Articles Posted in Legal Process

The statutes that criminalize behavior must be sufficiently specific to be deemed constitutional. When statutes are vague and overbroad, they can lead to improper convictions and subsequent challenges to the constitutionality of the statutes.

Recently, the Supreme Court of Florida analyzed whether a statute criminalizing hazing was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, and ultimately determined it was not, affirming the defendant’s conviction. If you are facing criminal charges in Sarasota, it is important to retain a skilled Sarasota crime defense attorney to assist you in protecting your liberties.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the defendant was a member of the percussion section of the marching band at a Florida university. The percussion section rode to away events on a bus and engaged in a three-part ritual during their trips. The first part involved a member sitting at the front of the bus and getting struck by other band members, the second involved the member standing and holding onto the luggage rack while being slapped by other members, and the last part involved the member walking to the back of the bus while other members slapped, punched, and kicked them. The defendant, as the president of the bus, determined when a member should take part in the ritual.

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Under Florida law, criminal suspects under the age of 18 are afforded certain rights based on their age, such as the right to be tried in a juvenile court. The juvenile court system may be more lenient and result in less stringent penalties than would be issued in adult court. The right to be tried as a juvenile is not a fundamental right that is guaranteed, however, but can be waived due to inaction.

A Florida district court recently upheld a juvenile defendant’s conviction in adult court for vehicular homicide, where the defendant’s attorney did not object to the jurisdiction until after the jury issued a verdict. If you are a juvenile Clearwater resident facing criminal charges, you should consult a skilled Clearwater crimal defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and available defenses.

Procedural Facts

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with multiple offenses, including vehicular homicide, arising out of an incident that occurred when he was 15-years-old. Despite his juvenile status, the case was direct-filed in adult court. He entered a plea and was subsequently tried in front of a jury, which resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. A second trial subsequently commenced, after which the defendant was convicted of all charges. Shortly prior to the defendant’s sentencing hearing his attorney raised an objection to the court’s jurisdiction by filing a motion to vacate and remand to juvenile court. The defendant’s attorney had not raised any objection to the adult-court’s jurisdiction at any previous point in the proceedings. The state argued that the direct-filing in adult court was proper and that the defendant waived the right to object to the court’s jurisdiction prior to the conclusion of the trial. The court agreed, denying the motion. The defendant subsequently appealed, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel.

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One of the protections afforded criminal defendants is the prohibiting of hearsay testimony as evidence of a crime. While there are certain exceptions to the rule against hearsay, they are strictly construed. As shown in a recent case ruled on by a District Court of Appeal of Florida, if a trial court erroneously allows the admission of hearsay evidence, it can result in a conviction being overturned. If you live in Clearwater and are charged with a crime, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced Clearwater criminal defense attorney to help you retain your rights.

Reported Facts

Allegedly, the defendant went to the apartment of his friend’s neighbors to question them about reportedly harassing his friend. It is undisputed that the neighbors’ door was knocked down, the defendant entered the apartment, a fight ensued, and a gun was discharged. The exact details of what happened after the defendant arrived at the neighbor’s apartment were disputed, however. Following the incident, the defendant was charged with multiple crimes.

At the trial, the defendant testified that he asked the neighbors to leave his friend alone, accidentally knocked the door down, and was pulled into the apartment, and one of the neighbors’ had a gun that discharged. In contrast, the neighbors testified that the defendant kicked in the door, pointed a gun at them, assaulted them, and discharged the gun. The defendant’s friend did not testify at the trial. The state admitted out-of-court statements made by the friend into evidence at the trial, despite objections by the defendant’s counsel that they constituted hearsay. The statements indicated the friend was going to send someone to “put a cap in” the neighbors and beat them up. The state argued these statements were evidence the defendant intended to assault the neighbors when he went to their apartment. The defendant was ultimately convicted of burglary of an occupied dwelling and assault, but the jury specifically found that the defendant did not use or possess a firearm or commit a battery. The defendant appealed, arguing the evidence regarding his friend’s out-of-court statements constituted inadmissible hearsay.

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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.

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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.

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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