May 2012 Archives

Jacksonville "warning shot" case sparks debate on Florida's 10-20-Life law

A 20-year prison sentence for a Jacksonville woman convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot at an allegedly abusive husband has sparked a debate about the Florida law that led to her sentence. Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a jury found her guilty earlier this year of three counts of Jacksonville Aggravated Assault for firing a shot while her now estranged husbands and two of his children were present. At the sentencing, the judge made a point of saying he did not have a choice in the matter and his hands were tied by the state's 10-20-Life law, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

The well-publicized law has been plastered across billboards along Florida highways and was a focal point of many public service announcements on radio and television. If someone shows a gun during the commission of a felony, there's a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence. If the gun is fired, it's 20 years. If someone is shot, it's 25 years to life. The Times-Union spoke with a key prosecutor, Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys and a local law professor to look at the effects of the law, along with the results compared to intent that then-Governor Jeb Bush campaigned on in 1998 and went into effect the following year. The main complaints from Duval County defense attorneys are that the laws do not account for people with no criminal records and that the laws take the decisions out of the judges' hands and essentially allow the state to impose the sentence. The minimum mandatory sentences become a bargaining chip for the state to get people to plead to a charge rather than risk significant mandatory time if convicted. In the Alexander case, she turned down a three-year sentence that was available to her until right before the trial.

While the prosecutor the Times-Union spoke with did not deny that the state uses the minimum mandatories in negotiations, he stressed that for the sentence to be imposed the defendant must be found guilty in a trial - which Alexander was. And it's not the conviction, but the sentence that riled people up in the Alexander case, which received national headlines. What the state doesn't like to say is that prosecutors have the ability to waive the minimum mandatory sentence in these Florida guns cases. They do, but they choose not to. One of the pillars of State Attorney Angela Corey's successful campaign in 2008 was not waiving the minimum mandatories and she has stuck by that pledge. And, as judges and criminal defenses attorneys said in the Times-Union article, it keeps all of the cards in the state's hands when it comes to negotiations. Florida minimum mandatory sentences are also exempt from any reduction for good behavior. In most cases, people do 85 percent of their sentence. So a 10-year sentence is essentially 8-1/2 years. With a minimum mandatory, 10 years equals 10 years. Period.
Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney knows the ramifications of Florida's 10-20-Life laws and has represented hundreds of clients subject to those laws. Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer can examine all of the evidence against you and lay out all of the facts so you can make the best decision possible.

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.

Police encounters in Jacksonville - officer contact

As a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, I constantly review arrests in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. When evaluating any criminal case, I first look at when the police officer initially makes contact with my client, also referred to as "police-citizen encounters". In Florida, there are three levels of these encounters. The first is called a consensual encounter, where you can wither voluntarily comply with the officer's requests or ignore them. Because you are free to leave during a consensual encounter, your constitutional rights are not in play. The second level of police contact is called an investigatory stop. In order to detain you, the officer has to have a well-founded suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity. To determine whether you are detained, the courts apply the standard of whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave even though a police officer is talking to them. Factors to consider are: did the officer activate his squad car lights, where did the officer park when approaching you, what words did the officer say when making contact with you, how many officers approached you, were their guns drawn or were the officers touching their weapons, if at night, did the officer shine a light on you. This evaluation is very important because if an officer does not follow the law, anything he or she found on you could be suppressed because your constitutional rights were violated. The third level of police encounters is when you are actually arrested. In order to be arrested in Jacksonville or anywhere in Florida, the police must have probable cause to believe you committed or are committing a crime.

If you are facing criminal charges in Northeast Florida, it is important to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your future is worth it. Our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem has represented thousands of people charged with crimes in Jacksonville, Clay County, Nassau County and St.Johns County. Contact The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Law Firm is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man who parked his car in jail parking lot arrested for DUI in Jacksonville

A Gainesville man didn't have to go far to be booked in the Duval County Jail for his Jacksonville DUI last week. He had pulled into the jail lot after allegedly smashing into a parked car, a light post and a sign, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. A jail security guard heard the commotion outside about 3 a.m. one morning and saw the driver up on the curb, thinking he had a flat tire, the newspaper reported. But the man started stumbling away from the car and was acting strange, so the guard cuffed him and walked him inside the Police Memorial Building. An officer came outside and saw the top of the light sitting in the back of the truck. The driver was charged with DUI in Duval County, leaving the scene of an accident and three counts of damaging property while under the influence. All five charges are misdemeanors in Jacksonville - though the DUI could be a felony in Florida if the driving has already been convicted of DUI twice and the last conviction was less than 10 years ago. No information on the driver's past criminal history was included in media reports.

This case seems to eliminate one of the most problematic areas for police in a Jacksonville DUI arrest: the traffic stop. Police must have a specific reason to pull a driver over (speeding, swerving across the road, headlights not turned on at night). They then must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired (watery or bloodshot eyes, a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech). In this case, the security guard heard the crash and then said the driver was acting suspicious by not taking his hands out of his pockets when asked. Once he brought the driver inside the building and the officer came outside to assess the damage, there was little doubt the driver's truck was involved, since the light was in the back. And according to the newspaper, the driver called himself an "idiot" to the police officer. Any statement to police that implies guilt is never good, but the light would likely be enough on its own to cause some legal problems.

