Florida Gang Crimes Can Lead to Harsher Penalties

Three Fort Lauderdale men were reportedly arrested on the other coast, accused of committing organized burglary with ties to a nationwide identity theft ring.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that authorities have dubbed these defendants members of a group called the “Felony Lane gang,” and have indicated connections between those arrested and multiple other identity-theft defendants based out of Fort Lauderdale.

It’s not clear whether these individuals were part of an actual gang, or whether that’s simply what authorities have chosen to call them, based on the similarity of their alleged crimes. That will be an important distinction for defense attorneys to focus on as the case moves forward, because Florida crimes committed for the furtherance of a gang result in stiffer penalties, per Florida Statute 874.04.

This case in particular stems from a vehicle burglary in Naples. Media reports indicate that the alleged victim parked her vehicle at a local veterinarian’s office and walked inside, leaving her purse behind. That’s when officials say one of the three men grabbed her purse from her unlocked vehicle and sped off.

The three were stopped by police a short time later and arrested.

That act alone would be considered burglary under Florida Statute 810.02. Burglary is defined as simply entering a home, business, structure or vehicle with the intent to commit an offense. So prosecutors don’t have to show that you necessarily took anything or did anything other than enter without permission with the intent of committing a crime.

Police seem to have evidence in this case of actual theft, as investigators found not only the woman’s stolen purse in the suspects’ vehicle, but also wigs, other “burglary tools,” stolen identification and bank addresses punched into the GPS.

Investigators are saying that the greater goal of this group is not so much a purse snatching here or there, but rather an organized effort of identity theft. Authorities say the wigs were intended to disguise the individuals as they entered the bank drive thru.

Individuals of this same operation have reportedly been arrested in Lincoln, Nebraska for nearly identical crimes.

It’s not clear in exactly what way these individuals are connected to one another, aside from the type of crimes they allegedly committed. However, if investigators could prove it was all part of a greater plan to benefit one operation, then gang penalty enhancements could be applied. It does not appear that has been done so far.

A gang enhancement is essentially the imposition of increased penalties for anyone who commits an offense in furtherance of a criminal gang.

So for example, a second-degree misdemeanor can actually be bumped up to a first-degree misdemeanor if prosecutors can show your actions were on behalf of the gang. If you’ve been charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, gang enhancements raise the charge to a third-degree felony. Same goes for every crime associated with a gang, all the way up to a first-degree felony. These are serious felonies that are already punishable by 30 years in prison. With a gang enhancement, you could be sentenced to life behind bars.

The RICO Act is another option under federal law. Used mostly in organized crime cases, the act permits for enhancement penalties, including civil forfeiture.

Drug Court Hits 20th Anniversary of Helping Defendants in Fort Lauderdale

Broward County Drug Court acknowledged more than 10,000 graduates over 20 years at a celebration recently, the Sun-Sentinel reported, marking a huge milestone for a very important program.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorneys believe drug court is a great alternative to by-the-book penalties and sentencing because it allows people to have a second chance in life. While drug court relies mostly on the defendant to want to get help after they are arrested on drug charges in Fort Lauderdale and throughout South Florida, an experienced attorney should be hired in order to help get them into the program.

Drug Court helps nonviolent people who buy or possess small amounts of drugs like cocaine or oxycodone.They must stay clean for a year and participate in intensive counseling, treatment, rehabilitation, acupuncture and random urine testing, the newspaper reported. Completing Drug Court enables them to avoid a conviction and a prison term, or, if already convicted, successfully complete probation.

The county’s Drug Court, which started in July 1991, falls under the Broward Sheriff’s Office. It has three, three-month phases participants must complete. There are group counseling, drug tests, and whatever other measures the judge deems necessary.

Officials laud it as a cost saver, saying it costs taxpayers $954 per client for a year of Drug Court, compared with $24,000 to send someone to county jail. The court graduates about 1,000 people a year and the recidivism rate after two years is about 2 in 10.

