June 22, 2015

Country singer killed by bounty hunter in a shoot out

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What happened, while sad, actually sounds like a country song come to life! A bounty hunter, a desperado and a gun fight...that sounds like old school country.

In Lynchburg, Tennessee a bounty hunter got into a shoot out with country singer Randy Howard leaving the singer dead. While details were still coming in at the time of this writing, the shootout is believed to have happened over a DUI charge!

Randy Howard was an early member of country music's "Outlaw" movement, which rejected traditional country music in favor of a rougher sound. Howard shared the stage with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr., and has written songs for Hank Williams III, according to his LinkedIn site.

The "All American Redneck" singer had been charged with fourth-offense DUI, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a firearm while intoxicated and driving on a revoked license. A warrant was issued for him when he missed a court date.

A friend had earlier offered to drive him to his court date but Randy told him he wasn't going back to jail.

A bounty hunter by the name of Jackie Shell showed up at Howard's home to take him into custody. It is alleged that Howard opened fire and Shell shot back. Jackie Shell is reported injured (undergoing surgery) while Randy was killed in the exchange of gunfire.

Tennessee authorities are investigating the bounty hunter to determine if he had the right to enter Randy's home, an event which precipitated the shootout.

Continue reading "Country singer killed by bounty hunter in a shoot out" »

June 15, 2015

Justin Bieber pleads guilty to assault, traffic charges

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While megastar Justin Bieber has vowed to get clean and stay out of trouble, his latest legal troubles may put his promise to the test.

Last Thursday in a tiny town in Canada, Justin Bieber plead guilty to assault and careless driving that involved an incident with photographers and his then girlfriend Selena Gomez.

The incident, that took place August 29, 2014,resulted in a plea bargain when the government reduced a dangerous driving charge in exchange for a guilty plea. Justin Bieber intentionally drove a four-wheel ATV into a van two photographers were using to stake him out at his family's rural property, according to an agreed statement of facts.

The pop star then started to hitt one of them, Todd Gillis, 47, who said he was able to fend off the tiny singer who was yelling at him to leave.

Bieber landed multiple punches on Gillis through the window of the parked van.
While Justin did not hurt the large photagrapher, he was sore in his shoulder afterwards and most likely received a large settlement from Bieber in order to agree to the reduced charges.

In a surprising twist, the photographer was also found guilty of trespassing on Justin Bieber's family home, which set the above events in motion.

Justin, for his part, appeared via video from his California criminal defense attorney's office. He was fined $750 for the careless driving and his assault charges were dismissed. It was unclear if he had to participate in a pretrial diversion program in order to secure the dismissal.

On the day he got arrested, he and his then girlfriend Selena Gomez took an ATV that seats two people, one in front of the other, to the nearby home of a family member. They were on vacation and it was reported that they were driving on roads with no helmets. Meanwhile they were being staked out by two photographers both established paparazzi who had shot them before.

Selena Gomez drove on the way out, but Justin Bieber drove on the way back, and spotted the photographers parked in a driveway up ahead as he approached his own driveway. He drove at them, intentionally colliding with the front right side of their van. The police were unable to determine where exactly the impact occurred, whether on or off the highway, but there was evidence that the van, previously parked, had been moving forward at the moment of impact.

After crashing into the van, Justin immediately raced up and started to batter the photographer.

His criminal charges were dropped, in part, because at the time of this incident, he had no other criminal record. Since this incident, he has had several run ins with the law in both California and Florida. His publicist had no comment after this latest incident and his twitter feed was unusually quiet as well.


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June 10, 2015

Proposed new BUI laws in Florida

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While the weather has been hot for months, the official arrival of summer brings with it more boating. Whether deep sea fishing or pleasure cruising, boating accidents are a serious problem faced by many residents in Florida. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife , Florida leads the country in boating accidents per year. each year than any other state. Alcohol (boating under the influence) plays a large part, coming in as a top-10 cause of boating accidents in Florida.

Recently, a pair of proposed bills in the Florida House and Senate could affect how the state handles convictions for boating under the influence of alcohol (BUI). The two proposed bills, House Bill 289 and Senate Bill 598, would toughen the penalties for a person convicted of boating under the influence of alcohol. If passed, the laws would go into effect in July of this year (2015). There are three primary provisions of the proposed legislation:

1. BUI convictions would be reported to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This would mean a possible DRIVING suspension for a BOATING infraction!

