Articles Posted in Felony Crimes

In Florida, the crime of child neglect is committed when a person described under the law as a caregiver fails to provide care or supervision to a child that is necessary to maintain the child’s health or to protect a child from abuse or neglect. Child neglect is a felony, and the seriousness of the charge is largely based on the extent of the injury to the child, if any. However, even if the child is not injured, child neglect is still a felony charge in Florida.

In a recent child neglect case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was babysitting his girlfriend’s children. Under these circumstances, the defendant is likely to be considered a caregiver under Florida law. While the mother was away, her youngest child apparently fell out of his crib and lay on the floor unresponsive. The defendant told the oldest child to call the mother rather than 911. The mother came home, and she called 911. The child went to the hospital with serious injuries. The police arrested the defendant for child abuse claiming that the defendant neglected the injured child by having the older child call her mother rather than 911.

One problem with a child neglect charge is the more injured the child is and the younger the child is, the angrier police, prosecutors and jurors get and the more they may want to hold someone accountable. This can result in police, prosecutors and/or jurors making decisions based on emotion rather than the facts and the law. The law says that negligence in this context must be a gross and flagrant failure to act reasonably with regard to others. The defendant must have an utter disregard for the safety of the child. Child neglect cannot merely be a mistake or a bad decision on the part of the defendant that either places a child at risk or seriously injures a child.

In Florida, it is illegal to get into a traffic crash and then leave the scene without waiting for the police and providing identification and insurance information. For crashes that involve minor impacts, there must be some property damage or injury to trigger the requirement to remain at the scene. Therefore, if you slightly hit another vehicle and verify there was no damage or injuries, you are free to leave. However, if there is any property damage, or any injury, you are not free to leave.

If a person is in a crash that involves serious injury or death and leaves the scene, it is a serious felony crime in Florida. The main idea is that if a person causes a serious injury or death, the police want to be able to investigate that person to see if he/she is following the law. If a person leaves the scene without waiting for police, the state assumes the person is involved in criminal activity such as driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license or recklessly caused the crash.

However, there have been “accidents” with serious injuries or death that do not involve actual crashes. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the passenger somehow exited the moving vehicle, hit the pavement and died. The driver, however, just kept driving. After the driver was found and charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death, the criminal defense lawyer argued the case should be dismissed because there was actually no “crash”. The evidence showed that the vehicle never hit the passenger or anything else to cause the passenger to exit the vehicle. While this is a good argument, the court rejected it.

In Florida, there is a well-protected Constitutional right to privacy and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in one’s home. While the privacy right is not as strong, one also has a similar Constitutional right in his/her hotel room. The police cannot just barge into a hotel room because they think it contains drugs or other evidence just because the occupant does not own the room. The police need to have one of the standard legal bases to enter the hotel room such as consent from one of the occupants of the room, a search warrant or an emergency situation.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, police received a call of a home invasion robbery. Earlier that day, the police had stopped two people in a vehicle that appeared suspicious. After the call, the police believed they had something to do with the robbery. During the previous stop, the police learned that they were staying at a nearby hotel. The police went to the hotel room and walked inside without consent or a search warrant. Only after they entered the hotel room did the police obtain consent to search from the occupants. After obtaining consent to search, they discovered evidence related to the robbery in the hotel room.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the hotel room. He argued that it was unlawful for the police to enter the room without a search warrant, consent to enter or an emergency. The court agreed. It was clear that the police cannot just walk into an occupied hotel room just because they think there may be evidence of a crime inside. The police did obtain consent to search the hotel room after entering the hotel room, but by then, the Constitutional violation had already occurred. The police cannot rectify a Constitutional violation by getting retroactive consent to search after they have illegally entered the hotel room.

In Florida, bribery is a second degree felony crime. It is defined by giving or offering a public servant any unauthorized money or other benefit to get the public servant to do something, or fail to do something, within his/her official discretion as a public official. A person can be convicted of bribery by offering to bribe a public official even if the public official does not intend to follow through with the request or does not even have the ability to perform the request. Offering such a deal to the public official can be bribery even if it goes no further. Both sides of the equation can be convicted of bribery- the person making the offer and if applicable, the public servant who agrees to the unlawful request.

In a recent case case near Jacksonville, Florida, a corrections officer at a private prison was arrested for bribery for bringing contraband into the prison and selling it to inmates. The defendant did not defend the case by arguing he did not commit those acts; he argued that he could not be convicted of bribery because, as an employee of a private prison, he was not a “public servant” as required by the bribery statute.