While some people like it for the cost savings, we like it because it works and it helps people stay clean. This can be a great program for young offenders and people who may be getting into drugs for the first time. The program is designed to help keep people clean and steer them away from using drugs.

But getting into the program is no guarantee. There are standards for those who are allowed to participate and sometimes prosecutors want to seek harsh penalties of jail or prison time for people arrested on drug charges.

A Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney can be necessary to negotiate with the state and prove that the client deserves a chance to succeed in the program. And that needs to take place early on in the process. That’s why quickly consulting with an attorney is advantageous for someone facing these charges.

Drug court is the best way to avoid jail or prison, if the defendant is willing to work on their drug problem and get help. Consulting with an attorney to determine whether or not this is a fit for the client may be as important as getting the client into drug court. That’s because a failure in drug court could subject the defendant to the penalties — fines, fees, jail time, probation and other sanctions — they would face in the criminal justice system.

Man Charged With Stealing Plane in Palm Beach County

A man was arrested recently and charged by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies with stealing a plane from a Lantana flight school and also stealing a luxury car from a Palm Beach resort, ABC News reports.

According to Florida Statutes 812.014, the value of the property that is stolen determines the degree of the penalty. Theft can range from theft to grand theft to robbery. Grand theft is a first-degree felony and can be punishable by 30 years to life in prison.

So, while some people belief theft is a minor crime, its penalties can be quite severe. And hiring an experienced West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer will help protect a defendant’s rights. Charges of grand theft in Broward County require a lawyer who can look at all the facts and challenge witnesses as well as reports and police findings.

In this case, the man allegedly went to the flight school and asked an instructor about the cost of renting a plane. According to police, he broke into a Cessna and drove it about 50 feet before crashing it into a parked plane at Palm Beach County Park Airport in June.

When deputies released a sketch of the man, Palm Beach police told deputies he resembled a man who had recently been arrested on grand theft auto charges at The Breakers. There, he allegedly took some keys from behind the valet desk and stole an Infinity G37. In that car, police reported they found keys to a different stolen vehicle.

Obviously, this man faces many charges. And if the news reports are accurate, he faces an uphill battle fighting both sets of charges because he was caught in the act. But, there may be mitigating factors that could help his case. It’s unclear why law enforcement needed a sketch of the man to connect him to separate crimes each agency was handling.

In order to successfully defend these cases, an attorney must be hired immediately upon arrest so that as soon as the state has reviewed detectives’ reports and witnesses statements and they decide which charges to file, a defense attorney is able to review the evidence and begin building a defense.

A criminal case is fluid, meaning that as evidence pours in from detectives to prosecutors, the defense also gets copies. So, whether it’s DNA evidence that takes time to be processed at a state-run lab, detectives re-interviewing witnesses, getting surveillance footage that is requested and obtained by police or other pieces of evidence, the case continues developing.

A prepared defense lawyer will aggressively confront witnesses, whether lay witnesses or police, diligently review all the evidence, including reports and statements and seek to ban its entry into the case through filing motions. A good attorney can convince a judge to get enough time to work on the case so that it isn’t rushed to trial.

All of this requires getting involved in the case immediately, so if you face theft charges in Boca Raton or throughout Broward and Palm Beach counties, contact our law firm as soon as possible.

Juvenile Defense in Fort Lauderdale: Considering Mental-Health Issues

A Fort Lauderdale teenager stands accused of beating a female classmate so badly outside their middle school that she suffered permanent brain damage.

His defense team plans to argue that the defendant should not be held responsible for his actions because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his older brother committed suicide. The alleged victim reportedly provoked him with statements made in text messages, in one telling him to “go visit” his dead brother.

Fort Lauderdale juvenile defense attorneys know that arguing insanity due to PTSD will bring up a mired of complex legal and medical issues. Yet mental health must always be a focus of the justice system — particularly in cases where a juvenile is involved. In this case, it may be one of the best options available to attorneys, given the purported evidence against the 15-year-old defendant, who is charged with first-degree attempted murder.