2. BUI convictions would be recorded on a person's driving record, just like convictions for driving under the influence (DUI);

3. Prior BUI convictions would be considered prior DUI convictions for purposes of enforcing Florida's DUI laws, and vice versa! Currently, BUI convictions are not counted as DUI convictions for purposes of enhancement. If the law(s) are passed, a previous DUI charge may be used against you to enhance a BUI charge. Also, in the state of Florida, you can be charged with a felony DUI based on previous convictions (ie. three DUI charges in 10 years or four in total). If this bill passes (see below), a person can be looking at a felony DUI charge and a permanent driving suspension based on boating under the influence convictions from decades ago!

Besides bringing up potential constitutional issues, this bill had both supporters and opponents up in arms. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2015. As of this writing (June 2015), the Senate bill died in committee and there are no plans to reintroduce it.

What were the bills purpose? Clearly they aimed to reduce the number of boating accidents on Florida waterways,but they also opened up a "boatload" of issues. Criminally, we have already discussed potential issues.

For the victims of BUI and their personal injury attorneys, whole new avenues might have opened up. A person injured in Florida by a drunk boater can seek damages through the civil court system by filing a negligence lawsuit. To win this claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the victim a duty, that the duty was breached, the plaintiff sustained damages, and that the breach was an actual and proximate cause of the damages.

Punitive damages are always a possibility in a DUI or drunk boating crash. If these bills had passed, would there have been a possibility for punitive damages based on PRIOR DUI/BUI convictions as well?

All boaters in Florida owe the people around them, including their own passengers, a duty of reasonable care. A person who chooses to drink alcohol and operate a boat has breached this duty, since his or her actions unreasonably endanger others and themselves. Hopefully this summer's boating will be safe and fun for residents of the "Sunshine State".

Continue reading "Proposed new BUI laws in Florida" »

June 3, 2015

Palm Harbor man charged with 1981 killing of neighbor

Pinellas violent crimes lawyer.bmp From the BayNews9 website, a local man has been extradited to Massachusetts and charged in the 1981 murder of his neighbor. The twist? This will be his third time in court for this crime!

57-year-old Keith Butler was living out his golden years in Palm Harbor when he received a knock on his door. When he answered, he was arrested and extradited to Massachusetts. His crime? He is charged with murdering Francis Hussey who lived two doors down from him in 1981.

In January, 1981 41-year-old Francis Hussey was found beaten to death in his Braintree, MA home. Nearby neighbor Keith Butler quickly became a suspect after he admitted having a romantic relationship with the deceased. Francis' body was badly beaten and several items appeared missing.

In 1983, after two trials resulting in hung juries, Keith was set free.

What changed 36 years later? Well forensic evidence for one. In 1981, police noticed a red stain on Keith's jacket and shoes that appeared to be blood. DNA testing was not available at the time and the scientific evidence of the era showed that the blood MIGHT have been Husseys but was NOT Butlers.

With improved technology and a grant given to test old evidence, the jacket was sent out to the lab again. This time the DNA results came back as belonging to the victim. In fact there is a one in 32 trillion odds that it belongs to someone else!

The court record read "Mr. Hussey's DNA profile was found in the blood stain from Keith Butler's jacket". "According to [the testing lab], the odds of another Caucasian male in North America having the same DNA profile as Mr. Hussey, the same profile on the jacket, is over 1 in 32 trillion."

In addition, police found multiple witnesses that were all still available and willing to testify in the third trial.

Braintree police olice believed Hussey was killed Jan. 15, two days before Butler and his father reported finding his body on the kitchen floor of the house where the victim lived alone.

Police said Hussey showed obvious signs of head trauma. In addition, two burners on a gas stove had been left on, filling the kitchen with gas, and the phone line had been cut.

While no murder weapon was ever recovered, there was other signs of criminal activity. Six expensive Oriental rugs were missing from the home and never recovered. In the previous two trials, the prosecution argued that Butler killed Hussey so he could take the rugs and use the money from selling them to buy a plane ticket out of state.

A nearby antiques dealer, testified that Keith had called him several days before the slaying and asked if he would be interested in buying six Oriental rugs.

The dealer testified that he arranged for Butler to come by his house on Friday, Jan. 16, 1981 but he never showed. He spoke to Butler once after that but found him unreliable and chose not to deal with him again.

