January 2013 Archives

Jacksonville teacher arrested for drug crime at alleged Clay County drug house

January 30, 2013

A Jacksonville teacher had some unfortunate timing when he went to an alleged Clay County drug house and police happened to be serving a warrant there. Police were already working there when James Van Richburg arrived and had marijuana, pills, drug paraphernalia and a handgun in his backpack, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Richburg pulled up to the house and police asked him to turn off the car. Richburg refused and he also wouldn't put his hands on his head or open the door, the newspaper reported. Police eventually got Richburg out of the car and cuffed him. That's when they found the backpack, which had two grams of marijuana, two marijuana pipes, seven pills and a handgun, the newspaper reported.

Richburg is only facing one Clay County felony, and that is for the pills. In Clay County Drug Crimes cases, pills carry more severe penalties than most other narcotics - certainly far more severe than Clay County marijuana charges. Even though he had only seven pills, Richburg faces up to five years in prison on the third-degree felony charge. The four other charges - two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, one count of possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana and one count of resisting an officer without violence - are all first-degree misdemeanors. All carry a maximum penalty of one year in the county jail. So, technically, if convicted of all the Clay County criminal charges, if the judge opted to sentence Richburg to the maximum amount on each count and run the sentences consecutively, Richburg could face four years in the county jail and five years in state prison, though that is rarely done in cases like this.

There are, however, other options in some drug cases when a defendant will have the option to complete drug court and a variety of conditions - including community service and passing drug tests - that could result in avoiding jail or prison time. A driving factor in whether prosecutors make that option available is the defendant's prior criminal record. While anything is possible, Richburg has been a teacher in Duval County for more than three years and the district policy is to not hire anyone who has been convicted of a felony. That's not to say Richburg must have an entirely clean record, but it's unlikely that he is a convicted felon.

There may also be room in this case to question whether police had enough probable cause to pull Richburg out of the car and demand that he turn the car off. There are other elements in the encounter that would come out in trial and, while it certainly appears that Richburg was intending to go to the home, it's reasonable to at least explore whether or not being there on the street constitutes a probable cause for a search in this Clay County Drug Crimes case.

If you or a loved one needs a Drug Crimes Attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Drug Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville jury cannot come to agreement in trial for accused dice game killer

January 28, 2013

After two days of deliberations, a Jacksonville jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked and unable to reach a decision on whether a 21-year-old Jacksonville man was guilty of first-degree murder as the state alleged. That led the judge to declare a mistrial and now a second trial awaits Reginald Renard Battle, accused of shooting Eric Michael Burney in the back of the head after robbing him during a dice game in July 2010, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Police said Battle and two other men were at a park one evening when a group of men were playing a dice game, the newspaper reported. Battle testified at the trial that he left the park before the shooting, and surveillance cameras do show his truck leaving the area, the newspaper reported. But police argued he let one of his friends borrow the truck and Battle stayed behind at the park. Both of the friends have pleaded guilty in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case - one to second-degree murder, the other to accessory after fact - and both testified against Battle.

Battle's Duval County criminal attorney argued the men were lying to try to avoid life in prison. Because Battle is charged with first-degree murder, he faces mandatory life in prison if convicted. In jury trials in the state of Florida, decisions must be unanimous. Now that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of discussion and convincing that goes on behind closed doors in the jury room. That's what deliberation is all about. However, it takes every single juror to agree with the decision for it to stand up. In most cases, the criminal defense attorneys on the losing side will ask to have the jury polled, which means every member of the jury will be asked, under oath, if the announced verdict was indeed their verdict.

In this Jacksonville Gun case involving Battle, jurors spent two days deliberating and then told the judge they would not be able to reach a verdict. The judge then declared a mistrial. A mistrial essentially means both sides need to start over. A new jury will be picked and a whole new trial in Jacksonville will be conducted. A mistrial can also be declared during a trial if one side or the other makes a procedural error. For example, if the judge rules prior to the trial that a police interview will not be allowed in as evidence and the state brings it up anyway - intentionally or not - the Jacksonville defense will almost certainly move for a mistrial and the judge will then decide whether to grant it.

A second trial can have its pluses and minuses. On one hand, attorneys can fine-tune their cases and possibly eliminate some things that might not have worked. On the other hand, you've already shown your cards, so the other side already knows what is coming. In some cases, a mistrial will bring the two sides closer together in negotiations and an agreement can be worked out, but the state has been clear in various media reports that it intends to try Battle again in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case.

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 Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville DCF worker arrested for not reporting that her husband molested two girls

January 26, 2013

A Jacksonville woman was arrested this week and charged with Duval County child neglect and witness tampering for allegedly trying to cover up the fact her husband molested two young girls years ago. Her husband, Louis Vereen, was arrested in Jacksonville last month for lewd and lascivious molestation on a child under the age of 12, accused of molesting two girls when they were about 6 and 9 years old, according to a report on First Coast News.

