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A second Broward County Sheriff’s deputy is facing criminal charges for reportedly falsifying a report following the arrest of a man in a convenience store.surveillance.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that this case not only illustrates the fact that official law enforcement reports can’t always be trusted, but also the rights of citizens when approached by officers not involved in an active investigation.

First, let’s begin with the facts of this particular case.

Back in early 2010, a 47-year-old Fort Lauderdale man was in a gas station convenience store, waiting for a fresh cup of coffee to be brewed, when he was approached by a uniformed sheriff’s deputy.

The deputy reportedly recognize the man from a traffic stop more than a month earlier. The deputy alleged that the coffee-sipping citizen “stared him down.” The deputy walked up and demanded the man’s ID. However, believing he had done nothing wrong – and he hadn’t – the man refused. The deputy said he then ordered the man to leave the store, but he refused.

It was at that moment that another sheriff’s deputy walked into the store, saying he was responding to aid an officer who was investigating a suspicious incident. He would later report that when he arrived, the suspect was hostile – yelling, clenching his fists and advancing toward his fellow officer. The second deputy subsequently tackled the suspect to the ground, handcuffed him and charged him with criminal trespassing, assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. He duly noted all of this in the arrest report.

And the case may have been prosecuted without incident had it not been for one thing: a video surveillance camera inside the store. That footage did not back the deputies’ version of events. There was not a sliver evidence that that suspect was acting in a hostile manner, either clenching his fists or making a move toward either deputy or resisting their efforts to arrest him.

What’s more, as it later turned out, the first deputy had never called for back-up in the case. The second deputy later back-tracked and said he had stopped into the store for a quick break to get a drink and use the restroom when he stumbled upon an escalating situation.

As a result, the state not only dropped the charges against the suspect, it filed charges against both deputies. The first was convicted in May of last year of two misdemeanors for falsifying a report, and sentenced to one month in jail. Now, the second deputy is on trial for the same and facing up to two years in prison.

Of course, this is only one scenario in which police were caught being untruthful. It’s certainly not the only case, as our criminal defense lawyers well know.

This case also highlights your right to decline so-called “consensual encounters” with police officers. Basically put, you are obliged to cooperate with officers who have reasonable suspicion that you have done something wrong. If you don’t, you may be arrested.

However, officers who don’t have reasonable suspicion can’t force you to engage them, but they can approach you under the premise of a “consensual encounter.” That is, both parties voluntarily agree to the interaction. The problem is, it’s often difficult for a civilian to tell which is which.

The best way to do this is to simply assert your right to decline to speak to an officer. Be polite, but be explicit and firm. In fact, this is the tact you should take whether you or not you are under arrest. There won’t always be a video camera to refute an officer’s story, so it’s important for you to be as clear as possible, and say as little as possible thereafter.
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The New York Times recently reported that the city’s medical examiner’s office is launching a review of DNA evidence in some 800 sexual assault cases where the samples may have been overlooked or mishandled. dnamarkers.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that this situation does not mark an isolated incident. Unfortunately, crime labs are notoriously unregulated, and such evidence has resulted in numerous errors and false convictions over the years.

Despite this fact, DNA evidence remains a critical component of many criminal prosecutions. It’s also a key interrogation tactic used by law enforcement. In order to pressure a confession, police will often inform the accused that DNA or other forensic evidence has been used to positively link that person to the crime. To many defendants, this can seem like daunting evidence to overcome.

To be sure, it’s not an easy task to refute such evidence, but as the numerous incidents of crime lab error pile up across the country, experienced defense attorneys are tasked with challenging that evidence.

In the New York case, investigators have so far uncovered nearly 30 cases in which a technician did not detect biological evidence when it did in fact exist. In more than half a dozen of those cases, full DNA profiles were found.

While there is no evidence at this point that anyone was wrongly convicted as a result of those errors, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. That particular crime lab, which employs nearly 50 technicians, is responsible for handling some 1,500 sexual assault cases every single year. That means more than half of its annual caseload has been called into question. That’s a huge margin of error for evidence that is often held up in court as irrefutable proof of guilt.

Another recent incident of crime lab errors unfolded in Boston, where a technician responsible for testing evidence in some 34,000 drug cases leading to tens of thousands of convictions was found to have been falsifying and mishandling evidence throughout her nine-year tenure. What’s more, it turned out that she didn’t have the Master’s degree in chemistry that she had claimed. Almost every case she was involved in has since been called into question.

It would be easy to disregard these instances as isolated examples of rouge technicians. But there is more.