Sadly for the victim and society, Keith Butler had several run ins with the law both before and after this crime. He received a two-year jail sentence after he was found guilty of trying to burn down his parents' Braintree home in 1993. He was also convicted of arson in 1987, and sent to jail for five years for a violation of probation.

Finally, in 2002, Keith was sentenced to just two years of probation after pleading guilty to breaking and entering and petit theft valued at $250 or less!

At his arraignment for his murder charge, the prosecutor announced his attention to put it on the trial docket. At that time, Keith Butler did not have a criminal defense lawyer and was unable to respond.


Continue reading "Palm Harbor man charged with 1981 killing of neighbor" »

May 27, 2015

Saint Petersburg "DUI Wolfpack" operation makes 16 arrests

dui 3.png The Tampa Bay Times had a brief story about DUI arrests in Pinellas over the Memorial Day weekend.

15 people were arrested for driving under the influence and one person was arrested for DUI manslaughter by Pinellas County law enforcement.

This took place during a DUI "wolf pack" operation that took place between 8p.m. Saturday and 5a.m. Sunday. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office combined with Saint Petersburg, Largo, Gulfport and Tarpon Springs police agencies.

A "wolf pack" is a term used when police make an effort to bring attention to DUIs. Using special patrols or often "sobriety checkpoints", police can often make numerous arrests during known drinking holidays. Often it is a coordinated effort between numerous jurisdictions and agencies. During this operation, police also arrested other drivers on a variety of charges, from a DUI involving serious bodily injury to illegal drug charges.

This operation might have come in handy just a few days later after a driving mishap in Saint Petersburg. In a story that drew quite a bit of attention, 59-year-old David Ellis drove his minivan over the bridge and into the water Tuesday afternoon.

The accident took place near Snell Isle and Coffee Pot Blvd NE. Mr. Ellis suffered minor injuries but refused medical treatment. The reason for the accident soon became clear. David was arrested for an enhanced DUI and blew a .273 and .264, over three times the legal limit! This was not his first brush with the law as he was found to have at least two prior DUI convictions.


Continue reading "Saint Petersburg "DUI Wolfpack" operation makes 16 arrests" »

May 19, 2015

Ex-NFL player arrested for "extreme DUI"

Saint Petersburg DUI defense attorney.jpgWhile you don't often think of TMZ as a sports news source, they brought attention to a former player and his "extreme arrest".

Ex-Michigan star and high first round draft pick Braylon Edwards was arrested and charged with an "extreme DUI" in Arizona. The third overall draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft was always deemed a "disappointment" and never played up to his ability. He was last on a NFL team three years ago.

The ex-Browns, 49ers and Jets player was arrested for a "extreme DUI". This means that his Blood Alcohol content was above a .20.

This was not Braylon's first brush with the law. In 2010, he was arrested for another driving under the influence charge and the team was under pressure to suspend him for the upcoming Dolphins game. He instead sat on the bench for the first quarter, causing a large public outcry.

For his career, Braylon has 40 touchdown passes and over 5500 receving yards over an eight year career.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

If this had taken place in Florida, there would have been no "extreme DUI". In our state, there is an enhanced blow of .15, much lower then Arizona's "extreme 2.0". In addition, if this had been a second DUI with in five years, he would almost certainly be looking at jail time as well as a mandatory ignition interlock for 24 months.


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May 12, 2015

Policeman uses his patrol car to ram man who had gun

Saint Pete violent crimes defense lawyer.jpg CBS News has another case where a suspect is alleging police misconduct. Is this just another in a flurry of police brutality cases or was the cop a hero who saved innocent lives by his action?

It was like a scene from an action movie. The suspect is walking down a street, holding a large gun and threatening to shoot himself and others. A lone cop sees his chance and disarms the man...by hitting the man with his patrol car! While in an action movie, that would just be a cutaway, in real life the cop may be faced with termination and a lawsuit.

On February 19, Mario Valencia had a stolen rifle and had already fired once near Tuscon, Arizona.

Seeing a brief opening, Officer Michael Rapiejko drove his cruiser on the sidewalk and rammed the suspect. The police chief later claimed it almost certainly saved Mario's life.

According to the local police, Mario was fleeing from a Walmart where he had already stolen the rifle. The police caught up to him near a post office, where he then pointed the rifle at his head multiple times and threatened suicide before firing the gun in another direction and fleeing. It was not clear if he was intentionally shooting at the police or not.

