Broward Child Neglect Often Stems from Temporary Judgment Lapse

A south Florida couple was recently arrested on charges of child neglect, after they reportedly left their sleeping 2-year-old in a hotel room while they left to get dinner.

Broward criminal defense lawyers know that in hindsight, this was obviously not a wise decision. However, many child neglect charges don’t arise from severe circumstances involving malnourishment or some ongoing lack of supervision and care. Many times, such allegations involve a temporary lapse in judgment.

The parent may have no prior criminal record, and this will work to the defense’s advantage when either negotiating a dismissal of the charges or a plea on a lesser charge. Another option is working out sentence reduction, such as probation and parenting classes.

Child neglect is broadly defined in FL Statute 827.03(e) as the failure or omission on the part of a caregiver to provide a child with the supervision, care or services necessary to maintain a child’s physical and mental health. This could include failure to provide shelter, nutrition, clothing, medicine, supervision or education which a “prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child.” It can also be charged when a person fails to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse or exploitation by another person.

It can be charged in cases where there is either a pattern of ongoing neglect, or where there is a single incident that results in substantial risk of harm to the child.

If the child suffers no actual harm as a result of the neglect, it is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

That is a severe sentence for a temporary lapse.

In this case, the couple was staying at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino with their son, who was almost 2 years-old. They were celebrating the father’s birthday.

Officials said the child fell asleep on a bed. The couple did not want to wake him, but decided to get some dinner. They reportedly unplugged the phone in the room so that the child would not be disturbed.

What they did not realize was that security in the hotel is alerted anytime a phone is unplugged from the wall. This set off an automatic security check, which is standard procedure at the facility.

A supervisor conducting a check found the child asleep in the bed. The supervisor waited about 20 minutes and then contacted police.

The parents arrived back at the room a short time later, having been gone a total of about 45 minutes.

They were both arrested on charges of child neglect and transported to Broward County Jail. The father is reportedly unemployed, but the mother is a nursing student.

Given that such a charge could potentially affect her future job prospects, it will be critical for her to obtain skilled legal counsel.

U.S. v. Lee and Reduced Sentencing Under the Fair Sentencing Act

The long-lamented disparity between the prison sentences for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine was the catalyst behind the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.

Since then, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys are aware of a number of cases in which these new guidelines – which can cut a sentence in half – have been applied retroactively.

One such case was U.S. v. Lee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in North Dakota.

While this case occurred out-of-state, it’s relevant for those facing criminal charges in Florida because the Fair Sentencing Act is federal legislation that is applicable to those in all 50 states.

In this case, eight defendants were arrested on fourteen counts, following their indictment for their alleged roles in a drug trafficking ring that involved the sale of crack cocaine. Two of those defendants were responsible for purchase and resale, while the other supplied security and collected money.

Following a 13-day trial in May 2010, each was convicted. Prosecutors produced testimony from law enforcement officers, co-conspirators, drug analysts, confidential informants and others who had reportedly purchased drugs from those within the operation.

In the interim between the conviction and the sentencing, which was on August 31, 2010, the Fair Sentencing Guidelines was passed. However, the district court ruled that the federal legislation could not be applied retroactively, and thus, the three defendants in question were sentenced under the old crack cocaine sentencing guidelines. One received a 10-year term, the second a 45-year term and the third a life sentence. The last of those was deemed a career criminal, having had two prior felony convictions.

All three appealed, based chiefly on the premise that there had not been sufficient evidence to convict them on certain counts, but also that the Fair Sentencing Act should apply retroactively.

The appellate court ruled that despite arguments that some of the key witnesses in the trial were admitted liars, drug dealers, thieves and drug users who had struck deals with prosecutors to testify in exchange for lesser sentences on their own charges, it was up to the jury whether to believe that testimony. Sufficient evidence was present in these cases to convict.

The district court denied requests for new trials, and allowed the convictions to stand.

However, the appellate panel went on to weigh whether the court had improperly deemed that the Fair Sentencing Act was not retroactive. The court first ruled that it was not an issue for the defendant who had received the 10-year-term, as the amount he was charged with selling did not meet the criteria to boost his sentence any higher than if he had simply been selling powder cocaine.

