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In the wake of the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, a whirlwind of intense emotions have been flowing from all sides.
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In fact, this case has generated strong reaction from the very beginning, with some of the loudest voices espousing the desire for Zimmerman, the accused killer, to be found guilty and imprisoned.

That he was found not guilty, our Broward felony defense lawyers believe, is a testament to the fact that the justice system did not bow to outside pressure. One juror was even quoted as saying that she did not realize their was such a firestorm of controversy around the case until after she and the five other jurors had decided it. Regardless of whether you agree with their decision, that is the way it should be.

Florida has a reputation for crimes that are odd or sensational or draw a significant amount of attention. Just look at former justice reporter Craig Pittman’s Slate.com blog, entitled “Oh, #Florida!” This is the home of acquitted child murderer Casey Anthony, now-deceased “face-eater” Rudy Eugene and the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

But no matter how horrific a crime might be, we can’t allow emotions to seep into the courtroom when it comes to a determination of guilt or innocence. To do so would be to compromise the very foundation of our criminal justice system.

In the Zimmerman case, you had a 26-year-old, white-Hispanic male, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who was suspicious of a 17-year-old black male teenager walking through a gated community at night. Neither one knew the other. Zimmerman contacted police, who told him to back off. Zimmerman got out of the vehicle, reportedly to check the address. At that point, he was allegedly attacked by Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman said he fired his weapon at Martin in self-defense.

As it later turned out, Martin was returning to his father’s residence in the complex after going to the store to buy some candy. He was unarmed.

Initially, police did not arrest Zimmerman on the basis of the Stand Your Ground Law, which holds that Floridians are allowed to meet force with force, with no obligation to retreat. Outcry from the public resulted in a special prosecutor being assigned to investigate the case. The decision was subsequently made to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder.

There is some speculation as to whether the prosecutors charged Zimmerman improperly, and whether they should have instead gone with the more easily proven involuntary manslaughter charge.

We certainly understand why the case was rife with controversy. However, strictly from a defense attorney standpoint, the verdict was correct. There were many who believed Zimmerman should have been held accountable somehow, particularly given the fact that he was the one who followed Martin, even though he was advised by police to stop. However, Zimmerman was not legally bound by police advise and what’s more, a claim of self-defense is not negated when a person follows someone else.

The jury followed the instructions given to the letter of the law. At the end of the day, the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
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Some 50 years ago, a man in Boston admitted to being a serial killer who raped and killed at least 10 women. He was dubbed “the Boston Strangler.”
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Our Fort Lauderdale felony defense attorneys know the notoriety of this case left an indelible impression on people, which is why they continue to discuss it to this day.

However, what’s interesting about the case today is the fact that investigators now say they have a definitive familial DNA match between the confessed and samples taken from one of the victims (the only victim for whom physical evidence still remains). This latest revelation prompted authorities to exhume the body of the suspect to get a more definitive test.

Of course, it’s understandable that this would be noteworthy, as there was no DNA evidence back in 1964, when this one murder occurred. But here’s why it’s even more noteworthy, particularly for defense attorneys: A DNA test conducted back in 2001 showed NO definitive match between the suspect (now deceased) and the victim.

So we’re talking about two modern-day DNA tests conducted on the same samples from the same individuals, which then turned up different results.

Yet, DNA is upheld as the be-all, end-all in so many criminal cases. It’s used not just in murder and sexual battery cases, but also in burglaries, DUIs, and assaults. So disparities like this matter.

In the Boston Strangler case, there was always some suspicion after the suspect confessed that he wasn’t in fact the true killer. His confession was reportedly riddled with errors regarding details of the crimes which were, interestingly enough, the same errors made by the media at the time. This country has a long history of individuals confessing under pressure to crimes they didn’t commit.

There were even some of the victims’ relatives who doubted whether the man serving time was the real killer.

Although he was convicted and was serving a life sentence for the crime, he recanted his earlier confession in 1973, just prior to his death.

Back in 2001, a forensic investigation team took samples of mitochondrial DNA from the suspects brother. That sample was tested against DNA samples from a dried liquid that was found on the body of that final victim. Those samples did not match. At the time, the independent investigators said they could find nothing on the remains that was consistent with the defendant’s DNA.

Then just this year, investigators reportedly secretly trailed a nephew of the deceased defendant, seizing a discarded water bottle and scraping it for DNA. (This later became a point of contention for family members, who say they would have willingly provided a sample.) The results of that DNA test, when compared to the sample found on the victim’s body, was a match of 99.9 percent.

The discrepancy between the two results is troubling for a number of reasons.

The man who lead the forensic team back in 2001 said his evidence didn’t produce a match, meaning they couldn’t prove guilt. Some people, he said, would say that meant the defendant was innocent. But, he said, those are two different things.

