December 2011 Archives

Seven arrested in Jacksonville as part of alleged Grand Park "gang"

December 31, 2011

Jacksonville police are again using federal racketeering laws to bring in arrests by the bunches in Northwest Jacksonville. The latest haul was seven men police say are in the "Grand Park gang," named after the neighborhood that's the gang's home turf and one of the most violent areas in Jacksonville, according to the Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office started using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (known as RICO) over the past two years to charge people as running an organized criminal enterprise, or a gang. The RICO law allows prosecutors to bundle the actions together and point to them as proof of a criminal racket. The charges carry stiffer penalties in Florida than street-level crimes.

Essentially the state is using multiple charges with less serous penalties and charging them as a gang crime to ratchet up the maximum prison sentence. State Attorney Angela Corey said at a news conference earlier this year that RICO statutes help prosecutors because if the state can't nail down a more serious crime, they can charge it as an enterprise and get a longer sentence. Police used a similar strategy with a gang off of 103rd Street and another near 45th Street and Moncrief Avenue. The state attorney and sheriff will periodically hold press conferences to announce a slew of sentencings and emphasize how many years in sentences people have received. What they don't say is for every big sentence, there are people who only receive probation.

The RICO laws are another example of the seemingly endless supply of tools law enforcement has at its disposal. If you or your loved is accused of a gang crime or of being part of an ongoing criminal enterprise, you need a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney in your corner. The RICO arrests can end up being similar to what happens in federal court - make a bunch of arrests at once among people who know each other and see who starts squealing first. To the state's credit, it has worked and helped solve more than one homicide in the last few years. But it also is another example of the importance of having an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney on board immediately to help understand the state's case and just who and what they are after.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County drug crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Newspaper investigation sheds light on FBI's look into Nassau County sheriff

December 29, 2011

A Nassau County Sheriff's Office detective crossed the vaunted "thin blue line," going to the FBI and wearing a wire to try to take down his boss. A Florida Times-Union investigation published over two days last week provides an inside look at what the feds might be looking for with their probe into the department and retiring Sheriff Tommy Seagraves. A former detective went to the FBI after fearing Seagraves would not take action against deputies seen as friendly to Seagraves who were accused of corruption and civil right violations. The cop-turned-informant secretly recorded conversations within the department for over a year, gathering string for an investigation the FBI is keeping quiet about. Seagraves dismisses the informant as a disgruntled employee with an ax to grind.
Employees usually raise a fuss about corruption for one of two reasons: They've got the goods on their employer and there's a serious problem, or, they are disgruntled.

Either way, it could be trouble for Seagraves and the department.

You can bet that Clay County criminal defense attorneys will be keeping a close eye on this investigation - especially with two people coming forward about allegedly having their civil rights violated by the same officer. If proven, internal issues like these can taint more than just the criminal cases where the abuse is alleged. Unrelated arrests in Clay County where the same officer is involved can be under the dark cloud of that officer and can hamstring the state attorney's office. Credibility of the police department and, more importantly, the arresting officer is a key to the state's case. Prosecutors know it and defense attorneys know it.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law investigates every single aspect of your case - including the officer making the arrest and the leadership of the department. If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Trial Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Daring jewelry heist caught on video in Jacksonville

December 27, 2011

Certain crimes are just made for television. Not necessarily because the storyline has all the trappings of a Hollywood storyline, but because the surveillance video is so clear there is no doubt the suspect will end up on the news. Police jump at the chance to release video like the one last week of two men smashing the front window and breaking into a high-end San Marco jewelry store. And news outlets are always happy to oblige.

The video shown by First Coast News and other Jacksonville stations shows the masked men breaking open cases with what appears to be a hammer, sweeping jewelry into bags and then leaving the business. The alarm to Underwood's Jewelers was apparently going off the whole time the men were inside, but they got away before the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office arrived. The suspects were in and out quick, just before 5 a.m. on a popular local jogging route. Police have not announced any suspects in the case and are asking for the public's help.

