Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

A thought-provoking legal argument from a courtroom in Palm Beach County is heading to the Florida Supreme Court. The case begs the question of whether or not a convicted criminal can invoke the state’s Stand Your Ground law as justification for shooting someone.
The controversial law has been receiving a great deal of attention recently, playing crucial roles in the recent Florida criminal cases first of George Zimmerman and then of Michael Dunn, both of whom fatally shot an individual they claimed posed a legitimate threat to their safety. In those cases, as our Palm Beach and Broward criminal defense attorneys understand, the defendants might have done questionable things prior to the incident, but neither was a convicted felon.

The case to be decided by the Florida Supreme Court is that of 25-year-old Palm Beach resident Brian Bragdon, a convicted felon who shot and killed two people in 2012; Bragdon claims it was in self-defense but the prosecutors disagree. Without a doubt, this ruling — and the arguments to be made leading up to the decision — will have a lasting impact on the criminal justice system in the Sunshine State.
Continue reading

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the controversial piece of legislation that received widespread attention following the death of Trayvon Martin last year, was upheld this past Thursday by a group of Florida lawmakers who rejected a proposal to repeal the law. Additionally, the legislative committee expanded the existing law, allowing a person who believes they are in to fire a warning shot.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, as it’s commonly called, is section 776.013.03 of the Florida State Statues. The law declares that a person who is not engaged in an unlawful act has no duty to retreat, and that they may meet force with force (including deadly force) if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves or someone else – or to prevent the commission “of a forcible felony.”

Our South Florida criminal defense attorneys are well aware of the polarizing nature of the law; those who oppose it criticize the law as one that allows for and even sanctions unjust killings. Those who support the law, on the other hand, argue that the law enables them to exercise methods of self-defense.
Continue reading

This past week, a Broward jury found former MMA fighter Fernando Rodrigues not guilty of three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. If found guilty, according to Florida law, Mr. Rodrigues would have been convicted of a second-degree felony and would have faced a minimum of 10 years in prison.
The case stemmed from a case of road rage on North State Road 7 in Coral Springs, which ended in a roadside brawl that involved Rodrigues and two pool service workers. When police arrived at the scene, all three men were handcuffed and one of them, Rodrigues, was arrested. Ostensibly, Rodrigues was arrested because it was the other two individuals in the fight who seemed to have sustained the most injuries from the fight.

Our South Florida criminal defense attorneys know that Florida law gives people the right to protect themselves – and that is just what Mr. Rodrigues did. Thankfully, a jury of his peers recognized the validity of his argument; as a result, a law-abiding citizen who served his country in the Marines will avoid being wrongfully thrown behind bars.
Continue reading

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.
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.
Continue reading

A 65-year-old Deerfield Beach man has been arrested on a series of decades-old sexual assault cases, after a cold case crimes unit reportedly linked him to at least three assaults.

Detectives believe there could be dozens more, according to media reports. handcuffs.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are always wary of police claims of guilt made many years down the road. There is a great deal that can happen in that time frame that make positive identification – particularly in sexual assault cases – extremely difficult for prosecutors.

In this case, the defendant was eccentric, to say the least. But that doesn’t make him a criminal.

Back in 1979, he reportedly carried out a series of burglaries in which he wore a cape. Detectives who pursued him in those cases said that he was brilliant – with an IQ number in the high 160’s. They also said he was “unstable.”

After being sentenced to 15 years in prison on various theft and burglary crimes, the defendant wrote a book called, “Secrets of a Superthief.” In it, he makes wild claims about jewelry heists in the hundreds of millions of dollars, his alleged ownership of a speed boat and a vacation home in Maine, and his use of sophisticated radio equipment that would have rivaled James Bond’s spy gear.

In fact, he had in one case stolen $1 million worth of jewelry from a doctor’s home that was rigged with high-tech alarms. But the book reads like more of a fantasy than a biography. Never once did he mention sexual assault.

He was released from prison in 1987 and moved to Arizona.

He was again arrested on burglary charges, and later on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. He had been distributing fliers reportedly posing as a photographer, and was found in possession of hundreds of images of underage girls.

As a result, he was sentenced to prison in 1992. He was paroled in 2004 , and moved back to South Florida. He had since married and lived quietly with his wife in a trailer park in Breezy Hill.

Now, police are coming after him for a number of sexual assaults in the area back in the 1970s, with some speculating that he could be the so-called “Gentle Rapist.”

