September 2011 Archives

UF Basketball Player Gets Probation in St. Augustine Trespassing Case

September 29, 2011

A University of Florida sophomore basketball player has some legal problems that he's dealing with after accepting a deferred prosecution agreement for misdemeanor criminal trespassing. The agreement stems from an April arrest in St. Augustine, The Florida Times-Union reports.

What's significant about this case is that he was on probation from a different state at the time he was arrested. That could cause problems down the road for him.
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Probation violations in Jacksonville are somewhat common and can range from minor violations to new arrests that lead to extensive prison time for defendants. An experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney can seek to secure a plea deal that calls for less probation time and can sometimes help defendants avoid terms that could cause future legal problems. Probation is not a free ride. Some defendants prefer jail time to probation for that very reason. If you get in trouble again, you could find yourself facing time on two crimes instead of just the penalties attached to the new charge.

In Florida, if a defendant is placed on probation and then violates the terms of the probation, the judge can, in turn, sentence the defendant to the maximum punishment for the charge. So, in the case of a third-degree felony, 5 years, second-degree felony, 15 years and a first-degree felony, 30 years to life.

That doesn't necessarily happen every time, but the judge has that discretion. And the re-sentencing can happen even for a minor violation, such as not informing the probation officer of a change of address or not proving you have sought employment, if that's a condition of the probation. Conditions also include not getting arrested or convicted of a new charge.

In this case, the basketball player was arrested in April in St. Augustine after he and a teammate were in the parking lot of a restaurant at 2 a.m. where employees reporting a car burglary. The plea was to a reduced criminal trespassing charge and the agreement calls for 200 hours of community service, completion of a substance abuse evaluation, $240 in restitution, a letter of apology and fines and fees. He also can't consume alcohol or drugs.

But he is also serving two years of probation in South Dakota after he faced a charge of inhabiting a room where drugs were knowingly kept and used. The newspaper reports he gave a teammate with an injury a leftover pain reliever he had received via prescription.

The newspaper reported that South Dakota prosecutors weren't available to comment on how the agreement could affect his probation. St.Johns County officials said that jail time may be a possibility.

When multiple states are involved in a defendant's situation, it can certainly complicate things. But it may be an advantage, as well. If the probation violation is minor, another state may decide not to pursue bringing the defendant back to that state to deal with it. Whereas if the conviction and violation happen in the same county, officials may be less merciful.

As mentioned earlier, some defendants actually prefer jail or prison time to probation if they believe they are unable to satisfy all the conditions the state wants. Also, probation is expensive. A defendant must make monthly payments and failure to pay can also be considered a violation. Any small mess-up can land a person in jail or prison anyway.

Consulting with an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney is important to help you determine the best course of action regarding probation vs. incarceration.

Continue reading "UF Basketball Player Gets Probation in St. Augustine Trespassing Case" »

United States of America vs. Combs Proves That Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney With Appeals Knowledge is Key

September 26, 2011

The recent court case of United States of America v. Combs shows why a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the appeals system is critical.

In this case, out of Chicago, the defendant eventually pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, but that was after his attorney made several mistakes. And those mistakes at the trial level, in turn, led to him being denied at the appellate level.
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That's why hiring a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer who can avoid mistakes that can hurt the client beyond the criminal stages is important. Whether a person is charged with gun crimes in Jacksonville or drug charges, procedures must be followed in order to make sure the defendant's rights are upheld at every stage of the case.

This defendant was sentenced to 33 months in prison by a federal judge after pleading guilty. On appeal, however, he argued that a motion to suppress should have been heard, but after making an unconditional plea, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied his motion.

This case comes down to the inactions of the man's public defender, who failed to properly and timely file a motion to suppress gun evidence seized by federal investigators during the course of their investigation.

The case started with a drug informant who told Drug Enforcement Administration agents that the defendant was selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana in southern Illinois. The informant, who had been arrested, told investigators the man typically picked up drugs in one city where he was living and sold them at their homes of his relatives in St. Louis.