If the men are caught, they could have a tough time in trial. Not only is the video clear, it's been on a constant loop for several days - right before Christmas. It's a time when there is less news happening to bump it from the rotation and when people are more likely to sympathize with a small business owner victimized by brazen thieves.
Not to mention they'll likely be known as the "Underwood's thieves" or "Underwood's burglars" and a catchy name always helps people remember the crime - not usually to the suspect's benefit. Whatever they made off with is likely in the thousands of dollars - perhaps into six figures. Several factors will play into how much time the men could face - whether they were armed, how much jewelry was reported stolen, etc. A Jacksonville burglary to a store, also referred to as a "structure" under Florida law, is a third degree felony in Florida punishable by up to five years in prison. If the value of the items stolen is over $300.00, the theft is considered a "grand theft" and is also a felony in Jacksonville.

But there are always places to look from a defense standpoint, starting with identification of the suspects. The act itself is crystal clear on the video, but the faces are not. Often times, even eye witnesses have trouble remembering specific details of a suspect they themselves witnessed committing a crime.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law Firm has represented hundreds of people accused of burglary over the years - many of whom were seen on video. Cases aren't always the slam dunks they look like on the 11 o'clock news.
If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Drugs from missing from Clay rescue units, police suspect inside job

December 24, 2011

An internal probe of missing drugs on Clay County rescue units has the feel of a teen-ager trying to reload water into vodka bottles after raiding his or her parents' liquor cabinet. Clay County authorities announced the investigation last week after finding medications missing from seven of 12 rescue units, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The names of the drugs were not released, but they are used for critically injured and ill patients, the newspaper reported. The county has ordered drug tests for all employees who work on those seven units. A lieutenant noticed uneven amounts of liquid medication in vials during a routine inspection, leading to a further investigation. The lids on some of the vials were found to be punctured. Police suspect that the person or persons who tampered with the vials were using the drugs themselves and not selling them, the newspaper reported.

It's unclear whether the drug tests will be helpful in the investigation. Narcotics vary dramatically in how long they stay in one's system and authorities have not released a specific timeline on when the tampering occurred. Most employees, especially law enforcement or rescue personnel, can be subject to drug testing if the agency has reasonable suspicion - sometimes not even that much. If the standard is reasonable suspicion, it would likely apply in this case. Legally, it may not stand up, but if the worker wants to keep his or her job, the employees will almost definitely have to comply. But criminal charges and sanctions from work are two complete different things. And while a career and livelihood are obviously important, they take a back seat to spending years behind bars.

Our Jacksonville Drug Crimes Attorney has worked for people accused of using or selling all sorts of drugs - from garden variety street drugs to the prescription pills that have ramped up in popularity in recent years. Penalties range dramatically based on the drug involved and our Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys are well-versed in the minimum mandatory sentences and what the potential exposure is for you or your loved one.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

NFL player busted for selling drugs, number of other players allegedly on clients list in "double digits"

December 22, 2011

Seeing a professional athlete get pinched on a drug possession charge or a DUI is hardly headline news these days. But when a Chicago Bears wide receiver was arrested last week accused of trying to set up a weekly $700,000 purchase of marijuana and cocaine, heads turned. Especially when a report surfaced that the feds had a list of Sam Hurd's clients that included fellow National Football League players into the "double digits," according to a report in Sports Illustrated. Federal authorities reportedly built their case through wiretaps and conversations with confidential informants. Hurd was arrested last week after trying to buy four kilograms of cocaine from an undercover agent, the magazine reported.
Shortly after the arrest, speculation ran rampant once the alleged client list was leaked. The names are still unknown - but it is undoubtedly a list no one in the league is looking to be on.

But how much could that actually prove? Not much, if all they have is a name.

Agents could then talk to the people on the list, but if they don't talk, there may be little that authorities can do. But if Hurd talks to try to save himself, or if any of these NFL players are caught on the wiretaps, it could be big trouble.

When a criminal case gets to trial, the jury must find that charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A name on a list doesn't get there. But who knows what cards the feds have they aren't showing right now. The first thing anyone on that list - or anyone who thinks they might be on that list - should do is contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Heading things off at the start and getting a criminal defense attorney on board to start preparing is essential - whether you are an NFL player or a factory worker with the AFL/CIO. Our Jacksonville criminal defense law firm has represented hundreds of people on drug charges - from possessions to trafficking charges in Jacksonville, Clay County, Nassau County and St. Johns County. We know what the state must prove and that the evidence needed to make an arrest isn't always strong enough to hold up in front of a jury.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Drug Crimes Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville DUI Enforcement Up During the Holidays

December 21, 2011

As a Jacksonville DUI Attorney, I have represented hundreds of people arrested for DUI in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. Many DUI arrests in Jacksonville occur over the holidays. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office steps up DUI enforcement and the officers look for any reason to pull someone over.

