November 2012 Archives

Of the 17 men arrested in St. Johns County child sex sting, sentences harsher for those who went to trial

November 30, 2012

The last of 17 cases stemming from a child sex sting last year in St. Johns County wrapped up last month and all but one of the men will serve time behind bars.
One man received five years of probation in St. Johns County, another received just less than a year in the county jail and the remaining 15 are all serving time in state prison, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Men traveled from all over the state and from Georgia to meet what they thought was a minor for sex, the newspaper reported. What they didn't know was police officers and federal agents were posing as children or their guardians during the online conversations. The sting, dubbed Operation Sheepdog, is similar to the undercover operations Dateline NBC made famous in its "To Catch a Predator" televised investigations.

These St. Johns County Sex Cases can be difficult in terms of a criminal defense because there are normally sexually suggestive online chats back and forth between the defendant and the undercover officers. Also, St. Augustine sex crimes involving children are the types of crimes juries and the public tend to be the most disgusted by and some people will argue nearly any punishment - regardless of how severe - could be seen as lenient and disrespectful.

From the perspective of a St. Johns County Sex Crimes Attorney, the most telling aspect of this group of cases is the disparity in sentences between the men who worked out a deal with the state and those who exercised their right to a trial before a jury of their peers. The 13 men who agreed to plead guilty had sentences ranging from Florida Sex Offender Probation to eight years in prison, the newspaper reported. None received as much time as any of the four who went to trial. Their sentences spanned from nine years to 15 years, according to the newspaper. And while every American does have a right to a trial, these St. Johns sex cases are another example that if a person does choose a trial, the stakes go up considerably. That can especially be true in cases like this, where police conduct a sting and there are several people charged with similar crimes, or in a case with multiple co-defendants such as a drug ring. The state will often try to work the case out and, if the defendant isn't coming around, drop the hammer once negotiations are stalled. It's not at all uncommon to see such varying sentences in cases such as this. That's why in similar cases our St. Johns County sex crimes attorney encourages her clients to at least listen to the state on a possible deal. It may not be the right one and the case may end up going to trial, but it is certainly worth the defendant's time to at least hear out the offer and give it some thought.

If you or a loved one needs a sex crimes attorney in St. Johns County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a Free Consultation. Our St, Johns County Sex Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman who drove into several cars in Ponte Vedra Beach found not guilty at civil trial; criminal case up next month

November 28, 2012

A federal jury in Jacksonville found a Georgia woman did not intentionally injure several people when she drove her car into a cyclist, a motor scooter and several cars in Ponte Vedra Beach in 2010. Andrea Zampatti has cleared one hurdle with that verdict in the civil case. Now, she moves onto the criminal courtroom with a trial set for December, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The issue in the civil case was whether or not Zampatti's actions were intentional and her St. Johns County Attorneys argued she was not mentally competent at the time of the car accidents, the newspaper reported. Zampatti, 38, faces 14 felony counts -- two first-degree felonies, five second-degree felonies and seven third-degree felonies. If convicted and given a maximum sentence on all counts, she could receive as many as 170 years in prison.

But the civil verdict is huge for Zampatti. The standards of proof in a civil case are much lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" applied in Florida criminal cases. In fact, it's not uncommon for a person to be found not guilty in a criminal case, then found liable in a separate civil case. The most infamous example of this is O.J. Simpson, the former football star and actor who was found not guilty of killing his former wife and her friend in a trial that captivated the nation in the late 1990s. Shortly thereafter, a jury in a civil wrongful death case found Simpson liable and ordered him to pay $38.5 million in civil penalties to the families and estates of the two people killed in 1994.

Zampatti's case landed in federal court because her insurance company sued her to try to eliminate its liability in the claims by the victims of the crashes. The insurance company said Zampatti intentionally tried to hurt people and, therefore, was no longer covered by her insurance policy, the newspaper reported. Zampatti's St. Augustine Attorneys argued she did not have the mental capacity to make a decision at that time and could not have intentionally chosen to harm people. The jurors agreed, the newspaper reported. Now just as burdens of proof are different in the civil world versus the criminal world, so are the standards for being mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Zampatti's intent isn't necessarily as important in a criminal case as it was to satisfy that clause in her insurance policy. Either way, the civil verdict certainly won't hurt her criminal case in St. Johns County and could improve her chances of negotiating a favorable deal with state, should she choose to take that route.

