Attorney Photo

If a defendant is asking the court for something, usually they need to file a motion. A motion is a document that asks the court to take a specific action. When a defendant files a motion with the court, there are specific requirements that the motion must conform to in order for the court to be willing to consider it. Generally, the motion must include the relief requested and the reasons the court should grant the relief. One of the things that defendants need to be aware of is if that some motions are only allowed to be filed once, and so must include all of the requisite information. It can be confusing, which is where your skilled Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney comes in. They can help you to make sure that any motions you file are complete.

Florida Post-Conviction Relief: 3.850

In a case heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida, the motion at issue was a motion for post-conviction relief, based on rule 3.850 in the Florida Criminal Code. The defendant here was convicted of two counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a child over 12 and one count of lewd of lascivious molestation. After his conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, the defendant filed a rule 3.850 motion with the assistance of counsel from the public defender’s office.

Post-conviction relief may be available for defendants when there has been ineffective assistance of counsel, when there are requests for DNA testing, and when there are concerns that the sentence may be illegal. Since this motion is seeking post-conviction relief, it can only be filed after there has been a conviction. Generally a motion of this kind is asking for the original verdict to be vacated and for there to be a new trial.

Continue reading

Unless the weapon used to commit a crime is recovered, it may be unclear what kind of weapon it is. In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a defendant argued that his conviction for a Florida robbery with a firearm should be overturned. His position was that the trial court erred in their jury instructions and thus the court committed fundamental error.

What is a Firearm?

It may seem like a straightforward question, but your experienced Clearwater violent crimes attorney can tell you it is not as simple as it sounds. In this case, there was surveillance footage that showed the defendant holding up the clerk at gunpoint. The defendant alleges that the “weapon” he was using was actually a BB gun, though the prosecution showed evidence that would tend to indicate that it was not. However, the main argument in this appeal was over jury instructions.

During closing arguments, the defense explained that a firearm is a weapon that expels a projectile through the use of an explosive. At trial, and with the consent of defense counsel, the jury was given instructions that once again explained that a firearm requires an explosive action. As they were deliberating, the jury asked the court to clarify whether a BB gun counted as a firearm or not. The prosecution noted that there was a case that specifically held that a BB gun was not a firearm. The judge decided to tell the jury that they have heard the evidence and referred them back to the jury instructions. The jury returned with a verdict that found the defendant guilty of robbery with a firearm and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison with a mandatory 10 years due to possession of a firearm.

Continue reading

In Florida, as in all states, defendants need to be competent in order to stand trial. If a defendant is not sufficiently competent enough to meaningfully participate in their own defense, then they are not constitutionally allowed to stand trial. In a case that was recently heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida, a defendant argued that his conviction should be overturned because the court did not make a competency determination before trial.

Competency Hearings

A defendant’s qualified Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney can make a motion for a competency evaluation under Florida Rule 3.210. In this motion, the defense attorney explains the reasons behind asking for an evaluation, including expert reports, statements by family members, and any attorney observations. However, all parties, including the judge and prosecutor, have a responsibility to inquire into the defendant’s competence if they have reason to suspect that the defendant might not be fully competent.

Once a competency hearing is ordered, the court will appoint experts to interview and examine the defendant. The experts will then offer opinions of the defendant’s competency. If the defendant is not found to be competent to stand trial at that time, they are then moved to a locked facility. These facilities are specialized to help defendants regain competency so they are able to stand trial. Once the defendant’s competency is restored then the trial can proceed.

Continue reading

Florida law allows a defendant to have their sentence reduced in certain specific situations. This is called a “downward departure.” Generally, defendants are eligible for a downward departure in their sentence when there has been a specific extenuating circumstance that makes a downward departure just. Your knowledgeable Clearwater criminal defense attorney can tell you whether you may be eligible for a downward departure based on the circumstances of your case.

Florida Downward Departure Law

When someone is convicted of a felony in Florida, they are sentenced using guidelines in the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Essentially, the code has a scoresheet that it uses to determine the amount of prison time that someone should serve. However, in some cases with extenuating circumstances, the court may want to sentence the defendant to less than the minimum sentence determined by the code. This is called a downward departure. Courts can issue a downward departure provided that two conditions are met.

The first thing that the court must find for a downward departure is that there is evidence of mitigating circumstances that supports a downward departure. The code lays out 14 circumstances that may be considered mitigating for a downward departure. These include: the defendant was a relatively minor accomplice, the departure comes from a plea bargain, the defendant’s capacity was substantially impaired, the defendant requires specialized mental health treatment, or the defendant was going to be sentenced as a youthful offender.

Continue reading

Rape shield laws were created to help protect sexual assault victims from invasive inquiries into their sex life. Florida law prohibits the defense from entering into evidence any specific instances of consensual sex between the victim and anyone other than the defendant. In this case, the victim allegedly had consensual sex with her ex-boyfriend before going to a party with him. At the party she allegedly had too much alcohol and passed out. While her ex-boyfriend was gone getting more alcohol, three of the partygoers – including the defendant – allegedly sexually assaulted her. At trial, the defendant was convicted of sexual battery with specified circumstances by multiple perpetrators.

Evidence of Prior Consensual Sex

The defendant in this case alleged several grounds for appeal. One of the grounds for appeal was that the judge did not allow him to admit evidence of the victim’s consensual sex with her ex-boyfriend before the party. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal relied on the rape shield law explained above to uphold the conviction on this argument. The court explained that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser can come into play if there are unreasonable limits placed on a defendant’s right to cross examine witnesses.

