Articles Posted in Defenses

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 ›

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 ›

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.

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Florida has some of the toughest drug laws in the entire country. If you are arrested for drug possession in our state, you could be looking at serious criminal penalties—potentially including a lengthy prison sentence. 

Did you know that you can be charged with and convicted of drug possession even if a controlled substance is never actually discovered in your hands or on your person? 

It is called “constructive possession”—and it occurs when someone maintains control over a banned substance without having it within their physical grasp. 

In most criminal cases, whether a defendant is convicted or found innocent depends on the sufficiency of the evidence presented by both parties. If you are charged with a crime, it is important that any evidence that may be helpful to your defense be presented at your trial. Evidence is not always concrete but includes testimony from any eyewitnesses who have information regarding the alleged crime.

While it is not necessary to present duplicative testimony, as illustrated in a recent Florida Court of Appeals case, Martin v. Florida, if a defense attorney fails to call a beneficial witness due to the fact that some testimony may be cumulative, it can be fatal to a defendant’s case and may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel. If you face criminal charges, it is essential to retain a proficient Tampa criminal defense attorney who will gather any evidence that may help you to obtain a favorable result.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

Allegedly, the police responded to a call that methamphetamines were being sold out of the defendant’s house. There were five people in the house when the police arrived, including the defendant and two women. The first woman locked herself in the bathroom when the police arrived. The defendant permitted the police to begin searching the house while they obtained a warrant. After the police obtained the warrant, the woman left the bathroom and the police found a bag of methamphetamines in the trash can. Consequently, the defendant was charged with drug trafficking.

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In 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.

“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.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.

The question raised on this appeal was whether the search was legal. In other words, was the defendant’s car located in a place that was covered by the warrant? The answer rested on the definition of curtilage. If the defendant’s car was parked in the “curtilage,” the search was legal. If it was not part of the curtilage, the search was illegal and should be suppressed.

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