending. It is critical that a defendant’s other criminal activity be properly classified; however, an improper classification may result in an unjust sentence. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which a defendant’s prior convictions were mischaracterized as additional offenses, resulting in a lengthy prison sentence. If you are accused of committing a criminal offense, it is prudent to speak to a trusted Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for seeking a just result.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of four separate offenses in 2014. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by a year and a half of probation. At the beginning of his probationary period, the defendant committed new offenses. He was then charged with both violating his probation and with committing the new offenses. Following his sentencing hearing, he filed an appeal, arguing that his scoresheet had errors that required reversal. The appeal was granted, and during his second sentencing hearing, the 2014 crimes were deemed additional offenses, and the 2018 crimes were listed as primary offenses. The defendant then filed a second appeal.

Categorizing Other Criminal Activity for Sentencing

Under Florida law, only one crime can be classified as the primary offense. Typically, it is the most severe crime. Every other crime will be listed as an additional offense, which is the term used for crimes other than the primary offense the defendant was convicted of committing, and which are pending before the court for sentencing at the same time as the primary offense.

Continue Reading ›

Florida Court Discusses the Admission of Evidence in Criminal Matters

In many criminal cases, the State lacks direct evidence that the defendant committed a crime. Thus, in such instances, the State will rely on circumstantial evidence to build a case against the defendant. While circumstantial evidence is generally admissible, it must bear a connection to either the defendant or the charged offense, and irrelevant evidence that is improperly admitted may lead the jury to issue an unjust verdict. This was shown in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was convicted of multiple crimes due to a glove found in his sister’s van several days after the alleged criminal acts. If you are charged with a crime, it is important to know your rights, and you should speak with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Alleged Crime and Trial

It is reported that two men broke into the home of the victim, held her at gunpoint, and ransacked her house. The victim was then struck in the head with a gun and shot. After the perpetrators left, she went to a nearby salon and called 911. During the course of the investigation of the crime, the defendant was named as a suspect, and the victim identified the defendant as the man who shot her. He was then charged with attempted second-degree murder and numerous other offenses.

Reportedly, there was no direct evidence linking the defendant to the crime. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress evidence of a glove that was found in a van owned by his sister, which was one of the only pieces of evidence that could potentially implicate him. The court denied the motion, and the defendant was found guilty on all charges. He then appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress.

Continue Reading ›

Importance of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials

Typically, jurors possess only a vague understanding of what acts constitute a particular crime. Thus, in Florida criminal cases, the court will provide the jury with instructions regarding what factual elements the State must prove in order for the defendant to be found guilty. If a court fails to properly instruct a jury, though, the defendant may be unjustly convicted and may have grounds to seek a reversal of the conviction via an appeal. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with burglary, and the court failed to provide the jury with the standard instruction for that offense. If you are accused of burglary or any other theft crime, it is advisable to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa theft crime defense attorney to evaluate what defenses you may be able to assert.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that a woman who was in the process of moving took several trips through her home and out to her car during the day. On one of her trips, she noticed the defendant standing in her kitchen in front of an open drawer that previously had been closed. The defendant stated he needed help and gave a rambling speech that lasted close to an hour, after which he left. The woman called the police, and the defendant was arrested and charged with burglary.

It is alleged that at the trial of the matter, defense counsel requested that the court provide the jury with the standard instruction regarding a burglary. The trial judge declined to do so, however, due to his belief that the instruction did not make sense. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to provide the jury with the standard instruction.

