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Can I be held after I serve my sentence for a sex crime?


Yes, you can, under Florida's harsh civil commitment laws. Those convicted of sex offenses are often detained indefinitely for crimes they haven't yet committed. After serving their sentences, they are transferred to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia. It doesn't sound like a prison, does it? Well it is, only worse, because the inmates there never know when, if ever, they will be released. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have represented those who have been subjected to involuntary civil commitment.

Can I sue the police for using excessive force when they arrested me?


Yes, you can. When the police use gratuitous and excessive force against a suspect of a crime who is under control, (this usually means handcuffed) not resisting and obeying commands, it is a violation of their Fourth Amendments rights and the police are liable for the damages they cause. As a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, I represent people injured at the hands of the cops. In Sanders v. Duke, decided by the 11th. Circuit Court of Appeals on September 8, 2014, just such an allegation was made. The court held that Mr. Saunders, who alleged that his head was slammed against the pavement with extreme force after he had been handcuffed and was lying prone on the ground , stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim for excessive force against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation. The court further held that the police were not entitled to qualified immunity, which is what the police always claim after they've injured someone during an arrest. Mr. Saunders met with a couple of individuals at a gas station in Orlando, Florida to sell them oxycodone pills. Those individuals turned out to be an undercover cop and a confidential informant. The drug sale took place inside the undercover cop's car. After the sale took place, the officers drew their weapons and ordered Saunders to place his hands on the car and not move. Saunders immediately complied. Saunders was then jerked down to the hot pavement and handcuffed. He was held down on the pavement for a long period of time on his stomach and was not resisting, posing a threat or attempting to flee. He told the police he was "getting burnt" and held his face off the pavement to keep from being burned. Then, one of the cops slammed his face onto the pavement with extreme force. When he was brought to his feet, blood was pouring out of his mouth and face from the impact. Saunders suffered lacerations, injuries to his teeth and jaw, damage to his left eardrum and emotional distress. The federal district court dismissed Saunders' Fourth Amendment claim after he brought suit there. Why? Because people that are arrested make claims of injury at the hands of the police all the time and the police claim qualified immunity. What's that? It means that a person acting within their scope of authority or official capacity has a certain amount of discretion and authority to act a certain way. In layman's terms, it means the cops can use an acceptable level of force against criminal suspects. The courts often side with the police against criminal suspects in these type of cases. But here, the appeals court ruled that the cops went too far. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to be free from the use of excessive force in the course of an arrest. What amount of force then is proper? The force used must be "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts confronting the officer. Here, the appeals court ruled that the district court should not have dismissed the claim. The appeals court cited cases where, for example, a police dog was unleashed to attack a suspect after the suspect complied with the police, and other cases where suspects heads were slammed against pavements and car hoods and trunks. In all those cases, the police were not entitled to qualified immunity. In the end, the appeals court found that the force used against Mr. Saunders was "plainly excessive, wholly unnecessary, and indeed, grossly disproportionate".

Can I be prosecuted for just for talking about having sex with a minor over the internet?


Yes, you can. The prosecution of those looking to have sex with a minor over the internet has exploded in recent years. These cases are easy to prosecute: police officers pose as underage minors (or the minor's parents) and get people to make incriminating statements. Then, they arrest them; the prison sentences are long. And the entire crime is a complete fiction, since there was no possibility for the minors or those seeking them out to actually meet, because the 'minors' are actually police officers. But how can someone be prosecuted for attempting to commit a crime which could actually never come to pass? As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have seen it happen.

Can my silence at the time of my arrest be used against me at trial?


No, silence at the time of arrest cannot be held against you. The courts have repeatedly held that prosecutors may not ask an accused about his post- arrest silence. Such questioning is a violation of one's Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. And this makes perfect sense. The first and most important Miranda warning, as we all know from watching TV crime dramas and movies is "You have the right to remain silent". So if an accused does remain silent, it follows that a prosecutor cannot ask that person on the witness stand, "Why did you remain silent when you were arrested and not tell the police what you are telling us now in court?" That prosecutors are not allowed to ask this question is one of the most basic rules of cross-examination. So it's surprising how often they get it wrong and do ask this question. I have seen it happen first hand as a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer.

Can police keep cash they find in a car stopped for a mere traffic infraction?


Unfortunately, yes the police can keep the cash and they do, every day. The law enforcement practice is known as civil asset forfeiture, in which the police seize cash or goods from a person suspected of a crime, even if no charges are ever brought against that person. Since 2001, police have seized a staggering $2.5 billion in cash from people who were never charged with a crime. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I represent people fighting civil asset forfeitures.

Will a prosecutor's misstatement of facts at trial cause a reversal of a conviction?


