Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

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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Hazing is a long-standing tradition in many college fraternities and sororities. Hazing is also unlawful, and parties that engage in hazing can be charged criminally for any harm that occurs as a result of the hazing. Further, a person may be charged criminally for hazing even if he or she did not directly participate in the unlawful activity. This was demonstrated in a recent case decided by the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, in which the court reversed a trial court’s dismissal of hazing charges against a fraternity president. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with hazing or any other crime alleging you caused bodily harm, it is sensible to meet with a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for striving to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was the president of a fraternity at a Florida university. As the president, he presided over all fraternity activities and agreed to all pledge activities. Additionally, he was present for a meeting in which the members of the fraternity’s executive board discussed the dangers of the underage pledges becoming intoxicated at an upcoming pledge event, and he encouraged the event to take place.

Allegedly, during the event in question, the victim consumed most of a bottle of bourbon and subsequently died of acute alcohol intoxication. His blood alcohol concentration at the time of his death was over 0.44%. The defendant was not present at the event. The State charged the defendant with one count of felony hazing and one count of misdemeanor hazing, however. During a pre-trial hearing, the court dismissed the felony hazing count, after which the State appealed.

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Advances in technology over the past several decades have vastly changed the manner in which criminal cases are prosecuted and defended. For example, in many criminal cases, the prosecution will seek to introduce DNA evidence to establish the defendant’s guilt. Defendants can introduce DNA evidence as well, but only under certain circumstances. The District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, recently discussed the parameters for a defendant’s right to post-conviction DNA testing in a case in which the defendant appealed his convictions for multiple sex crimes. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with one or more sex crimes, it is prudent to meet with a knowledgeable St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to discuss what evidence you may be able to set forth in your defense.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with sexual battery on a victim under twelve years old and lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under eighteen years old. The alleged victim was the defendant’s stepdaughter. At trial, the victim testified that when she was ten years old, the defendant came into her room at night and touched her genitals with his hand and genitals. She also testified that the defendant hit her on the leg with a belt and that she still had a mark from when he hit her. Lastly, the victim testified that the defendant threatened to beat her if she reported his behavior to anyone.

Reportedly, the defendant was found guilty of both charges and was sentenced to life in prison for the sexual battery charge and fifty-five years imprisonment for the lewd and lascivious molestation charge. He filed multiple post-conviction motions, all of which were denied. He then filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The court denied his motion, and he appealed.

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In many instances in which a person is charged with a sex crime, the person will choose to enter into a plea agreement rather than proceed to trial. Under the terms of a plea agreement, the defendant will either enter a guilty plea or plea of no contest to the charged offenses in exchange for a lesser sentence. In a recent case arising out of the District Court of Appeals of Florida, First District, the court discussed whether the State’s involuntary commitment for sex offender treatment of a defendant who was convicted of sexual battery violated the plea agreement. If you are faced with charges of sexual battery it is critical to retain a proficient St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to help you determine the best manner to proceed in your case.

Procedural Background of the Case

Reportedly, in 2002, the defendant was charged with sexual battery. He entered into a plea agreement by which he was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment followed by five years of sex offender probation. Following his release from prison in 2009, he was transferred to a Civil Commitment Center under the direction of the Department of Children and Families. The defendant then admitted to violating his probation in 2013 and was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment. The defendant appealed, arguing that his civil commitment was an enhancement to his sentence and therefore violated both his plea agreement and double jeopardy. Additionally, he argued that as he remained confined his probation never began and the State, therefore, had no right to revoke his probation.

Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders

On appeal, the court affirmed the revocation of the defendant’s probation. The court stated that under Florida law, involuntary commitment of a person convicted of a sex crime is a civil commitment and not a punishment. Therefore, a plea agreement for imprisonment followed by probation is not violated if the defendant is committed to a sex offender facility following his or her imprisonment. The court explained that the Florida Supreme Court explicitly rejected the argument that a civil commitment was an additional term of probation. Continue Reading ›

In some Florida criminal cases, the defendant may choose to plead guilty for various reasons. Prior to permitting a defendant to enter a guilty plea, however, the court must determine if the defendant is competent to proceed. When the court fails to validly confirm a defendant’s competence the defendant may be permitted to withdraw his or her plea and it may result in a reversal of a conviction. This was illustrated in a recent Florida Appellate court case in which the defendant entered a guilty plea for an attempted second-degree murder charge without a competency hearing. If you are charged with a violent crime in St. Petersburg it is essential to retain a knowledgeable St. Petersburg violent crime defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

Facts Regarding the Hearing and Plea

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with attempted second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prior to the entry of the defendant’s plea, his attorney moved for an order to appoint mental health experts to determine if the defendant was competent to proceed to trial. The defendant was examined by two mental health experts; one found the defendant to be competent, while the other found the defendant to be incompetent. The court questioned the defendant, who indicated he had mental health issues in the past. The court did not, however, review the reports of the mental health experts. The defendant subsequently pleaded nolo contendre to the charges and was sentenced. Following his sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing the trial court erred in failing to conduct a competency hearing or enter a competency order.