But most Driving Under the Influence charges in Duval, Clay and Nassau County do not happen in the jail parking lot. They happen on the roads where police have very strict standards they must adhere to. If the suspicion is met, the officer will have a person perform field sobriety exercises. In those exercises, one can expect to someone can expect to be asked to: recite the alphabet or a series of numbers in order; walk in a straight line and turn around; stand on one leg, then with both legs together to test balance and to move your arms to touch your fingers to your nose. If the officer believes the tests show signs of impairment, an arrest will be made and the deputies at the jail will ask you to take a breath test. The rules are complicated and our Jacksonville DUI Lawyer knows exactly what to look for to make sure everything was done by the book.

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 DUI Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man accused of stealing, selling catalytic converters

Jacksonville police arrested a man with a saw and what they said was a stolen catalytic converter - and there may be plenty more where that came from, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police suspect Torre Ludwig in at least seven thefts of the converters, which reduce vehicle emissions as part of a vehicle's exhaust system the newspaper reported. Someone matching Ludwig's description was seen in mechanics clothes going under a car parked in downtown Jacksonville and a surveillance camera showed Ludwig's van nearby. The car is question was missing its catalytic converter. The converters are made with valuable metals that make them attractive for resale - similar to copper wiring from air conditioning unites. Converters can cost up to $2,000 to replace and they fetch between $100 and $150 at a scrap or salvage yard. Ludwig had sold 13 to an Orange Park salvage yard in the past month for a total of just more than $1,100, according to the Times-Union report. An employee at the yard eventually called police.

These numbers are crucial for the criminal case (likely to soon be cases) against Ludwig. Jacksonville Theft Charges carry various penalties - from days in jail to years in prison - based on the value of the property. And that value is based on how much it is worth - not how much someone was able to get for it. A common example, and one of the most common stolen items, would be jewelry. If someone steals a $10,000 wedding ring, it is a Jacksonville, Florida felony - even if someone trades it for $100 worth of drugs. So back to Ludwig, if police keep investigating and end up charging him in more converter thefts, they would all be felonies because the converters are worth more than $300. That is true even though the average Ludwig received for the converters at the Orange Park yard is less than $100 apiece.

For now, Ludwig is facing one Florida grand theft charge - a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Ludwig is also charged with the felony of being a secondary metal recycler, after telling police he bought the items on Craigslist and then sold them to the scrap yard. That charge is essentially the state trying to prove its point that it caught Ludwig in a lie and trying to force his hand on the theft charge. That charge also has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. It is not uncommon for the state to charge both ends, so to speak. Either Ludwig was stealing the convertors (a crime) or he was illegally reselling them (also a crime, according to the state). That doesn't leave much wiggle room in the state's mind - assuming the thefts can be proven. Enough proof for an arrest and enough proof for a conviction are always two very different standards.

Our Jacksonville Theft Attorney has represented hundreds of clients charged with various theft crimes in Duval County, Clay County, and Nassau County and will thoroughly investigate your case to see how much evidence the state does in fact have.

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.

Driver leaves passenger to die after crash, hospital says it wasn't the crash that killed him

The man police found unresponsive in the passenger seat of a Nissan Altima that had been crashed into a light pole and an abandoned house died at the hospital last week.
But doctors say he didn't die from the car accident and detectives told he had a bullet or stab wound - and that was likely what killed the man. Witnesses also said the driver jumped into a truck and left, according to the Florida Times-Union, and police told the newspaper a similar truck was pulled over on the Westside.

The seriousness of the crime is climbing rapidly - from leaving the scene of an accident in Jacksonville, to leaving the scene of an accident causing serious injury or death, to manslaughter to perhaps even murder. Details will shake out later - and this may be a case where police put a little bit of information out there to see who, if anyone, knows more. And the less information police have the more they tend to put out to the public to solicit tips. One of the first tidbits to trickle out may be whether the victim was shot or stabbed. According to various news reports, there were only two people in the car at the time. The one left for dead and the one who fled. If the driver isn't talking - and an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney would advise him not to without an attorney present - police will need outside sources to get to the bottom of the situation.
One of the first places police will turn will be to the pick-up truck where the driver was found. If the truck is the "getaway car" of sorts when a homicide occurred, the driver could be charged with Jacksonville accessory after the fact. If the state was seeking the death penalty on the killer, the driver with an accessory charge could face up to 30 years in prison. If the state was only looking for life in prison on the murder charge, the driver could be looking at up to 15 years in prison. Either one is usually enough to get someone talking. Significant time behind bars for something you had a secondary role in is generally a motivator for people to come clean about the facts of a crime someone else committed.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, has had conversation after conversation with clients who can't believe what one his or her "friends" told police about them. As much as we hold our own relationships in high regard, the "friend" line can blur some when it means you're the one sitting behind bars for a decade. Always assume that everyone that may have been arrested in Jacksonville together is doing every possible to same themselves. Look out for you own best interests because, among co-defendants, you are likely the only one that will.

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.

