When people think of trafficking drugs, the first thing that often comes to mind are scenes from movies involving large quantities of drugs and cash being moved through complex criminal organizations. A real-life example of this that was recently in the news was a federal case where several arrests were made from an international drug ring moving cocaine from South America through Mexico and into Los Angeles. Federal agents seized over 7,700 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $500 million from this drug ring over a three-year period. Seven individuals were indicted on federal charges and one higher-ranking member has been extradited to the United States to face charges. The criminal organization was also linked to two murders, including a video recording of a murder involving torture and dismemberment.   Continue reading

I was caught breaking and entering into someone’s home. I didn’t think breaking and entering was that serious of an offense, but now I’m being charged with burglary. 

Unfortunately, most people do not realize the severity of a burglary charge until they are being prosecuted for one. Under Florida law, what is commonly refer to in lay terms as “breaking and entering” is actually the crime of burglary, which can be classified as high as a first-degree felony punishable by life in prison. 

As of July 1, 2001, burglary is defined as entering a dwelling, a structure, or a conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein, unless the premises are at the time open to the public or the defendant is licensed or invited to enter; or notwithstanding a licensed or invited entry, remaining in a dwelling, structure, or conveyance: surreptitiously, with the intent to commit an offense therein; after permission to remain therein has been withdrawn, with the intent to commit an offense therein; or to commit or attempt to commit a forcible felony. Essentially, a burglary is entering without permission, or remaining somewhere after permission was revoked, with the intent to commit a criminal offense.  Continue reading

In Florida, conspiracy is defined by statute as a person who agrees, conspires, combines, or confederates with another person or persons to commit any offense commits the offense of criminal conspiracy. In lay terms, conspiracy occurs when two or more individuals agree to commit a crime and intend for that crime to actually occur. All that is needed is the intent and the agreement, no further steps towards completing the intended crime are required. A simple example would be two individuals who agree to rob a bank together, with one individual saying “Hey, let’s go rob a bank,” and the other individual saying “O.K.”. Even if the robbery never occurs, they could still be charged with conspiracy. If they were to actually rob the bank then they could face both conspiracy and robbery charges.

The state does not need direct evidence, such as having the conversation recorded or in writing, to prove the agreement was formed. The agreement can be inferred from circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime. Surrounding circumstances that can be considered as circumstantial evidence of an agreement may be being at the scene of a crime together and actions that would constitute aiding and abetting, although those factors standing alone are not enough to prove a conspiracy occurred. If a crime is committed by more than one individual and their actions while committing the offense indicate that they would have needed to have a prior agreement to be able to execute the crime in the manner that they did could be circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy. Continue reading

The current monetary bail bond system used in most states, including Florida, has recently come under scrutinization and a bail reform movement has been gaining popularity. Under the monetary system, a defendant will be given a bond amount they are required to pay before they can be released from jail. The purpose of a bond is to assure the defendant appears at their court hearing by returning; the full amount of the bond is returned to them once they appear for all their court dates and the case is complete. Bond also protects the community from potentially dangerous individuals by keeping them incarcerated while their case is resolved.

Numerous concerns have been raised about the monetary system. If a defendant cannot afford to pay their bond they will remain in jail while their case is pending trial or is otherwise resolved simply because they do not have the financial resources to bond out. This can result in the rich being free which the poor remain in jail simply based on economics and not justice or public safety. This also results in defendants who have not yet been convicted of any crime and may very well be innocent spending time in jail, even if they are not a threat to the public and there is no reason to believe they would fail to appear in court. The more time an individual spends in jail the greater the risk they will face negative repercussions in their personal lives, including a loss of employment, housing, and strains on their interpersonal relationships. Having to remain in jail simply because they cannot pay their bond also increases the likelihood a defendant will take a plea deal that may not be in their best interest just to get out of jail sooner instead of remaining incarcerated while they take their case to trial, even if they are innocent. Incarcerating individuals who cannot make bond is also an increased cost to taxpayers. Continue reading

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Unfortunately, events can happen in life that lead to a person having a criminal record. In the State of Florida, criminal records are public record, making the information accessible to anyone who is interested in seeking out the information. Criminal records can also interfere with your ability to find employment, rent housing, and your personal relationships. Having your criminal record sealed or expunged can result in this information no longer being public record, being discoverable in a background check, and may even allow you to legally deny the record ever existed.

What is the difference between having a record sealed or expunged, and are you eligible for either option?

To have a criminal record, you would have first been arrested for a criminal offense. Civil traffic infractions like speeding tickets are not criminal and not eligible to be sealed or expunged. After the arrest, there are a few possible ways the case was resolved: the State may have not filed charges or dropped the case, filed charges but later dropped them (referred to as nolle prosequi), dismissed the case, or a disposition of guilty or not guilty was found. If you were found guilty but adjudication was withheld, this means that the court refrained from actually convicting you of the charge. If you were adjudicated guilty then that is an actual conviction for the crime.