However, with regard to the other two, the appellate court found that the district court erred in sentencing the latter two defendants according to the previous guidelines.

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court had made this clear in its ruling of Dorsey v. United States. In that ruling, U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled that the more lenient sentencing provisions set forth by the Fair Sentencing Act are applicable to those, “who committed a crack cocaine crime before Aug. 3, 2010, but were not sentenced until Aug. 3.”

In the end, the latter two sentences were vacated by the appellate court, and the two defendants were granted hearings for resentencing.

Those who meet this criteria in Florida should seek legal representation as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

Broward Shooting at Check-Cashing Store Turns Deadly

A store clerk died after being shot during a robbery at a check cashing store on Sunrise Boulevard recently, The Miami Herald reports.

Robbery that leads to murder in Fort Lauderdale is typically charged as first-degree murder, which can lead to a possible penalty of up to life in prison or the death penalty. That’s why a defendant facing these types of charges must hire an experienced Broward County Criminal Defense Attorney.

According to the news report, Broward County Sheriff’s deputies received distress calls from inside the building saying there was a robbery. When a SWAT team arrived, shots were fired, police said. A clerk inside died from her injuries, while a suspect and a person found across the street, who may have been a bystander, were also injured.

A two-hour standoff situation insued. Officers thought they had a hostage situation and when paramedics attempted to treat a man on the ground outside the store, they noticed he was armed and waited for SWAT to extract him.

The other man, who hasn’t been identified as a bystander or suspect, was treated by paramedics. All were taken to Broward General Medical Center.

Eventually, SWAT team members broke through a window of the business and brought out the clerk. Traffic on the typically busy six-lane West Sunrise Boulevard was cut off during the standoff.

In Florida, a person can be charged with first-degree murder by police, but in order for the charge to go forward to trial, the State Attorney’s Office must seek a grand jury indictment, meaning a panel of people on the grand jury must agree that the charges rise to the level of first-degree murder. That’s because of the severity of the penalties against someone facing that charge.

First-degree murder charges in Florida mean a person can face life in prison or possibly death by lethal injection. It can be proven either by proving a premeditated plan of committing murder or if the defendant committed another felony –in this case, a possible armed robbery — while committing the murder.

Among the crimes that can lead to a first-degree murder charge: trafficking, arson, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, escape, aggravated child abuse, aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult, aircraft piracy, unlawful throwing, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, aggravated stalking, murder of another, resisting an officer with violence and a felony that is an act of terrorism.

As you can see, there are many potential reasons to be charged with first-degree murder if a person dies. But this doesn’t just apply to someone who was the intended target of violence.

In fact, there have been many cases of a co-defendant dying during some sort of planned robbery and the surviving co-defendant is charged with murder — even if the police, for instance, shoot and kill the suspect. In other cases, a person may have a heart attack during a house break-in and those responsible for the break-in can be charged with murder.

That’s why hiring an experienced Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney should be the first step in defending a crime of this nature. Getting sound legal advice in a case like this is critical to ensuring a defendant’s rights are upheld from the very beginning.

Lauderdale Defense Watch: “Pill Mill” Crack Down Results in Doctors in Handcuffs

A number of recent arrests – including those of seven doctors- connected to so-called “pill mills” compel our Broward criminal defense lawyers to address why authorities in Florida are so interested in these crimes and what possible defenses you may have, depending on your alleged role.

Law enforcement agencies across the state first started noticing an uptick in crimes they related to the proliferation of prescription drug addiction several years ago. They attributed this increase to the widespread availability of painkillers and other medications through what they called “pill mills.” Law enforcement agencies defined these as pain management clinics that prescribed powerful narcotics for reasons that were either non-medical or otherwise inappropriate.

It was already against federal law for a doctor to prescribe a pain medication without a legitimate reason. Doing so could – and still does – lead to drug trafficking charges.

But in 2011, state lawmakers approved a last-minute bill that essentially tightens reporting requirements to the prescription drug monitoring database, bans most doctors from directly dispensing the drug and caps the number of prescriptions any one pharmacy can dole out.

It also increased penalties for doctors who inappropriately prescribed narcotics.

