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Importance of Jury Instructions in Criminal Trials

Typically, jurors possess only a vague understanding of what acts constitute a particular crime. Thus, in Florida criminal cases, the court will provide the jury with instructions regarding what factual elements the State must prove in order for the defendant to be found guilty. If a court fails to properly instruct a jury, though, the defendant may be unjustly convicted and may have grounds to seek a reversal of the conviction via an appeal. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with burglary, and the court failed to provide the jury with the standard instruction for that offense. If you are accused of burglary or any other theft crime, it is advisable to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa theft crime defense attorney to evaluate what defenses you may be able to assert.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that a woman who was in the process of moving took several trips through her home and out to her car during the day. On one of her trips, she noticed the defendant standing in her kitchen in front of an open drawer that previously had been closed. The defendant stated he needed help and gave a rambling speech that lasted close to an hour, after which he left. The woman called the police, and the defendant was arrested and charged with burglary.

It is alleged that at the trial of the matter, defense counsel requested that the court provide the jury with the standard instruction regarding a burglary. The trial judge declined to do so, however, due to his belief that the instruction did not make sense. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in failing to provide the jury with the standard instruction.

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The most severe punishment a criminal defendant may face in Florida is the death penalty. Recent changes in Florida law, though, make it more difficult for a criminal defendant to be sentenced to death. In a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with murder, the court discussed the status of the current and past requirements for sentencing a defendant to the death penalty. If you are charged with murder or another violent offense, it is in your best interest to engage an aggressive Tampa violent crime defense attorney to develop a strategy for fighting to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant broke into a home in 1984, assaulted a teenage girl that was babysitting in the home, and stabbed her to death. Five days later, he murdered another victim in a substantially similar matter. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for each crime. Due to recent changes in the law, the defendant filed a motion to vacate his sentences on the grounds they were unlawful. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant then filed an appeal. Upon review, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Death Penalty Sentences Under Florida Law

With regard to the sentence for the second crime, the court found that it was lawful under the sentencing scheme in effect at the time, and case law held that the intervening change in the law was not to be applied retroactively. As such, that sentence was affirmed. Regarding the second sentence, which due to appeals, was imposed much later, the court noted that the Supreme Court of Florida found the prior sentencing scheme to be unconstitutional because it allowed the judge issuing a sentence to find that an aggravating circumstance existed, which is necessary for the imposition of a death sentence, without a jury’s determination of fact.

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Probable Cause for an Involuntarily Commitment Hearing

In many instances, a person convicted of a sex crime in Florida may be involuntarily committed pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act (the Act). Individuals committed under the Act are subject to a yearly review of their status, though, to determine if there is evidence demonstrating that their condition has changed so that they no longer present a threat to society and can safely be released. In a recent case in which the defendant was involuntarily committed following a conviction for attempted sexual battery, a Florida court discussed what constitutes probable cause to warrant a hearing to assess whether a defendant’s condition has changed. If you are charged with an offense that is sexual in nature, it is advisable to confer with an assertive Tampa sex crime defense attorney to determine your options for seeking a favorable result under the circumstances.

Factual History

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of exposure of his sexual organs and attempted sexual battery in 1999. He was convicted and, after serving nine months of his sentence, was involuntarily committed pursuant to the Act. In 2018, during the defendant’s annual review, the defendant produced two expert reports that stated that the defendant had made significant progress in the program for sex offenders that he participated in and no longer needed to be committed. The State produced a conflicting report, however, that opined that the defendant was unable or unwilling to control his sexual preoccupations and that if he was released, he was likely to commit crimes. The court ultimately found that there was not probable cause to believe that the defendant’s condition had changed so that it was now safe for him to be among the public. As such, the court declined to set the matter for trial. The defendant appealed.

Probable Cause to Warrant a Hearing on a Defendant’s Changed Condition

A person that is committed against his or her will under the Act has the right to an annual review. Specifically, the Act provides for a limited hearing to evaluate whether there is probable cause to believe that the person’s condition has changed to such a degree that the person no longer poses a threat to society and will not engage in acts of sexual violence if he or she is discharged.

