Articles Posted in Violent Crime

In the United States, criminal defendants do have the right to defend themselves. However, a United State Supreme Court case called Faretta clarified that a defendant’s waiver of counsel is only valid as long as it is knowingly and intelligently made. Essentially, a defendant needs to be competent enough to understand the ramifications of their actions. While defendants do have the right to represent themselves, it is generally a bad idea. That’s why defendants should always contact a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as they are arrested.

General Competency

Whether a defendant is represented by counsel or representing themselves, they need to be competent in order to stand trial. This is different than an insanity defense. Competency refers to the defendant’s mental state at trial. They need to be competent enough to understand the nature of the proceedings against them and meaningfully assist in their own defense.

In a case heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, the defendant represented himself at trial after dismissing two different attorneys. Before the trial began, the defendant was determined to be incompetent to stand trial. However, after a period of hospitalization without medication, he was deemed competent enough to stand trial. At several points throughout the trial the court did a Faretta inquiry and each time the defendant was found competent to stand trial and represent himself.

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In order to stand trial, the defendant must be competent. The bar for competency is pretty low in a criminal proceeding, however. The defendant needs to be able to have enough rational understanding to be able to aid their lawyer in their own defense, and they must have a rational or factual understanding of the proceedings against him. Keep in mind that this is different from using an “insanity defense.” Competency has to do with the defendant’s mental state at trial, while an insanity defense relates to the defendant’s mental state during the commission of the crime. The law can be complicated, but your experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you understand how the law applies in your case.

Stipulation to Competency

In a case recently heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, the court addressed when it’s allowable for the defendant’s attorney to stipulate to the defendant’s competency. In the case at issue, the defendant was originally charged with second degree murder and two counts of dealing in stolen property. The trial court appointed an expert to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial. At the hearing, the judge stated that they had the competency report in the file and it said the defendant was competent. The defense attorney then offered to stipulate to competency. A stipulation means that they agreed to the determination. Thus, the court found the defendant competent.

Most of the time, when a defendant pleads guilty, they are unable to later take back their plea and decide to go to trial. However, there are some circumstances when Florida law will allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea that they have already given and allow the defendant to have a trial. One of those circumstances is when new evidence is discovered. However, in order to get a new trial on the basis of new evidence, the case must meet specific requirements. Your skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney can tell you whether your case meets these circumstances.

Trial Due to Newly Discovered Evidence

Typically, defendants will plead guilty only when they believe that they do not have much of a chance of being found not guilty when the case goes to trial. In other words, defendants make these decisions based in large part on the evidence that the state has against them. So when new exculpatory evidence arises, some defendants may want to take back their guilty plea and go to trial. Florida has developed case law that explains in what circumstances the court will allow defendants to do this.

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.

Many states, including Florida, have special laws about assaults on emergency medical care providers. If an emergency medical care provider is battered while working in their capacity as a health care provider, then what would normally be a first degree misdemeanor becomes a third degree felony. The specifics of the statute are discussed below. If you are accused of this or any other criminal charges, it is crucial that you contact a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you develop a defense strategy.

The Statute

Section 784.07 of the Florida Statutes defines what is required for a conviction for battery on an emergency care provider. Specifically, it is defined as when one person intentionally strikes another person against their will, and the person who was hit was “engaged in the lawful performance of her duties” as an emergency medical care provider.

Witness testimony can make or break a criminal case, whether it’s jay walking or manslaughter. In a recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, the court looked at a supposed jailhouse confession that seemed to exonerate a man who had already been convicted of murder.The defendant was convicted for his alleged role in the killing of another man in Polk County. The victim was staying with his girlfriend and her family in November 2012 when he disappeared. The victim, who left the home after an argument with his girlfriend, was found dead in a nearby orange grove. He had a headshot wound in the back of the head, but police officers did not find a gun and weren’t able to recover any fingerprints from the site.

The defendant was later charged with the murder. Prosecutors alleged that he killed the victim with the help of the brother of the victim’s girlfriend. A friend of the victim, who was involved in a marijuana dealing operation with him, testified that the defendant told him that the defendant and the brother committed the murder.

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Florida law is often strict when it comes to doling out punishments for crimes, even when the person charged is a juvenile. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has established some limits on harsh sentencing for people under the age of 18, states still have a lot of leeway to put juveniles behind bars for long stretches of time. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained that judges have the power to impose mandatory minimum sentences on juvenile offenders.Mr. Young was 17 years old when he was charged with armed robbery, a Florida gun crime that’s punishable by up to life in prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, the mandatory minimum punishment under state law. Young later appealed the sentence, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Young’s attorneys told the court that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars the state from imposing mandatory minimum sentences. That’s because those sentences don’t allow judges to consider individual circumstances or to take into account that juveniles may have more capacity for reform, they said.

The Fifth District disagreed. “The court clearly allowed for the consideration of Young’s age in fashioning its sentence, as evidenced by Young receiving the lowest permissible sentence for his crime,” the court said. “Although we acknowledge that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence required here does limit, to some extent, the discretion of a trial court in sentencing a juvenile offender, we do not view this modest limitation as a constitutional infirmity.”

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At trial, the prosecution is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the elements of the crime charged against the defendant. A Fourth District Court of Appeals decision, J.S., a Child v. State of Florida, analyzed whether the prosecution had met its burden of proof in convicting a juvenile of a Florida assault crime.

In the early morning hours, the victim went outside to investigate a noise. He saw one of the trucks that was part of his auto-repair business being touched by the defendant. As the victim approached the truck, he saw a second person at another vehicle. The burglar approached, and the victim pulled out his concealed handgun, which scared off one of the burglars. He approached the defendant, who was lying on the ground and appeared to be moving his hand toward something. The victim removed what appeared to be a pellet gun from the defendant’s waist. He held the defendant on the ground at gun point until the police arrived.

The defendant was charged with burglary with assault or battery while armed. The trial court found the defendant delinquent on the charge. The juvenile defendant appealed and argued that the conviction of burglary of conveyance with assault while armed should be reversed.

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Florida’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 a recent Tampa gun crime case, a woman and her son met who they thought were potential buyers of their vehicle in a Tampa-area parking lot. The plan was to meet in person and negotiate the car transaction with the two prospective buyers, two teenagers. When everyone arrived at the designated location, the teens pulled firearms and demanded that her son give up the keys to the vehicle. The mother gave up the keys, but as they were driving away, she fired a shot that hit one of the teenagers. He was later pronounced dead from the gunshot wound at the hospital.The surviving teen is being charged with second-degree murder and armed robbery. Under Florida felony murder laws, the alleged carjacker, as a co-conspirator, can be charged under the felony murder statute, if he participated in a felony and another person died in the commission of the felony.

Under these circumstances, the prosecution might allege that the driver of the vehicle was in the act of committing armed robbery when he was driving away and his co-conspirator was killed. The felony murder statute applies when another “human being is killed” and does not require that the person who died not be a co-conspirator.

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