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Many people who are charged with crimes want to fight to clear their names and prove they are not guilty. In some cases, though, it may be prudent for a person charged with a crime to consider accepting an offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt. While accepting a plea deal is often the best option, it is important for people contemplating entering into such agreements to understand the implications of their decision as well as their rights.  If you are charged with a crime, it is advisable to speak to a St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your options.

What is a Plea Deal in Florida?

A plea deal is essentially an agreement in which a criminal defendant agrees to enter a certain plea for which the prosecutor agrees to provide a benefit, which may be reduced charges or a lesser penalty. In other words, pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.171, prosecutors may negotiate with either criminal defendants, if they are not represented by counsel, or their attorneys if they are, to come to an agreement that, if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a certain charge or lesser offense, the prosecution will either abandon any other charges, agree to suggest or decline to oppose the defendant’s request for a specific sentence, agree to a certain sentence, or speak to the victim and other interested parties and inform the judge of their views.

Prosecutors have broad discretion over whether to offer defendants plea agreements and are not obligated to do so. Prosecutors do have an obligation to let the judge know the material facts of the case, including the defendant’s background, before the judge is also required to let the trial judge know about all material facts related to both the crime and the defendant’s background before the judge can accept a plea, however. Continue Reading ›

Florida, like many states, allows people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes but outlaws recreational use. In other words, people can still be charged for crimes for certain marijuana-related activities. Additionally, there is sometimes a stigma attached to the use of marijuana, regardless of whether it is for medicinal purposes. Thus, it is important for people in Florida who currently have or are considering seeking a medical marijuana card to understand their rights under the law. If you are accused of a marijuana offense, it is smart to meet with a capable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to determine what defenses you may be able to assert.

Can You Be Arrested for Using Marijuana if You Have a Medical Marijuana Card?

People authorized to consume medical marijuana must nonetheless abide by the laws regarding its use. For example, they cannot possess, use, or administer marijuana that was not obtained from a medical marijuana treatment center. Additionally, there are certain places that people cannot use marijuana, such as any form of public transportation or in any public place unless they are using low-THC cannabis that is not in a form intended for smoking. They also cannot use it on a school bus or vehicle, or school grounds. Finally, they cannot use it in indoor workplaces or a place of employment unless it is permitted by the employer.

Is Marijuana Use Permitted During Probation?

People who are placed on probation following convictions are typically prohibited from using illicit drugs. While recreational marijuana use is still not permitted for people on probation, those sentenced to probation can lawfully use marijuana if they have valid medical marijuana cards. Continue Reading ›

Florida, like most states, keeps track of people who have been convicted of sex crimes. As such, there are numerous criminal convictions that can require a person to register as a sex offender. Being forced to register as a sex offender can greatly impair a person’s ability to find employment, housing, and maintain relationships. Many people who are on the registry, therefore, contemplate whether it is possible to get their names permanently removed from the list. If you were convicted of a sex crime, it is advisable to speak with a knowledgeable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to explore what measures you can take to protect your rights.

Sex Offender Registry in Florida

The Florida Sex Offender Registry is a searchable public database that provides information regarding people who have been convicted of certain crimes. Specifically, it lists their names, date of birth, race, sex, hair and eye color, height, and weight. The registry also includes people’s occupations, including whether they have any professional licenses, notes, tattoos, or other identifying marks, and has a photograph of the person.

Pursuant to statutory law, people are required to register as sex offenders if they have been convicted for numerous crimes that are sexual in nature, including rape, sexual battery, child molestation and prostitution, lewd and lascivious offenses, like public exposure, and possession or distribution of child pornography. Even crimes that do not seem inherently sexual, like kidnapping and false imprisonment, may require a person to register as a sex offender. In many instances, people are not aware of the requirement to register as a sex offender if they are convicted of certain crimes and will unwittingly plead guilty and subsequently have to place their name on the list. Continue Reading ›

When a person is charged with a crime, the court will typically set one or more hearings that the individual must attend. Even if a person makes every effort to appear in court, mistakes sometimes happen, and a criminal defendant may fail to show up for a scheduled hearing. It is important for people who have missed court dates to understand the potential consequences of their actions and what measures they should take to mitigate the possible penalties. If you missed a scheduled criminal hearing, it is in your best interest to meet with a capable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to assess your options.