Man sentenced to the maximum 15 years for DUI death

Clinton Deloach Jr. was convicted of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum 15 years in prison, according to a report from The Florida Times Union. Deloach had passed a large truck in a rainstorm and crashed head on into Doreen Karen Meyers, a child abuse investigator from Brunswick, GA, killing her in the impact. Directly prior to the accident Deloach had an appointment with his doctor who prescribed him Fentanyl, a powerful pain relieving narcotic. Deloach left the doctor and was wearing a Fentanyl patch when he collided with Meyers. Deloach claimed that Meyers entered his lane and he swerved to miss her, however witnesses testified he was driving erratically and swerving in and out of his lane. Blood tests showed Deloach had high levels of Fentanyl and hydrocodone in his system, as well as lower levels of the anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam and lorazepam.

Despite what many people believe, DUI in Jacksonville and anywhere in Florida is not limited to alcohol or a certain blood alcohol level. All that is required for one to drive under the influence is to operate a vehicle while under the influence of any chemical substance when affected to the extent that the person's normal faculties are impaired. This is a subjective standard and is largely proven or disproved based on the testimony of the accused, law enforcement officers, and witnesses. In defending against DUI accusations, Jacksonville DUI Attorneys attack the credibility of witness testimony, sometimes excluding it altogether for trial. As in this case, juries are often more susceptible to believe testimony of law enforcement officers over that of the accused, although in actuality there is nothing in law or reality that says police are in fallible, or to be believed any more than any other witness. A good Duval County criminal defense attorney knows this, and will set out to inform the jury of the same.

In this case, Deloach was legally taking his prescriptions. He may not have known the effects they would have on his ability to operate a vehicle. However, under Florida statute, knowledge of one's impairment is not a requirement for DUI, only being in an actual state of impairment while operating a vehicle. As for whether the doctor failed to warn Deloach of the side effects of his prescriptions, this may give rise to a civil suit, but unfortunately does little to exculpate him criminally. The final straw was that the person he hit was a law enforcement officer, specifically one who worked with abused children, and one who was well known within the jurisdiction of his trial. Meyer likely testified against child abusers in the very courtroom, and in front of the same judge, where Deloach was being tried for her death. The maximum sentence allowed seems excessive for someone who was only inebriated due to properly taking his prescribed medication, especially since it was a new prescription and he likely was unaware of the effects it would have on him. Simply because the victim was a respected investigator and well known in the court system doesn't entitle her to "more justice" than any other victim, or warrant a harsher sentence for Deloach.

If you or a loved one is ever charged with DUI manslaughter, or any DUI charge, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County DUI Lawyer is experienced in these cases and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge to make ruling on whether 96-year-old woman is competent for trial on murder charge

A St. Johns County judge expects to decide in two weeks whether a 96-year-old woman is competent to stand trial in the shooting death of her nephew. Amanda Stevenson has been in the St. Johns County Jail since September, when she was charged with fatally shooting her 53-year-old nephew with a .357 magnum, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The issue is not whether Stevenson is in fact mentally ill. There seems to be little disputing that fact and, earlier this year, a state psychologist said she was not competent and was likely suffering from dementia. Behaviorally, it seems nothing has changed, but that doesn't rule her out from standing trial. What the judge is not examining is whether she can become competent enough to stand trial. There's a huge difference. Florida law states that someone cannot be automatically deemed incompetent just because they have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. If the defendant is on medication and can fully communicate with his or her Florida legal counsel, as well as understand the proceedings and consequences, he or she can be considered fit to stand trial. The judge asked two more court-appointed mental health professionals to look at Stevenson and determine if there is a way to get her competent enough to either resolve the case or take it trial. If she is not competent, one option would be sending the wheelchair-bound Stevenson to a state mental health hospital for her to live instead of continuing to be locked up in jail.

Competency is a serious issue that most commonly arises in murder and violent acts. The law is clear that a person must be able to understand what is happening in the courtroom and be able to consult and communicate with his or her St. Johns County criminal attorneys. Courts can be very strict on granting an incompetency claim and require written reports and testimony from mental health professionals who attest to the defendant's inability to stand trial. If competency is an issue, your St. Johns County criminal defense lawyer will likely have an evaluation done. That evaluation stays confidential, unless you chose to share it with the state. If it's the state that wants the evaluation, prosecutors must get the permission of the defense team.

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 violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Appellate lawyer seeks new trial for man convicted of killing his wife in St. Johns County

A man whose trial made national headlines and was convicted of shooting his wife to death on a St. Johns County beach is seeking a new trial, claiming his criminal defense attorneys didn't do their job. Among Justin Barber's chief complaints - that his first criminal defense team was focused solely on a trial and did not do enough to negotiate a plea agreement, according to an article in the St. Augustine Record. Barber has long said he and his wife were attacked at gunpoint on the beach and he fled to get help, though the state has contended Barber killed his wife and staged the scene to try to collect a multi-million dollar insurance policy. Barber, now 30 and serving a life sentence, told the court this week he would have considered a plea agreement if he thought there was a chance he would be convicted - especially since he has talked to other inmates who reached agreements with the state and now are serving significantly less time than he is, the newspaper reported. His original criminal attorney said that Barber at one point said he would do up to three years, but was told by his Florida attorneys it would take an offer of at least 15 years to get the state into serious discussions, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors confirmed to the newspaper plea talks never started.