The standoff came to an arupt end nearby when Rapiejko hit him with this cruiser. The police have since released the dashcam footage that shows the officer ramming into the man.

The local police srgt. told a newstation back in February."This was a dangerous felon who'd been on a crime spree throughout the morning. He'd just stolen a weapon, loaded it, was not obeying commands from officers and was walking toward occupied businesses. It's a busy time of morning, a lot of employees at work, a lot getting ready to come out for breaks, he's walking toward those businesses. So we had to take immediate action and make sure he didn't get inside those businesses."
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The suspect was taken to a nearby hospital for several days before he was booked into jail. Besides the armed robbery, assault and arson charge, the suspect is also connected to multiple crimes including a convenience store robbery, grand theft auto and a home invasion.

Mario's criminal defense attorney made no statement other then to mention that his client was in crisis and the car ramming was not necessary. "I've also heard them say that they saved his life and I find that to be a very strange statement -- to then use the deadly force to almost kill them by plowing them into with your vehicle," he said.

He made mention of a possible civil lawsuit against the officer.

The local police say they treated this case in the same way as an officer-involved shooting.

Officer Rapiejko was unhurt and placed on paid administrative leave for the standard three days. While the state attorney's office has already cleared him and he won't be facing charges, he is still being investigated by his own agency while he is back to work.

Continue reading "Policeman uses his patrol car to ram man who had gun " »

May 7, 2015

Florida woman texting before fatal DUI crash

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The local CBS station produced a heartbreaking story about a woman that was texting seconds before her car accident that cost her friend her life...and potentially the woman's freedom.

"I'll be dead thanks to you"..."Driving Drunk- woo"...These were just a few of the messages that 22-year-old Mila Dago sent her boyfriend moments before she ran a red light and crashed into a moving truck. The resulting crash ended her passenger's life and now Ms. Dago has been charged with DUI manslaughter.

Miami police released those texts from Ms. Dago along with several others messages she had sent that night to her boyfriend. Officers painted a scene of the defendant out on the town with her friend. Sometime during the bar hopping she had gotten into a text war with her boyfriend that ended in a break up. This seemed to have set Mila off. Her texts became angrier and angrier until she sent off the above two.

At almost 4:45 a.m., just three minutes after those texts were sent, prosecutors claim that she ran a red light in downtown Miami, plowing her rental car into a moving truck. The truck driver was knocked unconscious but otherwise not harmed. Her friend, who was with her bar hopping throughout the night, was not so lucky. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Arriving police noticed the smell of alcohol and signs of impairment. Blood tests were taken and she was found to have a B.A.C. of .178 over two hours after the crash. This is twice the legal limit of .08!

While this tragedy took place in August, she was not formally charged until January because her blood results took so long to come back. The defendant has pled not guilty and they are still awaiting a trial date. She has been charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and two counts of DUI with property damage.

This latest DUI or vehicular homicide incident is one of numerous similar cases that have taken place in South Florida in the past year.

Her criminal defense attorney offered sympathy for the victim's parents but would not comment on the case as it was ongoing.

A seperate wrongful death lawsuit is also pending between the victim's parents and Ms. Dago as well as the car rental company. The lawsuit is claiming that the rental car company was responsible as it was a forseeable risk that impaired people may rent a car. They are claiming that the cars should be equipped with a alcohol ignition device that would measure B.A.C. before the car could start. This is the same device that judges often order certain DUI offenders to install in their vehicles.


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April 28, 2015

Cop gets charged with assault after traffic stop

pinellas police.jpg It seems like every day there is a new report about police misconduct against civilians. What makes this case different is how quick the prosecutors filed criminal charges against. the suspect officer...

For 57-year-old Floyd Dent, what was supposed to be just another day, turned into something much worse. A dashcam video from early this year shows police beating and tasing the retired man who had no criminal history.

Floyd and the police have differing accounts as to what happened. In this suburban Detroit location, the aftermath of this incident may be felt for years.

The video shows that within a few seconds of Floyd being pulled over, the police pull him out of the car and into the street. The cops claimed they thought he was reaching for a gun, Floyd claims he was set up.

There was no sound on the video but according to Floyd, the officers told him to, "get out the car" or they'd "blow [his] brains out."

Once he was on the ground, he was put in a chokehold and hit multiple times-16 according to his criminal defense lawyer. Despite telling the police he couldn't breathe, they continued to choke him.

