Articles Posted in Crimes of Violence

By now, the story of the retired police captain who shot and killed a fellow movie-goer in Pasco County has become extremely well-known, especially here in Florida. We can all debate what each man could and/or should have done differently, but this isn’t about that. Instead, this post is to focus on some legal aspects of the case that were less well-known and the lessons one can draw from this case, starting with the value of having the right Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer on your side when you’re facing major felony charges.

To recap, Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain, was attending a matinee movie with his wife when he became frustrated with a nearby man who was texting. The captain spoke out, an argument ensued, then the other man threw Reeves’ popcorn at him. Shortly thereafter, Reeves drew his gun and shot, fatally wounding the man.

The prosecution argued that Reeves was insulted by the popcorn-throwing and shot in a fit of rage. The defense argued that Reeves shot in self-defense.

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Modern technology has touched all areas of life. Things that would have been impossible 50 years ago are common today. Even with the application of modern technology, all the rights and privileges established by the constitution remain in place. A prosecutor inevitably doesn’t want to lose a child witness’s testimony due to the child’s fear or lose an ill person’s testimony because poor health prevented their travel. However, the Constitution still requires that a criminal defendant be confronted by the witnesses against him. That’s true whether the witness is 10 feet away in the courtroom or thousands of miles away on a video feed. Ensuring that all your rights — including the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause rights — are protected is an essential part of any criminal defense, and is just one area among the many where it pays to have a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney on your side.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court issued a very important ruling in a case involving these issues of modern technology and constitutional rights.

The underlying crime was the double murder of a couple who lived together just north of Fort Lauderdale. The prosecution’s star witness was the accused man’s mother. The state wanted her to testify about the suspect’s allegedly having taken the couple’s credit cards and SUV, driven to the mother’s home in the stolen vehicle, disposed of certain pieces of evidence while there, and ultimately dumped the stolen vehicle at a Walmart store near the mother’s home.

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Many people across the country were riveted these past few weeks by the homicide trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Many people were happy with the outcome; many more were profoundly disappointed. Regardless of one’s feelings about the trial’s result, there are certain things that we can all learn from the trial and why the jury decided as they did. Although the Tampa Bay area is 1,200+ miles from Kenosha and Wisconsin’s laws are not Florida’s, one thing that is nearly universal is how important the right defense strategy can be. That’s why, if you or a loved one is on trial or potentially facing charges here, it pays to have a knowledgeable Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney on your side.

For those unfamiliar with the background events, Kyle Rittenhouse was a teen who lived 20 miles south of Kenosha and who traveled to the city on August 25, 2021, after a series of protests the day before had included arson, vandalism, and property damage. (The protests had begun after local police shot and paralyzed a Black man.)

During the night of August 25, Rittenhouse was involved in a pair of confrontations with protestors. During those confrontations, Rittenhouse shot at four men, hitting three and killing two.

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Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been the subject of much commentary from TV talking heads, internet bloggers, and other “armchair attorneys.” Regardless of what one might think about the wisdom of the law, the fact remains that this law may, in the hands of a skillful Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney, provide a person accused of a serious crime a distinct possibility to avoid a conviction.

A recent case from Manatee County illustrates how helpful and far-reaching “Stand Your Ground” immunity can be. In C.C.’s aggravated battery case, it was undisputed that C.C. and her boyfriend, G.B., went out to a Palmetto biker bar, where they met and partied with Mr. C. and Ms. E.

G.B. and C.C. later invited their new acquaintances to their Palmetto trailer home. There, a disagreement erupted between Mr. C. and G.B. That disagreement devolved into a fight.

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931789-Crimes-of-Violence-callout-08-20-10The world is constantly evolving, meaning that the law is evolving. New technologies may mean new avenues for obtaining the evidence you need to prove your innocence in a criminal trial. Getting that evidence, though, requires knowing how to engage in the legal processes properly and in a timely way. To do that, be sure you have representation from a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.

One of the modern technological gadgets many people have in their homes these days is a personal assistant device from Amazon or a competitor such as Google. Amazon’s devices come with the well-known “Alexa,” a voice-activated, cloud-based AI service. You can tell Alexa to do many things, from compiling shopping lists to tuning in a radio station to even mimicking the sound of human flatulence, and the Amazon device will perform that task.

Technology like this, as it contains the ability to “listen” and record what is said to the device, has the potential for some unexpected uses. In fact, in one case currently pending in a trial court in Kentucky, Alexa may hold the key to proving a woman’s innocence, according to her attorney. In that case, K.E. was on trial for the April 2020 murder of her mother in the small town of Elizabethtown, KY.

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If you watch enough TV cop-and-lawyer shows, then you’ve likely heard one or more of the police characters talk about “the right to remain silent,” and the lawyer characters speak about “hearsay.” That’s because these are legitimately very big deals. If a piece of prosecution evidence qualifies as hearsay, then it is probably not going to be admissible under the rules of evidence. Similarly, if the police improperly coaxed a statement out of you after you invoked your right to remain silent, then the potentially incriminating things you said after invoking your rights may also be excluded. A skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney has extensive experience in making – and winning – these kinds of arguments on behalf of the accused.