In Iowa, a review of criminal cases that relied heavily on fingerprint evidence has revealed that analysis of at least nine cases handled by a technician were riddled with errors. That worker had been with the agency for 16 years. So far, again there are no known false convictions, but with that lab handling 150,000 cases every year, it’s quite possible numerous convictions could be challenged as a result of this revelation.

And then there are the widespread FBI crime lab problems, uncovered last year in a series of stories penned by reporters at The Washington Post. It appears that thousands of criminal cases, both at the state and federal level, relied a great deal on forensic technician testimony that was exaggerated or forensic evidence that later proved false. In fact, these cases did result in hundreds if not thousands of convictions for serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and other major felonies.

As a result, the U.S. Justice Department announced last summer that it would be conducting a national review of all the cases handled by the FBI’s hair and fibers unit prior to 2000. That’s more than 21,000 cases. Officials are attempting to determine whether any of the convictions obtained as a result of this evidence were wrongful. That investigation is ongoing.

The fact is, DNA and other forensic evidence can be tough to refute, as it’s complex, technical and interpreted by those with advanced degrees.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers however will not be intimidated. We will work to ensure that any evidence against you is challenged from every angle possible.
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The mysterious case of a missing child has suddenly taken a turn and is being investigated as a homicide, after police discovered the remains of a small child in the backyard where the child’s family used to live. crossover.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that many in the community – including law enforcement – are rushing to a quick judgment regarding the guilt of the parents.

We recognize that cases like this aren’t always what they seem, and the stakes are incredibly high.

The fact is, in many homicide cases, both police and prosecutors tend to hone in on one particular theory, and then proceed to gather facts that support that theory – rather than branching out to explore the many other possibilities of what may have occurred. In Florida and throughout the country, we have a long history of wrongful convictions for this very reason.

That’s also why it’s so critical if someone close to you has met an untimely death and you have any inkling at all that you may be suspected, to reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. No matter how police or the media try to characterize it, such action doesn’t make you guilty.

And looking guilty is certainly better than being found guilty at trial.

This is especially true in cases involving infant deaths. It’s a sad and tragic fact that many infants under the age of 1 die for no medically identifiable reason. The blanket term for this is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Not only do these instances leave parents devastated and baffled, such tragedies could leave them potentially vulnerable to criminal prosecution if the police interpret any subsequent reaction as strange, or not in line with our “normal” perception of how a person should grieve.

It doesn’t make them guilty of murder, but you may have a hard time convincing police of that – particularly absent any other explanation.

Murder, as defined in Florida Statute 782.04, is the unlawful killing of a human being. Both first and second-degree murder are punishable by up to life in prison.

In this case, the parents are accused of lying to deflect questions from friends and relatives regarding the baby boy’s whereabouts for a year-and-a-half. He was 5 months-old the last time anyone saw him.

The parents are currently charged with cruelty toward a child causing great bodily harm, and the father is also facing an obstruction of justice charge due to providing false information. Additional charges, including homicide, are pending the outcome of a scheduled autopsy to confirm the identity of the skeletal remains found in the backyard.

Although the whereabouts of the child had been questioned by officials with the Department of Children and Families for some time, police reportedly did not launch a criminal investigation until recently. It’s unclear why, especially considering that the child’s mother called the DCF hotline 15 months after the boy went missing, claiming that despite the father’s claim that the baby was being cared for by his relatives, the father refused to bring the child to see her.

The media has been critical of the fact that this phone call was not enough to trigger a criminal investigation. Police say it appeared on the surface to be a custody dispute, which is why neither they nor DCF took any action.
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White collar crimes are becoming more common in this age of exponentially growing digital technology. Simply put: It’s become easier to carry them out.tieingthenecktie.jpg

Avoiding a conviction, however, is a different story. Law enforcement and prosecutors have become more sophisticated as well, and Broward County criminal defense attorneys know that successful representation in these cases requires a highly-skilled team of knowledgeable legal professionals.

Further, getting it right the first time around is of the utmost importance, because as the case of U.S. v. Wasilweski shows, second chances are hard to come by.

This was a federal case out of Illinois that was decided by the appellate court late last month. It involves a former assistant vice president/assistant manager at a Chase Bank branch in a Chicago suburb. This was an individual who was responsible for overseeing the everyday operations at the bank. Basically, he assigned teller safes and drawers, maintained codes for those safes and drawers and performed audits on those safes and drawers, as well as on cash dispensers. He had a key to the front door and the code to deactivate the alarm on the vault. He closed the bank every night, and he had half of a code that, when combined with one held by another employee, could open the teller cash dispensers.

