Articles Posted in Criminal Process

In many cases in which the police are investigating a person for a crime, they try to gather as much evidence implying the individual’s guilt as possible. The police must abide by the confines of the law, however, and cannot overstep their boundaries, or it will constitute a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. For example, people generally have the right to deny the police access to their phone and online records, and if the police ask a person to turn over their electronic devices without a warrant, it may constitute an unreasonable search and seizure. If you were investigated for a criminal offense and asked to produce your phone, it is important to know how to protect your rights, and you should speak to a trusted Tampa criminal defense lawyer about your options.

Can the Police Force You to Turn Over Your Phone and Online Records?

Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 12 of the Constitution of the State of Florida, people have the right to be free from searches and seizures that are unreasonable. The courts have interpreted these provisions to mean, in part, that the police generally cannot conduct a search or take someone’s property without a warrant. In other words, they typically are not permitted to force people to hand over their phones or allow the police to search their computer records unless the police have a valid warrant.

Further, under Florida law, the police must demonstrate probable cause to obtain a warrant to conduct a search. This means that they must show that when presented with the information in the officer’s possession, a reasonable person would determine that a crime has been committed and that the individual the warrant pertains to committed the offense. Put another way, a police officer must offer factual evidence indicating he or she harbors a rational belief the defendant broke the law. 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 ›

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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