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A new trial may be on the way for a Fort Lauderdale teenager convicted of aggravated battery for his role in allegedly setting an acquaintance on fire. balance1.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that allegations of juror misconduct has put the teen’s sentencing on hold, with the Broward Circuit judge expected to hold a hearing in mid-October on a defense motion for a new trial.

According to the defense, the jurors who convicted the teen, now 18, began discussing the case and deliberating it before closing arguments had been completed and before the judge had turned the case over to them. It has been alleged that a decision was reached prior to the formal deliberations, which would be a violation of the oath the jury took.

The teen, who was 15 at the time of the attack, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years if convicted. He has been behind bars for the last three years. Prosecutors have painted him as the primary aggressor in the attack, though several other teens were implicated. The case gained national media attention, with the victim suffering severe burns and lasting brain damage.

Both the prosecutor and the judge indicated that the defense attorneys’ allegations couldn’t be fully explored without calling the jurors to testify on the stand, something that is likely to happen before the judge makes a final decision on the matter.

You typically aren’t going to see such issues crop up except in serious cases. That’s because the majority of criminal cases are resolved with a plea deal in the first place. It’s also rare that a defendant would be granted a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct – but it does happen. In fact, there is some evidence that it’s happening more frequently since the advent of social media.

In other cases, misconduct takes a more traditional form. For example, there is the ongoing case of the polo tycoon who was recently convicted for DUI manslaughter. His attorneys have now alleged that one juror committed misconduct by going home and drinking the exact number of alcoholic beverages it was alleged the defendant had prior to getting behind the wheel. The juror later wrote about his at-home experiment.

Other cases have been called into question when jurors have been caught communicating about the case on social media outlets while the matter is ongoing and before a decision has been rendered.

What makes juror misconduct so difficult to prove is that, for one thing, juror deliberations are secret. That means that there is only a limited amount of inquiry that is permissible regarding what happened in that room. Further, misconduct is often not discovered until after a verdict has been decided. That makes remedying the situation difficult.

If juror misconduct is proven, typically the only way to resolve it is to have another trial with a jury that is not tainted.

Other examples of juror misconduct include:

A juror who is using information not presented at trial to reach a conclusion. This could be anything from reading news reports on the case to conducting their own research to discussing the case in depth prior to deliberations.

Concealment of material information during voir dire. This involves either lying or omitting important information to the attorneys or judges when they are vetting potential jurors. In some cases, the judge may rule that the concealment of certain information was inconsequential, but it could also prove damaging to the case; it just depends on the circumstances.

The fact that potential juror misconduct could have such a fundamental impact on the outcome of the case, makes it crucial for defendants to choose an attorney who is skilled and experienced enough to recognize it and aggressive enough to act on it.
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It was not long ago that one could pawn stolen items at a local pawn shop with little fear of that sale being traced back to the seller. money.jpg

No longer. The recent case of a West Palm Beach city employee caught selling city equipment to a pawn shop underscores the point.

West Palm Beach criminal defense attorneys
know that laws enacted in recent years make it tougher for pawn shops and consumers alike. Pawn Shop owners may even find themselves on the wrong side of the law for not cooperating with reporting requirements.

The Florida Pawnbroking Act creates very specific guidelines for how purchased and sold items are to be tracked. It’s spelled out in Florida Statute 539.001. Part of this legislation mandates that at the time a pawnbroker enters into a pawn or purchase, the broker has to complete a transaction form. This form must include:

–The name and address of the shop;
–A complete and accurate description of the goods in question, including, applicable, the brand name, the model number, the serial number, the size, the color, the metal type, the gemstone description, the type of caliber or gauge and any other identifying marks, numbers, letters or names.
–The name, address, date of birth, physical description and right thumbprint of the seller;
–The date and time of the transaction;
–The type of identification accepted from the seller or pledgor.

This is just the beginning. Many pawn shops, in an effort to further insulate themselves, have installed video cameras.

Plus, many local municipalities have enacted measures that allow law enforcement agencies to access an electronic database of pawn shop sales, in an effort to glean information regarding potential suspicious activity.

This brings us to the 50-year-old city employee who allegedly tried to pawn city property in order to make a few extra dollars.

The Sun Sentinel reports that a concerned citizen actually reported the suspect, who arrived at the shop driving his city vehicle and was pawning a large amount of mechanical equipment.

The anonymous tip first came in to the Office of the Inspector General. It doesn’t appear that, at least initially, the equipment had been reported stolen, which was probably part of the reason that law enforcement’s regular database checks didn’t immediately turn up anything suspicious.

