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Many people who are convicted of crimes are sentenced to probation, either after or instead of prison sentences. While probation offers substantially more freedom than imprisonment, defendants sentenced to probation typically must comply with numerous conditions. People that fail to do so and violate the terms of their probation may face significant consequences. Thus, it is critical for parties sentenced to probation to understand what constitutes a violation and what may occur if they violate the conditions of their probation. If you were charged with a crime or are currently accused of violating your probation, it is smart to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights.

Violations of Probation Under Florida Law

Probation is a type of community supervision in which a person convicted of a crime must comply with specific conditions and terms instead of being sent to prison. If a person violates a term of his or her probation, it may result in significant penalties, up to revocation of probation.

A violation of probation happens when a person substantially and willfully fails to comply with the conditions and terms of his or her probation. Whether a violation is both substantial and willful is assessed based on the facts of each case. The State bears the burden of proving a violation occurred, but it faces a lesser burden than in other criminal matters. Specifically, the State merely has to prove a violation occurred by the greater weight of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. Continue Reading ›

A criminal record can inhibit a person’s ability to obtain housing and employment and often impacts relationships as well. As such, many people who have been convicted of crimes contemplate whether they may be able to have their records expunged. Expunging a record can allow people to live their lives as if they had never been convicted, but the process can be complicated, and it is smart for anyone seeking an expungement to consult an attorney. If you have a criminal conviction that you are interested in having expunged, it is prudent to speak to a capable Tampa criminal defense attorney to determine your options.

Eligibility for Expungement

Florida Statutes Section 943.0585 establishes the criteria a person must meet to have an adult or juvenile criminal history record expunged by a court. Specifically, section 943.0585 provides that a person may petition a court to expunge a criminal history record if no information, indictment, or charging document was filed in the subject case, or if any of the aforementioned were filed, the charges were dismissed, nolle prosequi, or if the person was acquitted or found not guilty. The person seeking expungement must not have been found guilty or adjudicated delinquent for any felony or certain misdemeanors either.

Section 943.0585 also provides that a person must apply for a certificate of eligibility for expungement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement prior to petitioning the court. The Department will issue a certificate of eligibility if the person satisfies the criteria and submits a certified written statement from the appropriate state attorney or prosecutor confirming the criminal history record meets the statutory requirements, a certified copy of the charge, and the processing fee. A certificate is valid for 12 months after it is issued. Continue Reading ›

Many people who are accused of committing crimes suffer from one or more mental illnesses, and in some instances, there is a link between the illness a person suffers from and the offenses he or she allegedly committed. In such a case, a criminal defendant may be eligible to enter into the Mental Health Court Program. Not everyone is eligible for the Program, however, and those who are should seek legal counsel regarding their options and the benefits and drawbacks of entering the Mental Health Court system. If you suffer from mental illness and are charged with a crime, it is advisable to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to determine what action is most appropriate in your case.

What is Florida’s Mental Health Court?

Florida’s Mental Health Court program is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. Entry into the Mental Health Court program is voluntary. A criminal defendant may be referred by an attorney, but the Court has the ultimate say as to whether a defendant is accepted. Pursuant to Florida law, a defendant must meet certain criteria to enter the Program. Specifically, he or she must suffer from a persistent and severe mental illness. Typically, this means that the defendant suffers from a mood disorder, schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, or a combination of disorders that is sufficiently disabling. It can also be a mental health disorder that renders the defendant unable to care for himself or herself. There must also be a correlation between his or her diagnosis and the charged offense. Additionally, the defendant must voluntarily agree to enter into the Program and to undergo mental health treatment.

After a defendant is accepted into the Program, mental health professionals will work with the defendant to develop a Court Supervision Plan, which must be approved by the Court. Treatment and assistance is coordinated through the Program, and the defendant’s progress is closely monitored throughout the process. The defendant must regularly appear for court hearings and, if applicable, must meet the conditions of probation. The defendant must also agree to remain drug and alcohol free and refrain from engaging in criminal activity. Continue Reading ›

People who do not work in law enforcement or criminal defense rarely have an understanding of Florida’s process for prosecuting crimes. It is critical, though, for people suddenly faced with criminal charges to become familiar with the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure so that they understand their rights and what they can expect going forward. If you are accused of a crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a trusted Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to assess your options and potential defenses.

Florida’s Rule of Criminal Procedure from Arrest to Case Resolution

The process of prosecuting a person begins with an arrest. The police cannot arrest a person unless they have probable cause, which means there is reasonable evidence suggesting the person committed the crime. Following the arrest, the person will be charged with either an information or an indictment. Within twenty-four hours of the arrest, the defendant must be brought before the judge for the first appearance. The judge will inform the defendant of the pending charges against him or her, advise the defendant of the right to counsel and explain the bond. If the defendant is unable to post the bail set by the judge, he or she can request a bond hearing.

The defendant will then be arraigned. During an arraignment, the judge will advise the defendant of the substance of the charges and request that the defendant enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The defendant’s attorney may file a notice of discovery, which triggers the requirement that the prosecution provide the defendant’s counsel with any evidence against the defendant and a demand for a jury trial. Continue Reading ›

If a defendant is convicted of a crime, the court will typically weigh a variety of factors in determining an appropriate sentence. While there are many things that a court is permitted to evaluate in making an assessment, if a court is influenced by inappropriate information in developing a sentence, it may lead to an unjust result. In a recent Florida ruling in a case in which the defendant was convicted of arson, a court discussed the evaluation of the reasonableness of a sentence under the prevailing law. If you are accused of arson or another crime of violence, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned Tampa violent crime defense lawyer about your options.

