Articles Posted in Violent Crime

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.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 appeals court concluded that the prosecution failed to meet its burden in showing that its failure to properly instruct the jury on self-defense for the burglary was a harmless error. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to instruct the jury as to self-defense on the battery and burglary charges, as the defendant had requested.

Prosecutors are tasked with proving a defendant’s criminal intent for certain crimes. Often, Florida violent crimes with an intent component also carry a harsher sentence. For instance, aggravated battery requires proof of a specific intent to cause great bodily harm, whereas felony battery does not. In a recent Florida appeals court decision, the court upheld the jury’s finding of aggravated battery because the evidence showed an intent to not only strike a bar owner but severely injure him as well.

Late at night, the defendant arrived at a South Beach bar and began harassing a female bar patron. After the woman complained about the defendant’s behavior, the bar manager spoke to the defendant, who agreed to stop harassing the female patron. The defendant did not stop, however, and a security guard escorted the defendant outside. The defendant became enraged; he spit in the security guard’s face, stated that he would not leave, and threatened to kill the bar manager and the security guard. The bar manager called law enforcement after the defendant was escorted from the bar. The bar manager then stepped outside and was punched in the head by the defendant. When the punch connected, it knocked the bar manager unconscious. The bar manager fell backwards and hit his head on the ground. Medical expert testimony at trial indicated that the bar manager suffered brain damage as a result of the punch.

The defendant appealed the aggravated battery conviction because he argued that he did not have the requisite intent as required under Florida law. Florida statute section 784.045 provides that “[a] person commits aggravated battery who, in committing battery . . . intentionally or knowingly causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.”

The 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.

Continue reading