Kidnapping is one of the most serious crimes a person can be accused of committing, and a conviction for kidnapping often results in a lengthy jail sentence. Not all confinements during the commission of a criminal offense constitute grounds for a kidnapping conviction, though. Rather, as explained in a recent Florida opinion, the courts must conduct a three-part test to determine if the State has met its burden of proof with regard to a defendant’s guilt in a kidnapping case. If you are charged with kidnapping or any other violent offense, it is advisable to speak to a knowledgeable Sarasota violent crime defense lawyer regarding what evidence the State must produce to establish your guilt.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant and two other individuals entered an auto parts store shortly before it closed. One of the men placed a gun to the store manager’s head and demanded that he and two other employees and two customers get on the ground, which they did. The man then grabbed the manager and forced him to open the safe in the back of the store. The defendant and the other man stayed with the employees and customers in the store. One of the gunmen struck an employee who refused to abide by his command and dragged him to the middle of the store. The men then made the other employee and the customers crawl to a back room where they were robbed.

Allegedly, the State charged the defendant with four counts of kidnapping in the facilitation of a felony. He was convicted, after which he appealed. On appeal, the court upheld three of his convictions but reversed one on the grounds the evidence produced by the State was insufficient to sustain the conviction under the three-part test for kidnapping during the commission of a felony as established under Florida law. Continue Reading ›

When people suffer personal tragedies, their friends and families will often set up fundraisers to help them deal with the financial ramifications of their losses. What starts as a kind-hearted gesture may lead to criminal charges, though, if the funds collected are not properly disbursed. While numerous charges could potentially arise out of the mishandling of charitable donations, a person cannot be convicted multiple times for the same offense. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling in which the court agreed with the defendant’s assertion that her convictions for fraud and organized scheme to defraud violated her right against double jeopardy.  If you are charged with a fraud offense, it is in your best interest to meet with a skillful Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your potential defenses.

The Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant and her husband were struggling financially. Her husband was a firefighter, and after two other firefighters were killed and a third firefighter’s daughter died, the defendant organized a benefit to raise money for the three families. It is estimated that between tickets sold at the door and prior to the benefit, the defendant gathered in excess of $28,000 dollars.

Reportedly,  cash donations were made during the benefit as well. The bulk of the money was never given to the families, however. Eventually, the police investigated the incident and charged the defendant with multiple crimes, including grand theft and an organized scheme to defraud. A jury convicted her, after which she appealed.

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Drug crimes can result in serious penalties, and typically lengthier sentences are imposed for offenses involving certain classes of drugs. In recent years, though, flaws in the federal sentencing schemes were noted, and numerous laws were passed to address sentencing discrepancies, and people sentenced under prior laws may be eligible for reduced sentences. In a recent opinion, a Florida court discussed eligibility for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act in a case in which the trial court denied the defendant’s request for a reduction. If you are charged with a drug offense, it is smart to meet with a Sarasota criminal defense attorney regarding your rights.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that in 2005, the defendant was charged with and found guilty of numerous drug crimes, including conspiracy to possess 50 grams or more of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, in violation of federal law. Due to the amount of crack in his possession and his prior criminal history, he was sentenced to life in prison for the conspiracy charge. His total sentence was life in prison plus fifteen years, followed by ten years of supervised release. In 2019, the defendant sought a reduction of his sentence under the First Step Act. His sentence was reduced but he nonetheless appealed, arguing it should have been further reduced per the terms of the Act.

Reductions of Penalties Under the First Step Act

In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which changed the statutory penalties for drug offenses involving crack cocaine, including the one for which the defendant was convicted. The amendments were not applied retroactively, though, until 2018, when Congress enacted the First Step Act. Specifically, the First Step Act provides that the Fair Sentencing Act is retroactive and granted courts the authority to reduce the sentences of eligible crack offenders if they deemed it appropriate. Continue Reading ›

In Florida, it is illegal for people to possess controlled substances other than those prescribed by a doctor. Additionally, it is unlawful to sell or distribute such drugs, and people caught with a certain quantity of illicit substances may be charged with drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is a serious crime that carries substantial penalties, and it is critical for people charged with such offenses to understand their rights. If you are accused of drug trafficking, it is in your best interest to meet with a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to evaluate your options for seeking a just result.

What is Drug Trafficking?

