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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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In Florida, the State generally cannot conduct a criminal trial unless the defendant is deemed mentally competent to proceed. As such, if a court fails to accurately assess whether a defendant has the mental capacity to participate in a fair trial and the defendant is ultimately convicted, the defendant may have grounds to argue the conviction should be reversed. In a recent Florida murder case, a court examined whether a trial court’s acceptance of a guilty plea without conducting a competency hearing violated the defendant’s right to due process. If you are accused of murder or another violent crime, it is in your best interest to retain an experienced St. Petersburg violent crime defense attorney to help you seek a fair outcome.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the defendant, who was incarcerated, was suspected of attacking another inmate. The victim, who died from his injuries, was briefly interviewed prior to his death and named the defendant as the person who both bound his hands and feet and stabbed him. The defendant was interviewed as well, admitting to tying the victim up but stated he blacked out after that due to anger, and could not recall what happened. The defendant was charged with first-degree murder, to which he pleaded guilty.

Allegedly, the prosecution and defense counsel both then agreed to enter the defendant’s competency evaluation reports into evidence. The defendant was ultimately sentenced to death. Following his sentencing, he appealed, arguing in part that the court violated his right to due process by failing to conduct a competency hearing.

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There are numerous defenses and arguments a criminal defendant may be able to set forth to avoid a conviction or a severe sentence. As explained in a recent Florida case in which the defendant was convicted of numerous violent crimes, including first-degree murder, most defenses cannot be argued retroactively, however. If you are charged with murder, attempted murder, or any other violent crime, it is critical to retain an assertive St. Petersburg violent crime defense attorney to discuss what defenses you may be able to assert to protect your rights.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Appeal

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, and burglary. He was sentenced to death for the first-degree murder conviction, and the sentence eventually became final. The defendant then filed a post-conviction motion asking the court for relief on several grounds. The court denied the defendant’s motion and affirmed his sentence. The defendant then appealed.

Post-Conviction Defenses

First, the defendant argued on appeal that he was entitled to relief under Atkins v. Virginia, a United States Supreme Court case and cases that were subsequently decided in the Florida courts, on the grounds that he suffered from an intellectual disability. The court rejected this assertion, stating that the law was clear that relief for an intellectual disability could not be granted retroactively. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court ruling dismissing the petition for relief due to intellectual disability as time-barred.

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In many instances in which a person is charged with a sex crime, the State’s primary evidence against the person will consist of statements and testimony from the alleged victim. Thus, whether a person is convicted of a sex crime largely depends on whether the judge or jury finds the victim’s account of what occurred to be credible. In many cases, the State may attempt to bolster a victim’s credibility by offering testimony from other witnesses that corroborate the witness’s testimony. While some testimony is admissible, however, testimony regarding prior consistent statements made by the victim to third parties is only admissible in limited circumstances, as discussed in a case in which the defendant was convicted of numerous sex crimes. If you are faced with charges you committed a sex crime in St. Petersburg, it is prudent to speak with a diligent St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney to assess what evidence the State may be permitted to use against you.

Factual Background

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous sex crimes arising out of allegations of inappropriate contact with the victim, who was his minor daughter. Prior to the arrest, the victim made statements to a school nurse and detectives regarding the alleged contact. During the trial, the victim testified regarding the contact as well, and the State introduced testimony from the detectives and nurse regarding the victim’s prior statements. The defendant was convicted after which he appealed, arguing that the testimony of the nurse and detectives regarding the victim’s prior statements constituted inadmissible hearsay. The State argued the statements were admissible as they were offered to refute the defendant’s allegations regarding the victim’s motives for accusing the defendant of the actions that formed the basis of his charges.

Admissibility of Consistent Prior Statements

Generally, testimony regarding prior consistent statements made by a witness to a third party constitutes inadmissible hearsay and cannot be used to corroborate the witness’s in-court testimony. Prior inconsistent statements are admissible in limited circumstances, however, such as when they fall under an exception to the rule against hearsay or do not actually constitute hearsay. Specifically, a prior consistent statement is not inadmissible hearsay when a declarant testifies at trial and is cross-examined regarding the statement, and the statement is made to rebut a charge of a recent fabrication, improper motive, or undue influence.