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Prostitution is illegal in Florida and many other states, as is the solicitation of a prostitute. Thus, the police will often investigate a massage parlor for suspicion of prostitution crimes based on information gleaned from the internet. It can be difficult for the police to obtain evidence sufficient to press charges or obtain a conviction, however. As such, they may seek to install surveillance cameras. In a recent Florida case involving numerous prostitution charges, the court assessed whether footage from hidden surveillance cameras should be suppressed. If you are charged with prostitution or any other sex crime, it is critical to retain a skillful Tampa sex crime defense attorney to help you seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that police officers suspected that illegal sex acts were occurring at three separate massage parlors in Florida. As such, each police department independently obtained a warrant to install hidden cameras to record activity in the areas where the massages occurred, which is where it was suspected the illicit activity took place. The footage revealed that workers in the parlors and men visiting the parlors were engaged in prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. As such, numerous charges were filed. The defendants then filed motions to suppress the surveillance footage. The trial courts granted the motions, and the State appealed. The cases were then consolidated for appeal.

Grounds for Suppressing Surveillance Footage

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court rulings, finding that the surveillance constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. Specifically, the appellate court affirmed that the warrants lacked adequate minimalization procedures. The appellate court explained that an order permitting video surveillance should not be issued unless there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, the order particularly describes the place to be searched, and the order is sufficiently precise so that it minimizes the recording of activities that are not related to the crimes being investigated.

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In many instances in which a defendant is charged with a sex crime, the court will instruct the jury not only as to the elements of the charged offense but also as to the elements of a lesser included offense. Thus, it is not uncommon for a jury to find that while the defendant is guilty, it is of a lesser charge rather than the offense the defendant is accused of committing. A criminal defendant does not have an automatic right to a jury instruction regarding a lesser included offense, however, as demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was charged with multiple sex crimes. If you are accused of committing a sex crime in Tampa, it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable Tampa sex crime defense attorney to assess your options for seeking a favorable outcome in consideration of the facts of your case.

Facts and History of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious exhibition, and three counts of sexual battery, two of which were allegedly committed against a victim that was less than twelve years old, which constituted capital battery. During the trial, the victim testified that the first incident of abuse occurred when she was nine years old, and the second act of abuse occurred when she was eleven. The defendant requested that the court instruct the jury that sexual battery was a lesser included offense of capital sexual battery. The court denied the request, stating that it was illogical based on the fact that it was undisputed that the victim was under twelve when the abuse occurred. The defendant was found guilty of all charges, after which he appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury regarding a lesser included offense.

When Jury Instructions Regarding Lesser Included Offenses Are Appropriate

Under Florida law, a trial court is obligated to provide the jury with a requested instruction on a necessarily lesser included offense, but only if the judge determines that the offense is a necessarily lesser included offense. While sexual battery is included in the schedule of lesser included offenses, a court may nonetheless contest the legal correctness of instructing a jury on the elements of sexual battery.

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In some instances in which a criminal defendant suffering from a mental health condition is convicted of a sex crime, rather than sentencing the defendant to incarceration, the court will involuntarily commit the defendant. A defendant that is involuntarily committed is entitled to a yearly mental health evaluation, though, and if the court finds that a defendant should be released, the involuntary commitment will end. The grounds for ending an involuntary commitment were recently discussed in a Florida case in which an appellate court overturned the lower court ruling. If you suffer from a mental health condition and are charged with a sex crime, it is wise to consult a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense attorney to discuss whether you may be able to avoid a conviction.

Facts and Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous counts of sexual battery and rape. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted and deemed a sexually violent predator. It was determined that the defendant was suffering from a mental health condition as well. Thus, he was involuntarily committed under the Florida Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act (the Act). The defendant appealed his involuntary commitment, which was affirmed by the appellate court. Pursuant to the Act, the defendant underwent an annual review of his mental health in 2019.