In cases where a person is charged with first-degree murder, it is most likely an all or nothing proposition. There is no chance prosecutors will agree to three years in prison for a man accused of shooting his wife in cold blood. None. And why would they? It would destroy further negotiations on other cases. Everyone would expect to get a three-year sentence, regardless of their charges - and it would never fly with the victim's family. Negotiations and deals are certainly commonplace in our judicial system, but there has to be a compelling reason to bring the state to the table. And in a case like Barber's, the state comes across better to the public if they go to trial and lose than they do if they let Barber plea to a sentence considered too soft. Two appeals have already been denied in the case. The chances are likely slim this time, too, since judges are generally hesitant to grant new trials in cases. Appeals are a part of our judicial system and, at this point, what else does Barber have to lose? But in most cases they are long shots at best. Unless errors are egregious, you typically get one shot at a trial - regardless of how many times you ask.

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 violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

FAMU Ex-Band Director claims he is not responsible for hazing death

Julian White, Jacksonville native and former FAMU band director, claims he is not responsible for the hazing related death of band member Robert Champion in November, according to a Florida Times Union report. Champion was severely beaten aboard a chartered bus after a FAMU football game as part of a hazing ritual and died of resulting injuries. While the members of the band who carried out the hazing surely share the brunt of the responsibility for Champion's death, they are not alone in sharing responsibility.

In the state of Florida, it is a third degree felony to intentionally or recklessly engage in hazing that results in serious bodily injury or death, and a first degree misdemeanor to do the same when it merely creates a substantial risk of physical injury or death. These charges are in addition to others that could flow from such activities, such a battery or murder. In addition to outlawing hazing, Florida statutes also require that any post secondary education institution whose students receive state student financial assistance must adopt a written anti-hazing policy and under such policy must adopt rules prohibiting students or other persons associated with any student organization from engaging in hazing. Schools also must provide a program for the enforcement of such rules and must adopt appropriate penalties for violations of such rules, to be administered by the person at the institution responsible for the sanctioning of such organizations, usually the dean. The institution must provide a copy of such policy, rules, and penalties to each student enrolled in that institution and must include such policy, rules, and penalties in the bylaws of every organization operating under the sanction of the institution. This is where things get sticky.

FAMU is renowned for its marching band. However, it is also renowned for its culture of hazing, especially within the band. Champion's death is only one incident in a string of hazing occurrences spanning decades. While surely the school has a written hazing policy and penalties for breaking that policy, it appears that a lack of enforcement has resulted in a blatant and open hazing culture. This is not the fault of students but rather administrators, and in the case of the marching band, the former director Julian White. The band brings in large amounts of revenue for the university and is an important recruiting tool. Perhaps this is why after repeated hazing violations, very little was done in the area of band sanctions and suspensions. Florida statutes provide that organizations that are in blatant violation of university anti-hazing policies may be suspended and prohibited from operation on campus and under university sanction. FAMU has since done just that, however too little, too late. It took the death of a student for the university to put its hazing policy before its famed band and all the benefits that sprung from it, and this inaction could result in liability for university officials, both civilly and criminally.

Another troubling factor in the case is that by statute, the university must provide copies of its hazing policy, rules, and penalties to each student enrolled in the institution. This creates a problem, as FAMU has been, for some time, allowing former students and non-students to participate in the band. White did take partial responsibility for this failure to ensure band members were actually students of FAMU, and in turn had been given copies of the hazing policy and educated on the dangers of hazing. Compounding the issue, two of the band members being charged with Champion's death were not FAMU students and were in no way eligible to participate in band activities. This failure on the part of the band director, and in enforcement of hazing penalties on the part of university administrators could lead to charges of culpable negligence, a first degree misdemeanor when it results in injury. However, Florida statutes provide that in the event that culpable negligence results in death, as in this case, the negligent parties may be charged with manslaughter, a second degree felony. To make matters worse, university faculty have been accused of participating in hazing rituals themselves, although not specifically in the Champion incident. Truly the hazing problem runs deep and culpability goes far beyond the students, and non-student band members, who actually carried out the hazing ritual. At this time no charges have been filed against White or school administrators, however they most certainly could face serious implications for their failure to act in preventing the death of Robert Champion. White has resigned, and the university has suspended the band, both surely in attempt to distance themselves from the case.

If you or a loved one is accused of hazing, or any other violent crime, 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.

Judge dismisses lying criminal charge against former Jacksonville high school principal

A Duval County judge dismissed the case against a former Raines High School principal charged with giving false statements to police. George Maxey admitted that he initially intentionally gave police wrong information to protect students who stole items from the locker room of a visiting football team, the Florida Times-Union reported. But his Jacksonville criminal defense attorney argued that he recanted his story quickly and it did not negatively affect the investigations, therefore was not against the law, according to the newspaper. A judge agreed at a hearing last week, dismissing the Duval County misdemeanor charge. State Attorney Angela Corey said when her office chose to file charges in February against Maxey and assistant principal Oscar Harris she wanted to send a strong message to the community that actions like these, especially from high-ranking officials, would not be tolerated. But with the judge dismissing the charges, what is the message now?

The message appears to be that our judicial system is based on the law - not morals - and what Maxey did in relation to a Jacksonville theft investigation at his school was not a crime in the eyes of the judge, the newspaper reported. The law reads that recanting can be used as a defense if the statements are recanted in a timely manner, do not change the course of the investigation and are taken back before they were exposed as false. Maxey came clean in two hours and the investigation was not altered because of his statements, according to the newspaper. Prosecutors argued that Maxey only recanted because he knew his lies would soon be discovered and that Maxey should not escape prosecution just because his plan was not successful, the newspaper reported. In dismissing the Jacksonville criminal charges, the judge said the purpose of the recanting clause in the law is to encourage people to be honest and truthful with the police.