The fact that a different result turned up today, a dozen years later, could be the result of different samples being tested by different labs, the former team leader said.

If his theory is true, it would be yet another blow to forensic teams who insist that DNA evidence is always right. If two different teams reach two different results in the same case, clearly one is wrong.

The other theory, as posited by the new forensic team, is that forensic technology has advanced now to a point that we can get more accurate readings today than we could even a decade ago. But we can guarantee you that prosecutors back in 2001 weren’t telling juries there was a chance the DNA evidence they had in hand could be wrong. They aren’t saying that today either, though that is most certainly the case.
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Construction on the Broward County courthouse is on schedule, with crews in early July reaching the fifth floor of the 20-story project, on the corner of First Avenue and Southeast Sixth Street.
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Our Broward criminal defense lawyers know this project, costing upwards of $275 million, is set to be completed and approved for occupancy by the summer of 2015, should ultimately make the facility more useable once complete.

In addition to the new space for actual court and office use, ground has broken on an additional 500-vehicle parking garage nearby that will serve the complex. Another 1,000-car garage is also nearby.

The 50-year-old structure has in the past been plagued by water damage, mold and other unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This new tower will contain some 70 additional courtrooms, and built to codes that are environmentally responsible and energy efficient.

Crews first began working on the complex back in August, with the construction subcontractor boasting that visible progress was already noted. It’s possible the work could be done prior to the previously-stated deadline.

The water-related issues in the building have been a particular problem since Hurricane Wilma tore across southern Florida in 2005, causing significant damage to the structure. Patches have been piecemeal. Additionally, nearly two dozen employees – current and former – have filed civil lawsuits against the county, claiming they have been sickened as a result of toxic mold and deadly asbestos fibers breathed in during the course of their employment.

While voters in 2006 rejected an even higher-priced version of the new courthouse, which would have resulted in an uptick in property taxes, the county commissioners hammered out a way to reduce costs and cover them through sales taxes.

For now, though, that doesn’t mean much to those who are currently using the old building. It’s business as usual, and the old building won’t be set for demolition until the new one is completely done.

As a safety precaution, street parking has been barred on Sixth Street while the construction continues.

When all is said and done, the courthouse will be situated on a campus of 18 acres that will house the county office building, the courthouse building, the county jail, the energy center and a parking garage. As of right now, those plans also include a series of pedestrian plazas, parks and a riverfront walkway. All of this is expected to accommodate growth through 2030 and beyond.

The new court building is going to consist of about 730,000 square feet, on 1.55 acres. There will be more than 350,000 square feet of administrative office space for various state and federal government agencies, such as the state attorney’s office, sheriff staff and the Clerk of Courts. Courtrooms and hearing rooms will include those for county criminal, juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency, domestic relations, magistrates, probates, circuit civil and county civil courts.

Hearing rooms will be between 500 and 700 square feet each, while courtrooms will be between 1,000 and 2,200 square feet each.

A 35,000-square foot shell floor will be left available for future expansion, as necessary.
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For many years, it was believed in the realm of criminal defense that guilt or innocence could be accurately determined through the use of forensic bite mark evidence.
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Fort Lauderdale felony defense attorneys know this type of evidence was primarily presented in cases of sexual assault or homicide. If the aggressor had bitten the alleged victim, bite marks left imprinted on the skin were lifted, analyzed and compared with potential suspects in an attempt to draw a match.

The problem, as the Associated Press recently reported, is that since 2000, at least two dozen men convicted of serious crimes primarily on the basis of bite mark analysis have been exonerated. Many of these individuals spent more than a decade in prison before they were freed.

Part of the biggest issue with bite mark analysis is that, like so many other forms of forensic science, it’s value has historically been dramatically overstated. Jurors hear “science” and “forensic” and assume what they’re about to hear is irrefutable proof. Not so.

In the case of bite mark analysis, what we have seen is that it was primarily conducted by a small group of dentists. These individuals were not governed or monitored or held to any industry-wide standard. In fact, there is no independent study or clear-cut scientific proof whatsoever that bite marks on human skin can be definitively matched to patterns made only by one person’s teeth. And yet, their testimony was often pinpointed as key to the prosecution’s case.

Proponents of the practice say it is valid, and has helped to convict some of the country’s most notoriously violent criminals, one of the most prominent being Ted Bundy.

But the issue may be not so much in the method as with the potential bias of the “expert” who is testifying. Some earn upwards of $5,000 per trial.

Years later, a number of these individuals have come back to publicly reverse their opinions. Some examples of bite mark cases that later proved faulty:
–Two men in Mississippi were charged with rape and murder of two different 3-year-old girls in two separate criminal cases. It was later determined that the bite marks on the girls’ bodies were caused by insects and crawfish.