These issues of hearsay evidence and improper police questioning were on display in a recent felony case from Charlotte County. According to a 911 call, the alleged victim (who was also J.T.’s ex-girlfriend) was hiding from J.T. inside a camper when J.T. decided to hitch the camper to his vehicle and start driving it down a rural Charlotte County road.

Law enforcement caught up to J.T., and the alleged victim told the officers that J.T. had sent her threatening text messages. A detective reviewed the messages on the alleged victim’s phone.

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Any time you are facing criminal charges and the prosecution’s case relies very heavily on the testimony of one person, one potentially very effective – and successful — defense is to give the jury persuasive reasons to decide that the state’s witness is lying and should not be believed. When that happens, that evidence may be enough to convince the jury that your testimony is more credible than the state’s witness’s testimony. To do that, though, you need to amass the right kind of proof and you need to know how to argue for its admissibility. This is one area among many where a skilled Pinellas County criminal defense attorney can help you to present a complete picture and a vigorous defense presentation to the jury.

Those persuasive reasons why a prosecution witness might be lying are called evidence of the witness’s “bias.” Witness bias was the key issue in one St. Petersburg man’s criminal case recently. The man, B.P., was a homeowner who rented space in his house to a tenant, J.L. One night, the pair visited a jazz club together. On the way home, the two had an argument that became heated and J.L. ended up out of the van and on the ground. B.P. said J.L. fell out of the van, but J.L. said B.P. pushed her. After J.L.’s exit from the van, B.P. ran over her arm and went home. A jury eventually convicted B.P. of aggravated battery.

B.P.’s legal team succeeded in getting the conviction overturned on appeal. The accused man’s successful appeal is a useful reminder of how helpful witness bias evidence can be, especially in cases where the majority of the state’s evidence is witness testimony. In B.P.’s case, his legal team prepared to introduce evidence that J.L. only agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and to give damaging testimony against B.P. after B.P. evicted her.

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By now, most people are familiar with the “Florida man” meme and Florida man’s exploits, which are often criminal in nature. Sometimes, these events are actually more tragic than funny, arising as the results of severe (and often untreated) addiction and/or mental illness.

If a person commits a criminal act while suffering from a mental issue, he may not be competent to stand trial or may be not guilty of any crime due to his mental state. If you need to present arguments and evidence about your mental state in your criminal matter, be sure you have an experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney by your side handling your case.

This backdrop brings us to news reports about J.D. from Bay County. In May 2014, J.D. believed that his neighbor stole his dog. Reportedly, J.D. confronted the woman with a shotgun. First, he threatened to blow the woman’s kneecaps off. Then he threatened to kill her. A male member of the household came outside, and J.D. shot him. That man subdued J.D. with a hammer and police came and arrested J.D.

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One of the most well-known elements of Florida criminal law and procedure, at least among lay people, is this state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This law can provide an important tool in the defense arsenal of a person accused of a violent crime who was, in fact, simply defending him/herself. Whether your criminal defense case involves an assertion of self-defense, other affirmative defenses or different trial strategies, your criminal case is too important to take chances with. Be sure you are getting the best defense possible by retaining an experienced Saint Petersburg criminal defense attorney.

While many “Stand Your Ground” cases that make news headlines involve guns, W.J.’s case was a bit different. W.J. was a St. Petersburg man who had a difficult relationship with his roommate. The two fought, but it was hardly the sort of lighthearted roommate squabbles one might see on a classic episode of The Odd Couple. This pair’s battles allegedly involved the roommate brandishing a baseball bat and threatening to kill W.J.

W.J. kept a knife on his bedside table because of his fear related to the roommate’s behavior. On the day of the roommate’s death, W.J. alleged that he awoke in his bedroom to find the roommate’s hand in his pants pocket, which was where W.J. kept his cash. A physical struggle ensued, which traveled from the bedroom to the living room to the backyard. In the backyard, W.J. finally gained control of the knife and stabbed the roommate, killing him.

There are many different ways that you or a loved one can avoid a criminal conviction in a felony case. One way that this can occur is if the trial court concludes that the defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial. If a trial goes forward against an incompetent person, that person may be entitled to a reversal of his conviction. All of these things require a detailed understanding of criminal law, so if you have a loved one facing this type of circumstance, reach out without delay to a knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney.

A news-making case from Orlando became a trial that touched upon this issue of competency to stand trial. Antoine was scheduled to go on trial for murder in 2015 after he allegedly killed his girlfriend in the condo they shared shortly before Christmas 2011. The man allegedly slit the victim’s throat and stabbed her repeatedly. He admitted the killing. Antoine, though, had schizophrenia and asserted that he heard voices in his head. Prior to the start of the trial, Antoine’s lawyer submitted to the court a document known as a “notice of incompetency.” When that happens, the law requires the court to stop the progress of the underlying case and hold a hearing to determine whether or not the defendant is legally competent to stand trial.

The trial court ordered a competency hearing to assess Antoine. Before the hearing, two court-appointed experts analyzed the defendant and determined that Antoine was not competent. A few months later, mental health providers determined that Antoine’s competency had been restored. Another hearing was scheduled, and, at the hearing, Antoine’s attorney reported to the judge and the prosecutor that the newest court-appointed expert had deemed the defendant to be competent. Without reviewing the expert’s report and without taking any evidence, the court declared that Antoine was competent and that the case should go forward.

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