The agents had the informant call the defendant and arrange a cocaine purchase. With agents watching, the defendant stopped in the parking lot of a casino and got a black bag from a man waiting there. He was followed to his house and went inside with the bag. An hour later, a surveillance video captured a meeting at his mother's house in St. Louis where the defendant said he had just gotten 2 kilograms of cocaine and had heroin for sale, though the informant didn't make a purchase.

After obtaining a search warrant, investigators found 650 grams of marijuana, a handgun and ammunition at his house. The man was indicted and later arrested.

As the case progressed and the trial approached, the defendant's attorney asked for a continuance, saying he was having a difficult time watching the video footage provided by prosecutors. He had gotten several DVD copies of the video, but was unable to correctly view it.

After finally getting a working copy of the footage, the attorney told the judge a week before trial, the client wanted him to file a motion to suppress evidence based on allegations that what was viewable on the video was different than the search warrant affidavit.

The judge agreed to a continuance, but noted in an order that the deadline to file motions to suppress had elapsed and no extension to that date had been sought by the defense. After waiting more than two months from that order, the public defender filed a motion to suppress and never tried to extend the deadline for motions.

The defendant, after watching the video, argued that the footage didn't corroborate the affidavit's statement that he received a black bag at the casino parking lot. He also said that the affidavit misled the judge by saying agents were watching him "from a vantage point on the ground," though they used a helicopter as well.

But the judge denied the motion, noting that the deadline had passed by and the attorney didn't seek an extension of time. The judge opined that it had given plenty of time, hints and "blunt invitation" to seek an extension, but his attorney failed to do so. The lawyer acknowledged that he had no excuse for why he didn't do it.

Faced with a difficult decision, the defendant entered an unconditional guilty plea, though he didn't reserve the right to challenge the motion to suppress denial. The appeals court upheld the judge's decision, saying that because he entered an unconditional plea -- throwing away his rights to appeal that decision -- the court can't overlook that and take up the issue.

This is an unfortunate case because the defendant obviously didn't get the best advice and suffered for it. While it's unclear from the court documents how much responsibility the prosecutors had in providing poorly working DVDs, the attorney had to admit fault in order to try to get the motion heard on behalf of the defendant.

While it didn't work in the long run, he again failed to work out a conditional plea that would have allowed the defendant to appeal the motion to suppress ruling. That's why it's important that a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney have knowledge of the appeals process in order to ensure their rights are upheld at all stages of their case.

Continue reading "United States of America vs. Combs Proves That Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney With Appeals Knowledge is Key" »

Mayor's Spokesman Faces DUI Charges in Jacksonville

September 24, 2011

The Jacksonville mayor's spokesman and a former Florida Times-Union columnist was recently arrested after attending a University of Florida football game, the newspaper reports.

This is just another example of how common this charge is. In fact, it's the most commonly charged crime in the United States because it happens without sophistication or planning. In many examples, a person is barely over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 and yet an arrest changes their life.
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DUI in Jacksonville carries not only extreme penalties for a person not intentionally committing a crime, but also carries a stigma attached that is difficult to fight. A conviction, and even an arrest, can result in losing a job, ruining a career and causing problems with family members. These are serious consequences and therefore it is important to make sure you sit down with an experienced and aggressive Jacksonville DUI Attorney immediately. It is critical to do this quickly in order to review the facts of the case and prepare a strong defense.

This recent news story shows that anyone can face this type of charge. Even police officers, who are sworn to uphold the law and know the dangers of drinking and driving, have faced the charge recently. EMS personnel, who have seen the effects of DUI crashes, also have been known to get arrested. It shouldn't be surprising when someone faces this charge because officers often focus on making DUI arrests. Yet that doesn't mean the driver is guilty.

In this situation, the mayor's spokesman was driving near U.S. 301 when he was arrested returning from Gainesville. He is charged with driving under the influence and was released from jail the following day. He has been placed on administrative leave, the newspaper reports.

He now has the challenge of not only repairing his reputation, but fighting criminal charges, that could cost him his job and thousands of dollars in fines. A conviction also carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail.

