Fort Lauderdale Plea Bargain Defense Addressed by Supreme Court Decision

You have the absolute right to effective counsel during the plea bargaining stage of your Fort Lauderdale criminal case.

That’s something our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys have always believed. Now, though, it’s been explicitly laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision arose out of something our attorneys have unfortunately seen too many instances of: attorneys that give their clients wrong or poor advice, resulting in penalties that were far harsher than were necessary given the circumstances.

The two cases – Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye – were grouped together on this issue. While the circumstances of each case were very different, both raised the same question: Do those accused of a crime have the right to sound legal advice throughout the process of plea bargaining?

The opposition argued that, no they don’t because plea bargains aren’t constitutionally protected rights. This is true.

Plea bargains are hammered out between prosecutors and defense attorneys and usually involve some level of compromise, i.e., you drop x-y-z felony charges, and we’ll plead guilty to this lower, misdemeanor charge. There is no mandate or guarantee under the law that says the prosecution has to offer you a plea bargain. But most of them do.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases – somewhere between 95 and 97 percent – a plea bargain is the resolution. That means an overwhelming portion of cases never go to trial. And what that also means is that if you don’t have adequate legal representation at this phase of the game, you are in trouble.

And with this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time formally recognized that. In fact, as Justice Kennedy has been widely quoted as saying, “In today’s criminal justice system, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for the defendant.” He added that the plea bargain is not some sideshow to the criminal justice system – it IS the criminal justice system.

The two cases that sparked the ruling were the result of two very different circumstances. In Missouri v. Frye, a college student was pulled over for his fourth alleged offense of driving with a revoked license. Because he had so many prior offenses, he was charged with a felony. The prosecution, however, extended a plea bargain that would have allowed him to reduce that felony to a misdemeanor and serve about three months in jail. But the defendant never knew about that offer – because his attorney never told him. So instead, he pleaded guilty to the felony charge – without conditions – and was sentenced to three years behind bars.

In Lafler v. Cooper, the defendant was facing charges of attempted murder in an attack in which he reportedly shot a woman several times in the thigh and buttocks. His attorney told him – wrongly – that he couldn’t be prosecuted for attempted murder under state law if the wounds were inflicted below the waist. Based on that assumption, the defendant turned down a plea bargain. He went to trial, and was subsequently convicted.

In both cases, bad legal representation resulted in poor outcomes for these defendants.

What this legislation does is give defendants legal recourse when these kinds of situations occur. This is a great step because you don’t hire an attorney expecting they will be incompetent.

However, it’s better to research the credentials and results of both the attorney and the firm they work for. Know their track record. Read the testimonials. Make sure they are experienced in the field in which you need representation. Ultimately, this could save you a world of trouble in the long run.

Fort Lauderdale Misdemeanor Charges Could Follow Skipped Jury Duty

Those who skip out on jury duty could be facing a misdemeanor in Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale misdemeanor defense is frequently important. In the past, people have tended to view jury duty as an option. Now, though, court officials in Broward have started a separate docket to deal solely with people who don’t show up for jury duty.

FL Statute Chapter 40 spells out the requirements of jurors. Under these laws, people who don’t show up to jury duty can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined a maximum of $500 and serve six months in jail.

It’s a statute that is rarely enforced – until now. Prior to this, it was typically up to the individual judges to decide what action to take when jurors failed to execute their duty.

The Broward Clerk of Courts reported that an average of 300 to 400 people are called to show up to jury duty every single day. Of those, only about 60 percent actually go.

The majority of the rest usually let officials know beforehand that they won’t make it. There is always the option to reschedule if the date does not work, or if there is a reasonable excuse why they can’t be there. Those reasons can include anything from transportation issues, child care problems or financial hardships.

One case outlined by the newspaper involved a 33-year-old single mother from Hollywood. She had reportedly not shown up seven different times. While she told the judge she has children and no transportation, the judge still gave her a fine of $250 and a requirement that she show up for jury duty next month. He chose not to give her jail time.

The Broward Clerk was quoted as saying the office tries to be understanding and work with people who have conflicting schedules. She characterizes those being prosecuted as individuals who have crossed the line into abuse of that leniency.

While a misdemeanor may seem minor, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys understand that the fines alone can create a financial hardship, not to mention the time missed from work. It’s also a stain no one wants on their permanent record. For this reason, a number of individuals said they planned to fight the charges.