To pull you over legally, the police officer must have probable cause to believe that you have committed or are committing a traffic infraction or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. To justify their stop, officers will cite many common factors. They will say that you were speeding, weaving outside your lane or ignoring a traffic device such as a traffic light or stop sign. Once you are pulled over, the officer is looking for other "signs of impairment". Common signs of possible impairment are red and watery eyes, the smell of alcohol coming from your body or mouth, fumbling while getting your registration, insurance card or driver's license, and slurred speech. If the officer observes any of these things, he or she will ask you to exit your vehicle. When you step out of your car, the officer is looking to see if you stumble or weave while standing. He or she may or may not have a video camera in their car.

The police officer will then ask you to perform Field Sobriety Exercises, which are tests to determine if you are too impaired to drive. In order to sustain a conviction for DUI in Jacksonville or anywhere in Florida, the prosecutor must prove that you were driving a car or in actual physical control of a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent your "normal faculties" were impaired. Normal faculties include your ability to walk, see, hear, talk, judge distances, drive a car, make judgment calls, or any other thing you must perform in your daily life. These abnormal tests are used by the state of Florida to test your normal faculties. The tests include the walk and turn, one leg stand, reciting the alphabet and finger to nose test. The tests are inherently unfair because the police officer administering the exercise had performed and practiced them hundreds of times in their training. If you are under suspicion of driving under the influence, you are being judged on your first attempt.

If the officer determines you failed the tests, you will be arrested for DUI in Jacksonville. You will then be transported to downtown Jacksonville and asked to blow into the breathalyzer. Even if you blow .000 or below the limit of .08, you will still be facing a Jacksonville DUI charge and will have to bond out of jail. If you have been arrested for DUI in Duval, Clay or Nassau County, call Victoria "Tori" Mussallem at The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville DUI Law Firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge rules state can push for more criminal charges in Jacksonville on 12-year-old boy

December 20, 2011

The behind-the-scenes legal wrangling continues to unfold around a 12-year-old boy charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 2-year-old half-brother. The latest turn came last week when a judge denied a criminal defense motion to block the state from taking a new Jacksonville sex charge to the grand jury for a possible second indictment, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville criminal defense attorney had argued the state was using the potential sex charge to punish Christian Fernandez and his Jacksonville defense team for turning down a plea deal last month. Duval County Defense attorneys, including a team of local lawyers working pro bono to help the Public Defender's Office, pressed to present their own evidence of Fernandez' troubled upbringing to the grand jury.

The judge ruled he could not block the state from doing its job in pursuing a criminal charge and will allow prosecutors to move forward. If the grand jury chooses to charge Fernandez, the defense can then move to dismiss the charges and fight them as they would any other charge in any other case, the newspaper reported. Court motions indicate the new charge is punishable by up to life in prison and involves Fernandez molesting a 5-year-old, another half-brother of his. The plea deal Fernandez rejected would have allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree murder and be released by age 21. But the deal also allowed the state to seek life in prison for Fernandez if he violated probation. If you are placed on any probation in Jacksonville and the court finds that you violate your Duval County probation, you are facing the same amount of jail or prison time you were facing on the original charge. For example, if you are placed on DUI probation for a first DUI in Jacksonville and violate it, you are facing up to six months in jail.

The case has garnered national headlines, as Fernandez is believed to be the youngest person in the state to be indicted on a first degree murder charge. A trial date is set for February, 2012. Closed-door talks about deals and plea arrangements are not reserved for high-profile cases. The vast majority of criminal cases are disposed of before trial and our Jacksonville criminal defense firm is skilled in getting the best deal possible for its clients. Our Jacksonville Felony Crimes Defense Lawyer has worked in Duval County for years and knows how the various factors at play - the judges, the prosecutor assigned to the case and the type of crime - will affect your negotiating position.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to discuss your case with you.

