March 2012 Archives

St. Augustine city commissioner found guilty of obstructing justice, avoids jail time

March 30, 2012

A St. Augustine city commissioner will not serve any time in the St. Johns County jail, despite his conviction last week on a charge of the misdemeanor of resisting an officer without violence. A jury found Errol Jones guilty after he was arrested and accused of grabbing a police officer's arm when trying to settle a domestic dispute at his mother's home, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Jones was sentenced to six months of St. Johns County probation and 50 hours of community service. If he pays his fine and finishes the probation and community service, the conviction will be removed from his criminal record, according to the newspaper report.

Jones said he arrived at his mother's house to try to calm a family dispute, though the officers said he charged them and played the "Do you know who I am" card, trying to influence their actions with his political position, according to the newspaper report.
Prosecutors had asked for Jones' sentence to include a letter of apology to the officer and substance abuse counseling, but the judge did not include either in his sentence last week. Jones' case is not uncommon in the basic facts. But most like it don't go to trial and even fewer make the newspaper --the latter of which is a product of Jones' role as an elected official. But it does provide insight in the potential trouble that can come front getting sideways with a cop. It doesn't take much to meet the threshold to be arrested for resisting and officer without violence in St. Johns, Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties.

Our advice, from a St. Johns County criminal defense law firm: Be quiet. And if you have to speak with police about something you are not a suspect in, always be respectful.
The officers hold the cards in these situations. Don't let your mouth give police a reason to haul you downtown. It won't always result in a conviction, like it did for Jones, but it could easily get you a night in jail. It is very easy to get arrested for resisting an officer. especially in Jacksonville. In order to be convicted of this misdemeanor, the state attorney would have to prove that you resisted, obstructed, or opposed the police officer. At the time you resist the officer, he or she must have been in the lawful execution of a legal duty, was in fact an officer legally authorized to execute process, and at the time you knew the person was a police officer. Often times, it is your word versus the officer's. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County criminal lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The nation's eyes with be on Jacksonville's State Attorney in the Trayvon Martin case

March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin lived in South Florida. He was shot outside of Orlando. But now Jacksonville is at the heart of the politically explosive case, now that the governor has appointed local Duval County State Attorney Angela Corey to take over the investigation.
Martin, 17, was shot and killed by 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain last month. Martin was unarmed and the man who shot him, George Zimmerman, said he was defending himself when he shot Martin, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. As national interest surged and protests began to mount, the police chief stepped aside and Gov. Rick Scott removed the local Sanford prosecutor from the case. Scott appointed Corey, the elected state attorney for Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. Ms. Corey is the Jacksonville Attorney in charge of prosecuting all crimes in these Northeast Florida counties.

Two days after the appointment, more than 1,000 people took to Jacksonville's streets to march for justice for Trayvon, according to a separate Times-Union report. Many, including the local NAACP president have already voiced concern about Corey's appointment. Any prosecutor brought into a case like this is in a difficult spot because so many people have already made up their mind about the case - despite having few details. Protestors are calling for an immediate arrest of Zimmerman in the Feb. 26 shooting; others side with Zimmerman and say his actions were within the confines of Florida's "stand your ground" law that allows people to defend themselves if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Governor Scott has also appointed a task force to examine the "stand your ground" law, since the Florida legislature passed in 2005. Corey sent two high-ranking prosecutors to the Orlando area to start work on the case Friday - the day after she was appointed. As the case develops, any move the team makes - especially the one that ultimately arrests or clears Zimmerman - with be done under the national spotlight.

If you are under suspicion for committing a crime in Jacksonville, Clay County or Nassau County, it is important to contact an experienced Duval County Criminal Defense Attorney immediately. The police officers and detectives are not there to help you, they are there to make a criminal arrest. If you or a loved one needs 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.

Driver charged with manslaughter in road rage shooting death

March 23, 2012

A 30-year-old Gainesville man was arrested and charged with manslaughter in a road rage shootout that left one man dead and a toddler unarmed through the gunfire. Brad Andrew Lippincot was also charged with discharging a firearm from a vehicle within 1,000 feet of a person, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Lippincot and Kahron Ali Warnke, 33, got in an argument when both were driving on the Westside and both pulled into the parking lot of a barbecue restaurant. Both men fired shots in the confrontation. Warnke tried to drive away from the gunfire, but was shot and ran his car into a nearby vacant house. A young child in his car was not injured in the shooting or the car, according to the newspaper report. Many details have yet to emerge, including who fired first and what exactly happened on the road to touch off the violent chain of events. But the charge against Lippincot is telling: manslaughter. That can, of course, change and can be upgraded to murder. But what it shows at this early phase is that police think Lippincot and Warnke essentially got in a fight, albeit with gunfire and Warnke was killed.