However, once investigators began delving deeper into the case generated by the anonymous complaint, they were able to search pawn shop databases to learn that he had been pawning tools, jewelry and electronics since the beginning of the year.

Some of the city-owned items he allegedly pawned include:

-an electrical multitester for $300;
-a hammer drill for $220;
-two cordless drills, a pump, a ratchet, saw blades and a concrete saw for $770.

In each of those transactions, the employee was required to sign an affidavit swearing to be the lawful owner of those items. He signed it, police said, but he was not the owner. The City was.

He was subsequently arrested and charged with grand theft, five counts of dealing in stolen property and five counts of false verification of ownership of pawned items.

Additionally, he’s been fired, and the city has since increased security measures to protect its equipment.

A skilled defense attorney may be able to plea down some of these charges, but one should understand that when pawnshops are involved, the evidence against you can become that much more difficult to overcome.
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Defendants sometimes make the mistake upon arrest or in court of assuming that if law enforcement conducted an extensive investigation, it must be an open-and-shut case. gunandbullets.jpg

As such, they offer statements or agree to plead guilty, believing they have no real other choice. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers want to stress that this is often not the case, and you should never reach such a conclusion without first consulting with your attorney.

U.S. v. Navedo, U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, underscores this.

This case involved the denial of a defense motion for suppression of evidence obtained by undercover officers. Prosecutors had initially argued that the subject was detained upon reasonable suspicion or probable cause, based on a two-month investigation officers had conducted. However, as it turned out, they had not crossed all their t’s, and the appellate court ruled that the district court erroneously denied a motion to suppress evidence of weapons found at the scene. As a result, the higher court vacated the conviction.

Here’s what happened:

Back in March of 2010, two police detectives were working undercover, conducting surveillance of an apartment building in relation to a shooting that had occurred several months previous. The shooting had not occurred at the apartment building, and it still isn’t clear what connection the officer’s had made between the shooting and that building. What we do know is that the two individuals who were arrested were not under any specific surveillance by police. One simply happened to live near the apartment.

The officers observed a man, later identified as the defendant, engaging in a friendly conversation with another man, who was carrying a bookbag. The defendant at one point looked inside the bookbag. The other man then pulled out an object, which appeared to be a gun. The officers believed they were observing an illegal gun transaction.

They got out of the vehicle, approached the men and identified themselves.

The man with the bookbag fled. They later caught him and found that the object inside his bag was, indeed, a gun.

The defendant also ran, into the building, up two flights of stairs. The officer tackled him as he fell into the open front door of his apartment. The district court ruled that the officers had reasonable suspicion, which justified the initial approach and that they had probable cause for arrest and were justified in making entry into the defendant’s home, based on the theory of hot pursuit. This is the theory that allows officers to enter a premises without a warrant when a delay could endanger lives or lead to an escape of the alleged perpetrator.

As such, the court denied a defense motion to suppress evidence of the guns he was found to be illegally possessing inside his apartment. Those guns were the sole evidence used to try and convict him.

However, upon appeal, the defense argued that the district court had erred in denying his motion to suppress and that officers, in fact, had no probable cause to arrest him, and therefore the entry into his home – and the discovery of weapons therein – was illegal.

What the appellate court found was that while the officers did not have to sit idly by while they observed this interaction, there are limitations as to the actions they could take to detain the defendant because their suspicions would have only justified the investigative detention of the man with the backpack.

The detectives even conceded during the original hearing for a motion to suppress that they had no prior evidence or information on the defendant, and that the defendant had merely looked at the gun in the bookbag. This alone, the court ruled, would not have been enough to justify reasonable suspicion, and therefore, a warrantless search of his home.

As such, the conviction was vacated.
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A Greenacres man, who had been given a reprieve on drug charges, essentially blew it when he was arrested on domestic violence battery charges recently. pills1.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers understand that police and prosecutors agreed to strike a deal with him, after he was caught manufacturing and trafficking drugs: The chance for a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating against his supplier.

It might have ultimately resulted in a significantly reduced sentence, had it not been for his subsequent arrest for grabbing his girlfriend during an argument.

According to The Sun Sentinel, the defendant had been in and out of jail since 2002, when he was first arrested for resisting a police officer. Since then, he’s been arrested seven times.

But now, his past criminal history, combined with the new allegations, has left him facing several years behind bars.

About a month ago, the defendant and a woman checked into a motel room in Lantana. While there was nothing inherently suspicious about the pair, but then the front desk received an anonymous call.