The defendant here argued that he wanted to introduce this evidence to show that the victim wanted to get back together with her ex-boyfriend. Therefore, the defendant argued, she lied about the sex being consensual at the party in order to preserve her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. However, the appeals court here held that there was adequate other evidence that was introduced at the trial to show the relationship between the victim and her ex-boyfriend. Thus, on this ground the conviction could stand.

Continue reading

When a defendant is charged with a crime, at trial the only evidence that should usually be put forward by the state is evidence related to those crimes charged. However, sometimes there are circumstances for the crimes alleged that require explanation. In some of those situations, the state will need to bring in evidence of other crimes that were committed in order to help the jury understand the circumstances in which the charged crimes were committed. This may seem confusing, and it can be, which is why you should consult an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you understand whether it is proper for collateral crimes evidence to be introduced during your trial.

Collateral Crimes

An example may help make the concept of collateral crimes more understandable. In a case that was recently heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, a man appealed his conviction for attempted second-degree murder with a deadly weapon, witness tampering, and criminal mischief. One of the errors he alleges is that the court impermissibly admitted evidence of a collateral armed robbery allegedly committed earlier in the day by the defendant.

The prosecution alleges that the defendant went to the home of his ex-girlfriend a few hours before the incident that the charges came from. He is alleged to have held her up at gunpoint and demanded her phone from her. The defendant returned to her house with her phone a few hours later, and then began shooting. The attempted murder and other charges that he was convicted of all stem from this shooting.

Continue reading

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…” You have probably heard this recitation on legal procedural TV shows dozens (or hundreds) of times. This is called the “Miranda” warning. The purpose is to give potential criminal defendants an understanding of their rights. It was named after the Supreme Court case that mandated that law enforcement give this announcement before questioning defendants.

Florida Miranda Requirements

Florida law requires that police give the Miranda warning when a defendant is arrested or taken into custody. It is such an important requirement, in fact, that any information admitted by the defendant before the Miranda warning is given may not be admissible in court. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule.

Initially, Miranda warnings only need to be given to potential defendants after someone is taken into custody. So if the police stop you on the street and ask you questions – and you are free to leave at any time – they do not need to give you the warning. However, if you are arrested and brought into the station, then your Miranda rights need to be given to you before you are interrogated. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily apply to statements that you make voluntarily and without being asked.

Continue reading

It is crucial that criminal defendants get a fair trial. One of the ways that the justice system assures fairness is by making sure the jury that is selected is impartial. Typically, both sides of a trial will get a specific number of peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges allow either side to strike a juror for any reason or no reason at all. However, it is illegal to strike jurors solely based on their race or gender. Along with the peremptory challenges, either side can request that a juror be stricken for cause. A juror being stricken for cause means that there is something in the juror’s past or the way they have answered a question that makes it appear that they may not be able to be impartial. For example, a juror may be stricken for cause if they know the defendant or the victim. Since the process needs to be impartial, both sides can strike as many jurors for cause as they want, as long as the court approves.

Florida Grounds for Cause Challenges and Peremptory Challenges

Florida law lays out the specific grounds that courts will allow to strike a juror for cause. These grounds include: the juror has beliefs that would preclude them making a finding of guilt, the juror does not have the qualifications that the law requires, or the juror is of unsound mind or has a bodily defect that makes them incapable of performing the required duties. Other grounds include: the juror was on a criminal or civil jury that tried the same defendant for the same offense, the juror is related to one of the parties or one of the attorneys, and a few other grounds. Finally, there is a catch-all provision that allows a challenge for cause if the juror has a “state of mind” that prevents them from acting impartially. Continue reading

In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a man challenged his conviction for capital sexual battery and lewd molestation. He argued that the convictions should be thrown out because the trial court improperly prevented evidence from being admitted. All convictions must be supported by evidence. However, there are strict rules about what can and cannot be admitted into evidence in a criminal trial. If the evidence that supported the conviction is thrown out, the conviction may also be overturned if there is not enough remaining evidence to sustain it. That’s why it’s common for Florida sex crimes defense attorneys to challenge the evidence admitted into court as they did here.

Abuse of Discretion Standard

The appeals court hears cases after they have already been decided by the trial court. In deciding whether or not to allow the decision of the trial court to stand, the appeals courts use different standards depending on the issue. For example, some elements are looked at “de novo,” which means the appeals court does not have to give any deference to the findings of the lower court and can instead make their own decision as if they are looking at it for the first time.

In this case, the appeals court used an abuse of discretion standard to determine whether the evidence should have been admitted or not. In other words, they need to allow the decision of the lower court to stand unless they find that the decision was not permissible under the law. Continue reading

There are specific laws regarding what evidence prosecutors are allowed to use to prove their case in court. As will be discussed in more detail below, the state can present relevant evidence as long as its probative value is not outweighed by the prejudicial effects on the defendant.

In this case, a man was charged with conspiracy to commit the felony of tampering with a victim. Originally, the defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious molestation. While he was in jail on those charges he called his former girlfriend (and co-defendant). The phone call was recorded. At the beginning of all calls from the jail there is a recording stating that calls are recorded and subject to monitoring.

In this recording, the defendant is heard asking his former girlfriend to talk to the victim and her mother. He also is heard saying that she should tell the police that the phone was stolen and he did not have it at the relevant time, even though he mentioned that the ex-girlfriend was currently in possession of the phone. The original 17 minute phone call was redacted down to seven minutes for the jury to hear. There was no mention of the underlying Florida sex crime charges in the recording that they heard.