The girls are now 13 and 16 and the molestation lasted for about two years, the television station reported. Tara Vereen found out about the molestation in 2011 when she stumbled across a letter that one of the girls wrote, saying Louis Vereen molested her. She allegedly confronted her husband, handled it between the two of them and did not report it to police, according to the news report. Police learned about the molestation when the older victim talked about it following attempting suicide, the television station reported. Once police investigated, they found Tara Vereen forced the girls to write letters saying their accusations against her husband were false. That is where the Jacksonville witness tampering charges come into play.

The penalties for witness tampering vary based on the crime at the root of the tampering. It is at the very minimum a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. However, those penalties increase based on the original crime and end up being one felony degree more severe than the original crime. So witness tampering on a misdemeanor case is a third-degree felony, witness tampering on a third-degree felony is a second-degree felony, and so on. So a tampering charge could expose someone to 15 years in prison on a second-degree felony when the person actually committing the third-degree felony is only looking at a maximum of five years.

Louis Vereen is charged with a life felony for molesting children under the age of 12 in this Jacksonville Sex Crimes case. That means Tara Vereen's charges are also punishable by up to life in prison. Witness tampering is treated very seriously in the state of Florida, at least when it comes to the statutes. In this case, Tara Vereen is accused of trying to get the two alleged victims to lie about what happened and clear her husband of any wrongdoing. Prosecutors will not look too kindly on that in this Jacksonville Sex case, especially because the victims she was trying to persuade were 12 and 15 at the time.

The Vereen case is the latest in what is becoming a trend in Jacksonville Sex Crimes cases where people on the periphery of the investigation are being arrested for either turning a blind eye to molestation or, in the case of Tara Vereen, allegedly being complicit in the actual cover-up of the crime.

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 Sex Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man convicted of DUI manslaughter in crash that led to his friend's death

January 24, 2013

A Jacksonville jury found a man guilty of DUI manslaughter in Duval County in connection with a 2010 crash that killed his 21-year-old friend. Klay Williams was found guilty last week of the second-degree felony and will be sentenced in March, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Williams, 22, faces up to 15 years in prison. Police said Williams was speeding in his pickup truck when he hit a fence and pieces of that shattered fence hit Mitchell Curtis Green in the head, the newspaper reported.

A neighbor and the first paramedic said they both talked to Williams outside of the truck, who said he was fine but made no mention of Green being unconscious inside the truck, the newspaper reported. The neighbor then looked in and saw Green, who was treated by paramedics but died a week later. Williams' blood-alcohol level came back at .17 - more than double the legal limit of .08.

Jacksonville DUI cases are almost always misdemeanor cases, but when people are seriously injured or killed by an intoxicated driver, that driver then faces Duval County felony charges. There are varying levels of misdemeanors crimes, but the overarching point from a defendant's perspective is the maximum time someone can be incarcerated for if convicted of a misdemeanor is one year in the county jail. The state prison system is only for people who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to felonies in Florida.

Williams is now subject to that system because he was convicted of DUI manslaughter, or a DUI that caused a death. Because police were investigating an injury, Williams did not have a choice as to whether or not police could test his blood for alcohol. That's another rule that changes dramatically for a DUI investigation once an injury is involved. Someone pulled over under suspicion of a DUI can refuse to take a breathalyzer test and can also refuse to take field sobriety exercises. Now, that will pretty much guarantee the suspect in that Jacksonville DUI case one night in the county jail, but could limit the damage going forward.

There was really no debating whether Williams was intoxicated and the fact that police said he didn't initially try to help his injured friend likely did not play well to the jury in his Jacksonville Driving Under the Influence case. Expect that piece to also play a role in Williams' sentencing hearing coming up in March. Judges are often concerned about how remorseful someone is after the fact, but also put plenty of weight into how a person reacted immediately after the crash took place.

Our Jacksonville DUI attorney has represented hundreds of clients charged with DUI - from routine traffic stops to crashes resulting in felony charges similar to the above case. 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 DUI Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man guides police to dozens of Jacksonville homes he says he broke into with a female companion

January 22, 2013

A recently released convicted felon pulled over by a Baker County deputy for not wearing a seatbelt confessed to police that he was breaking into homes in Baker and Duval counties, including 50 to 60 homes in Jacksonville. Police stopped Charles Wayne Cope last week, recognized his car as being similar to the one witnesses saw near several Baker County break-ins and spotted evidence in the car which police said was enough to detain Cope and his passenger, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police then searched the Jacksonville home of the passenger, Julie James Driggers, and police said they found items related to each of six Baker County burglaries.