But while many people believe that a DUI arrest is the same as a conviction, that's simply not the case. There are many aspects of a DUI arrest in Jacksonville that can be challenged and defended against. Most of what is scrutinized is the actions of the officer who made the arrest.

Whether the officer was properly trained to conduct field sobriety testing, whether those tests were properly given and scored and if outside conditions, such as the weather, loose gravel on the road or medical and physical issues may have impacted the outcome.

When an officer pulls over a driver and suspects they have been drinking, the driver almost has to convince them they aren't driving under the influence instead of it being the other way around. That's why an aggressive Jacksonville DUI attorney must be consulted in order to present all the facts in defense of the accused.

Continue reading "Mayor's Spokesman Faces DUI Charges in Jacksonville" »

Jacksonville Woman Allegedly Admits to Murder While in Georgia

September 22, 2011

A Jacksonville woman is back after she was arrested recently in Homerville, Georgia, outside Valdosta, WALB reports.

The 41-year-old woman was pulled over by Homerville police recently for allegedly driving "erratically." When officers pulled her vehicle over, they say she admitted to killing her husband in Jacksonville. When Jacksonville police went to the couple's home, they found the man dead after suffering from gunshot wounds.
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In this case, the woman faces a charge of murder in Jacksonville, and the situation highlights the importance of consulting with an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney who can advise her on all aspects of the case. Rarely is speaking with police a good idea.

In most cases, making a statement won't benefit the defendant. Many people believe they can talk their way out of an arrest by fooling police, but this rarely works. This isn't a situation with a child and their parent. If police believe they have evidence to arrest the suspect, they will.

And, usually, what the defendant says is only going to hurt in the long run. While the suspect probably is only thinking of avoiding arrest, they must consider the long-term consequences. If they make a statement and police make an arrest anyway, what will likely happen is contradictory evidence to the suspect's statement will be played for the jury. That will hurt the defendant's credibility in front of the jurors who are to consider the charges and decide the person's fate.

An experienced lawyer will be able to advise the defendant of these facts before they talk with law enforcement. Not making a statement to police also helps in preparing a defense for trial.

If prosecutors haven't heard the defendant's words and don't know what they could possibly say, if the defendant chooses to testify at trial, it will take them by surprise. If the state has a taped statement that was given to police, they know what the defendant said at the time. If the defendant's version of the events changes between then and trial, that can be used against them.

In this woman's case, the woman was allegedly driving erratically, police say, so they pulled her over after she entered a gas station. She told the officer she was about to faint and then allegedly told them she had killed her husband. Inside the couple's Jacksonville house, officers found a .357 revolver.

She has since been returned from Homerville to Jacksonville, where she awaits trial. It's likely she will face a second-degree murder charge which, in Florida, is punishable by up to life in prison. The woman told the news media softly "I'm sorry" when she left Homerville to be transferred to Jacksonville.

It's unclear if other factors, such as a history of domestic violence or self-defense, played a factor in the situation. Other details, such as a motive or corroborating evidence tying her to the crime have yet to be released.

Continue reading "Jacksonville Woman Allegedly Admits to Murder While in Georgia" »

Theft Crimes in Jacksonville

September 20, 2011

As a Jacksonville Theft Attorney, I have represented hundreds of people facing all kinds of theft charges in Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns Counties. There are several different types of crimes in Florida, such as Grand Theft, Petit Theft (petty theft), and Dealing in Stolen Property.

Under Florida law, a person commits a theft in Florida if he or she knowingly obtains or uses someone's property with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive that person of their property. If the value of the property is $300.00 or more, the Florida crime is considered a Grand Theft. Grand Theft in Florida is a third degree felony and that means if you are arrested for this crime, you are facing up to five years in prison. If the value of the property is less than $300.00, the crime is considered a misdemeanor. If the property is worth between $100.00 and $300.00, the crime is considered a first degree misdemeanor. If you are arrested in Jacksonville for a first degree misdemeanor, you are facing up to a year in jail. If the value of the property is under $100.00, the crime is a second degree misdemeanor. Second degree misdemeanors in Florida are punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

If you are arrested for Dealing in Stolen Property in Jacksonville, you are facing up to fifteen years in jail. This Florida theft crime is considered a second degree felony. To be convicted of this theft crime, the state attorney's office has to prove that you trafficked in property you knew or should have known was stolen.