College student says JSO officer told him to take keys out of car or "I'll blow your head off"

December 17, 2011

An Edward Waters College student has filed an internal complaint with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office after police pointed a gun at him during a traffic stop.
The student was on his way to work after class about 1:30 p.m. Thursday when police said they pulled him over because his grey Crown Victoria matched the description of a car used in a Jacksonville burglary, according to a First Coast News Report.
The student told the television station he was not speeding and didn't know why he was being pulled over. Next thing he knew, officers had drawn their guns and one told him he'd blow his head off if the driver didn't take the keys out of the ignition, the television station reported. Officers handcuffed the student and held him in the back of a police car for 45 minutes before eventually letting him go. He says police never told him why he was stopped, but First Coast News reported that the information about the burglary was in the police report. The student says the officer popped the trunk of his car and searched without asking permission, but the report says the officer asked for and received consent from the student, the station reported. This is very common when someone is pulled over in Jacksonville. As a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, many clients tell me they never gave the police permission to search their vehicle. As a matter of fact, most were never even asked.

A police spokesperson told First Coast News it is routine for police to have guns drawn and to handcuff a suspect when making a traffic stop involving a felony in Duval County.
In this case, the student was not charged with a crime. Time will tell if the sheriff's office brass have problems with the way it was handled.

Every detail counts in an encounter with police. Did they have permission to search a vehicle? What was the probable cause to stop the vehicle? Was a person detained longer than they should have been while police waited on a dog to sniff around the car?
Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, knows exactly what to look for in police reports and what questions to ask in depositions to ferret out problems with a Jacksonville arrest. Cases can be dropped or thrown out on one false move and, if it's there in the case of you or your loved one, our criminal defense attorney will find it.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, P.A. at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Attorney is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to discuss your criminal matter.

Principal forced out after lying to police about students' theft in Jacksonville

December 15, 2011

If the police come a knocking, you don't have to talk to them. But, if you do, tell the truth.
Lying to the cops can get you in a mountain of trouble - just look at former Raines High School principal George Maxey. Maxey was forced out of his high-profile job at the northwest Jacksonville school last week, accused of lying to Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detectives looking into the Jacksonville theft of phones and electronics belonging to a visiting football team, according to a Florida Times-Union report.

The newspaper reported that the schools' superintendent said Maxey covered up some aspects of the theft, lied to detectives and tried to get someone else to lie, too. One student was arrested in Jacksonville last week and he told police two more students were involved, but no other arrests have been made. Maxey could be in the crosshairs, too. Maxey isn't talking about details of what he did or didn't do, according to the newspaper. A police investigation is ongoing and, technically, Maxey could be looking at an obstructing justice charge or even accessory to a grand theft. School backers are rallying behind Maxey, saying the punishment does not fit the alleged crime.

But many times, the cover-up can cause more damage than the crime itself.

If you think the police want to talk to you about a crime, it's always a good idea to talk to an criminal defense attorney first. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law Firm can lay out your options and discuss the potential consequences for you or your loved one who is accused of a crime. If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, P.A. at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Sandusky Case and Jacksonville Sex Cases

December 14, 2011

Jerry Sandusky has been all over the news recently. He is accused of multiple child sex charges in Pennsylvania, but his case is very typical of sex cases. The public is quick to judge the accused based only on accusations. All most people have to hear is that there has been an accusation of a sexual nature and they have already made a judgment. But in this country, an accusation is not enough. The state attorney has to prove sex charges and for that matter, any criminal charge, beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt.

As a Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney, I have represented hundreds of people charged with multiple sex charges in Northeast Florida, including Capital Sexual Battery, Lewd and Lascivious Battery, Lewd and Lascivious Molestation and Unlawful Sexual Activity with a minor. When any person, especially a child makes an allegation of sexual contact or abuse, the case is taken first to the police. In almost every case, the police will attempt to make contact with the accused. As a Sex Crime Lawyer in Jacksonville, I would advise any person accused of a sex crime to contact a criminal lawyer before talking to the police. The police are not there to help you and they certainly are not there to confirm your innocence. Police are instructed in their training to use any tactic possible to make you "confess". You could be defending yourself and say something they could take out of context. Most of the time, if you go and talk to the sex crime detective, the end of your interview will be you in handcuffs facing a sex charge. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I make contact with the police and explain your side of the story. My criminal defense law firm investigates all aspects of the case and will reveal any inconsistency or motivation to lie.