–A man in New Mexico was jailed for the rape and murder of his stepdaughter. She had bite marks on her neck and sperm on her body. It was not until later that it was learned the suspect had a medical condition that prevented him from even producing sperm.

–An Arizona man served 10 years in prison, three of those on death row, after two trials in which a forensic dentist testified that he made the bite marks on the female victim who was found deceased in the bathroom of a bar where he worked at the time. It was only later that DNA evidence cleared him.

With the advent of DNA evidence, bite mark analysis has become more and more obsolete. We know that federal law enforcement agencies no longer use it, and the American Dental Association refuses to recognize it.

But it’s important that we not forget about it entirely. The reason is because it was once held up in courtrooms across the country has definitive proof. It was only later – after significant damage was done and innocent lives were forever scarred – that we learned this wasn’t true.

We need to apply that same kind of critical thinking when we approach DNA and other types of forensic evidence in the courtroom.
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Being arrested for a West Palm Beach DUI on the Fourth of July is almost certain to cost you more than your independence.
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With the Fourth being on a Thursday this year, we expect many people will take an extra-long weekend to relax and celebrate. But amid barbeques and parades and fireworks, there are almost undoubtedly going to be a glut of sobriety checkpoints. There always are throughout the holiday, along with something known as “wolf pack patrols.” Officers are paid overtime so that in addition to the regular beat patrols, there are roving patrols searching almost solely for DUI suspects.

A DUI is sometimes viewed as a “minor” crime because, assuming no one was hurt and no property was damaged and it’s your first offense, you’re generally going to be charged with a misdemeanor. But you shouldn’t let the term “misdemeanor” throw you off into thinking that it will have little effect on you.

First, there is the potential for jail time. Per Florida Statute 316.193, a first-time DUI offense can result in a jail sentence of up to six months. The exception would be if your blood-alcohol content measured at higher than 0.15 percent. In that case, you could serve up to nine months. For a second conviction, it’s a maximum nine month sentence, unless you have a 0.15 percent BAC, in which case it’s a year.

Now, that’s the maximum and not everyone will receive that much. However, the risk is there and it’s one very few people can afford to take without major disruption to their lives, their livelihoods and their families.

Other costs include the cost of mandatory DUI courses or substance abuse treatment.This can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, just depending on the extent of the treatment ordered. In some cases, these obligations will also mean time off work and/or away from family and other activities.

Then there is the cost of the fine. For a first-time conviction, you’re going to pay at least $500, but you could be on the hook for as much as $1,000. For a second conviction, you will shell out a minimum of $1,000, but possibly as much as $2,000. That’s a down payment on a car.

And speaking of your car, a DUI conviction will make driving it that much more expensive. That is, once you get your license and your vehicle back. You can expect your car will be impounded for at least 10 days, for which you will have to cover the cost.

With a first-time conviction, license revocation will be a minimum of 180 days, and a maximum of up to 1 year. A second conviction within five years of the first will cost you a five-year license revocation, though you may be eligible for a hardship reinstatement after 12 months.

A recent analysis by Insurance.com found that insurance premiums can spike by as much as 20 percent following a DUI conviction. Rates can fluctuate depending on where you live and who has your insurance policy. In general, with a DUI conviction on your record, you can expect to pay an extra $2,500 annually for car insurance for the next several years.

Additionally, you have the cost of an ignition interlock device, if this is your second or subsequent offense, at which point it’s mandatory. Installation is going to cost anywhere form $100 to $200 up front. Then on top of that, you’re expected to pay a monthly rental fee of anywhere from $70 to $100. Plus, you may be asked to cover routine maintenance and calibration costs, which will be extra.

People often gripe about the cost of a criminal defense lawyer in DUI cases. But when you start to add up all these other costs, hiring a good attorney clearly makes good sense. We work to help minimize the chances of a conviction in the first place. From the very first stages, we can help you get your vehicle out of impound sooner, we can help request a bond reduction if it’s too high, we can negotiate lower court costs, fines, community service hours, probation and jail time.
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Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed a law that makes it illegal for persons to knowingly and willfully offer or sell any retail drug paraphernalia, aside from pipes comprised mostly of meerschaum, clay, briar or corn cob.
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This would mean sales of smoking devices made of glass, acrylic, stone or metal would be illegal.

The law, which takes effect July 1, will make headshop proprietors who sell marijuana pipes, bowls, bongs and the like guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. A second violation of the law is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The statute is an amendment to existing Florida Statute 893.147, which governs the use, possession, manufacturing, delivery, transportation, advertisement and/or retail sale of drug paraphernalia.