Often times, when a petty theft is committed, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office will issue a Jacksonville Notice to Appear. This is a piece of paper that is given instead of making an actual arrest. The notice acts as an "arrest", but you do not go to jail. You must make a court date and are still facing the theft charge. It is important to talk to a Duval County Theft Crime Attorney about your theft charge. Having a theft crime on your record can be considered a "crime of dishonesty" and can affect your future employment.

Call our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney with any questions you have about theft charges in Northeast Florida at (904) 365-5200. Our criminal lawyers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Our Jacksonville Sex Crime Law Firm Achieves NO CONVICTION After Trial

September 15, 2011

Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, our Jacksonville Sex Crime Attorney, conducted a trial recently for our client, R.S. R.S. was arrested for lewd and lascivious battery with a child under 16 years of age and showing pornography to a minor. He was facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted. R.S. is a 41 year-old man and was accused of raping a 15 year-old girl while playing pornography for her on the television in his bedroom. The alleged victim told police our client took her to his home and lured her into his bedroom. Once inside the bedroom, she claimed our client turned on a pornographic movie and began rubbing cocoa butter on her bottom and vaginal area. She claimed our sex crime client raped her for twenty minutes. Her mother called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. After they spoke to the alleged victim and the witnesses, our client's home was searched. Shea butter was found in the bathroom as well as several pornographic DVD's in our client's bedroom. Police took our client's DNA and his semen was identified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on the alleged victim's underwear. R.S. exercised his constitutional right to have a trial and he was defended by Ms. Mussallem. After trial, R.S. was NOT CONVICTED of either charge.

When you are facing sex charges in Northeast Florida or any criminal charges, it is important to hire a criminal defense attorney with trial experience. Not all cases end in a trial, but if you choose to exercise your right to have a trial and make the state attorney's office prove the charges against you, an experienced Jacksonville Trial Lawyer is a must. It is also important to find out if the attorney you are interviewing has ever been a prosecutor. If they have been a prosecutor in the past, their job was to put people in jail and prison. For whatever reason, they have now decided to defend citizen's rights. At Mussallem & Associate, P.A., our Jacksonville Attorney has NEVER been a prosecutor and has never worked to put someone in jail or prison. Victoria "Tori" Mussallem has defended thousands of clients and prosecuted none.

Jacksonville Restraining Orders Must Be Fought, Defended Against

September 13, 2011

In a bizarre case, a Jacksonville woman believes she is the victim of mail harassment after receiving more than 150 pounds of mail since January, unsolicited, First Coast News reports.

It's a strange case for sure, yet police have told her they can't arrest anyone because she faced no financial repercussions from the senders' actions. In other forms of harassment, though, a Jacksonville restraining order can be a big pain for those who are considered the "defendants" in these cases.
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If you are facing a restraining order or injunction, defending against these actions are required in order to life a peaceful life. These pieces of paper are typically based on one person's word and their compelling argument to a judge, so hiring an experienced Jacksonville Restraining Order Lawyer to fight these allegations is necessary. The case a person makes against another person, who is typically not represented when the presentation is made, can be weak, but without being able to defend themselves, a defendant can be in a tough spot.

But an experienced attorney can petition the court for a hearing to defend themselves and get the order or injunction removed after presenting the other side of the case to a fair and impartial judge. Sometimes it just takes a little work to get these situations straightened out.

The woman says she has received mail just about every day since January, which includes more than 70 magazine subscriptions, tourist information, catalogs and other pamphlets. She says she never signed up for or requested any of the mail.

She said she spent hours canceling subscriptions and requesting subscription cards the magazines say she ordered. The bill has totaled $1,000. She says the ones she has gotten back reveal handwriting that is similar, yet includes incorrect information about her e-mail address and the e-mail server.