In cases where there is a great deal of evidence indicating guilt – and the defendant admits to having committed the crime – plea bargaining is usually the route that makes the most sense. In many cases, a skilled attorney can negotiate pleas to lesser charges or a lesser penalty for the same charge, during the plea-bargain process.

Generally speaking, insanity should be a rare defense, reserved for those cases when it is legitimate and other defense options have been considered and rejected.

Florida Statute 775.027 allows for a defense of insanity when the following criteria are met:

1. The person had a mental infirmity, defect or disease;
2. Because of that condition, the defendant did not know what he or she was doing or the consequences;

3. Or, the defendant knew what he or she was doing, but did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong.

So not only must you show that you suffered from mental illness, you further have to show that you either didn’t know what you were doing or didn’t know what you were doing was wrong.

That’s a high bar.

The way the criminal justice system is set up, it is incumbent upon prosecutors to prove guilt in a case. However, with an insanity defense, the burden of proof is essentially shifts to the defense. That means that it is up to your attorney to prove that you shouldn’t be held responsible for your actions. As an affirmative defense, you are admitting to committing the underlying crime.

While we as a society have come a long way in terms of our understanding and acceptance of mental illness as a real and legitimate problem, insanity defenses are still difficult sells to juries.

The defense attorneys will likely rely heavily upon testimony from the medical experts who diagnosed the defendant. As a juvenile, he faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted. Even if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could still spend years confined in a state mental institution.

While PTSD as a defense may or may not be effective in this case, we will undoubtedly be seeing more examples of it as our soldiers continue to return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In situations where someone has endured the horrors of combat, such a defense may have a better chance of success.

Dorsey v. United States: Applying The Fair Sentencing Act

Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know that the federal Fair Sentencing Act, according to 18 U.S.c. 3553(a)(4)(A)(ii), lowers the sentencing guidelines for certain drug offenses in Palm Beach County and across the country.

However, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court recently was whether the lowered mandatory minimums were applicable to defendants who committed their alleged crimes or were convicted prior to the August 3, 2010 effective date. Whether the law can be applied retroactively is a huge legal issue that could impact thousands of court cases in Florida and across the nation.

In Dorsey v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court justices in a 5-4 decision vacated an earlier rulings by both the district and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that offenders whose crimes were committed prior to the effective date were not eligible to have their sentences reduced according to the law.

What this means is that the new, lowered mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines are applicable to individuals whose crimes were committed prior to the enactment of The Fair Sentencing Act, but who were sentenced after that date.

As the justices noted, failure to do so would essentially create a disproportionate status quo of sentencing that would be inherently unfair.

To offer a little background:

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established an unfair system by which those convicted of selling crack cocaine were given sentences that were sometimes 100 times higher than those convicted of selling powder cocaine. This disparity, for the same drug, often manifested itself along racial lines, where African American drug dealers were more likely to be selling the rock form, versus Caucasian drug dealers who were more likely to sell the powder form.

This resulted in the Congressional amendment to this act in the form of The Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed in August 2010 and became effective that November.

This act essentially increased the amount of the drug an offender could have before triggering that automatic five or 10-year sentence. A five-year sentence would accompany conviction on sale of between 28 grams, instead of 5 grams, while a 10-year sentence would accompany conviction on sale between 280 grams, rather than 50. Sentencing for powder cocaine remained the same. A disparity still exists, but it is now 18-to-1, compared to 100-to-1.

At issue here were two men – one who was convicted of selling 53 grams of crack cocaine in 2007, triggering the 10-year minimum, and another convicted of selling 5.5 grams in 2008, triggering the 5-year minimum.

Both men were convicted prior to the passage of the amended sentencing act. However, they were not sentenced until after it had passed.

While both the district and appellate courts held that the new sentencing guidelines were not applicable, the high court disagreed. In the majority opinion, justices determined that by applying these new minimum standards to everyone sentenced after the passage of the act, the court system could ensure a smooth and clear-cut transition into the new rules.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

Florida Criminal Lawyers

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