That caller reportedly told the front desk the names of the two individuals, and said they had checked in with a boatload of drugs and weapons.

An off-duty police officer who was working a detail at the hotel was given the information. He verified the names of the two individuals who had checked in. He then knocked on the door and informed the man who answered of the call that had been received.

The man invited the officer in the room and the officer immediately noted a bag of marijuana on the bed. The defendant confirmed it was marijuana, but said there was nothing else in the room. He offered to let the officer search.

What he found was damning: four pounds of various drugs, including cocaine, Xanax, Oxycodone, Ecstacy and Hydrocodone. He also found a suitcase that had several vials of a mystery substance that was labeled, “Merida.” He also had bottles of Vitamin B, which is often used to mix with cocaine. there was also a digital scale, a marijuana grinder – and a drug ledger, detailing names, phone numbers and various details of prior drug deals.

Additionally, the officer found a handgun.

The man said he had never seen the gun before, and the woman admitted it was hers, saying she bought it from a friend and the man never knew it was in the room. He told the officer he had to deal drugs in order to support his six children.

At this point, we must wonder about the officer’s characterization of the room search as “voluntary.” If the search was not conducted in accordance with the law, an experienced defense attorney may be successful in having the charges dismissed. The man was arrested. However, when detectives became aware of his connections, he reportedly agreed to turn state’s evidence.

This is a dangerous proposition, and not possible – or advisable – in every case. But it can be a valuable bargaining chip for someone facing serious time in prison. No “deal” should ever be accepted without consultation with you defense attorney.

Now, with his most recent arrest on domestic violence battery hanging over his head, as well as a news story detailing the deal he tried to make, it’s unlikely he will be of any use as a confidential informant.
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Fort Lauderdale has now joined a growing number of Florida cities that have worked to ban synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other similar substances from being sold, possessed or consumed. cocainestrips.jpg

Broward criminal defense lawyers understand that similar bans exist in Miami-Dade, Sweetwater and Sunrise. Additionally, the governor last year issued a statewide ban on bath salts, but the issue is that many companies have ever-so-slightly altered the chemical make-up of their products, allowing them to technically skirt the law.

The new measure passed in Fort Lauderdale encompasses products commonly referred to on the street as “Spice,” or “Vanilla Sky” or “Purple Wave.” Although the packets, which are often sold in drug stores, specifically indicate they are not for human consumption, ingestion is typically the main purpose of buyers. They are smoked, inhaled and sometimes snorted.

The local ordinance prohibits the sale, delivery or possession of “herbal incense, synthetic marijuana or bath salt product” which may contain either illegal compounds or may mimic the effects of those compounds.

Typically, the packets don’t contain any sort of ingredient label, but under the new measure, all products have to have the ingredients listed on the label. Typically, bath salts are a cocktail of chemicals such as mephedrone, pyrovalerone and methylenedioxypryovarelone (MDPV for short). Requiring the products to list their ingredients, officials say, will allow officers to easily check for possible substances that are prohibited.

Anyone who violates the new rule could face a fine of up to $500 and up to 2 months in jail. They would also have to pay for the city’s lab testing, investigation and prosecution costs.

It’s a tricky area when you have a substance that may be legal in one municipality, but not others nearby. What is legally sold and possessed a block over suddenly becomes illegal when you cross the street.

Synthetic drugs are at the center of a case involving an Oakland Park man, who is on probation for possessing a sleeping pill without a prescription. He is reportedly facing a five-year prison term for violating the terms of his probation after he was found to have tested positive for consumption of synthetic marijuana.

But here’s the issue: the compound he purchased was legal both when he purchased it and when he allegedly used it. Despite a current state and now local ban, the question is whether the state can retroactively hold someone responsible for something that was legal at the time. The answer is likely no, though prosecutors have yet to drop the charges.

The man had told a reporter that because he had purchased the drug at a local gas station, he didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong. And he’s likely right.

In a related case, the distributor of a synthetic marijuana product called, “Mr. Nice Guy” has pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute. He is working to get a lesser sentence by cooperating with authorities in reportedly leading them to individuals who reportedly manufacture the substance locally. His information has led to three other recent arrests. Prosecutors say they will likely ask him to testify against the others, though he could still receive as much as 10 months behind bars.
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The wife of a man convicted of running an elaborate Ponzi scheme in South Florida is now facing her own criminal charges, along with the couple’s friend and other associates. diamondring.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys understand that in some situations, family members do need to seek their own legal counsel. Frequently, an attorney can only represent one of the accused; to represent more than one could lead to a conflict of interest.