Maxey was forced to resign last year when the school system learned of the false statements. Corey had said she was not seeking jail time - even though the maximum penalty is up to a year in the Duval County Jail. Corey was looking for Maxey to do community service and show the importance of telling the truth to police, the newspaper reported. As we've seen before, what can cause someone to lose their job doesn't always end up costing them in court. And just because there is enough for an arrest, doesn't mean a judge sees enough to go forward with the case. Whenever possible, if police are asking to speak with you about a crime, speak with the Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney first. An experienced criminal lawyer can advise you of your rights and the best way to handle an encounter with investigators.

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 Misdemeanor Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Rumble at Jacksonville Beach leads to a battery arrest

Last month the Jacksonville Beach Municipal Golf Course turned into a battle field as two golf parties laid into each other. A group of young men were celebrating a bachelor party with a day at the links. Meanwhile a group of elderly men and women were playing behind them, trying to have a serious game. Allegedly the youngsters had been drinking and according to a 61 year-old man now charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in Jacksonville, they were messing around, playing very slowly, and driving golf carts on the greens, which upset him. By the time the bachelor party got to the 18th green, the man had had enough. He began shouting at the group and hitting balls toward them and after one was returned in his direction, hopped in a cart and headed for the group. Allegedly he drove the cart full speed into the bachelor group, ran over one person and pinned another between two carts. Then he allegedly grabbed a club and broke it over the head of the man he ran over, and then grab another club. At this point the others in the elderly party all were brandishing golf clubs. The young men then grabbed for the clubs and pinned down the old man, tumbling together into a sand trap right before police arrived on the scene.

In Florida, battery occurs when a person actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other, or when a person intentionally causes bodily harm to another person. Simple battery is a first degree misdemeanor in Duval County. However, when a person uses a deadly weapon in commission of the battery, or causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, the offense becomes aggravated battery. Aggravated battery is a second degree felony in Florida. In the case of the brawling golfers, a golf cart and golf clubs most definitely fall into the category of deadly weapons. The old man sent one person to the hospital with head and leg injuries, which could also constitute great bodily harm, depending on how the prosecution frames the charges.

From a Jacksonville criminal defense standpoint, several mitigating factors may come into play. Were the party goers intoxicated, and does this affect their judgment, recollection, and credibility? The man was a veteran of the golf course and may have a prior rapport with the course staff to testify to his sportsmanship and history with the course. Also, while the older man hit his ball down the course towards the bachelor party, this is normal in golf play. You play forward towards the green. The bachelor party hitting his ball back, however, is not part of the game and can be seen as a sign of aggression. While there are other witnesses to testify to the events, and the man certainly escalated the situation, he may not be completely at fault. In the end, it's probably a better idea to simply notify the course ranger when a party is acting inappropriately on the golf course. However, if the situation does turn violent, always remember that when you pick something up to use as an instrumentality of violence, for example a golf club, chances are you're holding a deadly weapon, at least as far as police are concerned. Now if convicted of battery in Jacksonville, the sentence goes from possible probation to serious jail time.

If you or a loved one is ever charged with any type of battery, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Battery Crimes Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville drug arrest after officer discovers 45 pounds of marijuana during traffic stop

A traffic stop on the West side of Jacksonville led the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to confiscating 45 pounds of marijuana on Wednesday afternoon, according to a report from The Florida Times Union. A man was pulled over for a traffic violation in Jacksonville and the officer said he smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the vehicle. The officer asked the driver if he had any pot in the vehicle and he answered yes. After searching the vehicle the officer discovered fifteen pounds of marijuana in a suitcase. An hour later police arrived at the man's house with a Duval County search warrant and discovered 30 pounds of marijuana, seven cell phones, a loaded gun, and several thousand dollars in cash. The man has been arrested on charges for drug distribution in Jacksonville.

To be charged with Jacksonville possession of an illegal drug, physical or actual possession is not a requirement. It is sufficient to have "constructive possession" of the illegal substance. Constructive possession means you have knowledge of an object plus the ability to control it. So if drugs are in your car, or even your house, but not physically on your person, police still have the ability to make a drug possession arrest. They will have to prove that you knew the drugs were there however. With regard to marijuana, possession of less than 20 grams is a first degree misdemeanor, and over 20 grams is a third degree felony. However, possession of over 25 pounds is a first degree felony and comes with a minimum mandatory three year sentence as well as a $25,000 fine. This level of possession is considered trafficking in marijuana.

So what did the man arrested Wednesday do wrong? Besides possessing 45 pounds of an illicit drug, by smoking marijuana in the car, which was transporting a suitcase full of the drug, he gave the officer probable cause to search the vehicle. The officer said he smelled marijuana smoke when he approached the car. Police will use a claim like this to give them a reason to search your vehicle. Without probable cause, police are not allowed to search your vehicle, or home, unless you give them permission, which you don't have to do. You can always say no, unless, as the man in this story did, you give them a reason to override your objection. That reason is probable cause. As for the warrant to search the man's house, it is not clear exactly what the man said to police, but without telling them you have more drugs at home, are distributing drugs, or some other substantial reason, it is unlikely police will get a warrant to search a house simply by finding drugs in a vehicle. In this case, however, because such a large amount of marijuana was found in the car, and because the man admitted to police that he had it in his possession and likely told them more, police were probably able to convince a judge to sign off on the search warrant on the assumption that they would find more drugs and evidence of drug distribution, which they did.