What to Do if You’ve Missed Your Court Date

First, it is prudent for anyone who has missed a court date to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Typically, the attorney will contact the court and attempt to diminish any negative ramifications that may arise out of the failure to appear. For example, if you were released on bond prior to the hearing, the bond may be forfeited, and you may have to pay additional fees to remain out of jail. In some instances, the bond may be revoked altogether, and you may be sentenced to pre-trial detention. The judge could also issue a bench warrant, which means that the police can arrest you and detain you in jail until your next hearing date.

Perhaps the most serious consequence you might face for the failure to appear for a court hearing is in additional charges outside of the offenses the hearing you missed was scheduled to address. Specifically, Florida Statute 843.15 provides that if you willfully fail to appear before a judge, you may be charged with a crime. If the underlying offense you are charged with is a felony, you will be charged with a felony of the third degree, while if the underlying charge was a misdemeanor, you will be charged with a misdemeanor of the first degree. You may also be held in contempt of court. Continue Reading ›

One of the initial questions many criminal defendants have is whether they will be released on bail prior to their criminal trials. If a defendant is detained prior to trial, it may not only result in a loss of liberties, but it may also greatly impact the defendant’s ability to participate in formulating a compelling defense. Thus, a defendant that is detained prior to trial may ask the court to reconsider its ruling, but such reversals are not easily obtained. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion in which the court recommended that the defendant’s pre-trial detention be sustained, in a matter where the defendant faced numerous gun crimes. If you are charged with a firearms offense, it is advisable to speak to a knowledgeable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney about your rights.

The History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with numerous gun crimes after he was observed in a crowded casino with a backpack containing loaded firearms. The defendant had an extensive criminal history that included numerous convictions for weapons offenses, theft, attempted robbery, and probation violations. Following his arrest, a pre-trial detention hearing was held, during which the court determined the defendant posed a danger to the community. Thus, an order of detention was issued. The defendant appealed, arguing the trial court erred in ordering pre-trial detention.

Grounds for Ordering Pre-Trial Detention

The court explained that if pre-trial detention is ordered by a magistrate judge or a person other than a court having original jurisdiction over the case, the defendant may file a motion with the court that has original jurisdiction, requesting a revocation and amendment of the order. In the subject case, the order was issued by a magistrate court. Thus the matter was filed with the district court. Continue Reading ›

Typically, when a person is convicted of a crime and sentenced to probation, the court will issue terms the person must comply with as part of his or her release. Thus, a defendant that violates one or more conditions of probation may face probation revocation. Recently, a Florida court issued an opinion discussing what is weighed in determining whether a violation of a condition of probation warrants revocation in a case in which the defendant on probation for aggravated battery was accused of violating numerous terms of his release. If you are accused of violating a probationary term, it is in your best interest to meet with a trusted St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney regarding your options.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with multiple crimes, including aggravated battery. He entered into a plea agreement that included sixty months of probation. In the first two years of his probation, the defendant was found to be in violation and was placed on community control. Another affidavit of violation was filed, alleging two additional violations of his community control, namely that he failed to remain in his residence and failed to complete a drug treatment program.

Allegedly, a hearing was held during which it was determined that the defendant was not present at his residence and his absence was not authorized, but that he was released from his drug treatment program due to health issues. He was found to have violated both conditions, and his community control was revoked. He was then sentenced to over five years in prison, after which he appealed. Continue Reading ›

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused upheaval in every area of life, including the judicial system. While many courts have delayed and canceled proceedings to protect public health, they are also largely mindful of protecting the rights of criminal defendants and must balance both objectives in determining how to proceed. Whether a remote probation violation hearing using audio-video technology violates a defendant’s constitutional rights was the topic of a recent opinion drafted by a Florida court. If you are charged with violating the terms of your probation, it is advisable to speak to a seasoned St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights.

The Defendant’s Probation

It is alleged that in 2018 the defendant was placed on probation for first-degree murder. In June 2020, an affidavit was filed indicating he violated the terms of his probation by committing three new offenses. He was taken into custody and held without bond, and faced a life sentence if he was found guilty of violating his probation.

