Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

PoliceThere are a lot of things anyone should understand when being questioned by the police. First and foremost, when the police are asking you questions, they’re often not there to help you; they’re seeking to obtain information that will help secure an arrest in a criminal matter. That’s not intended as an insult to those who wear the uniform, but it’s just a statement of fact –- that it is the job of the police to investigate potential crimes and, when appropriate, make arrests. Thus, unless the officer who approached you did so because your car has a flat tire on a busy highway, the chances are that the “helpful” officer talking to you is actually trying to get useful information relevant to a case on which they are working.

Also, be aware that whatever you say is likely to be regarded with suspicion by an officer, even if they give no outward signs of that or even appear empathetic. As the main protagonist of a popular TV show set in Florida once opined, “spies spend their lives telling lies, [while] cops spend their careers listening to them.” All that is to say that, when you find yourself being questioned by law enforcement officers, your first instinct should be to protect yourself legally, and that means getting a lawyer. A recent Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling in a South Florida case provides a useful example of this.

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The_Jury_by_John_MorganIn criminal cases, jury trials demonstrate the “human element” that comes with involving a group of everyday people who come together to serve as jurors. On the opposite side of that sometimes unpredictable “human element” are the rules of procedure. Sometimes, in dealing with juries, a judge may make a mistake that runs afoul of these rules. Part of pursuing the strongest possible defense is making sure that, when this type of mistake occurs, you ensure that the mistake does not unfairly harm your rights.

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hit-and-runIf you or a loved one is facing criminal prosecution, there are many things that can help you get to a successful outcome. Sometimes, that event can be a ruling in another case. In the situation of a man who was accused of violating the state’s hit-and-run law, he was able to overcome the charges against him and achieve success in the Fifth District Court of Appeal after the Florida Supreme Court clarified that the accident at issue in his case did not qualify as a “crash,” which was required in order to trigger a prosecution under the statute.

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pinellas policeA government report that was just released showed that state laws/regulations regarding teen driving has actually contributed to a large decrease in crime.

Starting in the early 90’s a few states passed GDL (graduated driver licensing) laws, making teenagers gain experience driving before they could become fully licensed drivers.  As of this writing, all 50 states have some form of GDL.  Now, research has suggested that these laws have contributed to fewer teenagers being arrested for nontraffic-related crimes.

State GDL laws, limiting teens ability to drive at night, have led to fewer kids being arrested for battery and burglary.  In effect, driving curfews have cut down teenagers being out in the dark when the majority of violent crimes and home invasions take place.

When these laws were first being passed, the effect on crime was not a consideration.  The sole purpose was to improve teen safety.  These findings, if correct, are just a happy bonus.  This protects both the public and keeps kids out of the juvenile criminal court system.

Still, this study is new and more correlation is needed.  Yet so far, studies have shown that introduction of the GDL has reduced total arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds between 4 and 6 percent.

It appears that the nighttime driving restriction is the main reason behind the crime reduction.  States in which driving curfews are not lifted until 17 or 18 see an even larger drop in arrests for 16-year-olds.

The study also shows certain crimes drop more then others.  The FBI tracked nine of the most serious crimes and found various degrees of change.  For instance, theft crimes dropped between 5 and almost 7 percent.  Aggravated assault charges dropped between 4 and 6 percent.  Even murders saw a decline.  However, other crimes such as grand theft auto and sexual battery saw little to no change.

These results were determined by comparing arrests between juveniles and 18-24-year-olds acting as a control group.  They were then cross checked between each state and particular age groups for each year between 1995 and 2011 while taking into consideration other law changes.  The conclusion?  Fewer teens driving at night means fewer arrests.

The report also found that traffic enforcement by police played a role as well.  Depending on the state and the particular rules, many teens were ticketed or charged with driving at night.

One final bit of good news.  It appears that the GDL restrictions had a part in lowering teenage traffic deaths.  The study showed that the longer kids had to wait for their driving licenses or permits, the lower the state’s teen driving fatalities.  The much stricter nighttime driving restrictions also yielded lower auto deaths. Continue reading

pinellas policeOne of the most common mistakes we come across is when people are first arrested.  Many people make the mistake of waiting until their first court date before hiring a criminal defense lawyer.  They figure that once they are arrested, they automatically are charged with a crime so what is the use?  This is not correct and in fact having a lawyer represent you BEFORE your first court date can be extremely beneficial.

In the State of Florida, the vast majority of people who are charged with a crime either receive: (1) a citation or (2) an Information is filed against them.

A citation is typically issued for traffic offenses (such as speeding or running a red light) or a misdemeanor criminal traffic offense such as a DUI. For a citation, the police officer who conducted the investigation will issue a citation to the accused person and file an identical copy with the clerk of court. In this scenario the prosecutor plays no role in the charges being filed. The moment the police file the citation with the clerk, the person is formally charged with the offense for which it was issued.  A criminal defense lawyer is still important at this time.  Even after the citation is filed, your lawyer can still negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or perhaps have them dismissed completely.