Under Florida Statute 893.135, it is unlawful to knowingly purchase, manufacture, sell, deliver, or bring in to the state or to knowingly possess certain amounts of controlled substances and constitutes drug trafficking. The amount varies depending on the drug in question. For example, a person who is caught with more than 25 pounds of cannabis or 300 or more cannabis plants may be charged with trafficking in cannabis, which is a felony of the first degree.

Similarly, a person who possesses 28 grams or more of cocaine may be charged with trafficking in cocaine. People may also be charged with drug trafficking for possessing a certain amount of morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone, opium, hydrocodone, or any salt, isomer, derivative, or salt of an isomer of such a substance, including heroin and many other drugs. In addition to state charges, people accused of drug trafficking are also frequently charged with federal offenses. Continue Reading ›

Sex crimes are serious offenses that often carry weighty penalties. Additionally, many convictions not only result in fines and prison time but may also require a person to register as a sex offender. Being on the sex offender registry can greatly impair many aspects of a person’s life, and it is critical for anyone charged with a crime of a sexual nature to understand the consequences that come with a conviction or guilty plea. If you are accused of a sex crime, it is critical to speak to a knowledgeable Sarasota criminal defense attorney as soon as possible regarding your rights.

What is the Florida Sex Offender Registry?

Under Florida law, people convicted of certain crimes are required to report to their local sheriff’s office and provide identifying information, such as their name, birth date, social security number, race, sex, hair and eye color, tattoos, and other notable marks, and height and weight.

They also have to provide personal information such as their address, place of employment and occupation, contact information, and vehicle information. This information is used, in part, to create a profile for the individual on the public sex offender registry website, which anyone can access to look for offenders by name or to search certain areas to see if offenders live or work there. Continue Reading ›

Many DUI charges arise out of traffic stops that occur because of erratic driving or other circumstances that indicate a driver may be intoxicated. While the police are permitted to stop motorists, they generally must have a reasonable belief that a person is committing a crime or is about to engage in criminal activity for a stop to be lawful. There is an exception, though, for DUI checkpoints. In other words, under Florida law, the police are permitted to stop motorists without cause to assess whether they may be impaired without violating their rights. The police must comply with specific parameters when they conduct DUI checkpoints, though, and if they do not, they may overstep their lawful rights. If you are charged with a DUI following a stop at a checkpoint, you should meet with a trusted Sarasota DUI defense attorney to assess your options.

Florida’s DUI Checkpoint Rules

Florida is one of several states where it is lawful for the police to set up DUI checkpoints. The police must abide by certain rules and regulations when setting up and conducting checkpoints, though. First, checkpoints cannot be conducted in secret. In other words, the police must notify the public of checkpoints. Specifically, they must publish the location and the date of the checkpoint prior to when it is set up. The checkpoint must also be conducted in compliance with certain guidelines, which means, in part, that officers cannot randomly or discriminately stop certain vehicles but must have clear procedures regarding who will be stopped.

Additionally, police officers are limited by a three-minute rule. In other words, they cannot detain a driver for more than three minutes in most circumstances. If a stop exceeds three minutes, the checkpoint should be suspended, and the police should only stop select vehicles until the traffic is stopped for less than three minutes. Continue Reading ›

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically modified many aspects of daily living, including how courts handle the process of handling criminal hearings and trials. Criminal defendants have many rights under the state and federal constitutions, but some of them have been altered or impinged by COVID-19 orders, and it is critical for people charged with criminal offenses to understand how their cases will proceed during the pandemic. If you are accused of a crime, you should meet with a skillful Sarasota criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Florida Court Process During COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, many Florida courts have been operating under modifications based on local public health information in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For example, some courts have temporarily halted non-jury and in-person jury trials, while others have limited the number of trials they are allowing to proceed.

Criminal defendants have numerous rights, though, including the right to a speedy trial. Specifically, under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191, a criminal trial must begin within ninety days of a person’s arrest if the crime charged is a misdemeanor. If the underlying offense is a felony, the trial must commence within one hundred and seventy-five days of the defendant’s arrest. In some cases, a defendant may be able to file a demand for a speedy trial, in which case the trial must commence within fifty days.

