Articles Posted in Supreme Court

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

In a divided and controversial ruling, the Florida Supreme Court upheld a longstanding ban on people openly carrying firearms in public. gun

The court disagreed with passionate arguments by supporters of the Second Amendment, instead ruling 4-2 that the state law doesn’t impede the exercise of the core right to bear arms. Rather, the law only regulates one manner of how a person can bear arms. The court’s decision is an affirmation of the findings by the 4th District Court of Appeal, which in 2015 decided against a man arrested for open carry of a gun in a holster in St. Lucie County.

Defendant in the case, Norman v. Florida, specifically challenged the constitutionality of F.S. 790.053, the state’s open carry law, which has been in effect since 1987. The statute holds that except as otherwise provided, it’s against the law for anyone to openly carry on or about his or her person any gun or electric weapon or other device. In order to be lawfully carrying a gun, one has to be licensed to carry a concealed firearm and the firearm has to be adequately concealed.  Continue reading

The federal conviction of a South Florida woman for violation of 18 U.S.C. 875(c), making threatening communication, has been overturned in light of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision in Elonis v. U.S.. textingdriving1.jpg

Essentially, what the court said in Elonis was that it is not enough in a criminal case to prove the defendant’s actions were negligent. That is, it’s improper to use the standard of what a reasonable person would do or believe under the same circumstances. Rather, in order to convict a person of this criminal charge, there must be a finding that the wrongdoing must be conscious to the criminal. In essence, “What the defendant think does matter.”

This was an important ruling for the fact that to hold a personal criminally accountable for mere negligence is borderline unconstitutional. This is not to say individuals can’t be criminally charged for negligent acts, but under this particular statute, courts are required to prove subjective intent in order to secure a conviction.
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In May, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling in Smallwood v. Florida in which justices held police in this state would need a warrant before searching a person’s cell phone.

Now, in a new decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the same is true nationwide.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that the greatest significance of the Riley v. California case in the wake of the Smallwood ruling is that these rights have been solidly cemented. The Riley case sets a precedent and leaves defendants less vulnerable to a challenge on this issue.
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The Florida Supreme Court recently tossed appellate court rulings against individuals convicted of both grand theft and dealing in stolen property, finding that the lower courts erred in failing to apply a new Florida law barring conviction for both theft and stolen property when the charges relate to a single crime.
The findings are in line with the ruling issued last year in the case of Williams v. State .

As criminal defense lawyers in Fort Lauderdale, we recognize the importance of these rulings, as they serve to underscore the legislature’s intent in the passage of Florida Statute 812.025. Both grand theft and dealing in stolen properties are felonies of the second-degree in Florida. However, the 2012 statute indicates that when charged in connection with one scheme or course of conduct in separate counts that can be consolidated for trial, a defendant can only be found guilty of one or the other. (Both charges can be filed in the same case, but they have to be regarding separate counts.)
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A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down this month could significantly increase the rights of those accused of a crime in Fort Lauderdale and throughout the country.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys understand the case stems from two cases – Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper – and ultimately expands a defendant’s right to have an effective attorney throughout the process of plea bargaining.

What’s more, the court ruled that if you have an attorney who acts unethically or gives you advice that is obviously wrong, you could be entitled to another shot at a plea bargain.

The opposition in this case had argued that a plea bargain is not constitutionally protected. However, the fact of the matter is that most court cases result in a plea bargain – about 95 percent. What the court ruled – and what Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys can attest to – is that having a skilled attorney to represent you through this process is critical.

The ruling stems from two different cases. The first involved Galin Frye, a college student from Missouri. He had been arrested and charged with a felony after a fourth time reportedly driving on a license that had been revoked. The state had sent a letter to Frye’s attorney, which had offered to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if he pleaded guilty and served three months in jail. But the lawyer never told his client about that offer. When time ran out, Frye pleaded guilty with no conditions, and was handed a three-year prison sentence – more than 10 times what he would have otherwise served.

In the second case, a man named Anthony Cooper had been charged with assault with intent to commit murder, following a shooting in which a woman was wounded in the buttocks and thigh. State attorneys in this case offered two plea deals, with a recommended prison sentence of between four and seven years. Cooper’s attorney told him to turn down the offer because state law wouldn’t allow an attempted murder conviction if someone was shot below the waist. This was without a doubt false. Cooper went to trial, was convicted and sentenced to decades in prison.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in explaining the Supreme Court’s decision, described the criminal justice system as “a system of pleas.” Because so many cases are resolved through the plea bargaining process, it is known to play a central role in the system. In fact, a plea bargain will often determine who goes to jail and for how long. Kennedy went on to say that plea bargaining is not some afterthought within the system – rather, it IS the system.

This new ruling means that you have a right to a competent defense attorney every single step of the way through the judicial process. While this ruling will give defendants some measure of relief if they do receive bad legal advice, the better bet is to hire a skilled attorney from the start.
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