If the police make a sex crime arrest, you still have the right to remain silent. Exercise that right. Ask to speak to a sex crime attorney immediately. After you are arrested, the state attorney's office has a period of time to make a decision about your case. (it usually takes two weeks) In that time, your Jacksonville attorney will meet with the prosecutor assigned to your case to try to get them to drop the charge or charges.

If the state attorney believes the alleged victim, they will file formal charges in a document called the "information". The information will outline the actual crimes the state is accusing you of. At that point, you and your criminal lawyer are entitled to "discovery". Discovery is all the information the state has in your case, including any information that could exonerate you. Your sex crime attorney can depose all witnesses listed by the state attorney. A deposition is a meeting where a witness is questioned by the defense lawyer about the case and the answers are sworn to be the truth. Sometimes, cases are broken down when the defense lawyer takes effective and aggressive depositions.

If, after depositions, the state attorney still believes the alleged victim, the accused can enter a plea or go to trial. When choosing a criminal defense attorney, ask that lawyer when they last conducted a trial. Not all cases go to trial, but if you want to exercise your rights and stand by your innocence, you need an attorney who is not only capable, but experienced in criminal trial law. Also, ask the prospective attorney if they got their trial experience defending people or prosecuting people. Many now private criminal attorneys were once prosecutors. Their job was putting people in jail and prison and for one reason or another, they have decided to start defending people.

If you have been accused of a sex crime in Jacksonville, Clay County or Nassau County, call Victoria "Tori" Mussallem for a free consultation at (904) 365-5200. Our Jacksonville Criminal Law Firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge sentences killer to death, despite Supreme Court's history of overturning

December 12, 2011

While presiding over a murder sentencing last week, a Jacksonville judge talked about the Florida Supreme Court's practice of reversing death sentences when the only qualifying factor is that the killing occurred during the commission of a felony.
But Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud said this case was different and chose the death penalty for convicted killer Michael Mulugetta Yacob, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Yacob was convicted in the murder of a 19-year-old convenience store clerk in 2008. A jury had voted 10-2 in October to recommend the death penalty. Every death sentence in the state must get final approval from the Florida Supreme Court.

Several factors can elevate a murder to a death penalty case - including premeditation and if the killing occurred during the commission of another felony. But any gray area in this case, Soud said, according to the newspaper, was completely eliminated by the chilling crime scene video Soud narrated again during sentencing. It showed Moussa Maida locking himself inside the cashier's booth and trying to comply with Yacob, who shot him anyway.

In death penalty cases in Florida, the defense has an opportunity to present mitigating factors - typically family and friends, maybe even doctors and prior teachers, that explain the convicted killer's life leading up to the murder. Yacob went against his criminal defense attorney's advice and did not present any, the newspaper reported. The judge tried to get that on the record several times, according to the newspaper, repeatedly asking Yacob if he wanted to have his family or others testify. Yacob refused, hammering home the point that the client ultimately has the final say in all aspects of the cases - from plea negotiations to trial strategy to who will testify in a sentencing hearing.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, has represented thousands of clients and has the experience to advise you on the best options for you or your family member. What a client chooses to do with that information is ultimately up to him or her. If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, P.A. at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Attorney is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Fake cop commits robbery at Jacksonville hotel

December 10, 2011

A New Jersey man was lured out of his hotel room last week by a woman who said she was an undercover police officer and told him his car was hit in the parking lot. Once the man got outside, another woman pulled a knife on him and demanded money, according to a report by News4Jax. The women made off with an undisclosed amount of cash and they had not been caught, the television station reported.

Police warn that these types of crimes tend to increase around the holidays and that it's perfectly legitimate to question if someone really is an officer when things don't seem to add up.

Impersonating a police officer is a serious felony crime. It's also one that police take great offense to and one that prosecutors usually are less likely to bend on.
That's not uncommon in cases against the police in Jacksonville - including shooting at the cops or battery on law enforcement officers. Police want prosecutors to send strong messages in these cases that pretending to be an officer or threatening to hurt one will not be tolerated in this community.

