Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

One 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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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.

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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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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Social 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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A 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.

With the pending “Royal Birth” craze there has been an increase in travel to England. A guest blog post today in which the author gives useful tips on how to travel in Europe if you have a criminal record.

How Countries Ascertain Past Crimes and Offenses

While it is obvious that no country welcomes criminals or those with criminal records. It is also important to note that the amount of criminal history and the passage of time that took place since the crime was committed are some considerations that each country takes note in determining whether to allow a tourist to visit.

Every country has unique legislative provisions that govern both travel and immigration, and the question is, how does one learn each country’s requirements? Many countries have had information related to the above in the following:

-The embassies, High Commissions and consulates.

-Various relevant immigration agencies’ websites
-The given relevant laws regarding immigration.

Factors Considered in Determining Past Criminal Convictions

There are a number of issues considered in a determination of the travel status for those with a criminal history. These factors vary depending on the country where one with such record intends to visit. The following are the general considerations:

1. Nature of the crime.

It has to be determined whether the crime was a crime of violence or a repeated criminal conviction. In most cases, those convicted of a violent crime or multiple crimes of a similar nature (such as petit theft, battery or drug charges) won’t be allowed to travel or visit England. In fairness, their own countries often won’t allow these criminals to travel to other countries. This is because in many European countries they are considered dangerous individuals who must be closely monitored by the criminal departments (such as probation).

2. Period of conviction.

It has to be determined how old the conviction is. The United Kingdom and some of her colonies has what is called “Spent” convictions. In England, a conviction is considered spent if it is more than 10 years since one was imprisoned, as the person is considered rehabilitated.

3. This prison times must have been within a period of 6 to 30 months (or less) to be considered as “spent”. However any conviction where the Defendant was sentenced to more than 30 months incarceration cannot ever be considered spent and would always count against the individual trying to visit England.

4. England tends not to be concerned about petty offenses (such as resisting arrest without violence or a driving while license is suspended charge). This is because there government believes minor offenses are normally corrected through a rehabilitation processes.

5. Where the crime had been committed. Criminal offenses which were committed in destination countries counts more than those committed in the outside country.

Issues to Consider Before Travelling with a Criminal History.

To avoid rejection of your travel application to the UK, it is important that the following information is followed:

1. Secure an interview with the British consulate to determine their view of the nature of the criminal charges and subsequent conviction.

2. Follow all provided UK travel policies to the letter (including the establishment of “spent” convictions) according to the UK provisions.

3. Establish your UK visa status, whether one is a visa or a non-visa national. There are different requirements for these two categories of travelers, but other factors must be also looked as a whole and not in isolation.

4. It is important ascertain the nature of the travel and subsequent requirements. This can be established from agencies like the UKBA which is responsible for visas, work permits, asylum requests, UK citizenship, among other things. It is advisable to use the ukba phone number or general email addresses for contact in case there is a specific questionthat needs an urgent response. regarding immigration matters.
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A recent article in the Tampa Bay Times describes how one can now appeal their inclusion inside the Pinellas county gang database. We are among the first counties in the state to address this issue. After long awknowledging that the state’s gang laws are vague, local law enforcement has moved ahead with a series of proposals that they hope will prevent people from wrongly being labled as gang members. Currently, you can be labled a gang member if you are seen hanging out with friends or family who are themselves gang members.

While many of the adopted changes still need approval from government officials and legal staff, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri have already implemented many policies including:

– All information on local gangs, members and associates kept by Pinellas law enforcement agencies will be compiled into a centralized database maintained by the Sheriff’s Office.

– Unlike Florida state law that has no provisions for appeals, a person who is wrongly listed as gang members or associates can appeal to have their names removed from said lists.

– Strict time frames are set for names to be removed from lists. State law sets no time limits.

– Law enforcement must notify parents or legal guardians of children listed as gang members or associates in Pinellas county.

These changes had the support of all law enforcement agencies in Pinellas county as well as the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney, Bernie McCabe.

Florida law permits local authorities to compile lists of suspected gang members and /or associates, and gives 11 criteria for gang membership. A person needs only to meet one criterion for the state to be allowed to label him or her a gang associate. With two or more criteria the person is considered a full-fledged gang member!

The big issue is the criteria itself. Merely dressing like a gang member, using hand signals associated with a gang or being seen with gang members is enough to be counted. The law does not require someone to have a criminal record to be listed as a gang member. People identified as gang members face closer scrutiny from law enforcement and, if arrested, potentially tougher prosecution.

Even when these new guideline go into effect, there will still be a few hiccups to deal with. For instance, it will still be possible under the new policies for someone to be listed as a gang member without a conviction. The new guidelines merely state that law enforcement will need documented “criminal association” between that person and a gang member, such as if he’s been seen dealing drugs with a gang member.

This should come as great news for Pinellas criminal defendants who have friends or family that are gang members. The Pinellas state attorney’s office has a very good gang unit that will travel between Pasco and Pinellas. These gang prosecutors have the authority to crack down on suspected gang members and can deliver more extreme sentences!
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When it comes to searching for a criminal attorney, unfortunately, there aren’t enough people out there that know what to look for. In situations where your money, reputation, and even freedom are at stake, hiring the wrong lawyer could be a disaster. To avoid that, you need to know what qualities to look for when you’re searching for a criminal attorney. As a criminal attorney myself, I have created four different questions that will help you determine whether or not your attorney-in-question will perform will for you.

Do They Listen Well?