Lippincot's defense will likely include some interpretation of the "stand your ground" law that has come under fire since an unarmed 17-year-old was shot by an Orlando-area neighborhood watch captain. The law allows people to use deadly force is they reasonably believe they are in immediate danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm. One hurdle for Lippincot will be explaining why he went to the restaurant parking lot. It appears he at least had the opportunity then to keep driving and leave the confrontation but did not, which could harm the "stand your ground" defense. Details that show motive and possible self-defense angles are key in cases like this. Our Jacksonville violent crimes defense attorney is well-versed in sorting through the details and spotting what can be used to build a case around.

If you or a loved one needs a manslaughter 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.

Florida shooting that's getting national headlines has some questioning Florida "stand your ground" law

March 21, 2012

Civil rights activists and others are demanding answers after an unarmed 17-year-old boy was shot last month by a neighborhood watch captain inside a gated Sanford community. Details are continuing to emerge in the death of Trayvon Martin, a Miami boy visiting family in Central Florida when he was killed. Many are calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the block captain, who was initially called a "suspect" by police, who later softened the wording, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. Zimmerman, 28, told police he shot Martin in self-defense, but did not begin a confrontation with Marti. Recording from a 911 call released last week detail some sort of altercation and one person crying for help, but it's tough to tell who it is on the tape, the newspaper reported.

Police finished an investigation last week and sent it to the State Attorney's Office for review. The shooting, and the pending decision, are another example of the grey areas in the "stand your ground" law passed by the Florida legislature in 2005. The law expanded to allow people to use deadly force if a person "reasonably believes" he or she is threatened by imminent death or great bodily harm, or could reasonably believe a forcible felony was going to take place if deadly force was not used. One major key is it expanded that the right outside of one's home, where .people always had the right to defend themselves using deadly force. There's plenty of confusion about the law among the general public about exactly when force can be used. Critics have called the law a "license to commit murder," according to the newspaper report. But since Florida passed its law, more than a dozen other states have followed suit. Legally, you have the right to defend yourself, to "stand your ground" when you are threatened. But even when the law is on your side, having a Florida criminal defense attorney in your corner is essential - especially because you could be looking at charges as serious as manslaughter, even murder.

If you or a loved one needs 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 violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Study shows Jacksonville arrests are down, but Duval jail population on the rise

March 19, 2012

A new report by the University of North Florida shows that while arrests are decreasing, the number of people in the Duval County Jail is going up. The report, according to an article in the Florida Times-Union, says since 2005, arrests are down 27 percent, but the daily jail population has increased 14 percent. One major factor, according to the report, is the State Attorney's Office and its handling of cases. The number of jury trials each year is up 400 percent since Angela Corey was elected to the office in 2008, according to the newspaper.

Criminal trials can slow the system tremendously because people are waiting longer for their cases to resolve - as are people peripherally involved in the case, such as a co-defendant who has pleaded guilty but it testifying for the state. Cases that may not have been filed under a previous administration are being filed now, according to the report. From a criminal defense attorney perspective, that alone will drive the trial count up. More and more defendants are unwilling to take a deal and plead to something they don't think they should have to plead to, which in turn increases the number of trials. Some of the offers by the state also are so steep that there's little for a person to lose by pushing the case to trial.

In any profession, the best people and companies are the ones who adapt to the change around them. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Firm understands the landscape and makes adjustments accordingly. And we are not afraid to take a case to trial. Our Jacksonville trial firm has certainly been a part of that 400 percent increase in trials since 2009, and will continue to be when it is in the best interest of our clients. Some Duval County criminal lawyers do not have the experience or desire to take a case to trial if needed, and the state attorneys know who these lawyers are. If you are facing criminal charges, you deserve an experienced trial attorney to guide you in your decisions. You can negotiate, the state attorney can drop your Jacksonville criminal charge or you can make the government prove the charge against you in a trial.

If you or a loved one needs 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.