More police came and Floyd was tasered three times before the bloodied suspect was allowed up and put in the back of a police car.
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According to the police report, officers thought he was reaching for a gun, was threatening to kill them and was ignoring lawful commands.

Police spokesmen said cocaine was found under Floyd's seat. Floyd has denied ownership of the controlled substance and denied that he was uncooperative.

After reviewing the video, the state attorney threw out two of the three original charges, assault and resisting arrest. Floyd still faced the drug charge until just this week when that too was dropped.

Floyd is not happy and says he will not rest until the officer who battered him is "locked up"

This was not the suspect officer's first brush with the law. The arresting officer William Melendez was accused of misconduct previously, when he worked at the nearby Detroit Police Department.

In 2004, federal prosecutors charged Melendez and seven other officers with civil rights abuses, including planting evidence. Melendez and the other officers were acquitted.

It is far too early to know what will happen to the officer this time but a few days ago the state filed battery charges against the police officer.

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April 23, 2015

Commercial Driver's License? A new case may change things for the better.

saint petersburg traffic ticket defense.jpg In Florida, a brand new legal case just came out that concerns those who have a commercial driver's license ("CDL"). CDL are driver's licenses that are needed for many jobs. Commercial truck drivers, beer trucks and even some furniture movers need to have this license.

The big problem for these CDL carriers happens when they receive a traffic ticket. Speeding, careless driving or even lesser known tickets such as a wide turn brought major problems to these drivers. That is because with a CDL you are unable to receive a withhold of ajudication. Any ticket you receive is an automatic conviction if you are found guilty. A conviction mean points on your driver's license and often automatic termination of your employment!

Unlike us non-commercial drivers, these drivers are unable to take a driving course in lieu of a conviction or have their traffic ticket attorney negotiate a no-conviction plea with the state.

This may all change now with a brand new court case that just came out. If it stands, CDL drivers will now be able to receive a "withhold" on their traffic tickets, saving them both their employment and their jobs.

The case, State v. Bandy, FLW SUPP 2207BAND, was published March 9, 2015. To summarize, the case says a CDL driver can get a withhold, if he enters a nolo plea. The Court says as follows:

"F.S. §318.14(9) prohibits a CDL driver from electing driving school. That enactment was well within the legislature's province. Significantly, the legislature could have, but did not, amend F.S. §318.14(11), Florida Statutes, regarding CDL drivers and withholding ajudication. The legislature could have, but did not amend Chapter 318.14(11) to state, for example, that "withholding ajudication of guilt by the judge or official for a driver who holds a commercial driver's license is prohibited, and the judge or official is required to ajudicate as guilty every case in which the CDL Defendant enters a plea of nolo contendre. The failure of the legislature to amend F.S. §318.14(11) to prohibit a judge or official from withholding ajudication is a CDL case, but enacting F.S. Sec. 318.14(9) to prohibit the CDL driver's election of driving school to obtain a clerk's withhold of ajudication, is an expression of the legislature's intent to allow a withhold of ajudication for a CDL driver who enters a plea of nolo contendere for the court's determination of the disposition of the case."

Continue reading "Commercial Driver's License? A new case may change things for the better." »

April 14, 2015

Epic Fail: Man steals car to drive to court

Saint Pete grand theft defense.jpg From the "Not the brightest idea" file comes a CBS news report about a man who was late to his own courtdate. He did the logical thing in his mind, stealing his friend's car to get there!

21-year-old Jorge Ramirez-Sierra, of New Jersey, stole his friend's car so he could make his court appearance.

Police were called early Friday to a home where the owner of a 2011 Ford Fusion reported his car missing. The owner suspected Jorge of the grand theft because the defendant mentioned he had no ride to court multiple times the night before.

While the police were still at the victim's house, Jorge called him. The soon-to-be defendant told the man he had his car and was on the way back. Police were there to arrest Jorge when he arrived in his friend's stolen car.

Police quickly searched the hapless thief and found drug paraphernalia, a crack pipe, an empty fireball whisky bottle and wax bags in his possession. To top it off, the man was also driving with a suspended license!

Ramirez-Sierra was charged with one count of grand theft auto, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of a hypodermic needle, driving while license suspended and having an opening container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Despite his new arrests, he was released pending an April 15 courtdate. He was lucky that these new crimes did not take place in Pinellas, Pasco or Hillsborough county, otherwise his bond would most likely be revoked because of his new arrests!

