Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

The criminal legal system treats juvenile defendants differently than adult defendants. Juveniles are generally granted more protection of their rights and are often subject to different sentencing. For example, the United States Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida that any life sentence imposed on a juvenile offender who was convicted of a non-homicide offense must provide a meaningful chance for the offender to be released before the end of the sentence.

The Supreme Court of Florida recently ruled in Franklin v. State, that the Graham holding did not prohibit a court from imposing a 1,000-year sentence with parole eligibility. If you are a juvenile charged with a crime in St. Petersburg, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to assess the potential penalties for the crime you are charged with and help you to formulate a defense.

Alleged Facts Regarding Crimes and Sentencing

Allegedly, the defendant committed several violent crimes when he was seventeen. He was charged with several crimes in three separate cases, including kidnapping, armed robbery, and aggravated assault. During the trial in one of his cases, a physician who treated the victim testified the victim suffered the most severe injuries he had ever witnessed.

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In a case recently heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, a defendant who was convicted of first degree murder with a firearm appealed his case. His argument rests on his contention that he should have been able to speak directly with his attorney during a ten-minute break between his direct testimony and being cross-examined by the prosecutor. The assistance of counsel is an integral part of the American justice system. In fact, this right is so fundamental that defendants who are not able to afford attorney will have one provided for them. However, defendants can still use their own skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney if they so choose.

Evidence at Trial

During the trial, the evidence showed that the defendant had called 911 from a hotel room where the victim was lying dead with gunshot wounds. Analysis from the crime lab showed that the deadly shot had come from the defendant’s firearm. Initially, the defendant claimed that the woman had shot herself. During a later part of the videotaped interview, he changed his story and said that he the victim after voices from the TV commanded him to kill her. He explained that he lied at first because he was worried about going to prison.

Laws change all the time. When the legislature is in session and passing new laws, these laws will usually have a date that they go into effect. However, sometimes a law can also apply retroactively. That means that even if the conduct occurred before the law was passed, the new law will still apply to it. One of the jobs of the court is to look at the rules around different kinds of laws and decide whether they should apply prospectively – meaning, only apply to conduct in the future from the date it was passed – or retroactively. If you have been charged with a crime, a skilled St. Petersburg defense attorney may be able to help you find new laws that could apply to your case.

Changes in the Stand Your Ground Law

A notable case revolves around the changes made to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This law has been in effect since 2005. The “Stand Your Ground” law makes it so that individuals no longer have a duty to retreat before using force in self-defense. In the past, before resorting to self-defense, an individual had a duty to leave the premises if they could do so safely. It also protects those who use force in self-defense from legal charges. Initially, the burden was on the person who used force to prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the use of force was necessary to prevent great bodily harm or imminent death. However, a new law signed by the governor of Florida on June 9, 2017 changed the burden of persuasion in “Stand Your Ground” cases. The defendant only needs to make a prima facie showing of self-defense. Then, the new law puts the burden on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the self-defense was not justified.

There are very specific rules about which kinds of evidence can be presented to the jury during a criminal case. If evidence is admitted that should not be, the evidence can be suppressed. If evidence crucial to the prosecution’s case is deemed to be inadmissible, the charges may be thrown out. Evidence that is admitted, but is later found to be improper, may result in the conviction being thrown out as long as it meets certain criteria. It is important to have a skilled St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney working on your case to make sure that any improper evidence is not admitted.Chain of Custody

The chain of custody refers to the handling of evidence. In order to help authenticate evidence as being genuine, anyone who had access to or custody of the evidence should offer a sworn statement about their possession and handling of the evidence. Florida law requires that evidence be authenticated before it can be admitted. However, the threshold for this evidence is “relatively low.” All that is required is a prima facie showing that the evidence is authentic. In other words, almost any direct or circumstantial evidence can be used to show that the evidence is authentic.

Facts of the Case

Florida criminal law proscribes illegal activities through statute. That means that after a legislative session, actions that were once permissible might become unlawful or vice versa. For those accused of crimes, the defendant will likely be subject to the law at the time that the crime occurred. In a jury trial, the court instructs the jury on the law before the jury makes their findings as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence. This month, the Second District appeals court overturned an attempted second-degree murder conviction under the theory that the self-defense jury instructions incorrectly stated the law at the time the crime was committed.

