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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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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.

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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.

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