Ironically, while driving a stolen car caused his newest arrest, he was going to court that day to deal with criminal charges that took place while he was a passenger in a car.

Previously, police pulled the car over for erratic driving and found a juvenile driver and the suspect in the passenger seat. Eventually, officers discovered he was in possession of heroin, possession of drug paraphernalia, and again, possession of hypodermic needles. In addition he also had an outstanding warrant. He was arrested and the driver faced multiple juvenile charges as well.


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April 6, 2015

Florida woman busted for DUI in a McDonald's drive through

Pinellas dui defense attorney.jpg The New York Daily News chips in on a local Florida woman who got in trouble after a night out.

23-year-old Lydia Kelm, a nurse, was arrested at a McDonald's drive-through early Monday after causing a scene. She might also have been allergic to clothes as she was found clad only in a bra and underwear!

Ms. Kelm was at the McDonald's drive-through in Leesburg, Florida at around 3:30 a.m., less then two miles from the police department. After placing her order, she began to rev her engine multiple times and was backing up in a one-way lane. Employees had to yell at her multiple times to pull forward to the window.

According to the arrest affidavit, Ms. Kelm :seemed to be confused, lethargic and had slurred speech", all signs of impairment. The DUI suspect told the police when they arrived that she only had three drinks.

Officers had her perform field sobriety exercises after letting her borrow a coat to wear in the below 50-degree weather. As one might guess, she performed poorly.

She was arrested and taken to the police station where an alcohol reading of her breath was done. She was found to be over three times the legal limit of a .08!

The underwear-clad woman was booked into the Lake County jail and charged with driving under the influence.


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April 1, 2015

Tampa man caught in bed with young boy

Tampa sex crimes defense.bmp This one will be hard to explain... a Tampa man has been arrested on multiple charges after being found in bed with a 10-year-old boy by the boy's mother!

The importance of being Ernest...just not with a child. 25-year-old Ernest Johnson of Tampa was arrested Monday on multiple charges including burglary of an occupied dwelling, possession of burglary tools and lewd and lascivious molestation.

Per a police report, Tampa PD was called out after 4:30 a.m. for a reported burglary. The victim's mother told police that she found a man naked inside her minor son's bed!

"I turned his light for his room, I see that face," said the boy's mother. "He was laying in the bed. Like normal, like it was his bed." She woke Johnson by hitting him multiple times, jarring him awake.

The man leaped out of her son's bed, dived out of the same window he forcibly entered and was gone before the police arrived. Using a K9 unit, police were able to track down Johnson and make an arrest.

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The man appeared in Hillsborough county court Monday morning and was denied bond. A brief look at his prior criminal record did not show that he was on a sex offender registry. It does appear however, that the defendant has a prior exposing himself to a minor charge out of Sarasota where he was given almost one year in county.

In addition, this new arrest seems to have violated his probation for another charge.

Not even counting what a violation of probation charge may do to him, these new allegations are extremely serious. Burglary of an occupied dwelling, (Florida statute 810.02(3)) is a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15years in prison and it will score mandatory prison time.

The L&L, depending on how it is filed, can be anywhere from a second degree felony all the way up to LIFE in prison! In addition, a conviction under this statute will result in mandatory registration as a sex offender/predator.

The defendant may have some mental health issues as he had previously violated parole by not receiving mental health treatment. If this is so, he may have possible competency defenses depending on the nature of any mental illness.

Continue reading "Tampa man caught in bed with young boy" »

March 25, 2015

Lawyers in the "Bubba" DUI setup case get their day in court

Saint Petersburg DUI defense lawyers.jpgWhile it happened almost two years ago, the Bubba the Love Sponge vs. MK defamation trial is still talked about today. Besides the nature of the case itself, the big sideshow was the setting up of MJ's attorney by Bubba's lawyers. The set up resulted in MJ's lawyer getting arrested for a DUI and his trial material being left in the opponent's car! Now the "chickens are coming home to roost" for the lawyers involved...

In Clearwater, Florida three of the lawyers involved in the set up and arrest of an opposing attoney for a DUI are close to a plea deal. This deal may involve surrendering a law license for at least one of the accused.