Before you are eligible to have a criminal record sealed or expunged, you must qualify. To qualify, you must have:

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I believe I may be under investigation for a crime and law enforcement has attempted to contact me. I don’t want to speak with them if I don’t have to, but I’m unsure of how to answer any questions they may ask.  

The short answer is no, you do not need to voluntarily provide law enforcement with information or answer their questions. Under the United States Constitution, you have the right to not provide any self-incriminating information to law enforcement. You also have the right to consult with an attorney prior to any police interrogations or have an attorney present while officers question you.  

Most people are familiar with the Miranda warnings and can even recite them from memory. This legal doctrine comes from Miranda v. Arizona, heard by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1966. From this case, officers are required to inform suspects of their right to remain silent, that any statements they make may be used against them, that they have the right to an attorney, and that if they cannot afford an attorney one will be provided to them. Under Miranda, unless the suspect is informed of these rights, and also clearly and intelligently waives those rights, any statements they make may not be admitted into court against them.  Continue reading

I was recently pulled over by law enforcement, and during the traffic stop marijuana was found in my vehicle. I wasn’t planning on selling the marijuana and only had it for personal use, so why was I charged with trafficking and not possession?

Under Florida Statute, it is possible to be charged with trafficking without ever selling any marijuana if someone is in possession of a large amount. Florida Statute 893.135 defines trafficking as any person who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, or brings into this state, or who is knowingly in actual or constructive possession of, in excess of 25 pounds of cannabis, or 300 or more cannabis plants. Trafficking marijuana is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and fines, with minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines based on the amount of marijuana involved. 

If the amount of marijuana involved in over 25 pounds but less than 2,000 pounds, or between 300 and 2,000 marijuana plants there is a minimum mandatory sentence of three years and a $25,000 fine. For amounts between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds, or 2,000 to 10,000 plants, the minimum mandatory sentence is seven years and a $50,000 fine. If the amount involved is over 10,000 pounds or 10,000 plants the mandatory minimum sentence is fifteen years and a $200,000 fine. 

I am currently on probation and have been struggling to meet all of the requirements. I am concerned my probation officer is going to violate me. What can I do, and what will happen to me if I receive a violation?

Most individuals on probation struggle to comply with all the requirements the court imposes on them, which results in violations being a common occurrence. Violating probation can result in a revocation of probation and the court imposing a sentence up to the maximum possible sentence for the original charge. Violations can occur for many reasons. Some of the more common situations resulting in a violation are being arrested on new criminal charges, failing to complete court-ordered programs, missing appointments with a probation officer, positive drug screens, or failing to pay imposed costs or restitution.

Once a probation officer has decided to violate someone, they will complete an Affidavit of Violation and submit it to the court. The court will then review the affidavit and issue a warrant for arrest if it is determined reasonable grounds for a violation exist. Often defendants are not eligible for bond on a violation once they are arrested. The defendant will be arraigned, and an evidentiary hearing will be set to determine if a violation occurred and probation will be revoked.

There has been a recent increase in arrests and prosecutions for health care fraud in Florida as a result of increased law enforcement efforts in investigating these crimes. Healthcare fraud largely involves medical providers committing fraudulent billing practices to increase their profits, including submitting charges for reimbursement to insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid for services that weren’t provided. Additional investigations include accepting illegal kickbacks for patient referrals and billing insurance companies under incorrect billing codes to increase the payments received.

On July 31, 2017, seventy-seven people were arrested in Florida for their involvement in various health care fraud schemes that totaled over $141 million dollars in fraudulent billing. These arrests were part of a larger investigation by the Medicare Fraud Strike Taskforce that resulted in 412 individuals facing charges for over $1.3 billion in false billings. These investigations involved a multi-agency effort, involving local law enforcement, the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Continue reading

Law enforcement agencies across the country are now implementing body cameras to be worn by officers while on duty to record their entire interactions with the public. This has left many people with questions on what to expect if an arresting officer was wearing and recording from a body camera.body camera

The video obtained from those cameras is having an impact in courtrooms as the additional evidence available to both the prosecution and defendants. If the video is available from a police body camera in your case, it could potentially strengthen or weaken your defense. The video footage could document any improper actions taken by law enforcement during any searches, questioning, or traffic stops.  If the video records evidence that an officer failed to establish probable cause, or used coercion to obtain consent, then any evidence uncovered during the search or stop would be suppressed. On the other hand, if the video shows the officer properly conducted the search or stop the defendant would likely not be able to have the evidence suppressed.    Continue reading