The court agreed with the argument, but the defendant was convicted anyway. Since it was a private prison, his employer was a private company, even though the private prison had a contract with the state to operate the prison. Under the Florida law, a “public servant” is defined as an officer or employee of a state, county, municipal or special district agency or entity. The defendant did not fit into that definition. However, most likely due to the emergence of private prisons, Florida law includes a provision to cover this kind of situation. The Florida Correctional Privatization Act basically says that if the act would be a crime if committed at a state run prison, it is also a crime if committed at a private prison.

In Florida, most manslaughter charges involving auto crashes involve allegations that the defendant was driving the vehicle while impaired from alcohol and/or drugs and caused an accident that resulted in the death of another person. That crime is commonly referred to as DUI manslaughter. However, a person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter when he/she was completely sober if he/she was driving recklessly and caused a crash that resulted in a death.

In order to prove a case of vehicular manslaughter, the state must prove that the defendant was driving recklessly. The legal definition for reckless driving is driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other persons or property. Another way to describe it could be knowingly driving with a conscious indifference to the consequences and with knowledge that the driver’s actions is likely to result in injury to another person or damage to property. The bottom line is that these words do not mean much, and recklessness is determined by the initial police officer who makes the arrest, the prosecutor who decides to file the charges, the judge if the defendant files a motion to dismiss and ultimately a jury if the case goes all the way to a trial.

It is pretty clear that regular negligent driving is not sufficient for a vehicular manslaughter charge. Examples of mere negligent driving would include: running a red light, routine speeding, switching lanes without checking the mirrors and the fairly normal traffic violations people commit every day. It is when some of those improper actions are combined or the driving becomes particularly egregious that the line between non-criminal negligent driving and criminal reckless driving can be difficult to determine.

In Florida, armed robbery with a deadly weapon is a very serious crime that is punishable by up to life in prison. The Florida statute defines robbery with a deadly weapon as taking the property of another by use of force or putting someone in fear of violence. If the perpetrator carried a “deadly weapon” during the robbery, then it becomes a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.

In a case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant robbed a cashier at a convenience store. When the cashier did not immediately comply and hand over the money, the defendant lifted up his shirt showing the handle to a gun. The cashier then gave him the money. Through surveillance footage and fingerprints, the police located the defendant. They arrested him in his vehicle and found a black BB gun under the driver’s seat. At the trial, the jury determined that the BB gun found in his car was the one the defdendant used in the robbery. The jury convicted him of robbery with a deadly weapon.

The criminal defense lawyer appealed arguing that a BB gun is not a deadly weapon under the Florida statute. He argued that a deadly weapon must be something that is likely to produce death or great bodily injury. However, the Court disagreed and held that a jury is justified in determing that a BB gun is a deadly weapon as they did in this case. A jury can determine a BB gun is a deadly weapon if there is an implication from the defendant’s words or actions. Since the victim testified that she thought it was a real gun and gave up the money as a result, the jury could find it was a deadly weapon under the robbery statute.

In Florida, it is a felony crime to abuse or neglect an elderly or disabled person. While such a crime sounds bad, it is also very vague as to what is required to actually commit the crime in Florida. Under Florida law, elder abuse or abuse of a disabled person includes inflicting psychological or physical injury upon an elderly or disabled person. Criminal neglect of an elderly or disabled person involves a failure to provide supervision, care or services to the elderly or disabled person to maintain his/her psychological and/or physical health. If a person commits abuse on an elderly or disabled person and that person is not seriously injured, it is a third degree felony in Florida. The same goes for neglect of an elderly or disabled person. If the victim is seriously injured or certain aggravating factors are present, the crime could be a second or first degree felony.

However, not all improper conduct, or omissions, involving the elderly or disabled that results in injury to the alleged victim qualifies as a crime in Florida. In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a caretaker was responsible for taking care of a 90 year old woman. The allegations against the defendant were that she would give the woman sleeping pills that were not prescribed for her to put her to sleep so she could have male friends over. This occurred over a six month period. As a result, the state charged her with neglect of an elderly and/or disabled person.

One issue with facing a charge like this is a jury will often overlook the details of the case and the specifics of the law and find a defendant guilty out of sympathy for the victim and/or disdain for the defendant. And that is what happened in this case. The problem was the state made an error by charging the woman with elder neglect. Neglect implies that the defendant failed to do something that was necessary to maintain the well being of the victim. In this case, the facts suggested that the defendant committed an act, or many acts, that placed the victim at risk of serious injury as it is dangerous to give someone, particuarlyl an elderly person, a drug that is not prescribed for her. While the defendant’s conduct was wrong, and it was probably abuse, it was not neglect because it was not an omission but an act that created the risk to the victim.