Police looking at JEA worker accused of accepting pain pills to fix customer accounts

March 16, 2012

Police are investigating a longtime JEA employee accused of fiddling with customer accounts to reduce their balances and, in one instance, accepting prescription drugs in exchange for doing so. Stephen Smith, a 14-year JEA employee, was suspended by the city-owned utility last month according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. JEA took the information to police several weeks ago and, while authorities continue to investigate, no charges have been filed, the newspaper reported.

In one instance, the employee is accused of closing an account where a person owed more than $1,000 and putting a different name on the account. The JEA employee then opened a new account with the person's real name, which in effect erased the $1,000 balance from the customer's record. It went unnoticed until the customer bounced a check, the newspaper reported. In these economic times with energy prices on the rise, any news that bills can be manipulated this easily - to benefit the customer or the utility - is a problem for the utility company. But in terms of criminal charges, this case could be problematic for the state.

Smith could be charged with extortion - essentially threatening the customers to pay him in cash or drugs or what have you, but that would be a stretch. A Jacksonville grand theft charge for stealing upwards of $4,000 from JEA on the back accounts is another possibility, but proving how much Smith received is another roadblock. And, this isn't your typical "hand in the till" Duval County employee theft case where a worker is skimming from the register or writing checks to themselves. This is someone acting as a JEA employee and accepting payment to keep people's lights on -- a service he did make good on. Yet another possibility is identity fraud. When Smith put a false name and Social Security number into the system as a dummy account, he used the information from a woman who lives in Tallahassee, police said. Doing so without a person's knowledge is illegal, the newspaper reported.

Police have plenty of choices, but none are without issues. Our Jacksonville Theft Lawyer can find those issues and use them in negotiations or, if need be, in a jury trial. White-collar crime cases can involve high-level computer analysis and our firm can hire experts to show what's really there.

If you or a loved one needs 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 theft lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Can a pocketknife be considered a "concealed weapon" in Jacksonville?

March 15, 2012

As a Criminal Attorney in Jacksonville, I have represented many people charged with crimes involving weapons. In addition to gun crimes in Jacksonville, there are other weapons crimes people can be charged with. One such crime is Possession of a Concealed Weapon. This Duval County weapon crime is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. To be convicted of this Jacksonville misdemeanor, the state attorney's office would have to prove that you carried a concealed weapon or electric weapon or device on your person. "Concealed weapons" are defined as dirks, metal knuckles, slungshots, billies, tear gas guns, or any other deadly weapons carried in such a manner to conceal the weapon from the sight of another person.

People often call our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law Office asking about pocketknives and how to carry them. A common pocketknife is excluded from the definition of a deadly weapon in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court has defined a common pocketknife as "a type of knife occurring frequently in the community which has a blade that folds into the handle that can be carried on one's pocket". Recently, a case has been appealed in the Miami, Florida area that discusses this definition of a pocketknife. In this criminal case, the defendant was charged with carrying a concealed weapon. The weapon was a folding knife that was just under three inches long and locks in an open position. The knife also had serrations on one side with grooves for fingers. The appellate court found that this knife was not a "common" pocketknife because it had a blade that can be locked in an open position.

If you are accused of any type of weapon crime in Jacksonville, Clay County or Nassau County, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced Florida Weapons Attorney. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact our Jacksonville Law Firm, The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation today.

Jacksonville Beach mother accused of trading sex with her 6-year-old for drugs

March 14, 2012

Horrific accusations made national headlines last week when a Jacksonville Beach mother was arrested for trading sex with her 6-year-old daughter for drugs. Dalina J. Nicholas, 35, was arrested in Georgia as a fugitive and will be charged with child neglect in Jacksonville, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The young girl is undergoing therapy and is for now living with Nicholas' mother, who described Nicholas as having a drug problem but also a victim in this case, the newspaper reported.

Two men, 47 and 56, with extensive criminal records, were arrested last month on Jacksonville, Duval County capital sexual battery charges in connection with the case, the newspaper reported. A tip from a homeless man opened the investigation after he told an officer he's been there to use drugs and knew people were sexually abusing the young girl, who has since turned 7, the newspaper reported. The Jacksonville Beach residence was apparently a haven for drug use and Nichols let homeless and others stay there frequently, the newspaper reported. But Nichols' mother said her daughter was also a victim and was overrun by the drug dealers, likely sexually abused herself, the newspaper reported.