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In many criminal matters, the State must rely on circumstantial evidence to obtain a conviction, such as eyewitness testimony. Similarly, criminal defendants often ask witnesses to testify to substantiate their defenses. Thus, the inability to present a witness can be greatly prejudicial to a defendant and may result in an unjust conviction. A defendant who wishes to delay a trial or verdict to permit an additional witness to testify must meet a high burden of proof; however, and such requests are not often granted. Recently, a Florida court discussed what a defendant seeking a continuance to present an additional witness must prove for the request to be granted in a case in which the defendant was convicted of numerous violent crimes. If you are charged with violent offenses, it is in your best interest to speak to a trusted Sarasota violent crime defense attorney regarding your rights.

The History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with multiple violent crimes, including first-degree murder and armed robbery. During his trial, he filed a motion for a continuance so that he could present an additional witness. The court denied his motion, and he was convicted as charged. He subsequently appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a continuance. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling and the jury’s verdict.

Motions for Continuances to Present Additional Witnesses

After reviewing the evidence of record, the court noted that the defendant preserved the issue for appeal but found that his appeal lacked merit. The court explained that a denial of a motion for a continuance is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. In the subject case, the defendant’s attorney requested the continuance after both sides had presented their cases and closing arguments were about to begin. He asserted that a possible witness had just been disclosed but admitted he had not spoken to or met with the witness. Continue Reading ›

In many cases in which a person is charged with a sex offense involving a child, the State will have little if any direct evidence that a crime was committed. As such, the prosecution will often seek to admit circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt, which may include hearsay testimony. Under the Florida Rules of Evidence, hearsay is generally inadmissible, but there are exceptions, as discussed in a recent ruling in which a Florida court affirmed a defendant’s conviction for sexual battery of a minor. If you are accused of committing a sex crime against a minor, it is advisable to meet with an experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.

The Charges Against the Defendant

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with sexual battery on an individual under the age of twelve. The charge arose from the allegation that he assaulted his former girlfriend’s daughter over the course of four years when he lived with the girlfriend. Prior to trial, the State filed a notice that it intended to admit hearsay evidence in the form of a handwritten note in which the victim described her sexual abuse. Following a hearing, the trial court deemed the note admissible. The defendant was convicted as charged, after which he appealed, arguing, in part, that the court erred in publishing the note.

Hearsay Testimony in Florida Criminal Trials

On appeal, the court held that the admission of the victim’s note into evidence was proper under the Florida Statute Section 90.803(23), which establishes the standard for allowing hearsay statements of child sex abuse victims into evidence at criminal trials. Specifically, the Statute states that the statement must meet certain requirements with regards to reliability. First, it must come from a source that indicates trustworthiness. Second, the content, circumstances, and time of the statement must reflect that it provides adequate safeguards of reliability.

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The criminal justice system treats and prosecutes juvenile offenders differently than adults. Typically, a court that handles a juvenile matter retains jurisdiction over the case until the child reaches a certain age, but the duration of the jurisdiction varies depending on the offense for which the minor was convicted. A court’s continuing jurisdiction over juvenile matters was the topic of a recent ruling set forth by a Florida court in a case in which a juvenile defendant allegedly violated the terms of his probation. If you are a minor charged with a criminal offense, it is in your best interest to confer with a trusted Sarasota criminal defense attorney regarding your rights.

The Defendant’s Convictions

Allegedly, the defendant was convicted of three different crimes when he was a juvenile. He was sentenced to probation for each crime. The 2015 conviction was for lascivious and lewd conduct by a person under 18, and the 2016 and 2018 convictions were for battery crimes. In 2020, he appeared before the court for a violation of probation hearing on all three cases. The alleged violation was his failure to complete sex-offender counseling for his 2015 conviction. The defendant argued that the court no longer had jurisdiction over the 2016 and 2017 matters and asked the court to dismiss those cases. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, after which he appealed.

Continuing Jurisdiction Over a Juvenile Case

Under Florida law, a juvenile court’s jurisdiction is limited to that indicated by statute. Specifically, the court has original jurisdiction over matters where the child violates the law. Jurisdiction attaches to both the case and the child, and the court may control the child and the case pursuant to the statute. Although there are exceptions, a court will retain jurisdiction over a matter until a child turns 19. One of the exceptions involves juvenile sexual offenders who have been ordered to attend community-based treatment or who have been placed in a treatment facility, in which case jurisdiction will extend until the minor turns 21.

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