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

Jacksonville police officer resigns after he's charged with soliciting a prostitute while on duty

November 26, 2012

A veteran Jacksonville police officer resigned last week after he was arrested on two counts of soliciting for prostitution in Duval County. David Sumlin, an eight-year veteran of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, was charged last week with two counts of soliciting for prostitution. The charge is a second-degree Jacksonville misdemeanor and punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation and a $500 fine. Sumlin was on-duty, in uniform and in a patrol car when the alleged crimes occurred, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The police department learned of Sumlin's behavior two months ago and spoke with a known prostitute who said she had negotiations with Sumlin about having sex with him, according to the newspaper report. Police then used her as a decoy on two separate occasions, the second last week in which Sumlin agreed to pay $20 for sex, the newspaper reported.

Sumlin, 49, resigned from the sheriff's office the next day and his law enforcement career is all but over. In cases like this with Jacksonville misdemeanor charges, the punishment from the judicial system tends to dwarf the other penalties Sumlin faces, both professionally and personally. An Duval County arrest like this, especially in his patrol car, is difficult to live down. But, from the perspective of a Duval County Misdemeanor Crimes Attorney, there could be a significant benefit to fighting the charges and making sure the state can prove its case.

An Experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney would at least have a listen to the recordings police made in the case which document the conversation between Sumlin and the woman he thought was a prostitute. If Sumlin does agree to pay her $20 for some sort of sex act, then the case may be a tough one for Sumlin, but it would be worth hearing who was driving that conversation. Soliciting for prostitution cases can be very difficult for the state to prove, unless actual money changes hands as a part of the deal. Police regularly conduct undercover stings where they have either a male posing as someone looking for a prostitute or a female officer undercover as a prostitute. The decoy operation never gets to the point where a sex act takes place, but in some cases there can be doubt as to what constitutes an actual agreement. Another factor in these types of Jacksonville criminal cases is the state is likely to make an offer that does not include any jail time, unless a defendant has a lengthy criminal record. And most of the men involved just want the case over with sooner rather than later, so they'll plead guilty, avoid jail time and try to move on with their lives. Depending on their chosen profession, it might not be that easy.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Sex Crime Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Convicted armed robber now charged with murder in 2011 killing of Jacksonville woman

November 23, 2012

A man serving a life sentence for robbing a Jacksonville cell phone store has now been charged with the 2011 killing of a Jacksonville woman and police say the robbery and her death are connected. Police arrested Kenneth Thompson last week and charged him with murder in the death of Michelle McCoy, who was last seen being pulled into a minivan in January 2011, according to a report by News4Jax. Police said this week that Thompson and McCoy knew each other and Thompson was trying to get back a stolen phone from McCoy, according to the news report. McCoy was missing for three weeks before her remains were found in a vacant lot. Thompson was convicted this year of a Jacksonville Robbery for robbing a Metro PCS store just weeks after McCoy went missing. Thompson has long been a person of interest in the McCoy case, as was his uncle, a convicted rapist who killed himself in a police standoff, saying he'd rather die than return to prison, the television station reported.

Prosecutors used one of their common strategies in cases like this where the evidence on the murder case may not be as strong as they'd like it to be. The state took Thompson to trial on the Duval County robbery charge first, where he was convicted and received a life sentence. Now that he's in prison for life, there's no risk of him getting out on the street if he is found not guilty on the murder charge. What this does is cut the risk significantly for the state, knowing that Thompson is in prison for life regardless. It also bought detectives some time to get the case as locked down as they can before making Jacksonville the arrest. There's no rush, Thompson's not going anywhere. From Thompson's perspective, it also likely guarantees the case will go to trial in Duval County. He's in prison for life anyway, why not fight it? The jury will not know that he's already serving a life sentence, unless Thompson decides to testify in the case, which would appear to be unlikely.