Still, our Fort Lauderdale drug crimes defense lawyers don’t anticipate a sweeping closure of these establishments anytime soon. The key language in Florida House Bill 0049 is “knowingly and willfully.”

As it stands already, stores that sell pipes are already highly regulated under Florida law. Only those stores that make 75 percent of their profits on tobacco products are permitted to also sell pipes, bongs and other smoking devices.

The “knowingly and willingly” clause of the statute means that the store retailer would have to know that you are using the smoking device expressly for the purposes of using illegal drugs. That means if a person never mentions using the device for the purposes of drug use, the seller would assume the intended purpose is to consume tobacco – which is still legal.

As one tobacco and gift shop owner put it, if a customer comes in talking about illegal substances and referencing the use of the device for that purpose, then the store would be breaking the law by selling a pipe or bong to that customer. Otherwise, though, it’s essentially business as usual.

Many stores may be able to get around liability on the issue by posting a warning sign at the entrance, noting that any reference made to illegal substances will result in their removal from the store. In a lot of places, that’s standard procedure anyway.

The new law is expected to be difficult to enforce. A similar law, struck down in an earlier legislative session, would have been much stricter. That was the reason many headshop operators supported this measure.

The action comes at a time when 70 percent of Floridians have said they would support more progressive marijuana laws, particularly those that would allow for the use and distribution of medical marijuana.

Still at this point, Florida law makes it illegal for anyone to consume or possess marijuana for any purposes, even if they have a valid marijuana prescription in another state.

As for drug paraphernalia laws, Florida Statute 893.147 makes it illegal for anyone to use or possess drug paraphernalia. A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.

A pipe purchased from a tobacco shop wouldn’t necessarily be considered drug paraphernalia unless it was lined with illegal drug resin or if it was found in conjunction with illicit drugs or evidence of such substances.
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A man is suing the city of Fort Lauderdale and three police officers in a federal case after alleging he was improperly stopped in traffic, forced out of his vehicle at gunpoint, subjected to an illegal vehicle search and arrested for possession of a concealed weapon – despite having a permit.
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Although we rarely hear of cases resulting in civil litigation, our Fort Lauderdale criminal traffic defense lawyers know that officer mistakes during traffic stops are commonplace.

A person who is stopped in traffic, searched and arrested has more civil rights than he or she might realize. Even in cases where the defendant may have been involved in some wrongdoing, it might not matter in the end of it can be proven that the officer didn’t act according to the law, internal police policy or was somehow found to be untrustworthy.

There are a lot of opportunities for an officer to fail to perform as he or she should, and each defendant should seek a defense firm willing to explore the case from all angles.

In this situation, the 40-year-old defendant has said that he suspects he drew the suspicion of police by driving through a bad neighborhood in an expensive vehicle. Certainly, such a thing might draw attention, but it’s not illegal and it’s certainly not enough of a reason to stop someone and arrest them.

The police report indicates that the stop was initiated on Northwest Ninth Avenue. One officer said he watched as the defendant rolled through two stop signs without coming to a complete stop. Then, the officer said that with his high beams on the vehicle, he was able to observe the defendant reaching into his waistband, pulling out a firearm and putting it inside the vehicle glove box.

However, the defendant alleges that his windows were heavily tinted, which would have made it impossible for the officer to see inside the vehicle, with or without high beams. He maintains he knew he was being followed by law enforcement, but he was quite surprised to be pulled over because he hadn’t believed himself to have done anything wrong.

After pulling over immediately, the defendant was ordered out of his vehicle at gunpoint. Officers said they searched his vehicle for weapons as a precaution for their own safety. They discovered a 9 mm handgun in the glove box. The firearm, officers said, was “able and ready” for discharge.

The defendant produced for officers a concealed carry permit. But despite having this evidence right in front of them, the officers instead relied on a records check that, for some reason, indicated that he was denied a permit at some earlier point.

They arrested him anyway on a single charge of possession of a concealed weapon. He wasn’t charged for running a stop sign. There were no other alleged illegal actions.

Still, he was held in custody for nearly 10 hours before he was finally released on bond. He had to spend even more money to fight the charges, though eventually, the state attorney’s office declined to move forward with the case after verifying that the defendant did indeed have legal permission to have that loaded gun in his vehicle.

The defendant subsequently filed a complaint with the internal affairs office of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. The investigating sergeant noted that because they were not any other violations, the defendant was “charged with a crime he did not commit.”

Even so, the internal investigation let the officer’s off scot-free, saying the mistake was “minor,” but the detectives had acted in good faith. Still, a final outcome of the internal affairs report has been on hold, pending the outcome of the civil case.

The defendant contends that the detectives falsified the official version of events in order to conceal the fact that they had violated his civil rights – namely, his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure.
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