Forensic science has played an increasingly larger role in criminal courtrooms across the country – particularly in cases involving more serious crimes, such as homicides, robberies and sexual assaults. However, the scientific veracity of this evidence has come under fire in recent years as even more advanced science has proven some of those convicted largely on these older forensics were indeed innocent as they’d always claimed.criminal defense attorney

In 2015, The Washington Post reported the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI both formally acknowledged that almost every examiner in the FBI forensics unit gave flawed testimony in nearly every trial in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants in the nearly two decades preceding 2000. Of the methods to which they testified were forensic hair analysis and forensic bite mark analysis. Among those cases effected, 32 were sentenced to die, with 14 having already been executed or died in prison. This was acknowledged by the agency after a study found that in 95 percent of nearly 300 cases reviewed, forensic examiners overstate those forensic matches in ways that favored the prosecution’s case.

Other forensic disciplines touted as practically airtight in criminal trials for decades had by that time been largely discredited, including shoe and tire impressions and handwriting. A 2009 report from the National Academy of Science released a groundbreaking report revealing these “sciences” were not as credible as what they claimed to be, as they aren’t rigorous, grounded in peer-reviewed research and outcomes often rely on judgments of individual practitioners. The report stated opinions offered by these “experts” were generally more subjective than scientific. Specific to bloodstain patterns, the report stated complex patterns fluids make as they exit wounds are “highly variable,” making valid interpretations difficult or impossible.

Recently, a ProPublica investigation delved into another reportedly dubious forensic analysis method, bloodstain pattern analysis. The case they highlighted was that of a once-loved high school principal in Texas who was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder of his wife, an elementary school teacher, who was shot in their home in 1985 – a key piece of evidence in his conviction being bloodstain pattern analysis.  Continue reading

People in the U.S. have a number of Constitutional rights that ensure (among other things) due process as they go about their lives. One of those, as outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. It has long been established that warrants are generally required to initiate a non-consensual search of one’s person or property. However, there is an automobile exception that allows warrantless searches if the vehicle is traveling on a public road and the law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion of a crime. criminal defense attorney Fort Lauderdale

Now, in what’s being hailed a win for privacy rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has just handed down an 8-1 decision holding police are not allowed to search the area around a private home absent a warrant – even if they believe they’ve seen stolen property on site. A motorcycle in a driveway was was started this particular case.

Officers at a county police agency in Virginia say they attempted to initiate a traffic stop of a motorcycle rider on two different occasions, but both times, the driver evaded. Police were able to learn from those encounters that the motorcycle in question was stolen. A suspect was identified, based on Facebook photos the suspect had posted of the motorcycle in question, which was parked at suspect’s girlfriend’s home. An officer went to that location, where a motorcycle was spotted – covered by a tarp – in the driveway. The officer – who did not have a warrant and was not invited onto the property – removed the tarp. Based on the information he gathered, he identified the bike as stolen and arrested the suspect – who claimed he purchased the motorcycle without a title. He was charged with receiving stolen property. Continue reading

A recent decision by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals makes it clear that police have the right to stop you for license plate framing that obstructs ANY portion of the words on the plate. That means police have yet one more reason to initiate traffic stops (which can lead to additional charges).criminal defense attorney

In Florida v. Pena, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Assistant Attorney General Christina Dominguez argued for the state, citing in particular the statute F.S. 316.605(1), which states that license plates must keep plainly visible and legible at all times 100 feet from the front or rear “all letters, numerals, printing, writing and other identification marks upon the plates regarding the word ‘Florida,’ the registration decal and the alphanumeric designation.”

Defendant in this case alleged the Miami traffic stop was illegal – and the trial court agreed, meaning any other evidence gleaned thereafter would be inadmissible. However, the 3rd DCA reversed.  Continue reading

Under Florida’s controversial new “red flag” law, passed after the deadly shooting at a Parkland High School, law enforcement agencies in Broward lead the state in arrests for violations.criminal defense attorney

The Red Flag gun law was passed March 5th, designed to allow local law enforcement agencies to seize weapons from individuals who suffer from emotional or mental health issues or those who display certain problem behaviors that indicate posing a direct danger to others. Florida is one of just a few states to pass such a law, and many have been critical of it as a knee-jerk reaction.

From the standpoint of a criminal defense lawyer, the concern is individuals who have committed no crimes may be targeted by law enforcement in a manner that not only infringes upon their Second Amendment rights, but could make them vulnerable to arrest – not only for this, but potentially other unrelated charges. Throughout this process, our goal is to ensure our client’s Fourth Amendment rights (shielding against unreasonable search and seizure) are fiercely protected. It is unlawful for any evidence obtained from a lawful search to be introduced into court (this evidence is often referred to in legal terms as “fruit of the poisonous tree”).  These searches may lead to evidence used to assert another crime – but only if that evidence was gleaned lawfully. Continue reading

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny after it was revealed a man arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a juvenile last year was charged earlier this month with armed kidnapping and sexual battery of another person in 2003. That case had remained cold for 15 years.criminal defense attorney

At the time, the woman reported to police she was walking on South State Road 7 one night in late December when an unknown man approached with a gun and threatened to shoot her if she struggled or made a scene. She then said the man forced her to a nearby car dealership and sexually assaulted her repeatedly inside a vehicle. The woman survived the attack, reported it to police and a rape kit was performed and submitted to the crime laboratory at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. But nothing happened. Defendant has a lengthy criminal record and documents from the Hollywood Police Department show their agency received a crime lab report from Broward in 2006 indicating a routine search of their national DNA database had returned a possible lead in the 2003 case with this particular defendant. It’s unclear why neither agency followed up.