Our experienced Jacksonville Trial Attorney knows that criminal cases typically hinge on who has the leverage in a case. If, for example, the case is thin and the state knows it, there is often an offer that might have a lower sentence than is typical for a crime of that nature. A Jacksonville Criminal Attorney then has to consult with the defendant to determine if he or she wants to take that deal or push forward any try to expose the flaws of the case in a trial. In that hypothetical situation, the defense has the leverage. For Thompson, because prosecutors opted to try to the armed robbery before even charging him with murder, the state is clearly in the driver's seat even if the murder case is flawed. As the case moves on, it will be interesting to see how both sides address Thompson's uncle role in the case, especially since he cannot defend himself from any accusations.

If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Defense Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Crime Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Murder conviction overturned in death of Clay County vet clinic worker

November 21, 2012

A man on death row after being found guilty of the brutal murder of a worker at a Clay County veterinary clinic could be getting a new trial after the Florida Supreme Court tossed out his conviction last week. Michael Jackson was convicted of raping, beating and killing 25-year-old Andrea Boyer shortly after she arrived for work at an Orange Park vet clinic in 2007, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Three years later, Jackson was found guilty and sentenced to death. But the court ruled this week that part of an interview detectives conducted with Jackson was prejudicial to the jury and should not have been played in court, the newspaper reported. The court decision references a section where detectives are heard telling Jackson they know he is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and other sections that mention Boyer coming from a connected family and being seen as a rising star in the community.

It's impossible to know what tilts the decision for a jury, but the court found these interviews could have done it. Dissenting justices in the 5-2 vote said the DNA evidence linking Jackson to Boyer was likely the reason for the conviction, regardless of any recording played in court. Jackson, who was released from prison just more than a year before Boyer's death after serving time for a 1986 rape at knifepoint, has repeatedly denied killing Boyer, though he did not testify at trial. Prosecutors are appealing the ruling, asking the Supreme Court to review the case again, the newspaper reported. If the court declines, Jackson will face a new trial. He will not be released while he awaits a new trial, though he'll be moved from Death Row back to the Clay County Jail where he waited for his first trial.

The court's decision is a prime example of how technical criminal law can be and how seemingly insignificant details can change the face of an entire Clay County Criminal Case. In any trial, but especially one of this magnitude, a Clay County Violent Crimes Lawyer has to sort through all of the evidence and react quickly to different developments as the case proceeds. When someone is convicted of murder and sentenced to death, there are almost always appeals that follow. It's rare that convictions are overturned and Clay County state attorneys told the newspaper they were surprised by the Supreme Court's decision in this case. If a second trial is needed, prosecutors said they would cut the portions of the video that the Supreme Court mentioned in its ruling.

Our experienced Clay County Criminal Defense Lawyer has represented hundreds of people charged with violent crimes and taken dozens of cases to trial. If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County Criminal Trial Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville teacher charged with sexual battery, accused of improper relationship with one of her students

November 19, 2012

A Jacksonville high school teacher is facing up to 60 years in prison if found guilty of having a sexual relationship with one of her students at Atlantic Coast High School. Danielle Reed, 23, was arrested last week and charged with two counts of sexual battery in Duval County with a victim between the ages of 12 and 18, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The charge is a first-degree felony in Florida and Reed faces up to 30 years in prison on each count. One indication of where a sentence could land, though certainly not foolproof, is what a judge decides to do in terms of a bond. In this case, the judge released Reed on her own recognizance. That means she does not have to pay any money to be released from jail awaiting a trial - almost unheard of for a person facing two first-degree felony charges. The judge did set several conditions on her release, including a 9 p.m. curfew and that she live with her parents in a nearby county, have no contact with the alleged victim and not go to schools or other place where teens congregate.