She believes her neighbor is at fault and she sought and received an injunction against him. A sheriff's investigation revealed a recording the man man to a hair restoration company, allegedly ordering materials in her name.

Yet, as the article points out, she can't prove the man is responsible for the mailings and he can't be cited as violating an injunction without any proof. The man denied being responsible for having the mail sent in his neighbor's name to her house.

This, like most cases where injunctions or restraining orders are sought, is a classic he said/she said battle. And these situations typically come down to one person's word against another person's without much proof other than a person's opinion.

Sadly, judges, when confronted with a set of facts from one person's perspective, often will issue an order favoring that person, even without any defense. But in Florida, a defendant can request a re-hearing after an order is filed to defend against the allegations.

That's when the real facts come out and the judge is made aware of the other side's perspective. A temporary order can be quashed once a Jacksonville Injunction Defense Attorney comes into the picture.

Continue reading "Jacksonville Restraining Orders Must Be Fought, Defended Against" »

Two Juvenile Football Players Charged With Sex Offenses

September 11, 2011

Two high school football players now face sexual battery charges after being arrested after school one day, The Florida Times-Union reports.

Jacksonville juveniles who are arrested is a tragedy because a conviction, and sometimes even just an arrest, can severely limit their potential. But it is important to note that an arrest isn't a conviction and is no proof that a crime was committed.
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Teens' brains aren't as developed as adults' brains and therefore they sometimes don't fully understand and process consequences and other functions. This can go for the alleged perpetrators as well as the alleged victims. Especially in a Jacksonville sex crime, sometimes a broken heart, ex-girlfriend or boyfriend can make accusations of sexual assault or molestation that aren't true as a form of payback.

This happens often in sex cases involving children because they don't realize the damage that can be done when they make such allegations. But it can happen with teens, as well. That's why an aggressive and experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney must be brought in to defend against the allegations, which, in sex-based crimes, are always serious.

In this case, the two 17-year-old defendants are accused of assaulting a female student while they were watching a movie at her home after school in August, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reports. One of the teens is also accused in a second alleged act in a vehicle hours after the first.

The female student told police that the two were at her house and they were watching a movie in her room when they allegedly took off her clothes and took turns assaulting her, despite her efforts to get them to stop.

In the second alleged incident, one of the teen suspects supposedly texted a girl a few hours after that incident and asked to meet him. She and another friend met he and one of his friends, where they got into a vehicle together. She told police that he began making sexual advances and assaulted her before she got out of the vehicle.

There are some things that don't add up here or aren't addressed in the news article. For one, it would be interesting to know when these alleged victims contacted police to report these incidents. In some cases, if the alleged victim waited some time, it could be inferred that they regretted having consensual sex or got in trouble with a parent and then made up the allegation to police.

In the incident in the vehicle, it will be interesting to see whether the stories of the four people inside a vehicle say happened. It's difficult to envision a situation where a person, teenager or not, would attempt to commit a crime in front of three potential witnesses.

These questions, and many others, must be posed by an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney in the course of the defense's investigation of the case. A defendant, juvenile or adult, must have solid representation in order to ensure they get a fair trial.

Continue reading "Two Juvenile Football Players Charged With Sex Offenses" »

Former Jacksonville Police Officer Faces Sex Charges

September 4, 2011

A former police officer in Jacksonville now faces sex charges in Jacksonville after a Florida Department of Children & Families investigation and then police internal investigation.

News4Jax.com recently reported that the officer appeared in court.
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Sex crimes in Jacksonville are among the most difficult to defend against because they are so serious and will usually get intense media attention that can take away from the fairness of a defendant's trial. An experienced and aggressive Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, however, can work not only to control the media but also defend the case in the courtroom.

According to the news report, the 25-year law enforcement veteran is scheduled for arraignment in a few weeks. He faces six counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and one count of capital sexual battery on a minor. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted.

Two of the counts of lewd and lascivious acts were allegedly on a victim between 12 and 16, while the other four acts that he allegedly committed happened to a victim under 12, a police report states.