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The sentence imposed on a criminal defendant convicted of a crime depends on numerous factors, including whether the sentence should be increased or reduced due to any aggravating or mitigating circumstances. Thus, if a jury is not properly advised of the weight of such circumstances or how they should be assessed, it can adversely affect a defendant’s case. In a recent ruling issued by the Supreme Court of Florida, the court clarified the burden of proof that applies to mitigating circumstances, in a case in which the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. If you live in St. Petersburg and are charged with murder or any other violent crime, it is advisable to consult a skillful St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

Facts Regarding the Case and Sentencing Hearing

It is reported that the defendant was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death, after which he filed a petition for relief. He was then granted a new penalty-phase trial and was sentenced to death a second time, after which he appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court made a fundamental error by neglecting to instruct the jury regarding the burden of proof that applied to mitigating circumstances.

The burden of Proof that Applies to Findings Related to Mitigating Circumstances

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court was required to advise the jury that it must find beyond a reasonable doubt that any aggravating factors were adequate to impose a death sentence and that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors. The court disagreed. Specifically, the court noted that while previous case law suggested that a jury must determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the weight and sufficiency of any aggravating factors required a recommendation that a defendant should be sentenced to death, the prior courts mischaracterized the standard.

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One of the many rights afforded criminal defendants by State and Federal law is the right to a speedy trial. In other words, a defendant cannot be arrested and then detained for an unreasonable amount of time prior to being tried, and if a defendant’s right to a speedy trial is violated, the charges against the defendant may be dismissed. In a recent case in which a defendant was charged with sexual battery, a Florida appellate court discussed the factors weighed in determining when an arrest occurred to determine whether the State violated a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. If you are charged with sexual battery or a related offense in St. Petersburg, it is in your best interest to speak to a capable St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney regarding your rights.

Factual Background

It is reported that a woman was sexually assaulted while running in a park in September 2017. Immediately after the incident, the woman advised her husband that the defendant was the assailant, and the husband detained the defendant until the police arrived. Upon arrival, the police questioned the defendant, read him his Miranda warnings, and took him to the police station where he was held in a cell. Additionally, DNA samples were taken from the defendant. The defendant was ultimately released and was formally arrested and charged with sexual battery in November 2018. The defendant then moved to have the charge dismissed, arguing that he was not charged within 175 days of his arrest as required by Florida’s speedy trial law. The court agreed and dismissed the charge, after which the State appealed.

Determining When an Arrest Occurred

Under Florida’s speedy trial law, a defendant must be charged within 175 days of his or her arrest. On appeal, the court noted that a person could be taken into custody for purposes of requiring a Miranda warning, but not for purposes of triggering the speedy trial rule. Rather, for purposes of evaluating if a person was arrested prior to a formal arrest, the court must conduct a four-part test. Specifically, the court must find that the purpose of the authority was to effect an arrest, the defendant was seized, the police officer communicated an intent to effect an arrest to the defendant, and the defendant believes the officer is there to detain and arrest him.

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Often, people who are convicted of sex crimes are required to register as sex offenders. Thus, if a person is required to register as a sex offender and fails to do so, it can result in a reconviction of their probation. Recently, an appellate court in Florida analyzed whether the court must explicitly designate a person as a sexual offender for the person to be required to register as a sex offender in a case in which the defendant’s probation was revoked for failing to register. If you are a resident if St. Petersburg currently charged with a sex crime, it is prudent to consult a trusted St. Petersburg sex crime defense attorney regarding your options for protecting your interests.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with false imprisonment, aggravated battery, and lewd or lascivious battery, in 2002. The charging information alleged that the defendant engaged in sexual activity with a person between the ages of twelve and sixteen. He pleaded guilty to the aggravated battery and false imprisonment charges, and the State agreed not to prosecute him on the lewd and lascivious battery charge. After the defendant completed his sentence, he was released on probation.

Reportedly, six years later, the defendant was charged with the failure to register as a sexual offender. In response, he filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he had never been designated as a sexual offender, and an automatic designation without a hearing violated his rights. The court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding there was a sexual component to the underlying claims. The defendant pleaded guilty and reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion.

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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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