Depending on the circumstances, sexual battery can be charged as either a first- or second-degree felony, according to Florida Statute 794.011, meaning the individual would be looking at somewhere between 5 years to life in prison for a single charge.

Now you may be wondering about how statutes of limitation factor. It’s important to note that when the charge is aggravated rape, the prosecutor can file at any time. Generally, these are cases in which a weapon was used or there was more than one person or the victim was seriously injured.

For cases of sexual abuse or sexual assault, the statute of limitations is typically four years, or four years after the alleged victim turns 18.

However, there is an exception for DNA analysis. The state has up to one year after the discovery of DNA evidence linking the suspect to the crime in order to file, even if the regular statute of limitations has passed.

That’s what we’re looking at in this case, which will undoubtedly require a skilled attorney to develop a strong legal defense.
Continue reading

Capital murder cases, or those punishable by death, are the most serious on our books, and investing in a highly-skilled and experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer is absolutely critical in these instances. lawseries1.jpg

When that doesn’t happen, it’s literally a matter of life and death for the defendant.

Thankfully in a Robinson v. State of Florida, heard recently by the Florida Supreme Court, his death sentence was overturned due to lack of adequate counsel.

The crimes alleged back in 1988 were especially heinous, but the Supreme Court ultimately held that the defense counsel in the case had failed to properly investigate mitigating circumstances and witnesses for the sentencing phase of the conviction. A jury had sentenced him to life, but the district court disagreed with that decision, based on a host of aggravating circumstances, and sentenced the defendant to die. The appellate court denied his appeal claiming ineffective counsel, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling and issued a new sentence of life in prison.

Some background on the case:

The defendant, “Robinson,” was reportedly a member of a drug organization that called itself “The Miami Boys,” and they were known for trafficking in substances throughout the South Florida area.

According to court records, a safe containing drugs and money was stolen from a Pensacola home of one of the members of this organization by two of his neighbors. The safe was taken to the home of a girlfriend of one of the gang members.

Then late in the evening one night in September, “Robinson” and three other defendants reportedly forced their way into the apartment of the two men who had stolen the safe. There were five people inside, including three men and two women. A third woman was then brought to the residence.

Robinson and his co-defendants then reportedly began demanding the drugs and money. When no one spoke up, he reportedly began stabbing one of the men. One of the women then agreed to take them to where the drugs were. She and another woman went with the defendants to where the drugs were. The women were reportedly each sexually assaulted by Robinson and another defendant.

When they returned to the original apartment, the woman who did not go with them had escaped. Robinson and one of his co-defendants then allegedly slashed the throats of the five remaining individuals and then shot them each in the head. Only one of the females survived.

Robinson was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed kidnapping, armed robbery, armed sexual battery, armed burglary and conspiracy to traffic drugs.

Robinson claimed to have been in New Jersey at the time of the crime, but he was still convicted.

During the penalty phase, all the court really heard from the defense was that he had a good relationship with his mother, he grew up in a poor neighborhood and had witnessed violence at home. The Supreme Court later determined that the defense attorney had failed to thoroughly investigate or invest in exploring the mitigating circumstances that might have been considered in court. The defense reportedly never obtained records from the group home where he had spent time as a juvenile or conduct any additional research into mitigating factors.

The district court had ruled that those things wouldn’t have made a difference. The Supreme Court disagreed. In fact, the court stated that, “An attorney’s obligation to investigate and prepare for the penalty portion of a capital case cannot be overstated because this is an integral part of a capital case.”

The truth of the matter is that the mitigation phase of a capital case must be treated as a separate court case, entirely and must be built with every bit as much diligence as the defense case. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Continue reading

The differences between Fort Lauderdale manslaughter and murder charges are nuanced and technical, but can make a big difference in terms of the penalties in the case.

Our Fort Lauderdale manslaughter defense attorneys know that this is a topic that has arisen much lately, in the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford. His death, reportedly at the hands of a neighborhood watch captain who claims self-defense, has triggered protests across the country, demanding prosecutorial action against the shooter, who has yet to be charged.

The truth of the matter is that for now, we don’t know exactly what happened in the Trayvon Martin case – very few do at this point, and one of those individuals is now deceased. While we step back to allow the justice system to work, we do believe that some valid questions have arisen as a result of the case – one of which being the question regarding manslaughter vs. murder.

Examples of high-profile manslaughter cases include the man in Sumter County, whose python escaped its cage and killed a 2-year-old, or the doctor of Michael Jackson, who prescribed a lethal dose of a powerful sedative.

The parents of Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was killed in February in Sanford, are calling for George Zimmerman, the gunman, to be charged with murder.

