Articles Posted in Broward County Courthouse News

Recently, the Broward state attorney’s office held a workshop for adults interested in having a criminal charge sealed or expunged from their record. eraser

Those who have a criminal conviction on their permanent record probably know that it can hinder one from landing a job, getting a decent apartment to rent, obtaining child custody or earning certain types of special licenses or certifications. It can touch nearly every facet of everyday life. This is true even though a person may have been cleared of the criminal allegation or they have successfully completed probation or a diversion program or otherwise paid their debt to society. Even having done all this, a person can still find that the arrest record haunts them. This is why expunging or sealing one’s criminal record can be so important to one’s future.

This is the fifth time the local state attorney’s office has held this workshop, which involves helping people prepare the sealing or expunging application that is required by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to initiate the process, which can be initiated for both adults and juveniles, though the process can vary. Although there are certainly some who benefit from these free workshops, there is good reason why most people who initiate the process do so with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.  Continue reading

Last year, a Pompano Beach man was convicted of a slew of burglary and robbery charges. He faced up to 60 years in prison. The judge deferred his sentence in lieu of probation. But then, he was stopped for driving without a license. He was hauled back into court and sentenced to the full 60 years in prison. Following widespread backlash, the Broward Circuit judge had a change of heart. Community leaders at a hearing promised to work with the 24-year-old defendant, Herbert Smith. They were going to help him find a job and keep him out of trouble. The judge agreed once again to suspend the 60-year prison term. The caveat was that any violation of that probation – no matter how minor – could result in that 60-year sentence being reinstated. police

Then just before Thanksgiving of this year, Smith was arrested, accused of a burglary that took place in September. He was identified as one of two men who broke into a home in Parkland and heisted $30,000 worth of jewelry. It didn’t look good for the defendant, especially because probation violations don’t have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, Smith got another break when prosecutors recently decided not to pursue the burglary charge or the probation violation. They dismissed both, finding there was not enough evidence to move forward.  Continue reading

In 2001, a Broward County boy became the youngest ever in American to be sentenced to life in prison. That was 15 years ago.

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Recently, a number of those who were involved in the Lionel Tate case, including the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney, convened as part of a panel before the Broward County Crime Commission’s conference on juvenile and adolescent violence. They were there to discuss the landmark case, which involved a 12-year-old boy who in 1999 killed a 6-year-old girl whom his mother had been babysitting. He was reportedly attempting to imitate the pro-wrestling moves that he had seen on television.

An appellate court overturned Tate’s murder conviction in 2004, finding it wasn’t clear he had understood the charges. That led to a plea deal in which he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 10 years probation. Those who were involved in the criminal case say they lacked clear guidelines for how they were supposed to handle matters like this. They had never before faced this type of circumstance, and the courts didn’t offer much guidance.  Continue reading

In November, a Broward County Sheriff’s Office crime lab analyst being investigated for missing drugs resigned. That was almost two years after discrepancies arose with regard to the amount of cocaine evidence she had been working on. When the office came up 0.4 grams short, an independent analyst was asked to re-check her work. By then, the amount had shrunk by 5 grams. Then a random sampling of her work was done, and it was discovered one was off by 12 grams. Her supervisor was forced to resign. scale1

Now, with questions raised about the 5,800+ drug cases she worked during her nine-year tenure at the agency, the Broward New Times is taking a closer look at what it alleges were lax policies and poor oversight at the crime lab.

This is potentially a big deal, as it could result in thousands of Broward drug cases either being reopened or thrown out completely. A few grams may not seem like a major deal, but when it comes to criminal prosecutions, it is significant because it could mean the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, a few months in prison versus several years.  Continue reading

Criminal cases against dozens of people that have been languishing in Broward County’s felony mental health court have been dropped by prosecutors following the publication of “Trapped,” an investigating by The Sun Sentinelhandcuffs2

Reporters learned that people facing minor felony charges in mental health court spent six times as long in the criminal justice system as those whose cases proceeded in regular court. For a system design specifically to avoid this, it was deeply troubling. In fact, it wasn’t just defense attorneys who were concerned. Mental health advocates and even prosecutors agreed something had to be done about mental health court.