One afternoon late last summer, the defendant reportedly entered the employee break room, and shut off the bank’s power for a moment, before turning it right back on again. He did the same thing about 1.5 hours later, only he didn’t turn the power back on. Later that evening, as he closed the bank, he also reportedly unplugged the bank’s master power supply boxes. He contacted the corporate office to remotely reset the alarm, but there was still no power at the facility throughout that evening – meaning there was no video surveillance inside the bank during that time.

At 2 a.m., he had returned to the bank. His PIN number was used to deactivate the vault alarm, which also protected the teller cash drawers. At that time, prosecutors say, he was able to heist $41,000 in cash. He then fled, and the next morning boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic.

There, customs officials searched his bag and found nearly $40,000 in U.S. currency. He was arrested, deported to Puerto Rico and then detained by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. We was returned to Chicago, where he was federally charged with violation of 18 U.S.C. 656, embezzlement. He pleaded guilty last year, and was given six months of imprisonment, followed by three years of probation.

He might not have served anytime at all, but for a sentencing enhancement he received for abuse of trust. It was upon this basis that the prison sentence was challenged. The appellate court found that while such an enhancement would not apply for an ordinary teller or employee, the bank had trusted him with access to large sums of money and he was specifically responsible for keeping that money safe. As such, the appellate court ruled that the enhancement should stand.

There are all kinds of sentencing enhancements that Florida defendants can receive, meaning you will get more time behind bars than you otherwise would. Some of these enhancements include:

–Crimes committed by gang members or for the benefit of a gang;
–Crimes committed while you are on parole or probation;
–Crimes committed by a habitual offender;
–Crimes that resulted in severe injury to a victim.
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Efforts by state and local officials to curb access to illegally-obtained prescription drugs in South Florida have made illicit pill sales a lucrative business for those willing to take the risk. prescriptiondrugcase.jpg

But as our Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know, getting caught can come with a steep price. It is critical in these cases to secure an experienced defense team as soon as possible following your arrest.

Recently, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reported a case out of Boynton Beach, where a married couple combined their efforts to swindle roughly 100 pain pills from two pharmacies. Now, both have been charged with trafficking in Oxycodone.

The investigation began back in September, when the 24-year-old woman called her pharmacy to request a refill on another pain medication. However, the pharmacist told her it was too soon for a refill, and that the doctor would have to approve it. The pharmacist then called the doctor – but the doctor had never heard of the woman. This lead police to get involved, as the prescription was suspected to be fraudulent.

Just a few weeks earlier, the woman’s husband had dropped of an Oxycodone prescription for his wife, which he picked up a short time later. In that case, the pharmacist called another doctor to verify the signature. As it turned out, that signature was reportedly fraudulent, as was a similar one dropped off and picked up that same day at another pharmacy.

Cases like this are not isolated in South Florida. Last month, a Lee County woman suspected in a fatal bicycle crash was later arrested by state authorities on charges of prescription fraud in Deerfield Beach. The Sun Sentinel reports that woman obtained some 12,000 prescription pain pills from a total of seven doctors throughout South Florida over the course of a year-and-a-half.

The state began its investigation shortly after the Florida Highway Patrol started its own following a fatal bicycle accident on the Sanibel Causeway. She is suspected of visiting numerous doctors for large prescription pain medication refills in the month prior to the crash.

Even more recently, a dentist from Jupiter was arrested on charges that he wrote phony prescription pain medications for patients, which he later filled himself. The investigation started last month, when a pharmacy called his practice to inquire about conflicting medications prescribed to a patient. But the office manager at the dental practice who fielded that call couldn’t find any record of the patient in question. Further, the dentist hadn’t been working at that office recently.

Further investigation reportedly revealed numerous prescriptions written in that patient’s name.

The dentist has since been charged with fraud and drug trafficking.

Such crimes can be charged federally, but under state law, they fall under Florida Statute 893.135. This law holds that anyone who knowingly sells, purchases, manufactures, delivers, brings into the state or who is knowingly in actual possession of more than four grams of any form of morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, opium or anything similar (as described in Florida Statute 893.03(1)(b) or (2)(a) commits a first-degree felony – punishable by between three and 25 years, depending on the amount of drug found and the extent of the operation.

We understand that addiction can be a powerful force, but we also know that you will need a powerful defense team to defend your chance at a better future.
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As a team of former prosecutors, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are familiar with the burden of proof that rests with the state. Because we know how prosecutors operate from the inside out, we know how to tear their theories down, and build our client’s defense. handcuff2.jpg

The case of U.S. v. Burgos shows the weight of the burden that prosecutors must carry in order to prove their case and secure a criminal conviction. This case involved a cop convicted on drug charges whose conviction was later reversed upon appeal, with the court finding upon review that prosecutors in fact did not meet the minimum requirements necessary to prove their case.