Continue Reading ›

Requirements-for-Imposing-the-Death-Penalty-1-300x169

The most severe punishment a criminal defendant may face in Florida is the death penalty. Recent changes in Florida law, though, make it more difficult for a criminal defendant to be sentenced to death. In a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with murder, the court discussed the status of the current and past requirements for sentencing a defendant to the death penalty. If you are charged with murder or another violent offense, it is in your best interest to engage an aggressive Tampa violent crime defense attorney to develop a strategy for fighting to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant broke into a home in 1984, assaulted a teenage girl that was babysitting in the home, and stabbed her to death. Five days later, he murdered another victim in a substantially similar matter. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each crime. Due to recent changes in the law, the defendant filed a motion to vacate his sentences on the grounds they were unlawful. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant then filed an appeal. Upon review, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Death Penalty Sentences Under Florida Law

With regard to the sentence for the second crime, the court found that it was lawful under the sentencing scheme in effect at the time, and case law held that the intervening change in the law was not to be applied retroactively. As such, that sentence was affirmed. Regarding the second sentence, which due to appeals, was imposed much later, the court noted that the Supreme Court of Florida found the prior sentencing scheme to be unconstitutional because it allowed the judge issuing a sentence to find that an aggravating circumstance existed, which is necessary for the imposition of a death sentence, without a jury’s determination of fact.

Continue Reading ›

Probable Cause for an Involuntarily Commitment Hearing

In many instances, a person convicted of a sex crime in Florida may be involuntarily committed pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act (the Act). Individuals committed under the Act are subject to a yearly review of their status, though, to determine if there is evidence demonstrating that their condition has changed so that they no longer present a threat to society and can safely be released. In a recent case in which the defendant was involuntarily committed following a conviction for attempted sexual battery, a Florida court discussed what constitutes probable cause to warrant a hearing to assess whether a defendant’s condition has changed. If you are charged with an offense that is sexual in nature, it is advisable to confer with an assertive Tampa sex crime defense attorney to determine your options for seeking a favorable result under the circumstances.

Factual History

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of exposure of his sexual organs and attempted sexual battery in 1999. He was convicted and, after serving nine months of his sentence, was involuntarily committed pursuant to the Act. In 2018, during the defendant’s annual review, the defendant produced two expert reports that stated that the defendant had made significant progress in the program for sex offenders that he participated in and no longer needed to be committed. The State produced a conflicting report, however, that opined that the defendant was unable or unwilling to control his sexual preoccupations and that if he was released, he was likely to commit crimes. The court ultimately found that there was not probable cause to believe that the defendant’s condition had changed so that it was now safe for him to be among the public. As such, the court declined to set the matter for trial. The defendant appealed.

Probable Cause to Warrant a Hearing on a Defendant’s Changed Condition

A person that is committed against his or her will under the Act has the right to an annual review. Specifically, the Act provides for a limited hearing to evaluate whether there is probable cause to believe that the person’s condition has changed to such a degree that the person no longer poses a threat to society and will not engage in acts of sexual violence if he or she is discharged.

Continue Reading ›

Prostitution is illegal in Florida and many other states, as is the solicitation of a prostitute. Thus, the police will often investigate a massage parlor for suspicion of prostitution crimes based on information gleaned from the internet. It can be difficult for the police to obtain evidence sufficient to press charges or obtain a conviction, however. As such, they may seek to install surveillance cameras. In a recent Florida case involving numerous prostitution charges, the court assessed whether footage from hidden surveillance cameras should be suppressed. If you are charged with prostitution or any other sex crime, it is critical to retain a skillful Tampa sex crime defense attorney to help you seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that police officers suspected that illegal sex acts were occurring at three separate massage parlors in Florida. As such, each police department independently obtained a warrant to install hidden cameras to record activity in the areas where the massages occurred, which is where it was suspected the illicit activity took place. The footage revealed that workers in the parlors and men visiting the parlors were engaged in prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. As such, numerous charges were filed. The defendants then filed motions to suppress the surveillance footage. The trial courts granted the motions, and the State appealed. The cases were then consolidated for appeal.

Grounds for Suppressing Surveillance Footage

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court rulings, finding that the surveillance constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. Specifically, the appellate court affirmed that the warrants lacked adequate minimalization procedures. The appellate court explained that an order permitting video surveillance should not be issued unless there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, the order particularly describes the place to be searched, and the order is sufficiently precise so that it minimizes the recording of activities that are not related to the crimes being investigated.

Continue Reading ›

Contact Information