Reed had been a teacher in Duval County schools for less than a year, according to the newspaper report. Reed is accused of posing as the mother of a friend of the alleged victim so the alleged victim could spend the night at her house, the newspaper reported. The age of the alleged victim has not been released, but most students are at least 14 before they start high school. Whether the teen-aged boy was a willing participant in the sexual activity or not, it is still a crime for an adult such as Reed to have sexual contact with someone who is under the age of 18. Right or wrong, cases like Reed's are usually treated far differently than they would be if a 23-year-old male teacher was accused of a sexual relationship with a teen student. It'd be tough to imagine a man in a similar case being allowed to just live at his parents' house instead of sitting in jail waiting for the case to resolve, either in a trial or through a plea agreement. And once the cases work out, many of the women with charges similar to Reed's do not end up spending time in jail or prison. And an appellate court ruled earlier this year that a judge erred in granting the early termination of probation for infamous Tampa teacher Debra Lafave, who was supposed to serve seven years of Florida sexual offender probation as part of her 2008 plea deal in the case.

An Experienced Jacksonville Sex Attorney understands the varying degrees of sexual assault cases and how some of the variables - including the age and gender both the defendant and the victim - can change how the crime is perceived in the eyes of the court. Our Jacksonville Sexual Battery Lawyer has represented hundreds of defendants accused of sex crimes and will look closely at all of the factors and provide you or a loved one with the best options to choose from going forward.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Sex Crimes Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What has to be proven in a Florida Burglary charge?

November 18, 2012

As a Jacksonville Criminal Attorney, I have represented many people charged with all kinds of Burglary crimes. A burglary is committed when someone enters someone else's home, car or structure with the intent to commit a crime inside. In most Duval County burglary cases, the crime that is actually committed is a theft. People usually "break into" places to steal something inside. In order to prove a Florida burglary, the prosecutor does not have to prove that the suspect broke something. In some cases, just touching the outside of a building with the intent to commit a crime inside is considered burglarizing the building.

A recent case out of Tampa, Florida, deals with whether or not the state attorney proved that two juveniles "intended" to commit a crime in a house after the teenagers kicked open a front door. The two teenagers stepped onto the front porch of a house and kicked the door, breaking the frame and opening the door wide open. The owner of the home was inside when this happened. Both children were charged with Burglary to a Dwelling, which is a felony in Florida. Both took their case to trial and at the trial, they testified that kicking the door was a game they played. The Hillsborough County judge did not believe the story and found both children guilty. The burglary charges were appealed to a higher court. The Florida Appeals Court disagreed with the lower court judge. The Appeals court found that, at the time they teenagers kicked the door in, the state attorney did not prove they had the specific intent to commit a crime once inside the house. There was no showing that the kids wanted to do anything at all inside the home, except scare the poor woman inside. For that reason, the Appeals court reversed the ruling and the teenagers were not found guilty of the burglary.

In any criminal case, whether in Duval, Clay or Nassau County, the prosecution must prove ALL elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt. If one element is not proven, the whole crime falls. That is why it is so important to have an Experienced Jacksonville Trial Attorney on your side. Our Duval County Criminal Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, has successfully represented thousands of people facing criminal charges in Northeast Florida. Contact The Mussallem Law Firm today for a Free Consultation.

Two Jacksonville suspects arrested in heroin trafficking ring

November 17, 2012

A Jacksonville man and woman were arrested last week on heroin trafficking charges, part of a case state and federal agents have been investigating since July. Hortencia Leyva Melendrez and Francisco Enrique Gonzalez were both arrested on Jacksonville Drug Charges and charged with conspiracy to traffic in heroin, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Melendrez is in jail on a $250,000 bond, while Gonzalez' is set at $1 million.

Both are charged with a first-degree felony in Duval County and could face up to 30 years in prison. With the massive shift in drug use and trafficking toward prescription drugs, a case involving an increasingly uncommon street drug such as heroin will make headlines. Heroin is treated very similarly to prescription narcotics by the Florida courts, meaning the penalties are severe and the amount needed to qualify as trafficking is very low, especially compared to drugs like marijuana. Gonzalez is accused of telling Melendrez to prepackage heroin for delivery to a third person in a condominium parking lot on Riverplace Boulevard just outside downtown Jacksonville, the newspaper reported. Police have not released the amount of heroin but, for the pair to be charged with trafficking drugs Jacksonville, it could be as little as four grams of the street drug. In this Jacksonville drug crimes case, Melendrez and Gonzalez could be facing some serious prison time because mandatory minimums could apply. If the amount in question is between 4 and 14 grams, the minimum sentence is three years in prison. If the amount is between 14 and 28 grams, the minimum sentence is 15 years and if there was more than 28 grams but less than 300 kilograms, they are facing at least 25 years in prison.