The second and by far the most common type of charging document is called an “Information“. The vast majority of misdemeanor and felony offenses in Florida are charged by information.

While the police make arrests, they do not charge suspects with crimes.   A suspect does not become a Defendant unless and until the prosecutor files an Information with the Court.  In Pinellas County, this can happen in one of two ways. A police officer may investigate an alleged crime but not make a physical arrest.  This may be because the suspect has fled the scene, there is not enough evidence to make an arrest or in the case of fingerprints or DNA, it will take time to identify the suspect. In this example the police meet with the prosecutor and present all the evidence the officer has obtained, including physical evidence, statements from witnesses, and sometimes statements from the accused. The prosecutor has complete discretion to file charges.  If he or she thinks there is enough evidence to proceed, the assistant state attorney drafts an Information and an arrest warrant, filing both with the clerk. Only when the suspect is located by police and taken into custody, the prosecution of that person begins.

In other cases a police officer will make a physical arrest of the accused person and take him or her to jail. The police officer will thereafter meet with the prosecutor and present the evidence.  Just like the first scenario, the prosecutor will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed.  A good prosecutor should determine if he/she will be able to prove the allegations against the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  If the prosecutor thinks so, he or she will file an Information, and the prosecution of the case starts.

In either scenario, if the prosecutor decides the evidence is not sufficient, or there is not a reasonable likelihood of successful prosecution, the state can file a document called a “No Information”. If a “No Information” is filed, the accused person is not charged and the matter is dropped. If the accused was arrested on the charge and unable to post bond, they would be released upon the filing of a “No Information”.  In Pinellas County, the assigned prosecutor usually needs to provide the reason they elected not to file a case.  There are many reasons such as lack of evidence, conflict in the evidence, and the victim or witnesses declining to press charges among others.

In Pinellas County, the prosecutor who makes the filing decision is typically the prosecutor assigned to the case until it is resolved. This puts more pressure on the prosecutor to make accurate filing decisions.  If they file haphazardly, the prosecutor may be stuck with cases that have potential evidence problems.

This is where having an aggressive criminal defense lawyer on your side can help you.  Instead of waiting for charges to be filed, your lawyer can be meeting with the assigned prosecutor and getting your side of the story out to them.  The prosecutor will almost always be open to hearing and considering additional information about your case from the defendant’s attorney. From the time of the arrest to the filing of an Information, there is usually a four to six week gap.  This time period is when your lawyer can have the most impact on the prosecutor’s decision in your case.  This gap gives your attorney time  to speak with the prosecutor and provide them additional information in an attempt to convince the prosecutor to not file an Information or to reduce the criminal charge.

Once the Information is filed, the case can only be dropped by the filing of a “Nolle Prosequi” by the assigned prosecutor.  This is not common and rarely happens in most counties.  If you or a loved one are arrested, any delay in retaining an attorney to fight on your behalf could put you at a significant disadvantage.
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The New York prison escape story that has captivated the country appears to be at the end. Local news has reported that both prisoners were shot, one fatally and the other is now in custody.

For over three-weeks a manhunt for two escaped prisoners, called a “nightmare” by the governor of New York, came to a violent end this past weekend when one inmate was shot and killed Friday and another was shot and apprehended Sunday. After 22 days of searching by more than 1,000 law enforcement officials, the convicted murderers were finally captured.

Officials announced they had reason to believe the two convicts who escaped June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, were planning to head to the Canadian border in a final play for freedom. This was after earlier reports said their plan to escape to Mexico failed due to a ride not showing up. U.S. and Canadian law enforcement sent reinforcements in an effort to squeeze the escapees and keep them from potentially making it out of the country.

Sometime Friday afternoon a civilian pulling a camper near Duane, New York. He heard a sound and later discovered after pulling into a campsite that there was a bullet hole in the camper.

After that, a S.W.A.T. team was deployed to a nearby cabin in New York about 20 miles south of the Canadian border.

Inside, they noticed the smell of gun powder. While searching the grounds, investigators noticed movement and heard coughing, state police said.

A short time later Matt, armed with a 20-gauge shotgun, was spotted by a law enforcement officer.

The convict was shot and killed by a Customs and Border Protection SWAT team. He had been serving 25 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder for beating a man to death.

Investigators then set up a perimeter in the area around where Matt was killed to try and corner the last fugitive.

Later that day a policeman was on a routine patrol in the area of Constable, New York, about 1.5 miles south of the Canadian border, when he spotted Sweat on a local road.

The cop ordered him to stop and shot the convict twice in the chest when he started to run.