The court started out in 2003 with good intentions. The idea was to give them access to treatment in preparation for trial. But in practice, what happened was many were too ill to face the criminal justice system. And while Broward prosecutors had the authority to drop the charges at any point, very few actually did. That meant people were spending years locked up for crimes they had not even been convicted of. Continue reading

Lazaro Castellon, or “King Speedy” as he is known within the Latin Kings “tribe” was sworn as the “Second Crown” of the South Miami sect of the gang about six months prior to his arrest earlier this year.
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He is now the fourth of two dozen Latin Kings gang members arrested following an undercover sting operation to work out a plea deal. Originally charged with racketeering conspiracy, robbery and possession of a firearm during a violent crime, he is pleading guilty solely to the racketeering charge. The exact terms of the deal won’t be released until the court gives final approval, but he still faces up to 20 years in prison. Nineteen other suspects are slated for trial on similar charges later this year.

Authorities say the sting put a major dent in gang activities throughout Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. Anytime a person is charged with a gang-related crime in Florida, the offense is serious. That’s because gang involvement is considered an aggravating factor under Florida law, and these offenses can and often do carry enhanced penalties.
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The Fort Lauderdale theft of some $100,000 in merchandise from two area electronics stores is being potentially linked to other retail thefts in Florida.
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Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers recognize that this incident comes on the heels of an announcement by local, state and federal authorities that a comprehensive retail task force is in the works.

According to federal officials, retail thefts nationally result in losses of approximately $30 billion and affects most storefront retail businesses to some degree.

The new task force, which is going to include deputies from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, will target the many different types of retail theft crimes, from individuals who line their pants-pockets with tin foil to throw off anti-theft sensors to organized theft rings that have been known to drive off with containers packed with merchandise.

The recent electronics store burglaries are one example of what authorities are targeting. According to news reports, the first incident happened at a store on North Federal Highway, where a pair of individuals gained entry after store hours by cutting a hole in the roof. From there, they forced open several display cases and reportedly heisted about $30,000 worth of electronics.

The second incident, which occurred at another branch of the same business, this one on Southeast 17th Street, happened when two individuals broke in through a wall the store shared with another business. Once again, the pair targeted the display cases, this time making off with about $90,000 worth of electronic merchandise.

Similar incidents have been reported in Largo, and detectives say the incidents could be connected.

Another recent example was the case of a couple in Palm Beach County who were arrested after attempting to steal nearly $2,400 worth of baby formula from a large chain store retailer.

Then there was the Hialeah couple accused of stealing some $36,000 in children’s products. Their scheme involved purchasing expensive, big-ticket items one day. They would then return a few days later, pull these items off the shelves and then return to the register for cash using the original receipt.

The methods reportedly run the gamut, from robberies at gunpoint to sophisticated heists.

Task force investigators say these items, often stolen in bulk, are then sold at local flea markets or online.

The National Retail Federation, which cited the $30 billion figure in its latest national survey, has reportedly ranked Miami as 4th in the nation for prevalence of organized retail theft. The organization said many retailers are unprepared to confront those with elaborate schemes. He said the methods have evolved rapidly, and the deterrent actions that were effective even a year ago are no longer working.

While the task force operators say they have little interest in targeting small operations, we are confident that arrests for all types of shoplifting and retail thefts are going to spike in the coming months with the creation of this initiative.

Florida Statute 812.014 holds that anyone who steals property in excess of $100,000 can be charged with a first-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Items valued at between $20,000 and $100,000 will be charged with grand theft as a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Any theft between $300 and $20,000 can be charged as grand theft of the third-degree, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

There are also exceptions to these rules. For example, if you steal a firearm, it might only be worth $200, but according to the law, it will be charged as a third-degree felony.
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Prosecutors have declined to press charges against a 50-year-old man who shot a 33-year-old outside a nightclub in March, saying the shooting was justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. firearm1.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that the law has gained a great deal of notoriety in the last year due to the Trayvon Martin case, in which the 16-year-old black male was shot by white/Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in northern Florida. Advocacy groups decried the subsequent decision by police not to file charges, citing the “Stand Your Ground” law. A special prosecutor was eventually appointed in that case, and Zimmerman is now facing charges.