This was a federal case, which means although it was decided in Massachusetts, the findings are applicable in federal courts across the country.

The defendant was specifically convicted of conspiring to distribute marijuana and to possession with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. He was a former uniformed city patrol officer in Massachusetts, and between 2005 and 2009, he was patrolling a particularly high-crime area. The department had dedicated not only patrol units, but also specialized gang and vice squad officers to be a regular presence in the area.

The defendant’s brother-in-law worked at a local repair shop, where one of the workers reportedly ran a sizable side business of illegal marijuana sales (estimated to have sold some 2,500 pounds of the drug over the course of those four years).

The defendant reportedly visited the shop often to have his vehicle repaired, and on one occasion, reportedly told his brother-in-law that the site was being watched by investigators. In 2006, the defendant’s brother-in-law quit at the shop, and subsequently, the defendant visited less frequently as well. Still, he reportedly maintained a friendship with the co-worker running the marijuana distribution network, and he was given deals on auto repairs.

The co-worker told others that he had the protection of a local officer, though the individual was never mentioned by name. He would later testify it was a bluff, and that the defendant never knew he sold drugs and the two never discussed it. When later arrested on drug distribution charges, he testified he never understood why the officer was arrested along with them.

Further, the investigation into the auto shop worker never focused on the officer and at no time was he under surveillance, although one wiretapped conversation did appear to capture the officer informing the defendant that he was being watched by police.

He was convicted. But at issue upon appeal was an instruction given by the government to the jurors regarding “willful blindness.” This is sometimes referred to as ignorance of the law, and the idea in this case was that while the defendant may never have known specifically what illegal substances the auto repair employee was dealing, he nonetheless conspired to help him in his endeavor. In order to prove this, the government would have to show that there was a high probability the defendant knew a conspiracy involving controlled substances existed and that if he didn’t know the details, it was because he consciously and deliberately avoided learning them.

However, the appellate court determined that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a conspiracy existed, that the defendant knew about it and that he voluntarily participated in said conspiracy.

His case was remanded back to the lower court for a finding of acquittal.
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The grainy, black-and-white surveillance video captured by a camera at a Fort Lauderdale condo complex appears to show two motorcycles being brazenly stolen from the parking lot – a crime police say is becoming increasingly common. motorbike.jpg

Just a week earlier, a motorcycle shop was broken into around 4 in the morning, a pickup truck driven through the front window and then loaded up with four bikes. An hour before that, another shop in Miami was robbed of two dirt bikes in the same way.

The reason our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have taken note is because these types of crimes (seemingly victimless, as insurance companies often cover the losses) carry stiff penalties for anyone convicted. And while heisting the bikes has historically been incredibly easy, getting away with it is getting much harder, due to GPS technology that alerts owners when the vehicle has been moved.

In fact, North Miami police recently reported that it was a GPS device on a single bike that led them to a so-called “chop shop” that was being operated inside a home residence. There, officers say motorcycle parts from approximately 100 or so stolen bikes were stacked up to the ceiling. That was Nov. 30, and it was believed to be one of the largest such operations ever uncovered in South Florida. Two men were arrested in connection with the operation, and more arrests could be pending.

In another case, bikes were reportedly being stolen from South Florida streets and then smuggled onto container shops and sent to buyers in the Caribbean, where such vehicles are often more common than cars.

In that situation, investigators honed in on a middle man during a year-long investigation kicked off by a tipster. Lower-level thieves reportedly called this individual after they had stolen a motorcycle. The middleman would then find a buyer, pay a few thousand dollars – give or take – for the bike and then personally deliver it to the buyer. He was making roughly $500 per deal. A former mechanic, he also took orders from buyers, many of whom were ordering newer bikes that retail for upward of $25,000. It took six law enforcement teams to take the team down. Six individuals were arrested on charges such as racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and dealing in stolen property.

Florida Statute 812.014 governs theft crimes. Theft of any motor vehicle is typically charged as a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. If you are found to be operating within a larger operation, you could be looking at conspiracy or racketeering charges, and possibly even federal prosecution. Most defendants when arrested in these cases have no idea how gravely serious it is. It is absolutely critical to obtain an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible following arrest.

Especially if you are operating within a larger organization, it often comes down to who can strike a deal faster. You don’t want to be the last man (or woman) out.
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