Articles Posted in Weapons

Courts in the United States will look very closely at allegations of prejudice during a trial. In the courtroom, prejudice does not always mean the same things that it means outside of the courtroom. Generally, prejudice involves prejudging someone based on stereotypes or preconceived notions about who they are, often based on race, gender, etc. In the courtroom context, prejudice involves the jury believing that someone is guilty based on something other than the evidence. Prosecutors, as representatives of the state, have a special interest and responsibility toward a just outcome. Thus, they may be held to a higher standard. Judges may look at the behavior of the prosecutor to analyze it for potential misconduct and/or whether it was prejudicial.

Prosecutorial Misconduct

This case was heard by the Florida Second Circuit Court of Appeal. In his initial trial, the defendant was charged with robbery with a deadly weapon. The jury found him guilty of that charge. On appeal, the defendant asserted a number of different claims. One of the claims that the defendant brought on appeal was an allegation of prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, the defendant argued that it was error for the court to have allowed the prosecutor to suggest that the victim changed his story between the robbery and the trial due to actions by the defense counsel.

Just because you are charged with a crime does not mean that you will be convicted. Many times the police, District Attorney, or other people involved in your case will make a mistake. Luckily, if you have a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney on your side they can advocate for you both before and during the court process. In this case, a man was charged with “possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon.” However, the appeals court in this case later overturned this conviction and sent it back to the lower court for a new trial.

Definition of Firearm

The defendant initially tried to argue that he should not be charged with this crime because it was a firearm and thus not a “weapon.” Therefore, he argued, if it is not a weapon it cannot be a “concealed weapon.” This argument has been successful in the second circuit, but this court – the Florida First District Court of Appeal – did not agree. They noted that Florida’s statute does define weapon as including guns.

“Possession vs. Carrying”

The defendant was successful on his other argument though. He noted that in his initial trial the jury was instructed to consider whether the defendant was guilty of “possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon.” However, this crime does not exist. The actual language that the court should have used is “carrying a concealed weapon by a felon.” This case revolves around the distinction between “carrying” and “possession.” Continue Reading ›

In the United States, the police are not just able to search anyone at any time. The Constitution – specifically the Fourth Amendment – guarantees that individuals are free from illegal search and seizure. If you are searched illegally, there is not usually anything you can do about it in that moment. However, if evidence of illegal activity is found during the search, and that evidence is later used to convict someone of a crime, the conviction may be vacated. That is what happened in this case, heard by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal. The laws around what is an illegal seizure and illegal search are very fact specific. Therefore, if you have questions you should talk to a knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney familiar with Florida laws and they can help you to figure out whether a search was permissible in your specific circumstances.

Terry Stops

A 1968 case called Terry established the test for what is legal when it comes to “stop and frisk” searches. The test has two prongs. First, for the search to be permissible the police need to have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity “afoot.” The police need to be able to articulate what makes them suspicious of the behavior; it can’t just be based on a vague feeling or hunch. They don’t need to witness actual criminal behavior, but there needs to be something that they can define as relatable to potential criminal activity.

Search and seizure issues often come up in Florida drug crime cases. Generally, police are required to get a warrant from a judge in order to search a person’s home, car, or even cell phone records. In many cases, however, courts have said the warrant requirement may not be feasible. That’s why police can sometimes search cars without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of a crime inside. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently explained how the car search exception works in a Bay County drug case.A defendant was charged with three drug crimes in 2013. He was released from prison while awaiting trial on those charges when he failed to show up at a pretrial conference. A court in Bay County issued a warrant for his arrest. The court issued a second arrest warrant in 2014, when he failed to show for a hearing in a separate criminal mischief case. U.S. Marshals eventually used cell phone data to track him to a Dollar General store – thanks to another warrant, this time allowing cops to search his phone info – where they found and arrested him. The officers also found the key to a Ford Taurus and a gun in a plastic bag on his person. They located the car – which the officers said smelled heavily of marijuana – and found a variety of drugs, five more guns, and $6,700 in cash. The defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute various drugs and possession of firearms.

At trial, his lawyers asked a federal judge to exclude the firearms and drug evidence gained from the Ford Taurus from the case against him. The judge rejected that request, finding that the officers had probable cause to search the car based on the smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The defendant was eventually convicted on all of the charges and sentenced to nearly nine years in prison.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit said the trial judge didn’t err in allowing the drug and gun evidence to be introduced at trial. The court explained that police officers generally are required to have a warrant from a judge in order to conduct a search. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule, however, including for vehicles. Officers can search a car, the court said, if the vehicle is readily mobile, and the cops have probable cause.

Florida law is often strict when it comes to doling out punishments for crimes, even when the person charged is a juvenile. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has established some limits on harsh sentencing for people under the age of 18, states still have a lot of leeway to put juveniles behind bars for long stretches of time. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently explained that judges have the power to impose mandatory minimum sentences on juvenile offenders.Mr. Young was 17 years old when he was charged with armed robbery, a Florida gun crime that’s punishable by up to life in prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, the mandatory minimum punishment under state law. Young later appealed the sentence, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution. Young’s attorneys told the court that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment bars the state from imposing mandatory minimum sentences. That’s because those sentences don’t allow judges to consider individual circumstances or to take into account that juveniles may have more capacity for reform, they said.

The Fifth District disagreed. “The court clearly allowed for the consideration of Young’s age in fashioning its sentence, as evidenced by Young receiving the lowest permissible sentence for his crime,” the court said. “Although we acknowledge that the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence required here does limit, to some extent, the discretion of a trial court in sentencing a juvenile offender, we do not view this modest limitation as a constitutional infirmity.”

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The term “gun possession” may seem like a pretty straightforward one. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently explained, however, that there are many ways in which a person may be considered to “possess” a firearm. Even if the person isn’t actually holding the gun, he or she may be found to have constructive possession of it if the person knows about the weapon and has the power to exercise control over it.The defendant was convicted of a felony in 2006 for trying to float a bad check. Some eight years later, she was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. She argued that the guns in her home actually belonged to her recently deceased husband. She said she was hard up for cash after her husband passed away in 2014, and she decided to sell his guns to make ends meet while waiting for a life insurance policy to come through.

The defendant said she went with a friend to a pawn shop to sell the weapons. Although she gave the shop her fingerprints as part of the transaction, she said her friend handled the guns the entire time. A pawn shop employee working at the time could not remember the details of the transaction. The officer who arrested the defendant didn’t personally observe the transaction. At trial, the court sided with the defendant, finding that prosecutors failed to prove she actually “possessed” the weapons in the way the state legislature had in mind when it passed the law banning felons from having firearms. As a result, the court dismissed the charges against the defendant.

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State and federal criminal laws often overlap and intertwine, particularly when it comes to drugs and guns. Law enforcement of every stripe takes these cases very seriously, but federal laws tend to be significantly harsher. In a recent Central Florida gun crime case, a federal district court upheld the U.S. government’s right under the Constitution to impose those penalties, as long as the feds can prove some very minimal connection to interstate commerce.The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a federal crime. He was eventually sentenced to five years in jail, a sentence that was increased because he had previously been convicted of drug trafficking. He later appealed the sentence, arguing that the feds didn’t have the authority to charge him under the circumstances. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed.

The Court explained that the federal law banning felons from having guns stems from the federal government’s power under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. That clause directly authorizes the feds “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” It has been read broadly to give the government wide enforcement authority over anything that has some connection to commerce between states.

“The statute is constitutional as applied so long as the government proves some minimal nexus to interstate commerce,” the court explained. The government can establish that connection “by demonstrating that the firearm traveled in interstate commerce through testimony that the firearm was manufactured in a different state.”