On individual who was called to answer for her absence told the newspaper that on the first date, her underage daughter was having a cancer biopsy. On the second date, she was in the hospital with pneumonia. Because she works in the sales industry, she is being forced to miss yet another day’s work to have a bench trial. Still, she says it is worth it because taking prosecutorial action against her is unfair.

We certainly understand how important it is for people to do their civic duty in giving their time to serve on a jury. Indeed, the criminal justice system would be halted without it. However, there are times when the reasons for not showing up are valid, and the court needs to take that into careful consideration.

Morel v. Wilkins Deters State from Long Pre-Trial Detainment in Florida Criminal Cases

Our society is one that prides itself on rehabilitation. We always believe that people make mistakes and deserve a second chance. The law here in Florida does provide some safeguards to help give people an opportunity to get the mental health treatment they need in relation to their Florida criminal law cases.

Morel v. Wilkins is a Florida criminal case that addresses the constitutional rights of criminally convicted detainees. This case arose where a man who had committed sexually violent acts was place in the care of the state for purposes of rehabilitation.

The issue that the Florida Supreme Court was charged with was to determine whether the delay in the commitment trial of the defendant and his detention could be classified as a constitutional violation. In this case a commitment trial refers to the judicial proceedings surrounding the reasonable cause grounds for which the state is seeking to confine the detainee in jail or a mental institution.

In 1996 Morel was found guilty of sexually violent acts and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. During this trial Morel was classified as a violent predator and therefore subject to the Jimmy Ryce Act. Because of the application of this statute, Morel was sent to Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) where he was considered a pre-trial detainee. The judge had not ruled regarding commitment of this defendant which made him ineligible for the sexual offender treatment program (SOTP).

Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act (Jimmy Rice Act) is a Florida statute passed in order to manage and rehabilitate inmates who have been convicted of sexual offenses. These offenders are kept at FCC where they are provided with long term sex offender and psychiatric treatment. These inmates are held until they can be safely re-entered into their communities. Technically, the application of this statute in Florida is similar to a judicial commitment.

This Jimmy Ryce Act provides for several agencies within the state of Florida to determine the level of risk involved in the release of the offender. Before release, these inmates are assessed by several mental health professionals and a multidisciplinary team to determine if they have been rehabilitated. Only upon Court Order finding the violent offenders rehabilitated, will these inmates be release.

Sexual offender treatment program (STOP) is a program used to help sexual offenders seek therapy and reintroduce themselves to society. STOP is only available to those who have a commitment order already on file. The main focus of this program is to provide individual and family therapy to these offenders and a structured treatment plan integrating them back into their family.

After seven years at FCC, Morel filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking full access to the comprehensive SOTP. A writ of habeas corpus is a mandate filed by a prisoner to determine whether they have been lawfully imprisoned and whether that prisoner is entitled to release from custody. Because Morel was still awaiting his civil commitment trial, he did not have access to the STOP.

Morel argued that this denial was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection rights. He also argued that the amount of time that these offenders had to wait for treatment through the SOTP was too long and therefore constitutionally defective. And lastly, his confinement was illegal because of the eight years he spent as a pre-trial detainee waiting for his civil commitment trial.

Although the Court warns against the risks of prolonged pretrial delays, they found in favor of the state in this very telling decision. Because Morel is the main reason behind his need for treatment from FCC, and because he is the sole determining factor in whether he is released, there has been no violation of his constitutional rights. Basically the court said, the state did not err in maintaining his status as a pretrial detainee, although eight years is not preferred. Because of this status, Morell is validly not entitled to SOTP.

Criminal defense is very complex. Morel brought this action without consultation with an attorney. Making the mistake of managing your own defense can be the difference between freedom and imprisonment. Our South Florida criminal attorneys understand this and are here to fight for you.

White Collar Crime in Palm Beach County Garners Stiff Penalties

The phrase “Palm Beach white collar crime” may bring to mind images of a business executive, puffing away on a cigar in a high rise office suite.

But our Palm Beach County criminal defense attorneys know that white collar crime can actually take on a myriad of different forms. More than a dozen recent arrests on charges of fraud and money laundering illustrate this point.

According to reports from the News Channel 5, authorities have arrested 15 people – with 7 more suspects sought – in a public fraud sting known as “Operation Leap Fraud.”

The individuals caught up in the operation are accused of defrauding the government of millions of dollars by using false information to obtain benefits offered by public housing and food stamp programs.