The Defendant’s Sentence

It is reported that the defendant was charged with arson after he took part in the burning of a car that was used in a drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of another person. He was initially charged with multiple crimes related to a racketeering conspiracy and was later charged with murder. He ultimately pleaded guilty to the arson charge, which carries a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of twenty years. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison, after which he appealed, arguing that his sentence was unreasonable and the court relied on inappropriate information in determining his sentence.

Evaluating the Reasonableness of a Sentence

A court assessing the substantive reasonableness of a sentence must weigh the totality of the circumstances, including whether there was any deviation from the sentencing guidelines. A court may deem a sentence substantively unreasonable if it was based on impermissible factors, if the sentencing court failed to weigh appropriate factors, or if it was selected arbitrarily. The appellate court in the subject case noted, however, that a matter will only be remanded for re-sentencing in cases in which the court is left with a firm and clear conviction that the sentencing court committed a definite error in judgment in evaluating the relevant factors, which resulted in a sentence that lies outside of the scope of reasonable sentences as dictated by the facts of the case. Continue Reading ›

A domestic violence conviction can dramatically impact a person’s liberties and reputation. Therefore, in some instances, a person convicted of a domestic violence crime may seek post-conviction relief, such as asking for a plea to be vacated. In a recent Florida opinion, a court explained the procedure for filing a motion to vacate in a matter in which the defendant sought to set aside her guilty plea to battery of her 72-year-old mother. If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is in your best interest to speak to a knowledgeable Tampa domestic violence defense attorney regarding your rights.

The History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with committing a crime of domestic violence against her mother in 2014. She entered a guilty plea to a lesser included charge of battery. She then spent five years trying to seal her criminal record but was unsuccessful. Subsequently, she filed a motion to set aside her plea, arguing that her attorney provided her inaccurate information regarding her ability to have her record sealed, which rendered her plea involuntary. The court granted her motion, and the State appealed, arguing that the defendant’s motion was time-barred. The appellate court agreed, reversing the lower court ruling.

Filing a Motion to Vacate in Florida

Under Florida law, a party has two years from the entry of a final judgment and sentence to file a motion to vacate. There is an exception, though, in cases in which the facts that form the basis of the motion were not available to the moving party and could not have been discovered by exercising due diligence. In such instances, the moving party must file his or her motion within two years of when the new information is discovered or reasonably would have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

In the subject case, the court explained that a public criminal record is a natural consequence of a criminal conviction. Thus, the defendant should have been aware of the legal impact of her guilty plea at the time she entered it. Further, the court found that the fact that the defendant was not eligible to have her records sealed pursuant to the relevant statutory law did not toll the statute of limitations, as this information was readily discoverable at the time the plea was made as well. Instead, the defendant waited over three years after her sentence was final to move to set it aside. Thus, the court reversed the trial court ruling. Continue Reading ›

The coronavirus spread rapidly through many prisons, causing extreme illness, death, and fear of lasting health concerns. Thus, many inmates with concerning health issues have sought modifications of their sentences under the CARES Act and other federal statutes, but such requests are not readily granted. Recently, a Florida court issued an opinion explaining the grounds for reducing or changing a sentence in light of the pandemic in a case in which the petitioner was imprisoned for multiple theft crimes. If you are accused of stealing property or any other crime, it is advisable to confer with a skilled Tampa theft defense attorney to discuss your options.

The Defendant’s Petition

It is reported that the defendant was convicted of possessing unauthorized access devices and aggravated theft in violation of federal law and sentenced to thirty months imprisonment followed by three years of probation. He was housed at a federal prison. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the defendant petitioned the court for a modification of his sentence. Specifically, he requested a release to home confinement under the CARES Act or a compassionate release under federal law. Upon review, the court denied his petition.

Reductions and Modifications of Sentences

Typically, a court cannot change a term of imprisonment after it has been imposed. In other words, district courts have no inherent authority to alter a prison sentence and can only do so when permitted by statute or rule. The defendant first requested a modification of his sentence to home release pursuant to the CARES Act. The court noted, however, it lacked the authority to grant this relief.

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Many crimes, including theft, contain an element of intent. In other words, the State must show that a defendant charged with an intent crime possessed the required mental state at the time the offense was committed; otherwise, the defendant should not be convicted. The evidence needed to demonstrate intent in a case in which a defendant is charged with theft was the topic of a recent Florida opinion, in a matter in which the defendant appealed his convictions for numerous crimes. If you are accused of theft or any other offense, it is in your best interest to talk to a knowledgeable Tampa theft defense attorney regarding your rights.

The Alleged Crimes

It is reported that on the night of the Super Bowl in 2017, the defendant, a friend, and the victim went to the victim’s house to search for ammunition and guns. They discussed seeking revenge on another person who burglarized the defendant’s. The following night, the victim was sitting outside when he heard gunshots. He then saw individuals get into the friend’s car. The car was later stopped by the police, and the defendant fell out of the backseat, reporting he had been shot.

Allegedly, the defendant’s blood and belongings were found inside of a car that had been stolen and abandoned on the highway. Surveillance video later revealed that three individuals were shot and killed in the victim’s backyard, including the person that the defendant sought revenge against, and the defendant’s car was parked nearby. The defendant was charged with and convicted of multiple homicide crimes and grand theft auto. During the trial, he moved for acquittal on the theft charge, but the court denied his motion. He appealed, arguing in part that the State did not prove he required the specific intent needed to commit theft.

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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.

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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.

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