Minimum mandatory sentences in Florida spell trouble for defendants on two levels. First, they take discretion of out the hands of the judge and, even if this is a first offense for either of the suspects, a judge cannot take that into consideration in apply a lesser sentence. Second, people serving minimum mandatory sentences are not subject to the benefits of gain time. Most defendants who behave in Florida prisons only serve 85 percent of their sentence, but those on mandatory minimum terms must serve every single day. It is highly likely that there are more Jacksonville arrests to come in this case, especially if federal agents are involved. Our Jacksonville Drug Attorney has seen many similar cases where a few initial arrests are made, though authorities clearly have their sights set higher up the food chain. One way to get to the top is to put serious pressure on others in the operation by arresting them and threatening lengthy prison sentences and serious charges. In many cases, prosecutors will offer reduced charges if the defendants can provide information and testify against the mastermind of the operation.
An experienced Jacksonville drug crime lawyer can help you or a loved one navigate options in a case like this and will allow you to make the best decision as to how to move forward.

If you or a loved one needs a Criminal Defense Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Drug Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Bail and Bonds in Jacksonville, Florida: What to do if you or a loved one is arrested

November 16, 2012

When you are arrested in Jacksonville or anywhere in Florida, you are entitled and it is your right to be brought in front of a Duval County judge within twenty-four hours. That judge will determine whether or not you have to pay bail to be released from jail, deny bail or release you on your own recognizance. The term "bail" is a security (money) you post to guarantee your future appearance in Jacksonville criminal court. If a bail amount is set for your release, you have a couple of options. You or your love one can give the whole amount to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and at the end of your case, the whole amount will be returned. When the amount of the bail set in a Jacksonville Criminal case is high, most folks cannot post the entire amount to secure the release of a loved one. In that case, bail bondsmen are utilized. Most bondsmen are the same, in that they require payment of ten percent of the entire bail amount. In return for that fee paid to the bondsman, the bond agent will guarantee the entire bail amount to the court system if you fail to appear in court. If you do not appear at your future court dates, the bond company can chase, confine and return you to the Duval County Detention Center.

When determining whether or not to set bail in any Duval County criminal case, a judge will consider a number of issues. First and foremost, he or she will look at the Jacksonville criminal charges you were arrested for. The more violent the alleged offense, the higher bail amounts generally go. The judge will consider your familial ties to the City of Jacksonville. The more family you have in the area, the better. How long you have lived in the community will be considered. Whether or not you are employed can also be a factor in determining what your bail amount will be. The judge may ask whether or not you have ever failed to appear in court in the past. Every person arrested in Jacksonville has the right to an individualized review of their bail. As a rule, bail amounts are not supposed to punish the accused person. The main purpose of bail is to insure your appearance at future court dates. Often times, bail amounts in Duval County are high. If your loved one is in jail with a high bond or no bond at all, it is important to contact a Jacksonville Bail Bond Attorney. Our Duval County Bail Reduction Lawyer will discuss your loved one's situation and advise you of your options, including filing a Motion for a Bond Reduction.

Our Jacksonville Bond Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call The Mussallem Law Firm today with any questions you have concerning a criminal matter in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns County. Our Jacksonville Criminal Law Firm handles 100% criminal cases and our experience can help you.

"Stand Your Ground" hearing is next month for Jacksonville woman charged with murdering boyfriend

November 15, 2012

Florida's now infamous "Stand Your Ground" law will get another test next month, this time in the case of a Jacksonville woman charged with second-degree murder for stabbing her boyfriend to death. Jennifer Charlotte Goodman, 32m, is charged with murder for stabbing her on-again, off-again boyfriend Anthony Norman in the chest and killing him during an argument outside of her home, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The "Stand Your Ground" law, passed by the Florida legislature in 2005, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by Neighborhood Watch member George Zimmerman in April after the two were in a fight. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder. The law says someone does not have to retreat if he or she is in fear of their life or facing great bodily harm. Goodman's Jacksonville criminal case differs some, and her Duval County Criminal Defense Attorneys claim there is a history of abuse in the relationship, which gave Goodman a reason to fear for her life when the situation escalated, the newspaper reported.