Allegedly, at a limited probable cause hearing, the defendant’s expert testified that it was safe to release the defendant and that he was not likely to commit acts of sexual violence. At a subsequent non-jury trial, the State’s witness testified that she examined the defendant on numerous occasions and that his mental condition had changed, and he no longer posed a risk of sexual violence. The court nonetheless continued the defendant’s commitment, finding that his condition had not changed. Thus, the defendant appealed.

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Many criminal convictions result in sentences that include probation. While a person is not incarcerated during a probationary period, he or she must nonetheless comply with the terms of probation, and a person who willfully violates the terms of his or her probation may be sentenced to imprisonment. Recently, a Florida court discussed what evidence the State may introduce to show a willful violation of probation. If you live in Tampa and are accused of a probation violation or a crime, it is in your best interest to meet with a skillful Tampa probation violation defense attorney to discuss your options.

Factual History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was convicted of multiple sex crimes for which he was sentenced to five years in prison, followed by ten years of sexual offender probation. His probationary period began in 2013. In 2014, the defendant’s probation officer filed a notification of a technical violation due to the defendant’s failure to take a polygraph test, but no affidavit of a violation of probation was filed. In 2015, a violation of probation violation was filed, but the defendant was found not guilty, and in 2018 the defendant was found to have violated the terms of his probation, after which his probation was reinstated.

Allegedly, in 2019 the defendant’s probation officer submitted an affidavit of violation of probation due to the fact that the defendant missed his curfew. The defendant denied that he committed a willful violation, but following a hearing, the defendant was found guilty of a violation. He was sentenced to concurrent fifteen-year prison terms, after which he appealed, arguing that the court violated his rights during the hearing and sentencing process.

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It is well-known that a person cannot be forced to make incriminating statements and that people who are taken into police custody must be advised of their Miranda rights before they are interrogated. It is not always clear, however, when a person is considered to be in the custody of the police or when the need for Miranda warnings arises due to interrogation, as discussed in a recent Florida sex crime case in which the State appealed the trial court’s order granting a defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating statements. If you are a resident of Tampa and were recently charged with a sex crime, it is advisable to contact a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense attorney regarding your options for protecting your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous sex crimes. Prior to trial, he filed a motion to suppress statements he made to detectives during an interview and written statements after the interview that contained an apology and a suicide note. During the interview, the defendant admitted to masturbating in front of the minor victim. In his motion, the defendant alleged that while the beginning of the interview may not have constituted a custodial interrogation, the latter portion of the interview was custodial in nature and that he was not given the required Miranda warnings. Further, the defendant argued that his written statements were unreliable. The trial court ruled that the defendant was interrogated and that the interrogation became custodial, and therefore Miranda warnings should have been administered. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The State subsequently appealed.

What Constitutes Custodial Interrogation

Under Florida law, interrogation happens when a state agent engages in actions or asks a person questions that a reasonable individual would believe are intended to elicit an incriminating response. Miranda warnings are required when an interrogation becomes custodial. In other words, they must be administered when a person who is both under interrogation and in custody is being questioned. If Miranda warnings are not administered, statements made during a custodial interrogation will be precluded at trial.

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In Florida, drivers suspected of intoxicated driving have a legal duty to submit to a breath test. Should you violate this obligation, you could lose your license. Indeed, a DUI refusal can lead to immediate penalties—even if you are not actually intoxicated. In this article, our Tampa DUI defense attorney explains the most important things you need to know about Florida law and breathalyzer refusals.

Implied Consent in Florida: Breathalyzer Tests

As a starting point, all drivers should know that Florida has an implied consent law on its books (Florida Statutes § 316.1939). Any person who operates a motor vehicle in the state has, by law, already consented to submit to a breathalyzer test if they are arrested for drunk driving. If you refuse to submit to the test, you will be subject to an immediate license suspension. 

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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. 

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