Even if you have not done anything wrong, you may still face allegations or criminal charges. Prosecutors may offer a deal to testify against co-defendants. A defense attorney with only one client involved in the case is in the best position to act in the best interests of that client.

In this case, the original defendant was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. But it’s what happened after his arrest that got his wife and associates in trouble.

She and others were charged with conspiring to hide more than $1 million in jewelry from federal authorities, which would have otherwise been subject to federal seizure. Among those items squirreled away was a nearly 13-carat yellow diamond.

The wife, her close friend and an attorney all face a single charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which is a felony that could garner up to five years in prison. It can be prosecuted federally, though it is also a crime under Florida Statute 896.101. This statute states it is a crime to knowingly conduct or attempt to conduct a financial transaction knowing that the proceeds are from an unlawful activity with the intent of concealing the source, ownership or control of said proceeds.

Prosecutors allege that the trio attempted to unload the jewelry at a local jewelry store. This also ended up ensnaring two businessmen in criminal allegations, including charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.

These are the more common charges with regard to family and associates of those convicted. Usually, they would arise out of actions taken to protect the accused, such as fudging the facts to investigators or attempting to throw off investigators by providing false information. It’s not uncommon, particularly when you feel panicked and intimidated.

The fact is, you may be able to protect your relatives without implicating yourself by simply not answering questions at all, or doing so only under the supervision of your own attorney.

In this case, the wife has maintained that she was not aware of her husband’s criminal enterprises, and she has never been charged with any type of participation. However, upon his arrest in late 2009, authorities seized the couples homes, luxury cars, cash, jewelry and other items.

Whatever was left was divvied up among bankruptcy attorneys for families of victims.

Authorities now contend that before federal authorities took hold of those assets, a number of individuals were complicit in “stashing” certain jewelry items and attempting to have others sold off. The alleged plan was to then have the original defendant lie about the jewelry.

The newspaper reports that the wife, her friend and the attorney plan to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors. Assuming they have no prior criminal record, it’s possible they may not receive jail time if they plea to a lesser charge.
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In every criminal case, the burden of proof rests upon prosecutors, who must present evidence that affirms their supposition of events. bizsilo.jpg

Conversely, it is up to the Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys to spot when such evidence may be irrelevant or unnecessarily prejudicial to a defendant. In other words, does the evidence really reflect actual guilt in the matter before us, or is it simply a way for prosecutors to taint the character of the defendant in the eyes of the judge or jury.

In the case of U.S. v. Bailey, heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, justices ruled to vacate the defendant’s conviction after successful argument that prosecutors were improperly allowed to present irrelevant and prejudicial evidence.

This was a white collar crimes case involving a CEO of a successful company that sold dietary supplements. Back in 2002, the CEO and another man began doing business together, and the nature of the legitimacy of their dealings was a key issue at trial.

In 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against the CEO, claiming he had violated a federal rule that requires any distribution of stock to be in exchange for legitimate services. In the absence of this, a voluminous public disclosure is required, and this was reportedly not done.

The following year, criminal charges were filed against the CEO relating to the same issue, after it was alleged that the stocks the CEO issued to the other businessman were not a legitimate exchange of services as prescribed by SEC rules.

Before the trial began, prosecutors filed a motion in limine, seeking to introduce evidence of the civil complaint, saying this would show that the CEO knew his conduct in 2004 was against the law. The judge allowed it, but warned prosecutors not to get “too in-depth.”

The CEO was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.

He then appealed on the basis that the prosecution was allowed to introduce the prior civil complaint. The CEO’s attorney argued that this piece of evidence essentially amounted to “other act evidence,” which is prohibited under Federal Rule of Evidence 404. What this rule basically says is that evidence that is introduced solely to illustrate a person’s character is not admissible in the court of law. It does permit evidence of prior wrongs, but only to prove motive, opportunity, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or to show that the current act was not an accident.

While the government in this case argued that the prior SEC civil complaint was to show proof of intent and knowledge, there is specific criteria that must be met in order to qualify for that legal standard. That includes the following:

1. It must prove a material point;
2. It must not have occurred “too remote in time”;
3. It must be sufficient as to support a finding that the defendant committed the act in question;
4. In certain situations, it must be similar to the offense that is charged.

So for example, if you are charged with theft, your domestic violence conviction is probably not relevant to the current case and any evidence of it should be suppressed.

In this case, the appellate court justices determined that prosecutors had not met this burden of proof in order to introduce the prior SEC civil complaint. What’s more, the complaint was likely to have established a significant prejudice for the jury.

As a result, the CEO was handed a new trial.
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