Sanford police, however, had initially investigated the crime as one of manslaughter, which is defined under FL Statute 782.07. The difference between this and murder, which is defined under FL Statute FL Statute 776.013 – which basically says that you don’t have to retreat if you feel threatened and can use force to protect yourself – as a reason for not initially filing charges.

Again, we don’t know the facts of this specific case, but in order to prove Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter, prosecutors would have to show that not only did his actions cause Martin’s death (which is almost certain), but that those actions were wanton and reckless and not protected under self defense or Stand Your Ground.

If convicted on a manslaughter charge, Zimmerman would face a penalty of up to 30 years in prison. Typically, a manslaughter conviction would net a maximum of 15 years behind bars, but the sentences are stiffer when the alleged victim is either a child, a disabled person or an elderly person.
Continue reading

Our society is one that prides itself on rehabilitation. We always believe that people make mistakes and deserve a second chance. The law here in Florida does provide some safeguards to help give people an opportunity to get the mental health treatment they need in relation to their Florida criminal law cases.
Morel v. Wilkins is a Florida criminal case that addresses the constitutional rights of criminally convicted detainees. This case arose where a man who had committed sexually violent acts was place in the care of the state for purposes of rehabilitation.

The issue that the Florida Supreme Court was charged with was to determine whether the delay in the commitment trial of the defendant and his detention could be classified as a constitutional violation. In this case a commitment trial refers to the judicial proceedings surrounding the reasonable cause grounds for which the state is seeking to confine the detainee in jail or a mental institution.

In 1996 Morel was found guilty of sexually violent acts and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. During this trial Morel was classified as a violent predator and therefore subject to the Jimmy Ryce Act. Because of the application of this statute, Morel was sent to Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) where he was considered a pre-trial detainee. The judge had not ruled regarding commitment of this defendant which made him ineligible for the sexual offender treatment program (SOTP).

Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act (Jimmy Rice Act) is a Florida statute passed in order to manage and rehabilitate inmates who have been convicted of sexual offenses. These offenders are kept at FCC where they are provided with long term sex offender and psychiatric treatment. These inmates are held until they can be safely re-entered into their communities. Technically, the application of this statute in Florida is similar to a judicial commitment.

This Jimmy Ryce Act provides for several agencies within the state of Florida to determine the level of risk involved in the release of the offender. Before release, these inmates are assessed by several mental health professionals and a multidisciplinary team to determine if they have been rehabilitated. Only upon Court Order finding the violent offenders rehabilitated, will these inmates be release.

Sexual offender treatment program (STOP) is a program used to help sexual offenders seek therapy and reintroduce themselves to society. STOP is only available to those who have a commitment order already on file. The main focus of this program is to provide individual and family therapy to these offenders and a structured treatment plan integrating them back into their family.

After seven years at FCC, Morel filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking full access to the comprehensive SOTP. A writ of habeas corpus is a mandate filed by a prisoner to determine whether they have been lawfully imprisoned and whether that prisoner is entitled to release from custody. Because Morel was still awaiting his civil commitment trial, he did not have access to the STOP.

Morel argued that this denial was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection rights. He also argued that the amount of time that these offenders had to wait for treatment through the SOTP was too long and therefore constitutionally defective. And lastly, his confinement was illegal because of the eight years he spent as a pre-trial detainee waiting for his civil commitment trial.

Although the Court warns against the risks of prolonged pretrial delays, they found in favor of the state in this very telling decision. Because Morel is the main reason behind his need for treatment from FCC, and because he is the sole determining factor in whether he is released, there has been no violation of his constitutional rights. Basically the court said, the state did not err in maintaining his status as a pretrial detainee, although eight years is not preferred. Because of this status, Morell is validly not entitled to SOTP.

Criminal defense is very complex. Morel brought this action without consultation with an attorney. Making the mistake of managing your own defense can be the difference between freedom and imprisonment. Our South Florida criminal attorneys understand this and are here to fight for you.
Continue reading

The Palm Beach Post is reporting that a 17-year-old is facing charges as an adult in a shooting that happened at the South Florida Fair in January.

Being charged as a juvenile in West Palm Beach can be a difficult situation for any teenager. When the state decides to charge the teenager as an adult, the situation can be life-altering.
West Palm Beach juvenile defense attorneys understand the challenges of these cases. For one, a teenager who faces felony charges can see their future endangered. A charge like this can lead to disqualification of scholarships or admittance into colleges or universities as well as difficulty finding a job.