That may be a small consideration, but Stand Your Ground cases are based on that particular moment in time and whether there was any other way to diffuse the situation.
In Goodman's case, Norman came over to Goodman's house drunk and started an argument about another man, the newspaper reported. Norman is accused of dragging Goodman into the house by her hair and punching her in the face several times before Goodman escaped and ran across the street to call her family and police. Norman left and, when he returned, got into a fight with Goodman's brother and a friend. Goodman came outside with a knife and when Norman yelled and lunged at her, she stabbed him in the chest, killing him, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors argue that once Goodman walked out of the house and into the yard, she became the aggressor and Stand Your Ground should not apply. The situation was under control, the state argues, and Norman was not fighting back to Goodman's brother and friend, the newspaper reported.

Goodman's case is similar to that of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot for what she claims was necessary to ward of her threatening husband. Her Stand Your Ground defense was denied because she left the situation, went to her car and got a gun, then went back into the room where her husband was. That similar fact pattern will be critical for Goodman: Will the perceived threat still be seen by the judge even though Goodman had escaped the situation and then went back outside? Will the pattern of abuse have a role in the judge's decision? Both issues will be key for Goodman, who faces up to life in prison for the 2011 killing.

If you or a loved one needs an Experienced Violent Crimes Attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Gun Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State drops Jacksonville sexual battery charge against boy also charged with murder

November 13, 2012

The Duval County sex charge that had been the hammer for the state when now 13-year-old Cristian Fernandez refused to plead to first-degree murder was dropped by prosecutors last week. The state dropped the Jacksonville sex crime citing a lack of evidence, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The decision is interesting in this high-profile case because, other than a shaky confession from Fernandez the judge threw out in August, very little has changed in the case since the state filed it in January. Now, Fernandez is only facing the murder charge, accused of killing his 2-year-old half-brother in 2010. Negotiations in that case had been ongoing for months before they broke down last year and the state decided to file sexual battery charges based on accusations from another step brother, this one 5 at the time, the newspaper reported.

But it's clear the state tried to play hardball in this Jacksonville criminal case and the move did not work. In dropping the sexual charge, prosecutors said they were concerned the victim didn't mention the abuse in an initial interview, but made the accusation in a second session with a counselor, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors also mentioned the potential emotional trauma on the now-7-year-old victim if he was to testify in a trial. Both of these issues were known at the time the state took the sexual battery charges to a grand jury as a way of upping the ante on Fernandez if he wouldn't take the state's deal on the murder charge. The murder charge is still pending and it is expected to go to trial next year, without the interviews with the detective that were ruled inadmissible by the judge in August, the newspaper reported. Now that only one charge is left, it appears even more likely to end up in a trial, though the state could see the writing on the wall and come with an offer the Jacksonville criminal defense would be more likely to accept.

The state often uses the threat of other Jacksonville criminal charges to try to get what it wants, to in a way force someone into pleading to a charge they'd rather fight in a trial. Typically, it's a case that would be easy to prove, not a sexual battery charge that seemed to be thin at best. An experienced Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney is a tremendous asset in a case like this to help gauge what the state really has and weigh whether the best decision is to try to wait the state out and keep fighting. In this case, it appeared to work, though there's still a long way to go.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Sex Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville high school student arrested for having a gun on school grounds

November 9, 2012

A Jacksonville high school student is facing more than five years behind bars after he was arrested for having a gun on the campus of First Coast High School. Police started looking at the teen after a school security officer walked into the boys' bathroom and saw two students trading marijuana, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. While the officer questioned the two young men, one of the suspects ran out the door. The officer found some marijuana on the first student, and then ran after the other, who was eventually caught in the back of the gymnasium with pot in his pocket, the newspaper reported. When police looked around the area, they found a handgun near the back door and then found more pot, a scale and 15 bullets in the teen's backpack. The teen was taken to the Duval County jail and also charged with Jacksonville marijuana possession, a misdemeanor in Florida. The serious charge is Jacksonville possession of a gun on school property, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

