The state staunchly prosecutes violent crimes, and people convicted of such offenses are often sentenced to lengthy prison terms. There are statutory limits pertaining to sentences for violent crimes, however, and if a sentence imposed by a court exceeds the statutory guidelines, it may be illegal. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes an illegal sentence in a case in which the defendant sought to correct a sentence imposed for aggravated assault. If you are charged with a violent crime, it is smart to consult a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your options for pursuing a good outcome.

Procedural Background

Allegedly, the defendant was charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault. A jury convicted him following a trial, and the jury explicitly found that he discharged a gun when he committed the crimes. The trial court then issued a sentence of twenty years in prison for the aggravated assault count and thirty years for the manslaughter count, which were the statutory minimums. The court relied on the jury’s findings in issuing the sentences.

It is reported that the defendant then appealed, arguing that the sentence for his aggravated assault conviction was illegal. He also filed a motion arguing that because a firearm was an essential element of both crimes, his convictions were improperly reclassified, and therefore, his sentences exceeded the statutory limit. Continue Reading ›

White collar crimes, like fraud and conspiracy, typically do not involve bodily harm but they are nonetheless staunchly prosecuted. As with any other criminal offense, the prosecution bears the burden of proving each element of a white crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it cannot, the defendant should be found not guilty. Recently, a Florida court discussed what constitutes sufficient evidence to sustain a guilty verdict in a white collar crime case, in a matter in which the defendant appealed her conviction. If you are charged with a white collar crime it is advisable to contact a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with multiple white collar crimes, including theft of government funds, identity theft, and wire fraud. The charges arose out of her filing false claims for relief funds that were intended to help farmers struggling with drought and fire. Following a jury trial, she was convicted as charged and sentenced to 28 months in prison. She appealed, arguing, among other things, that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the guilty verdict entered against her and, therefore, she should be granted a new trial.

Evidence Establishing Guilt in White Collar Crime Cases

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, if the defendant so moves, a court may vacate any guilty verdict and grant a new trial if it is required in the interest of justice. In doing so, the court must evaluate the evidence and weigh the credibility of the witnesses. The Rules do not grant the courts leeway to reevaluate evidence and set aside verdicts simply because they believe some other result would be more appropriate, however.

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It is not uncommon for the State to file multiple criminal charges against a person following a single incident. While this is permissible, a person cannot be tried or convicted more than once for the same crime, as doing so would violate double jeopardy. In many instances, double jeopardy also bars a person from being convicted for an offense and a lesser offense, even though they are two different crimes. This was illustrated in a recent Florida case in which the court vacated a defendant’s conviction for attempted home invasion robbery due to his conviction for burglary with assault. If you are accused of a violent offense, it is in your best interest to talk to a Sarasota violent crime defense attorney to evaluate your options for seeking a good outcome.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with multiple crimes following a home invasion that resulted in the death of two people and the shootings of four other individuals. The case proceeded to trial, and the defendant was found guilty of fourteen separate offenses, including burglary with assault and attempted home invasion robbery. Prior to sentencing, the defendant filed an appeal. Among other arguments he set forth, the defendant claimed that his convictions for burglary with assault and attempted home invasion robbery violated double jeopardy. The court agreed with the defendant’s assertions and vacated his conviction for the robbery offense.

Protections Against Double Jeopardy

The court explained that double jeopardy claims set forth pure questions of law; as such, they are reviewed de novo. Pursuant to Florida law, separate convictions for distinct offenses arising out of a single act are only permissible if each crime contains at least one element that the other does not.

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While ignorance of the law is not a defense, criminal statutes generally aim to punish intentional wrongdoing. Thus, in many instances, the prosecution must prove that the defendant purposely committed the unlawful act. Some statutes are vague, though, leaving room for interpretation as to what evidence is needed to obtain a conviction. Until recently, it was not clear whether a defendant could be convicted for violating the Controlled Substances Act (the Act) if they were unaware that their actions were unauthorized. The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling clarifying what evidence is needed to convict a doctor of disbursing controlled substances in an unauthorized matter in violation of the Act. If you are charged with a drug crime or any other federal offense, it is smart to meet with a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your options.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the government charged the defendant and several other pain management doctors with operating a medical practice as a racketeering enterprise in violation of the Act and other federal laws. The prosecution offered evidence at trial that the defendant prescribed opioids in a manner that did not comply with the applicable standard of care and that he acted for financial gain rather than to help his patients. A jury convicted the defendant and he appealed.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling, and the defendant sought certiorari review.