If you or a loved one is ever in a situation like this, do not give the officer probable cause to search your vehicle in the first place, do not consent to a search, and if arrested, do not speak to police before calling call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Drug Criminal Lawyer is experienced in handling drug charges and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

913 reported car burglaries in Jacksonville during the first three months of 2012

It would seem the city of Jacksonville is plagued with car burglaries. According to a report from News4Jax in just the first three months of 2012, over 900 Jacksonville car burglaries have been reported. The zip codes with the highest reported incidences were 32210 with 79, 32244 with 77, 32246 with 67, and 32218 with 62. While surely many involved "breaking and entering" the vehicle, whether by smashing the window or by jimmying the door locks, the majority of auto burglaries are crimes of opportunity. By leaving doors unlocked and valuables in plain sight, car owners are inviting the opportunistic thief to peruse the goodies therein. The best way to avoid theft of items from your vehicle is without a doubt locking your doors. It is a common practice for thieves to go around parking lots trying car doors until they find one that is unlocked. As the proverb goes, "opportunity makes the thief."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has even gone so far as to utilize "bait cars". These are specially designed vehicles used to tempt people into stealing them. The police leave the car door open with the car running. The car has a video camera and automatic locks that can be controlled by remote control. Once the unsuspecting perpetrator drives off, the doors lock and the car turns off. Every time this happens, JSO can make a grand theft auto arrest. The officers are not stopping would-be auto thieves, but are arresting opportunists.

What many fail to realize, however, is that simply opening an unlocked car door and removing something of so little value as a pen or some spare change, much less a cell phone or GPS, is a felony, specifically burglary to a conveyance. This Jacksonville, Florida felony carries the same weight as if one were to bust in the door of an unoccupied home and carry out televisions, jewelry, or anything else. In the state of Florida, burglary is defined as entering a dwelling, a structure, or a conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein. So as long as any part of your body enters within the vehicle you have committed the necessary act. Removal of property from within the vehicle is not required, only the intent to do so. Proving the lack of such intent usually is the key factor in gaining an acquittal. So car owners would be prudent to prevent such a serious offense by locking their cars and storing valuables out of site. And to anyone presented with such an "opportunity," be advised of the dire consequences that could follow.

If you or a loved one are accused of a theft crime in Jacksonville, Clay County or Nassau County, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Theft Lawyer is experienced in defending those accused of burglary and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Upset golfer starts a brawl, drives cart full-speed into a group at Jacksonville Beach Golf Course

It's not just the repeat offenders and career criminals that find themselves looking a serious time down the road. Sometimes a snap decision - albeit a very bad one - in the heat of the moment can have someone facing decades behind bars. James Alonzo Hines, 61, is in that boat now after an afternoon on the golf course turned violent and ended with Hines driving a cart into two people and smashing clubs over people's heads, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Hines was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in Jacksonville. He is facing up to 30 years in prison on a first-degree felony charge.

Hines foursome was playing behind a group of younger men who hit the course as part of a bachelor party weekend, the newspaper reported. Witnesses said Hines and his playing partners were upset that the group in front of them was playing too slow and horsing around. A witness told the newspaper someone from Hines's group hit a ball into the bachelor partyers and the group threw the ball back at Hines' group. Hines is accused of then driving the cart into two of the men, pinning one against another cart. A brawled ensued and Hines also broke a club over the head of one of the men in the group in front of him, the newspaper reported. Police arrived on the golf course and Hines was arrested in Duval County and taken to jail. It's unclear whether police are looking at the golf cart or the golf clubs as the deadly weapon, but both would qualify under state law. Either way, Hines appeared to do plenty of damage with both, according to the newspaper report. The case is in its infancy, and it's impossible to predict where it will end up. But in some cases you can get an indication of what the judge thinks by where he or she sets the bond. In this case, Hines was released from jail without having to post a bond in Jacksonville - extremely rare for someone charged with such a serious crime. That's certainly a positive from a defense standpoint, though it doesn't guarantee anything.

When Jacksonville's murder rate was at its recent peak about five years ago, the sheriff and State Attorney's Office created an Aggravated Battery Unit to focus on these crimes seen as a gateway to homicides. It's highly unlikely the creators of that task force were thinking about the potential of a golf-course disagreement that got out of control. There will be two main keys to the case. First, how culpable was the group of partygoers in the ongoing dispute that led to the final confrontation? Would the full story lead a jury to sympathize with Hines? Secondly, how willing are the victims to cooperate? Some of the men in the group live out of state, as far away as Hawaii. Would they be willing to come back to Jacksonville to testify in a trial, or are they more likely to just move on with their lives? Seemingly minor details like the location of the victims can seem miniscule, but an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney will know the role it could play in negotiations and in a possible 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 violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Unarmed man killed after being shot six times by Jacksonville police officer in routine traffic stop

Davinian Williams, an unarmed man, was shot and killed by a Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer during a routine traffic stop in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, according to a report on News4Jax. The officer fired seven shots at Williams, six of which hit their target. Williams was pulled over for what the officer described as erratic driving, which is a common justification police officers give to stop a vehicle. The area was known for drug trafficking, another common justification. Williams was described by police as a "career criminal" due to his long Jacksonville arrest history. Despite all these factors, he had no weapon on him or in his vehicle and showed no aggression towards the officer. The officer claims he ordered Williams to stop "fidgeting" and, when he failed to comply, opened fire. Powder cocaine and crack cocaine were found in Williams' socks, likely the reason he was "fidgeting."

