Articles Posted in Defenses

behind barsIn order for a defendant to be able to stand trial, they need to be competent. Competency has many definitions, but for the purposes of Florida criminal law it is specifically defined in the statute. There is also a body of case law that has developed around competency and when a competency hearing is needed. If you are charged with a crime, your skilled Florida criminal defense attorney will help to make sure the state adequately proves your competency to stand trial.

Competency Definition

Defendants need to be competent to stand trial. Generally, competency requires that a defendant be able to understand the purpose and nature of the charges and legal proceedings against them. Defendants also need to be able to assist their counsel with their defense. Generally, the defendant needs to be aware that they are facing potential jail time or other consequences and that the state is trying to prove a case against them. A defendant must also be able to understand that their attorney is there to help them defend themselves against the charges. They must also have some understanding of the expectations for behavior in court, such as not yelling at the judge. Just having mental illness is not nearly enough to be found incompetent to stand trial; the defendant needs to have no meaningful understanding of what is happening.

conspiracy“Innocent until proven guilty” is one of the foundations of our criminal justice system. It is not just an expression, but a requirement that the state have enough evidence against defendants to sufficiently prove whatever is alleged. Therefore, in order to convict someone for a crime, the state must prove all of the elements of the crime. If there is not sufficient evidence of one or more elements of the crime then the charge (or conviction if it’s an appeal) should be thrown out. In a case heard by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, a defendant’s conviction for conspiracy was thrown out after the appeals court held that there was not sufficient evidence as to one of the elements of the crime. A skilled Tampa drug crimes defense attorney may be able to help you to get charges thrown out if the state does not meet their burden of proof as to all the elements of the crime.

Conspiracy in Florida

In order to prove that a conspiracy has been committed, Florida law requires the state to show that there was an agreement to commit an offense. In this instance, the state presented evidence to show that the defendant’s boyfriend met with a criminal informant to sell him cocaine. He had apparently sold small amounts of the drug to the informant in the past, but this time was planning to sell a larger amount. They planned to meet in the parking lot of a shopping center. The defendant testified that her boyfriend came to her house and asked her to drive him to the store in his car.

The U.S. Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. If evidence was gained by the police through illegal means, that evidence can be suppressed. Suppression means that the evidence cannot be presented in court. If evidence that should have been suppressed is presented, and there is a conviction, that conviction can be overturned. There are many possible ways that a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can try to get evidence against you suppressed.Legal News Gavel

Warrants and Searches

When a search warrant is issued, it will have a description of the specific places that are allowed to be searched. In this case, the warrant permitted the police to search three motel rooms, any people who were believed to be involved in the crime, the curtilage, and any vehicles located in the curtilage. The SWAT team came in to perform the search. During the search, they saw the defendant leave one of the hotel rooms and walk to his car, which was parked a few feet away in the parking lot of the motel. He got into his car, and as he tried to leave, he was stopped by law enforcement, blocking him in. Then he got out of his car and lay on the ground. The officer searched his car and found drugs.

Legal News GavelPolice officers must have reasonable suspicion to believe that you’re committing a crime in order to stop your car on the road. They need to have probable cause—a higher bar—to actually search the car. These are two important protections for anyone suspected of or charged with a Florida crime. But, as the state’s Third District Court of Appeal recently pointed out, there are many ways in which the cops can legally stop your car and search it.

Defendant was charged with possession with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver a controlled substance after a police officer found Xanax pills in Defendant’s car. The officer, who was in an unmarked car investigating unrelated crimes in the area, said he originally pulled Defendant over because he noticed part of Defendant’s license plate was obscured. A metal frame was blocking “MyFlorida.com” from the top portion of the license plate and “Sunshine State” from the bottom portion. The officer said he searched the car because he smelled marijuana inside.

A trial judge agreed with Defendant that the search was illegal. As a result, the judge granted Defendant’s request to suppress all of the evidence gained during the stop, including the Xanax pills. The Third District reversed that decision on appeal, however, finding that state law gave the officer the right to pull Defendant’s car over.

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If a police officer wants to stop you on the street, he or she has to have a reasonable suspicion to believe that you have committed or are committing a crime. A recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals involving an alleged Tampa burglary crime is a good example of just how seriously judges take that requirement.

Legal News GavelThe case stemmed from an incident on the University of South Florida campus. A man testified that he was driving near the campus when he noticed two people fighting. He said he observed a young man in a white tank top and jeans on a bicycle trying to get away from a young woman pulling on his tank top and yelling “he stole my phone.” The man on the bike swung his arms at the woman and was able to shake her off and get away.

A USF police officer later responded to the scene and said she noticed three suspects on bikes in the area. She said one of the suspects was wearing a white tank top and shorts. The officer flashed her vehicle’s police lights and yelled “stop, police,” but the man in the tank top fled the scene. A Tampa police officer later apprehended a person whom the court called “B.M.” in a shed in a residential backyard. The USF officer identified B.M. as the person who had fled. He was charged with resisting an officer and burglary. The officers did not recover the missing phone. B.M. was eventually convicted on both charges and sentenced to juvenile probation.

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Legal News GavelFlorida’s Stand Your Ground law gives criminal defendants immunity against prosecution if they meet the following three elements:  the use of deadly force was (i) reasonable because deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to the defendant or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony; (ii) used while the defendant was not engaged in a criminal activity; and (iii) used in a place where the defendant had a right to be. A recent Florida gun crime case, decided on November 15, 2017, considered the second element, whether the defendant was engaged in a criminal activity at the time the alleged self-defense occurred.