It doesn’t appear from the news reports that the individuals arrested were necessarily working together. Rather, they are accused of committing individual acts of fraud.

One important aspect that an experienced criminal defense attorney should explore in these cases is whether the accused even realized they were committing a crime. A lot of this may ultimately come down to misunderstandings of the system, in which case the attorney can fight for potentially lowered or dropped charges.

For example, one case allegedly involved a landlord from Lake Worth who took his tenant’s monthly $800 government food subsidy as rent compensation. It is possible that the landlord did not realize this was illegal. Perhaps he was simply trying to help out a tenant who couldn’t otherwise afford a roof over his or her head – a very real problem for a growing number of people in this economy.

Another suspect from West Palm Beach is a 35-year-old mother who reportedly filed false information about a family member who was receiving benefits through her. Reportedly, her 15-year-old son is facing three murder with a firearm charges, making him ineligible to receive benefits. Another woman is accused of not disclosing all of the people who lived at her public housing residence. But again, how were officials able to discern what was active fraud and what may have been honest mistakes? This is something that defense attorneys for these individuals will need to sort out.

Other individuals netted in this round of arrests are accused of mortgage fraud, or essentially providing false information about debt in order to secure housing loans for people so they could ensure they would turn a profit.

Authorities say this is the third installment of the operation, and they expect several more will follow. All total, authorities say the fraud uncovered in this operation amounted to more than $960,000. That was all little by little, with theft amounts generally ranging between $800 to $100,000. Some are facing prison sentences surpassing 80 years – essentially, life behind bars.

Given the fact that law enforcement boasted about these arrest at joint press conferences, it’s clear they had hoped to be praised for their efforts. However, it will be interesting to see the depth of proof and how these cases actually play out in the courtroom.

DUI Manslaughter in West Palm Beach Proving a Media Circus

In the midst of the high-profile trial of a polo mogul, who is slated to face a jury on charges of DUI manslaughter in West Palm Beach this week, defense attorneys are calling the entire affair “a circus.”

That’s because ever since the defendant was arrested, the media has been swarming, reporting every last detail of the case – as well as many other details that should have no bearing on the man’s guilt or innocence. Vehicular homicide charges are spelled out in news reports indicate the mogul has reached a settlement in the civil case the family had filed against him for wrongful death. The criminal trial, however, is pushing forward – with local media outlets casting heavy coverage on the case. Even the national media has shone their spotlight as well.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that some of what is being reported not only bears no relevance to the case, but is negatively influencing jurors. Ultimately, this could prevent him from receiving a fair trial.

The first issue that has come up repeatedly is the defendant’s wealth. One article in his native Houston described him as living the high life – clad in tuxedos and attending parties sprinkled with celebrities and paparazzi, taking vacations to exotic places. The writer even ended the description with the phrase: “All of it could be lost if prosecutors saddle Goodman with the one thing some in Palm Beach insist celebrities there typically escape: responsibility.”

Highly prejudicial, right?

Not to mention that in this era of “Occupy Wall Street,” there is certainly an air of mistrust between the average person and someone with a great deal of wealth. That, too, could hurt him in this case.

The other detail that media outlets have squeezed out on the brink of trial is that the defendant recently adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend, in an effort to grant her access to the trust fund that had originally been set up for his two minor children. While some may certainly find this odd or even distasteful, it has nothing to do with what happened on the night in question or whether or not he is guilty of DUI manslaughter. Yet, this detail has been widely reported.

There is even a website that has been created to detail every aspect of the case, and on which all public records related to the case is readily available with a few clicks. One potential juror said he had visited the site.

As one defense attorney stated, even the scene outside the courthouse could be enough to tip the scales. On the slim chance you could find someone who hadn’t heard of the case or read the reports in any detail, there are protestors outside the courthouse, chanting and holding signs urging the system to lock him up and throw away the key.

This is where the experience of a good criminal defense attorney is going to be important. Navigating such complex issues when someone’s freedom is on the line isn’t a simple task. If find yourself accused of a serious crime like DUI manslaughter, you need an attorney who is knowledgeable and willing to fight for you.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

Florida Criminal Lawyers

1200 S Pine Island Rd #220 Plantation, FL 33324
(954) 424-7433 954-424-2200
2160 W Atlantic Ave 2nd Floor Delray Beach, FL 33445
(561) 922-8103 561-988-8100