The defendant attended a house party when he was 17. The defendant, along with his friends, got into a confrontation with another group about missing beer, suggesting it was stolen. This first meeting did not become violent. At a second house party, later that night, where both groups were present, tensions boiled over, and a fight erupted. The defendant testified that he tried to break up the fight but was attacked and got stabbed with a pocket knife. The defendant pulled out his own knife to defend himself. He blindly swung his knife around in alleged self-defense because he was scared for his life and didn’t know how else to defend himself. Two people were allegedly stabbed by the defendant’s knife. The State charged the defendant with attempted second-degree murder.

Florida’s self-defense jurisprudence has evolved over the years and is one of the State’s most controversial laws. The appeals court was asked to review the defendant’s conviction under the 2012 version of the law. Although Florida Statutes Section 776.013 negates a self-defense claim for someone engaging in illegal activity at the time force was used, the version of the law in effect in 2012 did not.

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The concept of “scrivener’s error” is certainly applicable to the legal system, although it’s not especially technical. In fact, it’s known by most as a “typo.” Courts systems require human labor to draft legislation, motions, and written judgments, so sometimes mistakes are made. In the criminal law context, the omission of a word or phrase can lead to unintended consequences. Fortunately, there’s a mechanism for addressing scrivener’s error in trial court decisions. In fact, the appellate court for the Second District addressed this issue in a recent Florida burglary case, Morgan v. State.Florida appeals court decisions in criminal cases show that scrivener’s error is not uncommon and can lead to significant changes to a judgment entered against a defendant. In 2004, the Second District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the trial court orally imposed concurrent sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment. The written judgment, however, reflected consecutive sentences for a total of 20 years’ imprisonment.  Moreover, in 2010, the First District Court of Appeals decided a case in which the defendant had been found guilty of a violation of his probation for “not possessing any firearm or weapon.” However, the defendant was only convicted of marijuana possession, and no gun was present. The appeals court ruled that this was a scrivener’s error and that the defendant’s probation violation could not have been attributed to a gun crime. The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure also allow for the modification of a sentence in order to correct a scrivener’s error, but only if the correction would benefit a criminal defendant.

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As cell phones have risen in popularity, criminal prosecutors now use cell phone records to build their cases. Cell phone records can show such records as calls made or received, text messages, and even proximity to cell towers. Although cell phone records do not provide specific GPS coordinates of a person’s whereabouts, prosecutors often rely on the location of a cell tower to relay the general location of a criminal defendant at the time the alleged crime occurred.The St. Petersburg murder trial of a man accused of killing a confidential informant is relying heavily on testimony derived from a review of cell-tower data that allegedly implicates the defendant. The court heard testimony from a detective who reviewed the defendant’s cell phone records on the night of the alleged murder. His testimony stated that the defendant made calls to the victim moments before the shooting occurred, allegedly to set up a fake drug deal as a way to lure the victim onto a deserted street. In addition, the detective’s testimony traced the approximate location of the defendant, stating that the defendant allegedly picked up an accomplice, drove to the area of the crime, and then went to a hotel room, where he met with other alleged accomplices. The detective tested this theory by driving the same route and confirming that the same cell towers that picked up the defendant’s calls also picked up his calls along the way.

Although criminal prosecutions often rely on cell phone records, Florida law does not give law enforcement free access to those records. Florida Statute section 934.23 authorizes law enforcement to require the disclosure of cell phone records from an electronic communication service only pursuant to a warrant issued by a judge of a competent jurisdiction. In order to obtain a warrant, the law enforcement officer is required to offer specific facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe the contents of an electronic communication are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

If law enforcement officials obtain a warrant, the electronic communication service, such as a wireless provider, may be required to disclose certain defined types of information. For instance, records of call duration, cell phone type, subscriber number or identity, credit card associated with customer’s phone, and phone connection records are all available to law enforcement officials under Florida law.  These records may provide the type of evidence prosecutors need to establish the facts of a crime, but they are only legally available with a warrant.

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