The defendant testified at an evidentiary motion to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against him that on the day of the shooting, he took a few hundred dollars out of his pocket when the eventual victim told him that she shouldn’t walk around with that amount of cash because of the reputation of the neighborhood. The defendant informed the eventual victim that he had “protection.” The defendant then continued talking with his friends. The defendant was then attacked from behind and hit on the left side of his face and knocked up against a car. The eventual victim reached for the defendant’s side and made contact with the defendant’s gun. The defendant then grabbed his gun and pulled the trigger. The victim did not fall to the ground. They both ran in different directions, although the victim eventually died of his gunshot wounds.

The defendant presented evidence at a pre-trial hearing that corroborated his account of the event. The trial court ruled that as a result, the defendant was entitled to immunity and dismissed the second-degree murder charge against the defendant. The State appealed because the court did not discuss in the written order whether the defendant was engaged in a criminal activity at the time of the shooting, even though both the prosecutor and defense counsel argued this issue at the hearing.

In criminal trials, the jury is asked to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Jury instructions help the jurors make their decision within the framework of existing laws, and the criminal defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed in his or her theory of defense, assuming there is evidence to support this theory. A failure to properly instruct the jury may constitute a reversible error in a Florida theft crime case.

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The defendant and the alleged victim were neighbors in a four-unit duplex, where they shared a backyard area. One night, their dogs fought in the shared backyard, which led to a fight between the defendant and his neighbor. Although there was differing testimony as to what actually occurred, the defendant argued that his neighbor hit him, so he hit the neighbor in self-defense. The fight started in the neighbor’s doorway, and the defendant said that in the course of the fight, he somehow ended up inside the neighbor’s apartment. The defendant was charged with burglary and misdemeanor battery as a result of the altercation. During the jury charge conference, the defendant’s attorney requested that the jury receive a special instruction that self-defense was an available defense to the burglary charge, just as it was a defense to the battery charge. The trial court declined to give this instruction, and following his conviction, the defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling.

The appeals court considered whether the trial court committed a reversible error by ruling that self-defense was not an available defense for the burglary charge. The appeals court noted that the facts of the case suggested that the charges of battery and burglary were inextricably linked and almost functioned as a single charge. In other words, the defendant’s theory was that the burglary and the battery were part of the same encounter with his neighbor. His self-defense claim started outside the neighbor’s apartment and continued unabated when the fighting traveled into the neighbor’s apartment, according to court documents.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants protections against illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement. When an alleged Fourth Amendment violation occurs, the criminal defendant can file a motion to suppress. If the court grants the motion to suppress, the evidence seized in the course of the illegal search is excluded from trial. Florida’s First District Court of Appeals recently considered a defendant’s appeal of a motion to suppress in a Florida cocaine case.

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The arresting officer testified that he reported to the site of a possible car accident. When he arrived, the defendant was standing next to a vehicle. He concluded that the vehicle’s damage was preexisting but noted that the defendant appeared very intoxicated, although he did not conduct any field sobriety tests. The officer told the defendant that if he saw her driving, he would arrest her. The defendant went inside a nightclub, and the police officer parked across the street to observe whether the plaintiff tried to drive her own vehicle. The police officer was dispatched to another call, but he returned to the nightclub immediately afterwards. As he arrived, the defendant was leaving in her vehicle. He followed the defendant, and although he did not observe her break any traffic laws or drive erratically, he concluded that she was almost certainly still intoxicated.

Upon stopping the appellant, the officer observed that the appellant was still extremely intoxicated, had slurred speech, had red and glassy eyes, and emitted a strong odor of alcohol. He asked her to perform field sobriety exercises, which she refused. He then placed her under arrest for DUI. The appellant refused to take a breath test. In a search incident to the arrest, a baggy of cocaine and a straw were recovered from the appellant’s pocket.

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Legal News GavelThe U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama held that the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits sentencing guidelines that require life imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders. In response, the Florida legislature passed a new set of guidelines for sentencing people convicted of Florida juvenile crimes. The guidelines ensure that juveniles have any long-term sentences reviewed by a judicial body.

Under the new framework, the status of an offender as either an adult or a juvenile at the time the crime was committed is a crucial threshold question. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals recently remanded a case to determine whether the defendant was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed.

The defendant appealed his conviction because there were discrepancies in his age. The defendant’s arrest affidavit showed his date of birth as December 3, 1963. However, the Florida Department of Corrections listed his date of birth as December 3, 1962. The offenses for the defendant’s crimes ranged from March to May 1981. The appeals court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the defendant’s correct date of birth. If the defendant was born in 1963, the defendant could be eligible for relief under the Florida Supreme Court decision in Atwell v. Florida.

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Legal News GavelThe Florida legislature recently passed an expanded version of Florida Statute section 776.032, or as it’s more commonly known, the Florida stand-your-ground law. The revised law shifts the burden of proof from the defendant, asserting the stand-your-ground defense, to the prosecution. Specifically, when a defendant raises a stand-your-ground defense, the prosecution is required to rebut the defendant’s prima facie immunity claim by clear and convincing evidence. Traditionally, the defendant is required to prove the elements of the affirmative defense as opposed to merely stating a prima facie claim.

This new law went into effect in June, so a Tampa murder trial related to the death of a former University of South Florida football player is one of the first to apply the new law.

The defendant was charged with murder after a fight broke out in the early morning hours outside a nightclub in Ybor City. He is accused of stabbing an ex-USF player to death with a knife during the altercation. He made his prima facie case for self-defense primarily based on the fact that the ex-USF player was physically larger than him. In fact, the ex-USF player was eight inches taller and 150 pounds heavier than the defendant.

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