While the officer has been placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is being investigated, likely nothing will come of the killing on the officer's end. Police officers are given extreme deference in their decision making and they only have to be in fear for their safety to exercise deadly force. They do not have to see a weapon of any kind. Their decision to use force only hinges upon fear. Looking at the factors surrounding the shooting, when the officer pulled Williams over, the first thing the officer probably did was run the tags on his vehicle. From this information he would find out to whom the vehicle is registered and could then run a background check. Before the officer even approached the vehicle, he potentially knew the owner's Jacksonville criminal history. Police often use a victim's prior arrest record to establishing the "fear" necessary to justify a homicide by an officer, and in some cases rightly so. You must not forget that police officers are still human, and when pulling someone over in a high crime area, and with the knowledge that the person they are about to confront has a criminal record, they are likely already on edge.

So what is the takeaway from a story like this? The officer was a three year veteran of JSO, not a very long time as a cop. Williams was seen "fidgeting" in the car. Was he going for a gun, hiding crack, or just nervous? It doesn't matter, because now he is dead. All the officer had to establish was that he thought Williams was going for a weapon, and he is now justified to use force. And cops shoot to kill. Of the seven shots fired, six hit Williams. If you are ever pulled over, regardless of your criminal history, but especially if you have a record, always comply with the officer's orders. If you have nothing to hide, then nothing should come of it. And even if you are breaking the law, as Williams was by possessing illicit drugs, no arrest is worth your life. The officer cannot just search your car without a reason. Officers will often cite the odor of marijuana in the car as a reason to search a vehicle. If a Jacksonville police officer asks if he or she can search your car, you are allowed, under our Constitution, to say "no".

If you or a loved one ever gets into a situation like this, comply with the officer, and 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.

State inspectors arrested for taking cash to ignore restaurant health code violations

Restaurant inspection reports are the public records de jour for Jacksonville media these days - creating searchable databases and weekly features showing their readers and viewers which restaurants are infested with roaches and have slime in the ice machine. A failed inspection can destroy a business' reputation, even force the restaurant to close until the conditions can be brought back up to code. Now, police say two local inspectors were using the threat of a failed inspection-- and all of its gory details -- to line their own pockets, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Former sanitation and safety specialists Moses Davis Jr. and Steven Rivera were arrested in Jacksonville last week and charged with accepting unlawful compensation for official behavior. Each faces up to 15 years in prison on the second-degree felony charge. Both men have been fired by the state.

A tip to police last fall launched an investigation that led to at least 17 businesses that had paid one of the two men to ignore violations, according to the Times-Union. The inspectors would ask for between $100 and $300 not to write down violations they found, the newspaper reported, though police are still getting a handle on how much money the two men took in bribes. To make the arrest, police set up Rivera and Davis, sending them to two separate restaurants where the owners were working with police. Rivera took $200 from one business and Davis took $100 - all marked police bills, according to the newspaper report. Both places had blatant health violations, yet both inspectors noted they found none. Police have not named the businesses and said they don't plan to file charges because the restaurants were coerced into the scheme, the newspaper reported. While it may have been the inspectors who brought up the bribe, it does -- as the saying goes -- take two to tango. The state may be choosing not press charges on business owners because they cooperated with the investigation. That type of selected enforcement happens regularly. But paying a bribe is paying a bribe, period.

From the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, deposing the restaurant owners themselves will be critical. What were the violations they didn't want anyone to know about? What is the financial loss for being closed a day? Why did they pay the inspectors if they knew it was wrong? Kickbacks are a two-way street. After all, you need someone to kick something back to someone else. It's easy to blame the state official who has the power, but neither of the two men would be receiving money if the restaurant employees did not agree to pay them. At its core, this case is similar to hundreds our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer has worked on over the years with multiple defendants. People point the finger at each other to get a better deal for themselves. In many cases, one or more people end up working with police and will end up with a better sentence or, in rare cases, have charges dismissed. That element is at play in this case; only the restaurant owners appear to have been given immunity right out of the gate.

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.

No new trial for woman in Jacksonville "Stand Your Ground" criminal case; judge must give her 20 years

Despite the protestors and the national media attention clamoring for reconsideration, a judge denied a new trial to a woman who fired a warning shot to scare the husband she said she feared. The outrage is centered on the 20-year minimum mandatory sentence Marissa Alexander now faces at age 31, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. It took a jury just 12 minutes to convict her of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Duval County. She is accused of firing the gun in the presence of two of her husband Rico Gray's children in the August 2010 incident. The denial of a new trial is not surprising; judges rarely grant those motions and it's a slap in the face to the system build on a trial by a jury of ones' peers. Judges normally let a jury's decision stand. In this case, attorneys argued the testimony of people describing Alexander's fear of Gray was limited incorrectly, the newspaper reported.