And while school officials said after their own investigation that it did not appear the teen brought the gun to school with intent to hurt anyone, it is still a major violation of school policy and the law, the newspaper reported. Individual school districts and state legislatures have cracked down on penalties for having guns and other weapons on campuses after the rash of school shootings that began in the late 1990s. Most states, as Florida does, have a specific law about guns in schools and the rare cases where it is permitted, such as a career center that has a shooting range. One piece of this case to watch is whether the state decides to prosecute this teen as a juvenile or as an adult. As a Jacksonville Juvenile case, he could receive a variety of different sentences from a form of probation to time in what is essentially a youth prison. Or the state could pursue charges as an adult and he'd be facing hard time in state prison. Those decisions are often based on a teen's previous criminal record and the severity of the charge. The difference can be enormous for the teen. A felony conviction is an automatic strike when it comes to looking for a job and would severely limit his options. He would still have plenty of explaining to do on a Duval County Juvenile Charge, but many employers and training programs can be more likely to give the benefit of the doubt on a juvenile crime - especially as time goes on, assuming the person has stayed out of trouble. Having a Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Attorney on board early in a case like this is crucial. The difference between juvenile court and traditional court in a case like this is huge and any mitigating factors should be brought to the state's attention immediately, in hopes of keeping the case in a juvenile setting.

If you or a loved one needs an experienced Juvenile Attorney in Duval County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Juvenile Crime Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Driver charged with Jacksonville DUI in hit-and-run that killed 22-year-old

November 7, 2012

Two months after trying to flee a beating and then running over and killing a man with his truck, a driver was charged with Duval County DUI in the crash. Brian Patterson was arrested on a Jacksonville DUI charge last month after tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of .127, above the legal limit of .08, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The man accused of beating Patterson at the time, Greg Johnson, was charged with murder for his role in the death of Taylor Evans, the newspaper reported in August. Johnson has pleaded not guilty to murder and faces up to life in prison. There have been various stories as to what happened Aug. 10 at the Jacksonville Landing, but police have determined, according to the newspaper, that a brawl ensued and Patterson was chased to his car and was being hit by Johnson even as he tried to leave. Police said Evans was also involved and was pounding on the hood of Johnson's truck when he fell off and was run over, the newspaper reported. Other witnesses have said Evans was not involved in the fight and was simply walking with a friend to her car when he was struck, the newspaper reported.

Police did not identify the driver before Patterson was arrested in Jacksonville. It is very telling that Patterson was charged simply with Jacksonville driving under the influence, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. There are certainly more severe charges that Patterson technically could have faced - namely Jacksonville DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene, a Florida first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. But the state had already made its decision on who was at fault in Evans' death - Johnson and not Patterson. First of all, the state would have a hard time charging both men with what are essentially murder charges. Either Johnson's driving or Patterson's beating caused the death and the state would have an incredibly difficult time proving both. The notion that Patterson was leaving because he was scared makes it even tougher to charge him with leaving the scene of an accident in Jacksonville. If he was leaving to escape, he sure wasn't going to come back on his own - even if it was to help Evans.

It will be interesting to see if the state tries to hold Patterson to a different standard on misdemeanor DUI because there was a death involved. As a Jacksonville DUI Attorney, one would certainly hope not. If prosecutors could prove it then fine, charge him with a more severe crime, but don't pick a lesser crime and try to enforce more penalties as some sort of trade-off. Very rarely does anyone picked up on their first DUI spend any time in jail - other than the first night the person is arrested.

If you or a loved one needs a DUI attorney in Duval County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville DUI Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Another arrest in Jacksonville prescription drug ring run from unsuspecting doctor's office

November 5, 2012

A receptionist and office manager for a Jacksonville foot doctor are accused of running a massive prescription drug ring and a sixth woman was arrested last week in connection with the scheme. Kathleen Smith was arrested last week on Duval County drug trafficking charges after admitting she filled her name and her two sons' names on prescriptions obtained from the office of Dr. Earl Horowitz in Riverside, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said they do not believe Horowitz was involved at all and he told officers that he never prescribes hydrocodone and rarely prescribes any controlled substances, but recognized the names of people filling the prescriptions as friends and family of his staff, the newspaper reported. The prescriptions were written in his name, the newspaper reported.