But how the two systems work can also be challenging. In the juvenile court system, the goal is to try to rehabilitate teenagers who have gone astray by providing them work camp or alternatives to prison. But the criminal justice system is designed to punish. Judges are less concerned with helping a defendant than with sending them away based on what the law lays forth as the maximum penalty.

This is a delicate situation for prosecutors. On the one hand, the brains of most teens aren’t fully developed, so they may lack the proper ability to determine consequences of their actions. On the other hand, if a crime is committed, the state must fully prosecute.

An individual prosecutor must make the difficult decision of whether to file charges against the teenager as an adult or as a juvenile. Most violent crimes are going to see the juvenile being charged as an adult, depending on their age and prior law enforcement contact. Typically, it’s more minor crimes that end up being shuffled to juvenile court.

In this case, a 17-year-old from Palm Beach Gardens stands accused of shooting two people at the South Florida Fair last month. The teen was denied bond by a circuit judge at an initial hearing, which was rescheduled so that the teen’s West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney could be present.

The teen had been held at the Juvenile Assessment Center for three weeks, the maximum amount of time a teen can be stuck in juvenile custody. He faces charges of aggravated battery with a firearm and a delinquent in possession of a firearm.

The 17-year-old was charged with shooting two other teens– one male and one female — Jan. 28. The two victims were left with life-threatening injuries and the fair was locked down for about an hour as police officers investigated.

According to police, the victim was walking to the exit with friends around midnight when his girlfriend tugged at his shirt, warning him to watch out. Then, a person he identified as “Rone” began firing a gun in his direction. Another teen handed the victim a gun so he could return fire. He said he had known “Rone” since high school and that he was part of a local gang.

Another witness said two groups of people were fighting when a male who was wearing black clothing pulled out a gun. He began shooting at one of the victims, who then returned fire.
Continue reading

A 28-year-old Lauderhill man was arrested in connection with an early morning shooting that claimed the life of a woman and her daughter and injured the man’s grandmother in what police are calling a Fort Lauderdale domestic violence incident.

Domestic violence can be classified as a violent episode between family members and usually relates to a husband and wife or girlfriend and boyfriend who get into an argument. But it can also mean a more serious altercation that leads to life-altering injuries. And it can involve children, siblings or distant relatives.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have seen where these incidents can start off as minor arguments, escalate to physical fights and then lead to battery charges that carry possible long-term penalties, including prison time, probation, fines and fees, community service and other sanctions.

But simply being arrested and charged with a crime isn’t proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect has committed the crime. And that’s the standard that is applied to criminal cases. Police officers are able to make arrests with a much lower standard of proof and that’s why sometimes charges end up getting dropped by prosecutors before trial.

In this case, a Lauderhill man is charged with shooting his wife and her daughter, killing them both. The alleged incident also ended in the man’s grandmother being shot, but not fatally. Police reported that the man was taken into custody without incident in Fort Lauderdale.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Lauderhill police were called to the NW 55th Avenue home because of a shooting. According to the newspaper, officers found a 34-year-old woman and her 19-year-old daughter, home from college, dead. Shot in the arm was a 73-year-old woman who police said was the man’s grandmother.

Witnesses allegedly saw the man driving away from the house in a 2000 pickup truck around 6:30 p.m. The couple had been married for about two and a half years and family members said the two had a “hectic” marriage.

Police surmised that the argument started after the 19-year-old said something in response to comments the man made to his wife. Police believe she was killed first. The couple had a 7-year-old daughter together, who was at the home at the time, but was not injured.

The newspaper didn’t list what charges the man will face, but it’s likely he could face two counts of second-degree murder, a charge of aggravated battery or attempted murder and even a possible count of child abuse.

Perhaps the key facts in this situation will be the credibility of the witnesses who say they saw the man driving away from the house in his truck. It’s obvious there will be DNA from the man at the scene because he lived there, so that’s not helpful to the state. And if he was at his mother’s house miles away when he was arrested more than 10 hours later, police will have to have strong proof that he was in the house at the time of the crime.

Perhaps connecting a weapon in his possession to the bullets fired at the victims would be a key piece of evidence. Without it, it may be difficult for the prosecution to prove its case. While the state sometimes tries to rely on assumptions and circumstantial evidence, this can’t be the tactic used in a murder case.

When someone’s life is on the line and justice must be done, the state must have solid evidence in order to convince a jury that the suspect is guilty. Anything less is unacceptable. And an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer will be there to point out the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
Continue reading

Contact Information