Recently in the news, there were several stories of a large number of people in the Jacksonvile area and throughout Florida who were arrested on RICO charges relating to internet cafes and the Allied Veterans of the World. RICO is not a charge that is filed very often by state prosecutors, but as criminal defense lawyers working in the Jacksonville, Florida area, we have handled several RICO cases.

RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization. RICO laws in the various states and in the federal system were designed to deal with organizations that allegedly commit crimes on an ongoing basis and to also make it easier to catch people who have a more supervisory or leadership role in an organization that commits crimes as opposed to lower level people who might have a more hands-on role. Over the years, prosecutors have used RICO laws to go after fairly loosely tied groups of people that are not in a discrete organization but have some connection in relation to the commission of alleged crimes. In most states, including Florida, the penalties for a RICO violation are very severe.

In Florida, to prove that one or more people committed a RICO violation, the state must prove the defendant participated in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering. That, in and of itself, does not tell us much, and there is a lot of case law in the various states that explain what an enterprise is, what a pattern is and what racketeering means. In relatively simple terms, the state does not need to prove much to establish a pattern. Basically at least two criminal acts that are similar in some way may be enough to establish a pattern. A pattern of racketeering occurs when a defendant commits two or more specific crimes referenced in the RICO Act. Normally, a large number of crimes will qualify for a predicate act under the RICO laws, even where the criminal conduct is not very serious. The RICO Act is one way to turn less serious criminal conduct on an individual basis into very serious criminal conduct when done multiple times with other people involved. As for the participation part, the state would have to prove that the defendant participated in the enterprise while knowing the criminal objectives of the enterprise and agreeing to further that purpose.

One of the worst ideas in all of criminal law is the mandatory minimum prison sentence for a particular crime. In criminal law, you have the prosecutor who reviews the case and represents the state. His/her job is to prosecute people who are guilty of crimes, present the case on behalf of the state and get a reasonable and appropriate sentence. The defense attorney’s job is to prepare the case on behalf of the defendant- get the case dismissed or reduced or win the case at trial if there is insufficient evidence or legal deficiencies or try and obtain the best sentence for the defendant if the state can prove the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge’s job is to preside over the case, make sure both sides follow the rules and sentence the defendant to an appropriate sentence if the defendant pleads guilty or loses at trial. Those three individuals are the best equipped to assume those roles and recommend or decide what an appropriate sentence is because they know the most about the individual defendants and the specific circumstances of each case.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences are dictated by legislators in the state capital who know absolutely nothing about the details of each defendant and each case and are often pushing legislation with an eye on reelection. As a result, the discretion is taken away from the judge who hears about the case from both sides and is trained to make an informed, unbiased decision, and that discretion is placed squarely into the hands of the state or the uninformed legislature. When that happens you have defendants who face 15 year mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegally obtaining pain pills because they cannot afford them and do not have insurance although they have the same medical problems as people with money, who have health insurance and get the same pain pills through a doctor. When that happens, you have lawful gun owners who believe they used their gun responsibly in a self-defense situation who are forced to plead guilty and become convicted felons in order to get a better sentence and avoid a 3, 10 or 20 year mandatory minimum prison sentence if they risk a trial and the six strangers on the jury decide against them.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences are a perfect example of typical government overreaching with the result being bigger government, more taxpayer money wasted on the criminal justice system and completely illogical results dictated by government officials who have no idea what is going on in specific cases.

In Florida, when a person is involved in an auto accident that involves property damage or injury, that person must stop and remain at the scene to exchange identification and insurance information with the other party and the police officer. If a person is involved in an auto accident that causes property damage and does not remain at the scene of the crash, he/she can be arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident which is a misdemeanor crime. If the crash results in a serious injury to someone, leaving the scene of the accident is a felony crime. If there is a death involved, the case becomes much more serious.

In a recent hit and run case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was in a large truck, hit a pedestrian and kept driving. Witnesses who saw the accident called the police, and the defendant was stopped a few miles down the road. The defendant claimed that he did not know he hit the pedestrian. This case raises the question of whether the state has to prove the defendant driver actually knew he/she was involved in a crash before he/she can be convicted of the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. In most crashes, it is obvious to everyone involved in the crash.

However, there are cases where the impact may be minor yet the damages are severe where the driver may not know he/she was involved in a crash for some reason. In those cases, the state must prove the defendant knew he/she was involved in a crash. The criminal statute requires a willful violation on the part of the defendant. A willful violation requires some level of knowledge of improper activity on the part of the defendant. The state can prove knowledge of the crash by showing evidence of the nature of the crash, the defendant’s behavior after the crash, any statements the defendant made and testimony of witnesses who saw the crash.

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