Under Florida law, Florida Statute 834.08, it is a third degree felony to falsely impersonate a law enforcement officer. The term "officer" includes a Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer, a Florida Highway Patrol Officer, an officer from Florida Fish and Wildlife, an officer from the Department of Environmental Protection, a state attorney or assistant state attorney, a corrections officer, etc. If the person impersonating the officer is does the impersonating during the commission of a felony, the charge is upgraded to a second degree felony. The exposure goes from 5 years in prison to 15. If the suspect is impersonating an officer during the commission of a felony and that felony causes death or injures another, the crime turns into a first degree felony in Florida.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney knows which cases are going to be sticklers for the state and can draw on years of experience to develop the best defense strategy.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Craigslist killer found guilty of first-degree murder in Jacksonville

December 8, 2011

David Kelsey Sparre didn't even try to prove his innocence last week facing a first-degree murder charge for killing a woman he met through an ad on Craigslist.
He admitted to responding to her personal ad, having sex with her and stabbing her to death, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. But he said he flipped into a rage after she told him she was a married mother of two and denied that he went to her apartment with the intent to kill her.

The distinction could have spared Sparre's own life, but the jury didn't buy it. Jurors took just 25 minutes to convict him of first-degree murder. Sparre's Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys argued he was guilty only of second-degree murder - a charge that does not allow the state to seek the death penalty. Instead, the penalty phase will begin later this month. The jury can recommend either the death penalty or life in prison. The judge has the final say in sentencing, but typically follows the jury's recommendation.

The admission defense can be used in these situations as a way of trying to limit the exposure a criminal defendant faces. The evidence was overwhelming and Sparre had already confessed to police, so there wasn't much to argue there. Our Jacksonville criminal defense law firm has represented hundreds of clients whose charges run the gamut of offenses. And our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem knows whether to advise you to stand in and fight or to fess up and get the best deal we can. It's not always about guilt or innocence, but minimizing the damages in some cases.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.

Man sentenced to life for murder in Jacksonville, state presses forward on two more seeking death

December 6, 2011

With one murder conviction and a life sentence in the books, the state attorney's office is planning at least one more trial in hopes of getting the death penalty for DeShawn Leon Green. Green is accused of three killings in a five-month span in 2009. He was found guilty of first-degree murder in the first trial last month. Three days after the verdict, the state dropped plans to seek the death penalty, at least partly because jurors said they did not believe the state had proven that the killing was premeditated, the Florida Times-Union reported.

The jury did agree the killing was done during the commission of a felony - part of Green's drug operation - which makes the homicide first-degree murder. But the state didn't want to take any chances on being denied the death penalty. Instead, prosecutors will go forward with a whole new murder trial, because a life sentence is clearly not enough for the state when it comes to Green. Prosecutors are planning on taking a second murder case against Green to trial in March. The only reason: trying to get Green executed.

That's well within the state's power.

If you are charged with multiple counts or multiple crimes, the state can chose to try them separately. Think of it as them saving some ammunition in case they lose the first fight. And just because the defense wins one trial, it does not guarantee the same results next time. A different jury and different trial can sometimes lead to different results. Whether these tactics are an efficient use of taxpayer money is a separate issue, but they are just another part of the state's arsenal.

In many cases, our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law Firm is able to negotiate to get charges consolidated, or have sentences run concurrently - meaning they can be served at the same time instead of being stacked on top of one another.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.

Finger or gun? Woman still looking at hard time if caught

December 4, 2011

Workers at a St. Augustine area Denny's didn't quite buy it when a middle-aged woman tried to rob the joint last week with what she said was a gun in her pocket. The waitress called her bluff and the suspect took off, an article in the Florida Times-Union reports. The suspect is about 5-foot-2 and in her 50s, the newspaper reported. And while she hasn't been caught yet, she is still looking at some serious consequences - whether it was a gun or her finger in that pocket. The waitress told police the suspect told her she was going to rob the restaurant and not to trigger any panic alarms.