Reportedly, in October 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an order providing that all rules and court orders that prohibited the use of communication equipment for remote proceedings were suspended. Thus, it was determined at a status conference that the defendant’s probation violation hearing would be conducted via remote means. The defendant objected to the remote hearing, as he would not be in the same room as his counsel, and stated that it would constitute a violation of his Constitutional rights. The court overruled his objections, and the defendant appealed.

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In Florida, the State will typically institute a criminal case by filing an information with a court. An information sets forth the charges against the defendant as well as the essential facts that support such charges. Thus, if the State is permitted to amend the information after the case is underway, it may adversely affect a criminal defendant’s substantive rights. Recently, a Florida court issued an opinion discussing when an amendment of an information is permissible in a case in which the defendant was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior. If you are faced with accusations that you engaged in criminally inappropriate behavior, it is wise to talk to a St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to determine what defenses you may be able to set forth.

The Charges Against the Defendant

It is reported that the defendant was charged with four counts of sexual battery and numerous other crimes via an information. During the trial, the State moved to amend the information to change the sexual battery crimes to lewd or lascivious molestation. The defendant objected, but the trial court permitted the State to make the requested changes. The jury found the defendant guilty as charged, after which the defendant appealed, arguing that the amendment violated his rights. On appeal, the appellate court found in favor of the State.

When Amendment of an Information is Permitted

Under Florida law, amending an information during trial is permitted in certain circumstances. Specifically, the State may substantively amend an information at trial, even if a defendant objects to the modification, if it will not result in prejudice to the substantial rights of the defendant. If the defendant’s rights will be violated, however, a request to amend an information should be denied. In the subject case, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the amendment did not impair the defendant’s substantive rights.

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In many cases in which a person engages in criminal activity while using a firearm, he or she may be charged with additional offenses in addition to facing charges for the underlying crime. For example, a person that commits a crime of violence while carrying a weapon may be charged with a federal firearms offense. Recently, a Florida court addressed the issue of whether a RICO conspiracy crime constitutes a crime of violence under federal law, ultimately determining that it does not. If you are charged with RICO conspiracy or any other drug crime, it is prudent to speak with a St. Petersburg drug crime defense attorney experienced in handling complex matters to determine what defenses may be available.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the defendants, collectively, operated an organization engaged in drug trafficking in Florida. Many of them carried guns while they kidnapped, beat, and murdered people. They were charged with and convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, drug trafficking conspiracy, gun crimes, and other offenses. Following their convictions and sentencing, they appealed on several grounds, including the issue of whether RICO conspiracy is a crime of violence.

RICO Conspiracy Is Not a Crime of Violence

Under federal law 18 U.S.C. 924(c), a crime of violence is a felony that includes as one of its elements the use, or attempted or threatened use, of physical force against another person or property, or that by its nature, involves a significant risk that physical force will be used in the commission of the offense. After the statute was enacted, the clause regarding a significant risk of force was deemed unconstitutional. Thus, in determining whether an act constitutes a crime of violence, the court must look to the elements of the crime.

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While criminal defendants are not required to set forth a defense, many do, and it generally takes a substantial amount of time to gather the facts and evidence needed to refute the State’s claims. Thus, if a defendant is denied the right to have sufficient time to prepare a defense, it can greatly impact his or her rights. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida case in which a defendant’s information was amended to include a burglary with assault and battery charge right before trial, but his request to continue the trial was denied.  If you are accused of assault and battery or other crime of violence, it is advisable to speak to a trusted St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to determine your rights.

Factual and Procedural History

It is alleged that the defendant and a friend visited the home of another woman in August 2016. The friend, who was homeless, sometimes stayed at the woman’s home with her children. The defendant and the woman left the home but returned later that evening. The defendant then reportedly engaged in illegal acts and was driven out of the home by the friend. He was subsequently charged with numerous offenses.

Reportedly, one week prior to trial, the State filed an amended information, setting forth a burglary with assault or battery charge against the defendant. The State also identified three additional witnesses two days later. The defendant filed a motion to continue the trial to afford him additional time to prepare his defense. The court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted, after which he appealed.

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