According to the news station, the man resigned from the sheriff's office after his arrest.

Every case is different and must be assessed based on the individual facts. What charges police file upon arrest often change once a prosecutor reviews the case. Simply put, state attorneys know the law better than police and will charge what they think they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, not just probable cause, the police officer's standard of proof.

And an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can be an advocate on behalf off the defendant from the very beginning, rather than once charges have been formally filed. Once that happens, the state is usually unwilling, or unable to change them.

As the case progresses through the court system, it's important to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. That may come in the form of improper police work that can lead to excluding incriminating statements or evidence that wasn't properly obtained or stored.

It also may mean using recent court cases in other, but binding jurisdictions that can lead to favorable rulings before the cases gets to trial or during trial. In some cases, though, a trial isn't a smart move. If the evidence is too overwhelming, an experienced attorney can advocate for a plea deal that reduces the penalties -- prison time, probation, restitution or all the above -- and best benefit the client.

Some defendants believe what they see on TV -- that during trial someone's going to come storming in during testimony and shout "I know who REALLY did it" to the shock and surprise of all in attendance. That's not going to happen, though.

An experienced lawyer knows how to review the case and determine what the best course of action is. It very well may be going to trial or it may be seeking a plea deal that allows the defendant to live life after prison. And strong pre-trial work, including shooting holes in witness testimony or showing contradictions to the state's theory only makes that plea agreement more favorable to the defense. Simply waiting for an offer isn't going to get it done. But a plea may be in the best interests of the client.

Continue reading "Former Jacksonville Police Officer Faces Sex Charges " »

Sheriff's Deputies Use Community Snitches to Arrest Jacksonville Man on Murder Charges

September 2, 2011

WOKV is reporting that a 20-year-old now faces murder charges in connection with a shooting that killed three and also left a baby suffering from injuries.

Sadly, many young people are sitting in jails throughout Florida and the United States, facing weapons charges and other violent felony charges. Many face up to life in prison or even the death penalty. And despite that, all have a right to a fair trial that includes representation by an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville and wherever they are.
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Sadly, improper and untruthful news media coverage can make getting a fair trial difficult or sometimes impossible. Look at the case of Casey Anthony, the Orlando woman accused of killing her daughter. Media from throughout the country commented on the case daily and had minute-by-minute updates during the trial. And because of these reports, many people believed she was guilty, even though the state couldn't prove the case against her.

Some Americans resorted to violence or protests, believing she is still guilty even though she was proven not guilty at trial. In violent crimes, primarily cases of homicide and other weapons charges in Jacksonville, the news media typically dedicates hours on television or radio or columns in the newspaper to outlining as much information as they can scrounge up, even if much of it is inaccurate or speculative.

Recently, a 20-year-old man was charged in connection with a shooting in Northwest Jacksonville that left three people dead and a baby wounded. Authorities say they leaned on community members for information that led to the arrest.

"It's because of the community coming forward, becoming involved and telling us what they knew that we know who's involved," one official told the news media at a press conference.

A 19-year-old, 26-year-old and 31-year-old were killed, while a 16-month-old remains hospitalized. Police say they are still searching for a second suspect and they believe drug territory was a motive.

The report doesn't make clear exactly what information they received from the public or how it was obtained. Threatening community members for information or offering monetary awards for information are unreliable because they give people motivation beyond just telling the truth.

These types of witnesses must be heavily scrutinized in cases where weapons were used or if someone is facing a murder charge. When shots go off, people usually aren't sticking around to see what happened. They rarely get a good look at the person shooting.

Yet, rumors quickly fly in tight-knit communities and people may not be 100 percent truthful in their statements to police. They may not be talking from first-hand knowledge, but only relaying information, good or not, from other sources. And if someone has a problem with someone in their neighborhood, they may be quick to place the blame on someone who is innocent. These types of witnesses must be viewed cautiously and their credibility questioned on behalf of the defendant.

Continue reading "Sheriff's Deputies Use Community Snitches to Arrest Jacksonville Man on Murder Charges" »