But “Stand Your Ground” has historically been seen as a defense to physical assault or homicide that occurs at or near one’s home. It isn’t typically applied to bar-room brawls, but this case shows that in certain circumstances, it can be.

Coincidentally, this incident occurred in March, the same month Zimmerman shot Martin.

In this case, the Sun Sentinel reports, the older man fired his gun outside of Mangos nightclub, after the younger man attacked him physically. According to Broward County Sheriff’s deputies, the older man’s two teenage sons were waiting to meet up with their dad when a 33-year-old walked by and tossed a used tissue at their car. When the boys met up with their father, he walked with them inside the club to demand an apology. It’s not clear if they got it, but the man and his two sons then left, him heading in one direction and his sons in another.

However, the tissue-tosser soon followed the older man across the street. Once there, he stripped off his shirt, a recognized signal that he was prepared to start a physical fight.

The older man warned the younger to stop, keep away from him and that he was armed with a gun. That reportedly did not stop the younger man, who then tackled the older man to the ground and began barraging him with punches. Witnesses reported that the younger man was “really hurting” the older man. At that point, the older man reached for his gun and fired a single shot at the younger man’s chest.

The older man reportedly had a concealed weapons permit and remained at the scene to speak to police, who noted he had multiple bruises and dried blood near his nose.

Prosecutors, in declining to file charges against the older man, cited too the mens’ sizes – the older man was 5’7, while the younger man was 6’1 and nearly 240 pounds.

The “Stand Your Ground Law” is located in Florida Statute 776.013. It states that if a person is held in reasonable fear of imminent peril of great bodily harm to himself or herself or another person, they are justified in taking action that may cause death or great bodily harm. There are multiple stipulations in the law, but that’s essentially the crux of it.

If you have questions about whether your case may fall under the Stand Your Ground statute, we can help.
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It appears as though the Hollywood City Commission has made some tough decisions at the commission meeting today. Thirteen Hollywood Police Officers have been terminated as well as imposing a ten percent pay cut for all other remaining officers. Additionally, it appears as though the City Commission cut their own salaries by ten percent. Needless to say, the budget cuts come after the City Commission learned that it faced a $10 million dollar budget shortfall rather than the anticipated $8.5 million shortfall.

It has been alleged by the Police and Firefighter Unions that the City Commission has engaged in unlawful negotiations by failing to provide any documentation showing a “financial urgency.”
According to Stephanie Szeto, a Hollywood resident and Police Officer; “we don’t have enough police officers and its getting to be a dangerous city.”

There are many dangers associated with reducing any police force. The obvious danger is that crime may rise due to less police presence. Additionally, without the proper amount of police officers, it is reasonable to conclude that criminal investigations may suffer due to lack of resources. This is especially troubling in cases where a proper investigation would have lead investigators to find evidence of innocence rather than guilt.
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The soggy Broward County Courthouse will reopen Monday, a week after a burst water pipe caused extensive damage to the aging building.
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Jurors are to report as scheduled, court officials said. Anyone who was supposed to report for jury duty this past week should not go to the courthouse and instead wait to be contacted by the Clerk of Court’s Office.
While most of the downtown Fort Lauderdale courthouse will be up and running, the building’s phone system won’t be. Sunday night’s burst pipe on the second floor of the Clerk of Court’s Office drenched the building’s communications center, knocking out the phone lines to both the courthouse and the Broward Main Jail.
More than 14,000 court files were damaged and an outside company has been hired to dry them out, Forman said. Courthouse officials have estimated the flooding caused $1.2 million in damage.

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I put this article on the blog for my clients and the general public who may be asking themselves, “do I need to go to court tomorrow?” The answer is yes. Last week the Broward County Fort Lauderdale Courthouse was closed due to a water main leak that has destroyed many files. This seems to be a common occurrence at the Broward County Fort Lauderdale Courthouse. It was only months ago that the Courthouse was closed due to an earlier flood.

When something like this happens it makes you wonder what kind of backup systems if any are being used at the Broward County Clerk’s Office.

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