Using this new measure, law enforcement kicked off “Operation Pill Nation,” a statewide crackdown involving the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. It’s this operation that resulted in the recent arrest of seven doctors and four others connected to a clinic in Pompano Beach. They were charged with a range of felonies, including trafficking in a controlled substance, racketeering and money laundering.

Undercover agents reported gaining access to 55 prescriptions, including nearly 3,000 oxycodone pills, and several dozen each of Xanax, methadone, Klonopin and Valium.

In addition to the arrests, seven vehicles and a number of weapons were also seized.

The defense approach for each case is going to vary depending on the exact circumstances.

Sometimes, it comes down to a doctor practicing medicine in a way law enforcement does not approve of. Prescribing painkillers in and of itself is not a crime – and in fact, a doctor may be in violation of his own ethical oath if he doesn’t ease a patient’s suffering.

It’s up to prosecutors to prove that a crime was committed. In a number of cases, prosecutors have had difficulty doing this. In one recent case, the trial of a Tampa doctor on similar charges resulted in a hung jury. In the end, he went through a pretrial diversion program and kept his license.

One of the strongest arguments a defense team can make is that pain is a subjective thing. If someone tells you they are in great pain, there is no definitive way to prove that you are not telling the truth.

Another possible approach is requesting to have certain pieces of evidence tossed from consideration through motions to suppress. This can be done if evidence hasn’t been properly collected or if law enforcement officers stepped outside the scope of their authority. This happens more than you might think, and it’s particularly relevant when we’re talking about protection of people’s medical privacy.

We also may argue that if there were errors, they can easily be attributed to administration problems, rather than criminal acts. The doctor or medical professional may still be sanctioned by the state medical board, but oftentimes they can keep their medical license.

Racketeering, Theft Charges for Former School Union Official

A number of serious allegations have been made against the ex-president of the Broward Teachers’ Union, including that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds through kickbacks, union credit cards and other illegal means.

Broward criminal defense lawyers
know that, as is the case with most white collar crimes, documentation is going to be key. In order to show intent and prove that these crimes were actually committed and that there was clear intent, as opposed to simply an accounting or procedural error, will be key for prosecutors. The defendant faces more than 20 counts, including racketeering, money laundering and theft.

It will also be important for defense counsel to determine if there was a crime committed, to what extent the defendant may or may not have been involved.

The charges stem from an audit that was conducted by the teachers’ union board members, whose suspicions were aroused when the same Coral Springs construction company seemed to be hired for all contracts, with no real explanation from the president.

The union is one of the largest in the state, overseeing some 12,000 educators, technicians and support staff.

The construction company had been hired more than 30 times in the five years between 2006 and 2011 to do everything from killing ants to repairing toilets and dying carpet. The majority of those invoices, the board determined, had been greatly-inflated.

Prosecutors now say that when the union paid those bills to the construction company, some of that money was going back into the 64-year-old president’s pocket. In fact, prosecutors say that all totaled, the now former president received about $165,000 in kickbacks.

The construction contractor has apparently been given immunity in the case, in exchange for his testimony against the president.

The former president’s arrest affidavit additionally states that he used union credit cards to purchase gas and home improvement supplies that were for personal use.

Prosecutors also say that the defendant, as well as a number of members and associates, made campaign contributions to certain politicians with union funds.

Sheriff’s deputies have said they believe the majority of allegedly stolen funds were used by the president to purchase a vacation home. Board members have said they are looking into exploring options on how they’ll get the money back – about $300,000 total.

While the allegations became public late last year, with the president resigning in December, he wasn’t actually arrested until recently. When he did resign, he reportedly received $175,000 in vacation and sick hours that he hadn’t yet used. However, the board now says they were duped and that he forged documentation to inflate that number by more than $120,000.

While all of this seems like fairly extensive evidence against the president, his attorney claims that the allegations are inflated and that if there were any over-payments to the president at any time, they were unintended mistakes. He did accept responsibility for the campaign contributions, which his attorney said, “did not comply technically with the law.”

He nonetheless contended that any inappropriate actions with regard to campaign contributions were at least partially due to the fact that campaign finance laws are quite complex.

Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

Florida Criminal Lawyers

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