Stepen Diaco, partner in the Tampa firm of Adams & Diaco, agreed to surrender his license to practice law as part of a plea bargain. This was done in part to protect his law firm. Two other lawyers there, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut agreed to receive a 91-day suspension.

The plea deal still would need to be approved by both a Pinellas County senior judge and the Florida Supreme Court.

Even if the agreement is approved, it is still controversial. The agreement does not call for any of the attorneys to admit guilt for their roles in the arrest of an opposing counsel in the middle of trial. They only would have to admit to poorly supervising a paralegal at their firm. This might have been done as the accused attorneys are still facing a FBI investigation and possible criminal charges.

The details are still talked about today. In early 2013 there was a defamation law suit between radio DJ Todd "MJ" Schnitt and Bubba the Love Sponge.

The Florida Bar, which filed a formal legal complaint against Adams & Diaco, alleges several underhanded methods the firm used by the firm to help Bubba prevail.

MJ's counsel was eating dinner at a local steakhouse in Tampa (Malio's) after court in the middle of the civil suit. An attractive lady sat next to him and started talking to the attorney. She claimed that she was a paralegal for an unrelated law firm but in reality she lied. In reality, the woman (Melissa Personius) was a paralegal working for Adams.

Phone records that came out during discovery later showed that during the dinner with the attorney, she was texting and calling her boss multiple times. He, in turn, would reply.

After several drinks, she asked MJ's lawyer to drive her home. He offered to get her a cab, he offered a call service and even asked her to keep her car there overnight. The Adams' paralegal insisted he drive her car home.

As soon as he got behind the wheel, the trap was sprung. Tampa Sgt. Ray Fernandez, a friend of Adam Filthaut, was alerted by the law firm and pulled over the attorney immediately. Records later showed that the Sgt. and Filthaut exchanged multiple texts about what he needed to do. One of the texts proved that he was tipped off as soon as MJ's lawyer and Melissa left the restaurant.

While embarrassing for MJ's lawyer, rumors of the DUI being a set up quickly sprung up and it was later revealed that the attorney left his trial briefs in Personious' car...and that Adams & Diaco had full access to them!

Punishment was swift. The cop was fired, the DUI was dismissed and the Florida Bar charged the three attorneys from Adams & Diaco with misconduct, disrupting court and other allegations. The punishment can range from a reprimand to full disbarment.

If this deal is accepted, Diaco will not be able to reapply to the Florida Bar for five years and will need to retake the Bar exam.

At first glance, the 91-day suspensions of Adams and Filthaut seems like an odd number, but there is a method to the madness. Per the Florida Bar handbook, any suspension over 90 days means the attorney cannot practice again until approved by a referee. This means that there is no guarantee the two attorneys will be able to practice again right away and they may need to take further Bar or ethics educational courses.

Meanwhile, the three disgraced lawyers may be facing a civil suit from MJ's attorney. Said a lawyer representing him:
"They agreed to these Bar sanctions because they know what they did that night was wrong and inexcusable. They still do not have the guts or the honesty to testify under oath and be cross-examined about what happened that night".

Continue reading "Lawyers in the "Bubba" DUI setup case get their day in court" »

March 19, 2015

St. Patricks day means plenty of cheer and DUIs

Pinellas DUI defense attorney.jpg Happy belated St. Patrick's Day! Of course, with the festivities comes the alcohol which also means the arrests. One newspaper did some research and found that in this one night, police made 50 Dui arrests!

In Denver, police reported almost 50 driving under the influence arrests alone over a five day enforcement period. Eight arrests Friday, five Saturday, eleven Sunday, five Monday and eleven on St. Patrick's day meant the police were kept busy.

These arrests were not just alcohol based. Besides the 47 DUI arrests, police made an additional three arrests for driving while under the influence of a controlled substance.
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LEGAL ANALYSIS

As previously mentioned, DUI arrests can be from alcohol, drugs or a combination. Possession of most illegal drugs (with the exception of small amounts of marijuana) is considered a felony. Most DUIs if there is no death or injury, are only misdemeanors. This includes drug-based driving under the influence charges as well. For example, possession of cocaine is a third-degree felony, with a punishment of up to five years in prison. However, if a person was found to have consumed cocaine and then was pulled over for erratic driving and failed field sobriety exercises AND a drug test, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor DUI. Even the positive drug test would not be enough to charge him with a felony if no drug was in his possession.

Continue reading "St. Patricks day means plenty of cheer and DUIs" »