The real lesson in the Alexander case is knowing when to cut your losses and take a deal, even if you don't feel you deserve the punishment. Because the state had filed a minimum mandatory sentence notice in this case, any guilty conviction at trial would result in 20 years in prison. Period. Florida's aggressive 10-20-Life gun laws give prosecutors the option of filing for those penalties. The law allows a 10-year minimum mandatory sentence for showing a gun in commission of a Florida felony; 20 years if the gun is fired and life in prison if someone is hit. The state often uses the minimum mandatory as its hammer in negotiations - threatening to pursue it as of way of trying to force the defendant to take the state's offer.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney sees it all the time and the Alexander case is a perfect example. The state was offering three years in prison, as late as the week before the trial, the newspaper reported. Those three years could have been reduced to about 30 months, if Alexander had behaved in prison and earned gain time. In many cases, people serve about 85 percent of their sentence. But not in minimum mandatory cases. Gain time does not apply and people must serve the entire sentence - "day for day," as it is referred to inside the legal system. For Alexander, it is understandable why three years would be a difficult pill to swallow. She said she was in fear of her husband - arrested twice and convicted once of a domestic violence against her, according to the newspaper. She probably feels she did nothing wrong and does not want to admit guilt. Again, understandable. But the state holds all the cards in these cases and in some instances it may be best to take the offer and get it over with. With minimum mandatory sentences in Jacksonville, there is no explaining the mitigating factors, no considerations the judge can take in determining the sentence. All decisions have been taken out of the judge's hands. It is risky territory - which is precisely why the state continues to use them to try to pressure a deal.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Firm is all too familiar with the state's increased reliance on the mandatory sentences in the 10-20-Life law. There are certainly times where a trial is still the best option - regardless of what is on the table. Our Jacksonville gun crimes attorney will weigh out all of your options, including the worst case scenario if you're convicted, and help you make the best decision under difficult circumstances.

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 gun crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man wants charges filed after neighbor accidently fires bullet into his townhome

A Jacksonville man is turning to police and prosecutors after his neighbor's gun accidentally went off, sending a bullet through the wall near his stairway. The law's response? Sorry, we can't help you. The homeowner called police shortly after the incident - which came moments after the victim's daughter was playing right by the staircase, according to a report on News4Jax. The police officer wrote in his report that while the neighbor was extremely negligent, no one was injured and there was no criminal intent, therefore no Jacksonville criminal charges would apply, the television station report. The officer is right. If the bullet would have hit someone, charges would almost certainly be filed - likely attempted manslaughter or manslaughter (if someone was killed). Absent anyone being hit, the most common charge people might think of would be improper exhibition of a firearm in Duval County. But that charge applies when someone brandishes a gun with the intent to scare someone. The law states the suspect must show the gun in the presence of another person, exhibiting the weapon "in a rude, careless, angry, or threatening manner, and not in necessary self-defense."

That is certainly not the case here. The victim said his neighbor ran right over, asked if everyone was OK, then took his bullet and left, according to the news report. There was no confrontation beforehand, nothing that would lead the neighbor to show he had a gun or try to intimidate the victim. The victim is now trying to get an Jacksonville injunction against his neighbor that prevents him from owning a gun. That also seems like an unlikely scenario. The right to bear arms is a fundamental right in our country. That right can be forfeited - most commonly if one is convicted of a felony - but until then that right is almost impossible to take away. There could be civil penalties involved. For example, the neighbor could be forced to pay for patching the hole in the wall or any other property damage that occurred. But, in terms of an actual Duval County gun crime to be charged, there is nothing here.

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 Gun Crimes Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cracking down on people selling stolen cars and parts

Undercover Jacksonville police officers are putting a dent in the underground scrap car part business, wearing wires and trying to take down people buying stolen cars and parts. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced a string of Duval County arrests last week in cases they've been building in the last month, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said they went to a co-owner of a tire shop and sold him four tires and rims for $200, after telling him they were stolen. Police arrested another business owner with a similar set-up a day later. Police are trying to crack down on people who advertise at the side of the road that they buy "junk cars" and "car parts." Many times, police said in the newspaper report, those businesses are fronts for people selling stolen goods. The arrests were made by JSO's Auto Theft Unit and the Burglary SCRAP Task Force.

Both were charged with dealing in stolen property in Jacksonville, which is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The key to the state's case on a dealing in stolen property charge is proving the defendant knew OR should have known the merchandise was stolen. That does not appear to be an issue in this case, since the police say they have it on tape that officers told the buyer the goods were stolen. But let's say your neighbor owes you $100. He doesn't have the money, but, instead he gives you a lawnmower he says is worth $150 to satisfy the debt. You agree, but since you already have a lawnmower, you take this one to a pawn shop to get some money for it. The mower registers as stolen and the state charges you with dealing in stolen property. Can the state do that? Technically, they can charge you with this Jacksonville felony, but proving it will be an issue. The state has to show that you knew or should have reasonably known the property was stolen. If you didn't, chances are the criminal charges will be dismissed.

Our Jacksonville theft lawyer knows the standard the state must meet to prove a dealing in stolen property charge - and have seen first-hand how difficult the threshold can be. It's not surprising undercover officers expressly stated that the tires and rims were stolen. Police know that element is paramount to their case. 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.