Right to a Competency Hearing

The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure require a trial court to enter a written order indicating a defendant is competent to proceed. Additionally, the court must make an independent determination as to whether the defendant is competent, and cannot rely on a stipulation from the parties as to the defendant’s competency. As the trial court in the subject case did not make any independent determination as to the defendant’s competency or enter an order deeming the defendant competent, the appellate court relinquished jurisdiction to the trial court to conduct a competency hearing. The court noted that the defendant was required to be present during the hearing.
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If you are charged with a crime, the State is required to produce competent evidence of each element of the crime to support a conviction. In cases where the State fails to produce any evidence that a crime was committed, it is grounds for an acquittal. In a recent case, a Florida appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion for judgement on acquittal for a manslaughter charge, finding the State failed to produce evidence of any of the elements of the crime. If you are a St. Petersburg resident charged with manslaughter or any other violent crime, it is wise to speak with a capable St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney regarding the facts of your case and what evidence the State may introduce against you.

Factual Scenario Regarding the Alleged Crimes

Reportedly, the victim was found bleeding behind a bus station, and later died from his injuries. A woman who interacted with the victim on the night of his death responded to a police inquiry for information. She stated that she was at the bus station looking for drugs, when she was introduced to the victim by a drug dealer. The victim purchased drugs for the woman, based upon an agreement that she would have sex with the victim. The victim allegedly grabbed the woman, which she reported to the drug dealer and the defendant.

Anyone charged with a crime has the inalienable right to a trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. Under Florida law, a trial for a capital case requires a panel of twelve jurors, while all other crimes may be tried before six jurors.

A Florida District Court of Appeal recently analyzed whether a defendant was entitled to a panel of twelve jurors in a case in which the state waived the right to seek the death penalty, and ultimately ruled that the decision not to impose the death penalty did not change the capital nature of the crime. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with a criminal offense it is prudent to consult a seasoned St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and develop a plan of action to help you retain your rights.

Procedural Background

The defendant was indicted for several crimes, including first-degree murder, which is a capital offense. The State waived the right to seek the death penalty. The trial court issued an order that required the defendant to be tried before a six-person jury. The State filed a petition seeking to quash the motion. The appellate court granted the petition.

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Criminal defendants are protected from being tried or convicted more than once for the same crime by the rule against Double Jeopardy. The rule only applies in limited circumstances, however.

For example, a Florida District Court of Appeal recently ruled that dual battery convictions did not violate double jeopardy, despite the fact that the charges both arose out of the same set of facts. If you are a St. Petersburg resident charged with a crime, you should retain an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and assist you in developing a strong defense.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the defendant was arrested following a fight in the parking lot of a restaurant. He was charged with several crimes, including burglarizing a conveyance with assault or battery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Following a trial, he was convicted of burglarizing a conveyance with assault or battery, and the jury specifically determined that he had committed both an assault and a battery during the course of the burglary. He was also convicted of the included lesser offense of battery for the aggravated battery charge. He appealed, arguing in part that the convictions for both battery offenses violated double jeopardy. On appeal, the court affirmed his convictions.

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To convict a defendant of a crime, the state is required to prove each element of the crime. Many crimes require the state to prove the defendant’s state of mind at the time the crime was allegedly committed. For example, to convict a defendant of trespass in an unoccupied conveyance, also known as a car, the state must prove that the trespass was willful, meaning the defendant either knew or should have known the car was stolen.  If the state does not produce sufficient evidence the trespass was willful, a conviction for trespass in an unoccupied conveyance will not stand.

In T.A.K. v. Floridaa recent case arising out of a Florida Court of Appeals, the court held that hiding from the police in a stolen car is insufficient evidence to prove the defendant knew the car was stolen. If you are a juvenile facing criminal charges in St. Petersburg, it is essential that your attorney understands the state’s burden in proving its case against you to help you prepare a strong defense.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly, the owner of a car reported her car was missing and denied giving anyone else permission to take her car. The police tracked down the car to a nearby apartment building. When the officers first saw the car, they observed a man reclining in the driver’s seat. They did not notice any movement in the car or see anyone leave the car. When the officers approached the car, they opened the passenger door and saw only a man in the passenger seat. The police officers then opened the driver’s side door and noticed the defendant on the floor in the back of the vehicle, in between the front and back seats. The defendant was subsequently charged with trespass in an unoccupied conveyance. At the close of the state’s case, the defendant moved for the dismissal of the charges against him, on the grounds the state failed to show he knew or should have known the car was stolen. The court denied the defendant’s motion and he was convicted of the charges and placed on juvenile probation. The defendant subsequently appealed.

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The defendant in this case was allegedly driving a vehicle when the police attempted to pull him over. There was also a passenger in the car. According to the police, the car sped off when the officer tried to approach it. The driver was speeding at up to 90 miles an hour and committed many traffic infractions, including running red lights and stop signs. Another officer testified that he saw someone jump out of the driver side of the car and go into a house.

The officers followed the suspect into the house and the defendant later emerged from the room sweaty and out of breath. The home belonged to the defendant’s mother, though she testified that he was at home with her all evening. The passenger in the car also testified that the vehicle was not being driven by the defendant but was instead being driven by the passenger’s cousin. Nonetheless, the defendant was convicted of high speed or wanton fleeing and resisting an officer without violence. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

The defendant argues on appeal that his counsel was ineffective. His argument centers on the failure of his attorney in objecting to the prosecutor’s impeachment of defendant’s witness. Specifically, during the trial, the prosecutor questioned the passenger about his pending charges. These charges included robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a firearm, and grand theft.

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