Evidence Needed to Convict for Violations of the Controlled Substance Act

The sole issue on appeal was whether a physician that prescribes controlled substances outside of the scope of what is typically in their practice can be convicted of unlawful distribution of controlled substances in violation of the Act, if they harbored a reasonable belief that they were acting within the scope of their practice. Continue Reading ›

In order to convict someone of a DUI, the State generally must prove the person was driving while intoxicated, which it usually does through the introduction of evidence of the individual’s blood alcohol concentration. Thus, if the police improperly obtained a blood test and the results of the test are deemed inadmissible, the State may be unable to prove culpability. Recently, a Florida court discussed when the results of chemical testing should be suppressed in a case in which the defendant was charged with DUI manslaughter. If you are charged with a DUI crime, you could face significant penalties, and it is smart to meet with a trusted Sarasota DUI defense attorney to discuss your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was involved in a collision that resulted in the death of another person. The police officer investigating the accident believed that the defendant was intoxicated and asked him if he would submit to a blood test. The defendant declined, after which the officer obtained a search warrant that allowed him to obtain two blood samples an hour apart. After securing the warrant, the officer obtained two vials of blood from the defendant via a single draw and did not collect a second sample. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the results of the test, arguing the police failed to comply with the warrant. The trial court granted the motion, and the State appealed.

Grounds for Suppressing Evidence Obtained Via a Search Warrant

The trial court relied on established Florida law stating that the purpose of requiring specificity in the description in a warrant of the things to be seized is to prevent general searches. The duty of an officer to explicitly describe the objects that will be taken under the warrant bars general searches and avoids an officer from confiscating one thing when another thing is described in the warrant. In other words, the requirement that a warrant must be particular limits the discretion of the officer that is conducting a search pursuant to the warrant by preventing an exploratory search under a general warrant.

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In Florida, when a defendant is convicted of a sex crime, the courts will look to statutory guidelines to determine an appropriate sentence. Depending on the facts of the case, it may require the court to employ a sentencing multiplier. While doing so will typically increase a sentence, in a recent Florida sex crime case, a defendant argued that the application of the adult-on-minor multiplier required the court to reduce, rather than increase, his sentence. If you are charged with a sex crime, you could face significant penalties, and it is smart to meet with a trusted Sarasota sex crime defense attorney to discuss your rights.

The Defendant’s Conviction and Sentencing

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with two counts of lascivious or lewd battery on a person between the ages of twelve and sixteen. He was convicted of both counts and sentenced to 182 months in prison on each count, to be served consecutively. He subsequently appealed his sentence.

The Impact of the Adult-On-Minor Multiplier

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in failing to apply the adult-on-minor multiplier and that had it done so, he would have received a lesser sentence. The appellate court declined to adopt his reasoning and affirmed his sentence.

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The United States Constitution affords criminal defendants numerous rights that are staunchly upheld. For example, under the Double Jeopardy clause, people can only be tried for a crime once; if the government cannot convict a defendant of an offense the first time, it does not get another shot. This does not mean that a person cannot be charged with multiple crimes related to the same incident, though, as demonstrated in a recent child pornography case in which a Florida court denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss his indictment on double jeopardy grounds. If you are faced with accusations that you committed a child pornography offense, it is advisable to contact a Sarasota sex crime defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with soliciting for child pornography. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury found him guilty, based on the standard established by the controlling precedent in the Circuit. The court later overturned the ruling establishing the standard, and the defendant successfully moved for a judgment of acquittal. Concurrently, the government charged the defendant with attempting to produce child pornography. The second charge arose out of the same conduct as the first charge. Thus, the defendant moved to dismiss the new charge against him, arguing that he could not be tried for the same conduct twice under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. The trial court denied his motion, and he appealed.

The Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution

If the same behavior violates two statutory provisions, the court conducting a double jeopardy analysis must first determine whether the legislature intended each violation to be charged as a separate offense. If the court cannot ascertain the congressional intent, it will apply the Blockburger test established by the Supreme Court.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of criminal cases. For example, many criminal trials were delayed or conducted remotely, and some prisoners were able to obtain compassionate release due to the risk of contracting the coronavirus. As discussed in a recent Florida opinion issued in a theft case, though, COVID-19, in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason to grant a downward departure sentence. If you are accused of a theft offense, it is prudent to meet with a trusted Sarasota theft crime defense attorney to assess your options.

The Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with felony petit theft for taking sunglasses from a store without paying. He failed to appear at a hearing, and the charges against him were amended to include a charge for failure to appear. He was arrested and spent ten months in jail. At a hearing for pretrial release, his attorney requested the lowest permitted sentence of fifty-five months in prison. The State rejected the offer, citing his extensive criminal history.

Reportedly, the trial court asked the state to confirm the lowest permissible sentence, then proposed that if the defendant pled guilty, it would issue a downward departure sentence due to COVID-19. The state objected, but the court sentenced the defendant to two years of probation. The state appealed.

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Federal law deems certain offenses as crimes of violence. If a defendant is convicted of using a firearm during a crime of violence, they may face significantly greater penalties than they would otherwise receive. If the elements of an offense do not expressly require the use of force or bodily harm, though, it may not be clear if it constitutes a crime of violence. Recently, in a ruling in which it denied the defendant’s appeal, a Florida court discussed what offenses are considered crimes of violence. If you are charged with a violent crime, it is in your best interest to consult a dedicated Florida criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

The History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant pleaded guilty and was convicted of numerous offenses, including bank robbery, attempted bank robbery, and brandishing a weapon in relation to and during crimes of violence, pursuant to federal law. He was sentenced to severe penalties for discharging a firearm, namely an additional seven years for each of the three crimes of violence for a total of an additional twenty-one years. He subsequently appealed his convictions, arguing in part that robbery and attempted robbery were not crimes of violence and that the statute defining sentences for crimes of violence was impermissibly vague. The court rejected his reasoning and denied his appeal.

Crimes of Violence Under Federal Law

Under the statute in question, an offense will be considered a crime of violence if it is a felony that includes an element of the use or threatened or attempted use of force against another person. The courts employ a categorical approach to determine if a crime is a crime of violence. In other words, they look only at the elements of the charged offense, presume that the defendant’s conviction arose of the least of the acts deemed unlawful, and then assess whether those acts meet the criteria of a crime of violence.

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Multiple acts of battery may be deemed a single criminal offense, or each act may be charged separately. However, regardless of how battery crimes are charged, the State must prove each element of the offense to get a conviction, which necessitates properly advising the jury on how to examine the evidence provided at trial. This was addressed in a recent Florida decision that looked at what constituted a proper jury instruction in a battery case. If you’ve been charged with battery, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer about your options.

The Battery Allegations

According to reports, the defendant and the victim, who was his ex-girlfriend, had a verbal altercation. During the disagreement, the defendant snatched a lit cigarette from the victim’s hand, shoved her, and pushed her. With two or more battery convictions, he was charged with battery. During the trial, the defendant’s attorney objected to the verdict form since it did not differentiate between each act, and he said that a unanimous verdict was not required. The objection was overruled by the court, which determined that there was a continuous series of occurrences with no intervening actions. The defendant was found guilty and filed an appeal.

Charges in Florida Battery Cases

A trial court’s employment of a generic verdict form that does not assure a unanimous verdict is a reversible error, the court argued on appeal. A jury cannot condemn a person if a single count encompasses numerous independent offenses, even if they all violate the same statute. A jury must reach a unanimous decision on at least one of the acts described. The defendant in this case claimed that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to deliberate on three different incidents of battery although he was only charged with one.

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