Sweat, who was serving a life sentence after he was convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy, was not armed and no law enforcement was injured in the capture.
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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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Florida obstruction arrest defense attorney.jpg While not the “crime of the century”, the TBT online reported how a night went from bad to worse for one local man…

A New Port Richey man is facing charges of disorderly conduct after cursing and obstructing medical personnel at the Medical Center in Trinity.

34-year-old Matthew Margetko called Pasco Fire Rescue after he was injured during a fight. The battery victim became belligerent to the arriving paramedics.

He was then transported to the hospital where he refused to calm down despite repeated warnings. He began to scream obscenities at nurses while other patients were around. He began to struggle and other hospital employees had to stop treating other patients in order to help subdue the defendant.

Pasco deputies were called to the scene and Margetko allegedly continued to scream at curse at the police, nurses and paramedics.

When police interviewed the man, he admitted to drinking roughly a “dozen bud lights”. He was then placed in jail and bond was set at a reasonable $250.

As of this writing, the suspect has yet to be charged. There has also been any idea as to what, if any, punishment he may face.
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Pinellas criminal defense lawyer.bmpSocial media serves several purposes when solving criminal cases. Legal defense teams can use Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to track possible suspects as well as gain information. Studies suggest that over 50 percent of respondents use social media on a weekly basis. Individuals who use social media on a regular basis will often post their location as well as their activities online.

Public Knowledge

Social media sites allow users to post information about them for others to see both publicly and privately. They can post comments, pictures and statuses detailing their general activities or use the site as a place to notify others of their location and specific activities. A few of the more popular social media sites are:

Facebook
• Twitter • Instagram • LinkedIn

Sites like LinkedIn are used primarily by professionals as a networking tool, while the others are more often frequented by individuals for personal use. A criminal defense law firm in California or Florida can access public accounts and use the information posted on them to investigate criminal activity. The information contained in those accounts can be used against a defender, or may even be used to garner support from the public.

Because social media sites are considered public forums, anything posted without restrictions is often admissible in court. In cases where search warrants were requested using information from social media sites, at least 87 percent of them were approved for use in court proceedings. An attorney at a criminal defense law firm in Florida or California can also use social media sites to bolster support for their clients. For example, right here in Florida George Zimmerman’s attorney created a Facebook page where he could keep supporters up to date on the trial proceedings. (1) Using the same tactic, Trayvon Martin’s supporters used both Facebook and Twitter to set up protests across the country.

Who Uses Social Media for Legal Purposes

Both law enforcement and legal professionals use social media for legal purposes. Law enforcement detectives and investigators use the location features to determine the whereabouts of individuals during specific events and at various times. This can provide them with a timeline of an individual’s activities. They also can determine who an individual was with through pictures. Although it isn’t solid proof, it can give police officers enough evidence to pursue a search warrant. If evidence is produced through a legal search, an arrest warrant may follow.

Legal professionals use social media sites as a way of gaining information for or against an offender for a specific case. For example, if an offender used a social media site to plan a particular crime and posts can be related to the event, the information can be used in court against them. The information they gain from public posts include time, date, location and other individuals who may be involved. Legal cases can be built around social media posts, but only when it leads to evidence which is substantiated through other means. A criminal defense law firm in California or Florida can effectively take information and establish a foundation for both criminal charges and defenses.

Using Social Media to Track Gang and Other Illegal Activity

Police officers who are diligent when investigating gang and other group related criminal activity can establish networks that eventually provide them with an extensive list of potential gang members and leaders. As former prosecutors who worked with others in the Pinellas County Gang Crimes Unit, we know first hand that police and prosecutors set up facebook and other social media accounts and attempt to attract gang members to their sites. A legal professional at a criminal defense firm in Florida or California who uses social media posts must ensure the authenticity through whatever means possible if they intend to use the information to bring charges against an offender.

About the author:
This post is created by RJ Manuelian who is an author, a speaker, legal expert, consultant and legal commentator for all major media outlets including FOX News, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC etc., He is associated with Manuelian Law firm – manuelianlawfirm.com.
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798528-sealing-and-expungement.jpgA guest author, a lawyer from Orlando, gives some important information about how a criminal record may affect people in a child custody case…

Imagine a world where everything you say, everything you do, and everything that is said about you is carefully recorded, massaged, packaged, and reordered. Then, the final product is presented by surprise in court – and it is not too flattering of you. Attorneys have skills and training that make them good at that. Child custody attorneys find the entire process valuable to their client’s case. Put everything together and it equals one huge problem for you during any type of child custody case.

Child custody decisions are normally based on a list of factors that include details about the child and details about the parent. In most jurisdictions, criminal history is a relevant input into those factors. That means a “spot” on your record will go into the giant heap of criteria when a judge is considering your fitness as a parent. In a situation where the decision is difficult to make, a criminal history can tip the balance for or against you. That is why it is ultra essential to have a clean record going in to any custody case.

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