Cope then agreed to work with Jacksonville Burglary detectives to explain the crimes he committed there, no doubt in an effort to curry favor with the state and try to reduce his eventual sentence. Prosecutors will have to sort through how many crimes to eventually charge Cope with, but he is potentially looking at a variety of sentences that could stack up to a couple of hundred years in prison. Police said Cope and Driggers would knock on the front doors of homes and, if someone answered, pretend to be looking for a lost dog. If no one answered, they would break in and steal jewelry, electronics and other valuables, the newspaper reported.

Driggers has denied any involvement in the break-ins, police said, but Cope appears to be doing enough talking to bring both of them down. Driggers is a nine-time convicted felon who, at 35, has already spent about 12 years behind bars, according to the newspaper report. And while cooperation can be a huge factor in reducing one's sentence, the court is also mindful of considering the source of the information. Cope would have first-hand knowledge of these Jacksonville Theft Crimes cases and would be helping solve the crimes. However, police said he has been ripping the gold out of jewelry and selling it, which means the goods he stole have already been destroyed. And, will the court decide to reward Cope and go easy on him, when he's established a pattern of behavior that would lead the court to believe he'd end up doing the same thing again if and when he is released? He had been out of prison less than a year before this latest crime spree of Jacksonville Burglary Crimes cases, according to the newspaper report.

The prosecution of Driggers by the Duval County State Attorney will be a completely different case, especially because she appears to have no previous criminal record, the newspaper reported. A criminal history can often be far more important in a sentencing that someone with a lengthy rap sheet driving police around to his various crimes, so the actual sentences in these Jacksonville Theft cases, if they get that far, will be interesting to watch.

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 Theft Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman gets 14 years in prison for child neglect after not stopping her granddaughter's molestation

January 18, 2013

A grandmother was sentenced to 14 years on prison after pleading guilty to child neglect in Jacksonville, one of several family members charged after her granddaughter was molested by a known sex offender. Patricia Woloszynowski, 63, was the third person to be sentenced - and the third who was not directly involved in the molesting the pre-teen girl, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Robert Young, 53, was found guilty of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor and will be sentenced next week. Woloszynowski owns a home on Jacksonville's Westside and was living there with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, the newspaper reported. The family then allowed Young, convicted on sexual battery on a child in 1991, to live in the home and sleep in the same bed as the granddaughter. The girl's father has already received six life sentences and her mother was sentenced to 30 years. Prosecutors said the family ignored the abuse because they were unemployed and Young was paying their bills and driving them around in his car, the newspaper reported.

This Duval County Child Neglect case is an example of how a person does not have to commit the actual crime in question to be found guilty of another crime. Family members were charged with various counts of Jacksonville sexual battery, molestation and child neglect and child abuse for ignoring the molestation and allowing it to happen. They were responsible for the well-being of the child and failed in that responsibility, according to the state.

In some ways, the law is similar to the felony murder law in the state of Florida. Florida law allows for someone to be charged with murder if they are committing a felony when someone is killed. For example, if someone robs a gas station and the clerk dies of a heart attack, the armed robber could then be charged with murder. The same is true in the case where the family members turned a blind eye to Young's molestation. Woloszynowski was originally charged with five counts of Duval County sexual battery on a defendant younger than 12 and one count each of lewd or lascivious molestation and child neglect, but worked a deal to plead only to the child neglect charge. The judge reluctantly allowed the plea because of her age and the fact she did not have a criminal record, the newspaper reported.

And the case shows that what some people may see only as an immoral act can also be interpreted as an illegal act by the criminal justice system. And penalties can be severe, regardless if you are the person who committed the actual crime. If you suspect police want to talk to you about an indirect role you may have in any crime, you should contact a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney immediately.

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

Former pro football player charged with DUI manslaughter in Jacksonville crash

January 16, 2013

A former professional football player living in Jacksonville was arrested last week and charged with DUI manslaughter for his role in an accident that killed a Louisiana man last month. Police say Dann Rockne Lute, 53, failed to see traffic backed up on Butler Boulevard about 5:15 p.m. when people were lined up exit onto Hodges Boulevard, an area that is typically congested at the time of day, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Lute rammed into the back of a sport-utility vehicle and killed the driver, the newspaper reported. The two cars in front of the man Lute hit were also damaged in the chain-reaction and one of the drivers had minor injuries, the newspaper reported.

Lute is now charged with Florida DUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in state prison. He is also charged with three counts of DUI causing property damage, one each for the three cars that were damaged in the wreck. All three property damage charges are Jacksonville misdemeanor counts. It's the manslaughter charge that is by far the most serious of these Jacksonville DUI cases and the one that will receive the most attention.