At least one of the men charged with sexual battery told police he had lived in the home before, but denied any sexual contact with the young girl. Tying all of the moving parts in this case could prove difficult. Little has been released about when the sexual activity occurred, so it's unclear if there is physical evidence or how much the young girl would be able to say about it. Other witnesses are either drug dealers or drug users, which could lead to credibility issues. And the turning on one another has undoubtedly already begun.

If you or a loved one needs a Sex Crimes 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.

Sheriff's deputy fired after sexual battery arrest in Clay County

March 12, 2012

A Clay County sheriff's deputy was fired last week, immediately after his arrest on a rape charge. A woman told police about the alleged assault that happened March 8. Two days later, Deputy Jacob Middleton, 26, was arrested and fired, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Very few details on the case were released, though the woman said she did know Middleton prior to the incident and that she went to his apartment that evening. Middleton was released from jail on a $50,000 bond, the newspaper reported.

Organizations like the sheriff's office have little tolerance for any arrests - especially a sex crime and especially for a rookie cop still in his probationary period. Middleton had been with the department since September. Clay detectives are also the ones investigating the case, so they know as much about what actually happened as anyone - excluding Middleton and the alleged victim. The quick firing could mean they have a good idea Middleton is guilty and can be convicted. Or it could mean he's not worth the bad headlines for a few months while the case plays out. One certainty is sexual assault charges can be difficult for the state to prove, depending on how much physical evidence is available. In many cases there will be evidence of sexual contact, but one side will be saying it was consensual sex, while the other says it was rape. Then, it's her word against his.

Depending on the severity of the charge the state ultimately files, Middleton could be looking at life in prison. That's unlikely, since he's been released on a $50,000 bond - but a significant prison sentence is indeed a possibility. Moreover, any plea or conviction would brand him as a sexual offender and Middleton would have to register and have his picture broadcast whenever he moves his residence.

Our Clay County sex crimes attorney has represented dozens of men accused of sexual assault. The charges are life-altering and require an experienced criminal defense attorney who won't be afraid to ask the tough questions and examine every detail of the case to present to a jury.

If you or a loved one needs a sex crimes attorney in Orange Park or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County criminal lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Three juveniles arrested in Jacksonville, Florida for throwing rocks at cars off freeway overpass

Three Jacksonville juveniles have fessed up to trying to hit semi-trucks with rocks on Interstate 10 and sending one driver to the hospital. The suspects are 12, 14 and 15, according to a report on First Coast News. A truck driver was injured last week when a rock hit his windshield and cracked it, sending glass into his eye. Police were called this week by the parents of the boys, who admitted to throwing rocks. The rock throwing is a reminder for Jacksonville residents of a violent string of attacks from snipers and people throwing rocks and concrete blocks along Interstate 295 in the early 1990s. Even then-NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw called the 10-mile stretch the "Highway From Hell," according to a Florida Times-Union report.

The recent case appears much more isolated. The boys did say they hit about 20 cars, but were specifically aiming for trucks. All three have been charged with shooting or throwing deadly missiles, a second-degree felony in Jacksonville, and would face up to 15 years in prison if charged as adults. The prosecution of this case will be one to watch from a legal standpoint. Prosecutors in Duval County have not been shy about charging juveniles as adults - especially in high-profile cases. Cristain Fernandez, now 13, was 12 last year when he was the youngest person in Florida ever charged with first-degree murder, accused of killing his 2-year-old half-brother.

Depending on how the case is resolved, crimes as juveniles can haunt people forever in terms of getting a job or going into the military. Our Jacksonville juvenile crimes attorney has represented youth facing serious charges and will work to try to avoid the mistakes of a 12 year old sticking with them forever.

If your child or another loved one needs a Juvenile Crimes 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.

Teen avoids prison after accidentally shooting his friend with a shotgun in Jacksonville

A Jacksonville teen pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter in Jacksonville last week and will spend a year on house arrest and another three on probation after accidentally shooting his friend. Tyler Willis, 18, shot his friend in the head with two dozen shotgun pellets after the two had smoked marijuana and were going to trade guns, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Willis had said his friend pointed the muzzle of a gun at him and, when he ducked, he dropped the gun and it went off, according to the news report. The friend, then 17, was hospitalized for a night after the January shooting, but was released the next day.