St. Johns County police are calling it an "attempted armed robbery" because the suspect tried to use the threat of a gun to rob the business. That may or may not hold up, but the important piece of the case is often what the suspect is attempting to do and what he or she tells the potential victim - not whether he or she is actually armed with a deadly weapon. This case is tougher to say that on, especially since the waitress didn't even believe the robber was armed.

While it seems simple enough on paper, the legal differences between being armed and unarmed can be minute - but it can eliminate minimum mandatory sentences that are longer and do not give inmates reduced time for good behavior. Having an experienced St. Augustine area criminal defense attorney who gets in the legal weeds can be crucial in reducing the penalties you or your loved one face.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in St. Johns County or the surrounding area, call Mussallem and Associate, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.

NOT GUILTY Verdict in Jacksonville Sex Case!

December 3, 2011

Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, our Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney, represented a client in trial on three sex crime charges in Jacksonville and our client was found NOT GUILTY. Our client, J.B., was arrested and charged with Lewd or Lascivious Molestation on a child under 12 years-old, Unlawful Sexual Contact with a Minor, and Lewd or Lascivious Molestation on a child over 12 but under 16 years-old. Two sisters, the cousin of our client's wife, claimed that he touched them sexually. If convicted of these sex cases, our client faced Life in prison.

Both alleged victims disclosed that our client had sexual contact with them for years. Both girls were interviewed by the child protection team where they went into more detail about the alleged sexual abuse in Duval County. Our client was then arrested on the sex charges and the only evidence it happened was their word. Ms. Mussallem quickly investigated the case further and revealed inconsistent statements and motivations to lie. After conducting depositions in the case, Ms. Mussallem revealed even more conflicts in the stories. Despite the conflicts, the state attorney's office elected to proceed with the case. Our Jacksonville Sex Crime Law Firm is not scared or intimidated by trial and Ms. Mussallem conducted a trial for our client.

Ms. Mussallem conducted the trial and fought the prosecutor's office every step of the way. She aggressively questioned the alleged victims and showed their lack of credibility. Ms. Mussallem argued our client's innocence and won. Our client was acquitted of all three crimes! She walked our client out of the courthouse and he is now able to enjoy the holidays with his family as a free man.

Attempted jailbreak gets Jacksonville man more prison time than he was facing to begin with

December 2, 2011

The last of four men involved in attempted escape from the Duval County jail was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week, again proving the old adage correct that it's just better to do your time. William Roy Hayes was one of four men who in August 2010 overpowered a corrections officer and fought with two others before being restrained, according to the Florida Times-Union. All three officers were hospitalized. Before the escape, Hayes was in jail on charges of domestic battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon in Jacksonville.

According to the police report, a corrections officer was jumped from behind by Hayes and another inmate. Hayes then attempted to unlock the control pod door and struggled with the officer. Other inmates subdued the corrections officer and several of them entered the control pod. Hayes grabbed the officer's utility belt and tugged it violently in an attempt to pull it off the officer's waist. The belt, which was eventually removed by Hayes, had the officer's communications radio and electric control weapon on it.

Add up all of the charges and he was looking at a maximum of 11 years behind bars.
Now, he nearly doubled that with an escape attempt that was almost certain to fail. He pleaded guilty to escape, battery on a law enforcement officer and depriving an officer of means of protection or communication. The escape charge in Jacksonville is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The Jacksonville battery on a law enforcement officer charge and depriving an officer of means of protection or communication are both third degree felonies punishable by up to 5 years in prison each. The judge sentenced Hayes to 15 years in prison on the escape charge and 5 years on both other felony charges. The five years on both of the lesser felonies run concurrent to each other and run consecutive to the escape charge.

While this was an unusually brazen jailbreak attempt, defendants rack up additional charges all the time while they are awaiting trial on something different. Usually, they're fighting each other and pick up a battery charge in Duval County, or they get in a scrap with a corrections officer and are charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.

Those types of incidents are among the first that surface from prosecutors during a sentencing hearing. They can destroy hopes of a favorable sentence from a judge. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney stresses to our clients to keep their noses clean if they are in jail awaiting trial - and to stay out of trouble if they bonded out. How you act in detention can hurt you more than what got you arrested in the first place. Just ask Hayes and his three cohorts - two of whom got 20 years and the third got five years.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call Mussallem and Associate, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.