When searching for an attorney, you want to find one that is a good listener. If the attorney seems distracted while you are talking with them, is yawning, looking around the room, fidgeting with something, or otherwise just not listening to you, don’t give them your time or your money. If they aren’t listening to your case, how will they be able to present it before a court of law when your livelihood may be on the line? Look for a lawyer that maintains good eye-contact, looks up your case online, acknowledges your statements with a nod or a short verbal response, and that makes you feel like you are being listened to. In other words you want to go with an attorney you feel comfortable with. The lawyer you hire will be a part of your life for the next several weeks to several years. Don’t make a stressful situation worse by hiring someone you don’t get along with!

Do They Present Themselves Well?

The old saying is true, first impressions matter! An attorney’s job is to present themselves, as well as yourself, in front of a judge and a jury of your peers. Legally, you are not able to be discriminated against based on how you present yourself–but law and order do not govern the subconscious mind. The jury may be influenced in ways that they aren’t aware of if your attorney uses crude language, dresses like a slob, has messy hair, or just generally doesn’t present him or herself well (and by extension, you too). Try to find a criminal defense attorney that speaks confidently, has good posture, dresses well, and looks, overall, to be a professional.

Do They Have Experience With Your Particular Case Area?

Ask yourself this question: if you wanted to build a house and had the choice between an architect that builds water parks, an architect that builds corporate offices, and an architect that builds houses, which architect would you choose? Clearly, you would choose the architect that’s built houses before! This analogy translates over into the field of law as well. You wouldn’t hire an attorney that does water rights cases if you are in need of a criminal attorney. Take it a step further and try to find somebody that has handled your specific case before. There’s nothing like experience to back up an attorney. For example, if you have been arrested for a DUI in St. Petersburg ask your lawyer how many similar cases has he/she handled? Is the attorney familiar with criminal procedure in the county you were arrested? Does he/she regularly attend continuing legal education classes on that subject to stay in front of new defenses or laws? Does your criminal defense lawyer have the courtroom experience you need to fight your case? These are just a few of the many questions you will need to ask to find the right lawyer for your particular charge.

Do They Have a Good Track Record?

Keeping with the architect analogy, you wouldn’t want to hire an architect who’s been building houses that are ugly, overpriced, or otherwise poorly constructed. In the same way, you wouldn’t want an attorney that’s consistently lost cases for previous clients. Thus, just like it’s a good idea to look into an architect’s portfolio to make sure that they perform with quality, you’ll want to check into the attorney’s case history to be sure that they have a history of favorable outcomes. While no lawyer wins every case, you want to feel confident that your criminal defense attorney has motion and jury trial experience.

In conclusion, while there may be more questions you want to ask your potential attorney, this is a good starting guide. Talk to multiple, local lawyers in your area that have experience in what you have been charged with. Don’t go with the cheapest attorney just to save money, rather only go with him/her if you feel comfortable with them and feel confident that they can help. Likewise, don’t automatically assume that the most expensive lawyer is the best. Finally, if any attorney guarantees you a result or promises you anything, run, don’t walk from their office!

About the Author: Vincent Imhoff is a writer and Los Angeles criminal lawyer who acts as a managing partner at Imhoff & Associates, P.C. He earned his law degree at Chicago-Kent College and his undergraduate degree at Lewis University. When he isn’t writing or practicing, Vincent finds time to ski on his favorite slopes and get some jogging in.
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From an article in the Tampa Times, new evidence that tattoos are increasingly being used to ID criminals. Some of this “ink” is so unique, it is replacing the old photo packs as tools to identify suspects…

Police were investigating a robbery in St. Petersburg. They had no suspects but were canvasing the area for leads. They happened to interview a nearby employee of the Mariner car wash who remembered a man with an unusual arm tattoo that read “Most Wanted”. That man happened to have a previous conviction for a different bank robbery. Based on the tattoo description, police ran his DNA and found a match to the suspect. The man, 43, received 30 years in prison and the state attorney prosecuting the case claimed the visual ID of the tattoo was invaluable in getting the conviction.

In Florida, this man joins a growing army of criminals who are being identified mainly though their tatoos and “markings”. As tattos have exploded in popularity, polce agencies are increasingly photographing and distributing the photos in a catalogue to help identify more criminals.

In St. Petersburg alone, these tatoos have helped solve multiple crimes. When a man was shot behind a pool hall in St. Petersburg last year, the suspect was easily found. he reason? The large “727” tattoo (the St. Petersburg area code) on the back of his neck! Ironically, the suspect (Dwayne Bailey) had previously talked to because he was already a suspect. He has been charged with murder and is awaiting trial.

Another St. Petersburg case ended in an arrest, this time for sexual battery. Two out of three victims described a tattoo that said “Ride or Die”. The suspect, who had that tattoo etched on his neck, is also awaiting trial.. Another man from nearby Riverview was identified in a burglary by his large state of Florida tattoo put right on his face.

Tattoos as evidence is not just a Florida phenomenon. In California a man was convicted of a murder outside a liquor store. This murder was unsolved until police got a big break. The assigned detective was going through a tattoo book and saw the defendant with the murder scene tattooed on his chest!

When interviewed, a St. Petersburg police spokesman admitted that while not all tattoos are helpful, generally the more unique one is, the better it works in identifying a person. Thanks to modern technology, police now have computer databases and can run a tattoo through a system to see if it matches a prior arrest. Recently, a St. Petersburg woman was caught on tape committing credit card fraud. She was seen on camera and had a large tattoo on her right shoulder. She was later arrested on a seperate case and in booking, her tattoo was found, resulting in additional charges.

In nearby Tampa, a tattooed woman was accused of purse snatching at a Publix and then using the stolen credit cards. Once again, while her face was hidden, her tattoo was visible…making the police hopeful they will soon be making another arrest…
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