The alleged masterminds of the ring are receptionist Tracie Hazel and office manager Dana Miller, who are both in jail with bail set upwards of $1 million. Hazel is facing 18 Jacksonville criminal charges, including 15 counts of trafficking in more than 30 kilograms of a controlled substance. She faces up to 30 years in prison on each of those 15 counts, which are first-degree felonies. Miller's charges are mostly for trafficking in between 4 and 30 grams of hydrocodone, which are also first-degree felonies. Both Hazel, 45, and Miller, 42, could easily spend the rest of their lives in prison.

The state of Florida has put an emphasis on prescription drug sales over the past few years, in the wake of the state's unofficial designation as the nation's Pill Mill capital. Authorities have shut down pain clinics that provided easy access to the drugs and pharmacies are on the lookout for what would appear to be suspicious prescriptions - particularly large numbers from one doctor or to a specific person from multiple doctors. The state has created databases to help pharmacists track prescriptions and those records are what led police to this case, the newspaper reported. Not only is the radar up, the penalties for trafficking in prescription drugs are overwhelmingly severe in Florida. To face the same charge and penalty Miller is facing for having more than four grams or hydrocodone, a person would have to have more than 25 pounds of marijuana. One other woman was arrested last month on similar Jacksonville trafficking charges and two more with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Prescription drugs charges are extremely serious, despite the fact in many cases defendants tell our Jacksonville drug crimes attorney they only had "a couple of pills." A couple of pills can have serious consequences, and our Jacksonville Pill Attorney is experienced in these cases to work to make the best of a case where the law is stacked against you or your loved one.

If you or a loved one needs a drug crimes attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Jacksonville Drug Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

First of 12 people charged in FAMU drum major's hazing death avoids prison time

November 2, 2012

A FAMU band member whom a judge said played a "minimal role" in the 2011 hazing and beating death of Robert Champion was sentenced last week to probation and community service. Brian Jones had pleaded no contest to felony hazing charges, a third-degree felony in Florida punishable by up to five years in prison. He was the first of the 12 people charged to be sentenced and could now be asked to testify against his former band mates, some of whom may have played a larger role in Champion's death, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. The first sentencing in a case with multiple defendants is always watched closely, especially by the criminal defense attorneys representing the other defendants, because it often sets the tone for how the rest of the cases will be handled. By pleading "no contest," Jones did not admit guilt, but declined to fight the charges any further. It's a technical out for some people, though many judges consider a guilty plea a guilty, regardless of how the defendant and his or her criminal defense attorney try to couch it.

Jones was sentenced to six months of community control, the newspaper reported, where he will likely be required to wear an ankle monitor and have specific hours when he must be inside his home. Jones also received two years of probation and will have to complete 200 hours of community service. Not a slap on the wrist by any means, but certainly better for Jones than serving time in prison and being forced to always list on a future job application that he has been to prison. Champion was beaten to death as part of a hazing ritual where FAMU band members had to make their way to the back of a bus through a gauntlet of older band members slapping, hitting and kicking them, the newspaper reported. Jones said he was on the bus when a previous band member went through the ritual, but walked off to smoke a cigarette before it was Champion's turn. Only two of the 90 witnesses could place Jones on the bus at the time of Champion's death, the newspaper reported.

In many cases it is a bit player, similar to Jones, who is the first to be sentenced. And while there is plenty to be gleaned from it, a more severe sentence would have been much more telling. The judge has likely created the floor for the sentences - meaning he may not go lower than what he gave to Jones. If Jones would have been sentenced to prison, it would have been likely that all 12 - if they either pleaded or were found guilty by a jury - would also expect a prison sentence, too. When and what to plead to are serious decisions in a case with multiple defendants and could play a significant role in the sentencing. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, has represented hundreds of clients in cases with co-defendants and can lay out the options for you or a loved one quickly so a decision can be made to get out in front of the case, if that's the best move at the time.

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