Police didn't seem to buy Willis' story at the time, questioning in news reports why the pellets fired in a straight line, not at an angle if the gun was dropped, or how it happened when the gun had an internal trigger lock. Any doubt sure didn't hurt Willis in terms of reaching an agreement with the state. Willis was facing five years in prison on the attempted manslaughter charge and could have also gotten a few months in the county jail on two Jacksonville misdemeanors - discharging a firearm under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of drug parapharnelia. The case was resolved quickly, in less than two months, and was part of a negotiated deal with prosecutors. It's a prime example of a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer navigating the system and working out a solid deal for the client.

How would Willis have fared in a trial? Who knows. In most cases, especially when prosecutors are willing to waive prison time, it isn't worth the risk. Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney has represented hundreds of clients in cases involving guns. The state is often hesitant to negotiate in such cases, so you need a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney to quickly lay out any potential flaws in the case and help move talks along. And if the best scenario is a trial, our gun crimes lawyer is ready to go.

If you or a loved one needs a gun crimes 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.

Sexual offender finishing time but ordered to mental hospital, jurors says they think he'll reoffend

A finding by a Jacksonville jury this week proves again that Jacksonville sex crimes are handled completely differently than any other crime in the state of Florida. William Larimore was set to be released after serving 18 months for failing to registered as a sex offender, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. But instead of accepting the sentence at its conclusion, the state asked for more time - just not in prison - something that is only done to sexual offenders. The state argued Larimore never received mental health counseling for his original crimes - committed in the early 1990s - and that he should be committed to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, essentially a state-funded warehouse for sexual offenders no longer in prison.

The standard presented to the jury this week under the Jimmy Ryce Act: Is Larimore likely to reoffend? If so, he should be committed. If not, he should be released when he has completed his prison time. A jury unanimously decided he is likely to do it again, so they sent him to Arcadia. The sentences in Arcadia are indefinite - when a doctor deems him fit to return to society he can leave. Until then, he stays. For no other crime is a jury asked to look into a crystal ball and decide whether a person can walk free. Juries make decisions based on events that have already taken place; not that might happen in the future. And does any juror really want it hanging over them if the person does get out and do it again? The safe call is to just keep him away from children. The state knows that and hammers it home during these Jacksonville trials. In all other crimes, sentences are handed down by judges. Even in death penalty cases when juries make a recommendation. Who has the final say? The judge.

This case highlights why it is essential that anyone even accused of a sex crime in Jacksonville or anywhere in Northeast Florida to immediately contact an experienced Jacksonville Sex Crime Attorney. The stakes are too high on sex crimes and the rules are different.

Sex crimes are the only crime that, if you are convicted, allows the state to broadcast your history every time you move to a new neighborhood, alerting everyone in a certain geographic radius. Once the accusation is first made, it is difficult to emerge from.
And, even if you've done the time the court has required of you, the state can always come back for more.

If you or a loved one needs a sex crimes 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.

Woman gets five years in prison for 4th DUI

A St. Augustine woman who taped a picture of herself onto someone else's driver's license was sentenced to five years in prison for her fourth DUI conviction. When Denise Boman, 62, was pulled over in June, she handed police the homemade license and drove off, crashing into a utility pole, according to a report on News4Jax. She also pleaded guilty to possessing a forged driver's license.

The more DUIs a person has on their record - the tougher the penalties get. In Boman's case, she was charged with a felony because it was her fourth DUI. Even a third driving under the influence charge in a 10-year span is considered a felony. Most people only spend that first night in jail when they are arrested on their first or second offense. Common penalties include probation, a driver's license suspension and substance abuse education.

But once it becomes a pattern, the stakes ratchet up.

Most people aren't thinking down the road the morning they appear in court after a DUI arrest. They plead guilty; they think they're getting it over with and moving on. But those pleas can not only hurt you at the time, but can hurt down the road should you find yourself afoul of the law again. When police stop someone for DUI, there are specific rules they must follow. The rules are precise and any misstep by an officer - intentional or not - could turn the case. Our St. Johns County DUI attorney has seen hundreds of DUI cases get reduced to reckless driving or, at times, dismissed entirely. Even having one of Boman's convictions knocked down to a reckless driving would have her serving far less than the five years she was sentenced to last week.

If you or a loved one needs a DUI attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County criminal lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.