Yes, it probably will. Although closing arguments during a trial are a time of persuasion, a prosecutor cannot misstate facts and encourage a jury to convict you on the basis of evidence not presented at trial. I have seen this happen as a Jacksonville criminal attorney. One would think that a prosecutor would never do such a thing, but this is exactly what happened in the case of U.S. v. Mageno. Nancy Mageno's godson, a leader of a methamphetamine conspiracy, did not speak English fluently, so Mageno translated telephone calls for him. As a result, Mageno was prosecuted for knowingly joining and participating in the drug conspiracy by fostering communication between its participants and her godson.

Can my sentence be increased if I testify on my own behalf and am convicted?


Unfortunately, in federal court, yes your sentence can be increased. There are many pitfalls to testifying at a criminal trial. The most obvious is that you subject yourself to cross-examination by the prosecutor. If the prosecutor does a good job and makes you look like your not telling the truth or that your version of events just doesn't make sense, you'll probably be convicted. And then, the prosecutor will argue you committed perjury on the witness stand. I have seen this happen as a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney. But if your version of events rings true and the prosecutor can't shake you, you'll probably carry the day. Jurors love hearing from the accused, even though they're instructed that if they don't they can't hold it against them.

Can a judge make comments during a trial that favors the prosecutor?


No, he cannot. United States v. Rivera -Rodriguez, decided by the 1st. Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4, 2014, is a good example of what happens when judges decide to get into the action of questioning witnesses on their own. I have witnessed this myself as a Jacksonville criminal lawyer. Carlos Rivera- Rodriguez was convicted of drug possession and distribution charges. He appealed his conviction, claiming that the judge improperly questioned the witnesses against him and further made an unfair comment during the prosecutor's summation. Rivera-Rodriguez and Mr. Mercado-Cruz were among sixty four co-defendants charged with involvement in a conspiracy to distribute various types of illegal drugs. They were the only two who elected to stand trial rather than accept plea agreements.

Can a judge prevent a lawyer from questioning potential jurors about media coverage?


No, he cannot, thanks to Dippolito v. Florida, decided July 30, 2014. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have often had to fight judges about letting me question potential jurors about their exposure to media coverage. In 2011, Dalia Dippolito was convicted in a murder for hire scheme in Boynton Beach, Florida. The jury found Dippolito guilty of paying a Boynton Beach undercover cop, posing as a hit man, $3,000. to kill her then spouse Michael Dippolito. A video of police officers approaching Dippolito at a staged murder scene in August of 2009 went viral and was viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. It was played at her trial and helped persuade the jury to convict her. The incident got a great deal of press coverage, both nationally and internationally. And because of the great media hype, Dippolito's lawyers wanted the trial judge to let them question potential jurors individually about their awareness of her case, what they had read or heard and whether or not they (the potential jurors) had been influenced one way or the other. Sounds like a reasonable request, right? After all, the jury selection process (known as voir dire) is crucial. It's a process that allows both the prosecution and defense to question potential jurors about their individual biases in the hopes of weeding out those jurors who cannot be fair and impartial. But a Palm Beach County Judge refused to allow it. The 4th District Court of Appeal said that was a mistake as it denied the defendant a fair trial. As a result, the higher court has overturned (thrown out) Dippolito's conviction and 20 year prison sentence. She has been released from jail, put under house arrest and $500,000. bail. "She wasn't provided a fair trial from day one", her lawyer said. At the start of jury selection, Dippolito's lawyers asked the prospective jurors if they had heard about the case. 28 of the 54 prospective jurors raised their hands. At this point, her lawyers were concerned that the entire jury pool could be contaminated if one juror mentioned something prejudicial in front of the others. But the Judge asked a sweeping question of all the jurors collectively (as they always do) and concluded that all the jurors could be fair and that none "held any strongly held opinions on the merits of the case." When Dippolito's lawyers questioned the prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case, one juror mentioned a report that Dippolito "had tried to poison her husband with antifreeze". The higher court, in overturning her conviction, wrote that Dippolito's lawyers "had the right to ask these jurors what specific information they had learned from the media; the jurors' show of hands was insufficient to protect her right to a fair and impartial jury."

Can a prosecutor appeal a sentence of probation in federal court?


Yes a prosecutor can appeal a sentence of probation in federal court. As a Jacksonville criminal attorney, I can say it doesn't often happen, but the case of U.S. v. Hayes, decided by the 11th. Circuit Court of Appeals, on August 12, 2014, is an example of when it can happen and why. Mr. Hayes is a 67 year old businessman who- over a period of four years- doled out over $600,000. in bribes to a state official in order to ensure that his company would continue to receive government contracts. Hayes' company reaped over five million dollars in profits as a result of the corrupt payments. Hayes ran a computer software company. He bribed Roy Johnson, the chancellor of the education department, to have school contracts awarded to Hayes' company for computer software services.

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