A 2014 audit of practices at the Hollywood Police Department, according to NBC Miami, revealed the agency had dozens of sexual assault evidence kits stowed away in a locked evidence room, rather than submitted to a crime laboratory. Once the audit was finished, two arrests were made in the two dozen cases that were reviewed. The chief reported at the time that he was establishing a special unit solely to handle rape kit analysis.  Continue reading

Comedian Bill Cosby’s conviction for aggravated indecent assault was born of a set of highly unique circumstances. It involved a civil case deposition that was previously sealed. It involved a high-profile defendant. It involved a previous agreement not to prosecute (one the Pennsylvania DA simply ignored). But perhaps one of the most important unique elements of this case is the testimony from previous victims. criminal defense

While the case isn’t likely to serve as an exact blue print for how we might expect future sexual assault investigations to go, but we could well see a difference in criminal defense lawyer strategies. Attitudes both inside and outside the courtroom toward accusers and alleged victims of sexual assault and harassment are changing in the er of #MeToo.

Take for instance the fact that when this case first went to trial, none of Cosby’s other accusers (and there are many) were allowed to testify because, as the court reasoned, those incidents had nothing to do with the specific accusations against the defendant in this incident. Andrea Constand accused the star of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his mansion in 2004. Constand is gay and was in a relationship with a woman at the time of the incident, despite Cosby’s insistence that this encounter – and several others prior – were consensual.  Continue reading

A county commissioner in his 70s has been immediately suspended by the governor following his arrest on multiple misdemeanors alleging prostitution. The commissioner, from Hernando County, reportedly wrote the governor and asked he be suspended effective July 17th – significant because that’s the day after which it would be too late to put his elected seat on the ballot this year. Gov. Rick Scott chose instead to remove him from the post right away.prostitution defense

The Miami Herald reports the commissioner was arrested for:

  • One count operating a location for the purposes of lewdness, assignation or prostitution;
  • Two counts purchasing services from a person engaged in prostitution.

Both of these are violations of different parts of F.S. 796.07, which prohibits prostitution and related acts. A first offense for any of this is considered a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. But for many individuals, like this defendant, the problem is less about the jail time (though two months in jail could easily cost one his or her employment) or even the maximum $5,000 fine. The more troubling aspect is the permanent stain on his or her criminal record record. Continue reading

As Florida – and the rest of the country – have been grappling with a crisis of opioid addiction, law enforcement and prosecutors have been pursuing criminal action against those who make these drugs available. Drug-dealing has never been legal, but increasingly, prosecutors are going after doctors, pharmacists and others with murder charges against those who distribute drugs that lead to fatal overdoses.criminal defense attorney

Recently though, a circuit court judge in Central Florida has tossed several first-degree murder charges against dealers accused of doling out a fatal dose of fentanyl, based on the fact that the cases were reportedly initiated under a faulty legal premise. As The Orlando Sentinel reports, several other defendants are now seeking to have their homicide cases dismissed.  The state attorneys office has sent notice to attorneys and judges in similar cases of the ruling, as it could have a direct bearing on pending criminal cases in that region – and potentially throughout the state.

It was only last October, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a law that would add fentanyl to the list of illicit drugs for which dealers could be charged with murder in the event of a deadly overdose. Maximum penalties per F.S. 782.04, the state’s murder statute, could include either life in prison or execution. Continue reading

Following the mass shooting at a South Florida high school in February, Florida became the sixth state to pass a so-called “red flag law,” something numerous other states are also examining. criminal defense attorney

Sometimes also referred to as a “risk warrant law,” this measure approved by state legislators last month give police officers the authority to temporarily remove guns and ammunition from individuals who display warning signs of violence to themselves or others. Floridian Sen. Marco Rubio has said he plans to introduce similar legislation at the federal level that would allow close family members and law enforcement the ability to obtain a court order to bar future gun sales to someone who might pose a threat. Backers of red flag laws say they can help drive down the number of gun-related injuries and deaths, including suicides. Opponents say they deprive citizens of their Second Amendment rights without due process.

Before Florida, five other states (Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Connecticut and California) had laws on the books enabling officers to seize firearms after receiving notice that a person with access to deadly weapons may pose a danger to themselves or others. It’s not clear exactly how effective these laws are (it’s difficult to opine the number of crimes prevented). We do know that in Connecticut, an average of seven guns were seized from every one person targeted from 1999 to 2013.  Continue reading

It’s been a year since the U.S. Supreme Court deemed Florida’s process of deciding death penalty cases unconstitutional for the second time.criminal defense lawyer

Florida had a long-standing practice of allowing imposition of the death penalty without the unanimous support of a jury. Before the 2016 ruling in Hurst v. Florida, courts here only required a recommendation of a simple majority of jurors (7-5), though the decision was ultimately up to the judge. Not Ok, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court, finding it a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The state legislature revised the rules, deciding at least 10 out of 12 jurors needed to agree in order to impose the death penalty. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that still wasn’t good enough, as it violated the Eighth Amendment’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Juror input and consensus is mandatory in capital cases.

Now, the Tampa Bay Times reports that since those two rulings, there have been “far fewer” convicted murderers sentenced to death in the state. Continue reading