Typically when a person is charged several weeks after the crash like Lute is - the accident was Dec. 13 and he was arrested Jan. 10 - there is some sort of test that has come back to warrant the charge. In Lute's case, it is likely a blood test that revealed his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit of .08, though nothing in the newspaper report indicates that's the evidence. But, as a Jacksonville DUI attorney, a month is about the standard time for results to be tested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and returned to the police in a case of this magnitude. One significant difference in a case when an injury or death is involved is that police can take the blood of a driver, whether they consent or not. That is in stark contrast to a standard, Duval County misdemeanor DUI where a driver can refuse to do submit to a breath test, which often limits the evidence prosecutors will have to prove at trial the defendant was intoxicated. So in a DUI manslaughter case, not only are the stakes higher but the defense can also be limited because the blood test is a piece of the evidence. Not to mention, juries tend to see blood results as more accurate than breath tests anyway.

Our Jacksonville DUI attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with DUI - some who've had blood drawn, others who've take breath tests and still others who've refused all tests. Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer knows the DUI laws inside and out and will thoroughly review your case to make sure police followed all of the necessary procedures when investigating your case.

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.

Out-of-town visitors busted, accused of making meth at upscale Marriott Sawgrass

January 14, 2013

St. Johns County police arrested a Panhandle man and Tennessee woman this week after a separate investigation led them to the couple allegedly making methamphetamines in a hotel room of an upscale resort. A security guard went to the room at the Sawgrass Marriott about 2 a.m. because the credit card the couple used to secure the room turned out to be stolen, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. When he went to the room, he saw what he thought were materials to cook meth in the room, the newspaper reported. The employee called police, who came to the scene and found a batch of the toxic drug being cooked inside the room. Both people were charged with producing and trafficking in methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

This case received plenty of media attention last week because meth is typically seen as a drug that's made in hotel rooms and apartments in some of the more rundown neighborhoods, in the Jacksonville area and across the country. But to hear the story in Ponte Vedra Beach made it more surprising news.

Meth cases have been on the rise in Jacksonville and the surrounding area and that's bad news for the people getting arrested in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. Florida laws are extremely strict in meth cases and there are significant penalties attached. Manufacturing methamphetamines is a second-degree felony in Jacksonville, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Trafficking in methamphetamine also has serious penalties depending on the amount police found. The maximum penalty is 30 years in prison and there are minimum mandatory terms based on the amount of methamphetamines police find.

But it is a first-degree felony starting at just 14 grams of meth for a St. Johns County Drug Crimes case. By comparison, people can have nearly double that amount of marijuana on them and not only is it not trafficking - it's not even close. It's a misdemeanor possession charge which does not even subject someone to time in prison. And making meth can be tough to hide, even in a ritzy resort. The odor from making meth is distinct and carries far enough where people nearby will generally know what is going on. In this St. Johns County Drug Crimes case, police had to evacuate four adjacent rooms and bring in the hazardous materials team to remove the chemicals from the room. Part of it is the public health issue and the other part is just the way laws have been written - meth crimes carry more severe penalties than most other street drugs.

Our St. Johns County Drug Crimes attorney knows all of the possible penalties in meth cases, and in other types of drug cases, and can lay out your options so you can decide the best way to proceed. 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 Drug Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Conflicting stories in case of Jacksonville man arrested for shooting at neighbor's house

January 11, 2013

A local man was charged with 10 counts of Jacksonville Aggravated Assault for shooting into a crowd at his neighbor's house during a house party last week. Police reported that Randall Wilkie was upset about the noise coming from the party and fired the shots into the house where about 15 people were gathered, according to a report on News4Jax. No one was hit with any of the shots, the television station reported.

But Wilkie has a completely different story that he told his mother, according the news report. He said he came home and saw his girlfriend outside at the neighbor's house, then three cars pulled up and several people jumped out and started a fight, the television station reported. Wilkie said some of the people started beating his girlfriend, so he ran to his house to get a gun and started shooting to protect her, according to the news report.

Wilkie is charged with 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Jacksonville. Each count is a third-degree felony in Florida with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, which means Wilkie would be looking at a maximum of 50 years in prison if convicted of all counts and the judge opts to give him consecutive sentences. But it could get much worse for Wilkie. Because he discharged a firearm, he could be subject to a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence under the state's 10-20-Life law for gun crimes.

The state has the option to do so in Duval County aggravated assault cases with a firearm and the judge would have no choice but to sentence him to 20 years in prison. The law has been the subject of highly publicized cases, including one were Jacksonville mother Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a warning shot to get away from what she said was a threatening, abusive husband. The judge's hands were tied and could not sentence her to anything lower than 20 years, but prosecutors said their offer of three years was on the table until the week of the trial. The minimum mandatory is generally used as leverage if the person doesn't take the deal the state wants the defendant to take, as it was in the Alexander case.

There is plenty of investigating to do in this case, especially because the stories are so drastically different, so a decision on the minimum mandatory does not need to be made now. When police came to talk to Wilkie at his home, he declined to speak to police and told them he wanted to talk to a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney first. If police want to talk to you and you have reason to believe it is because officers feel you are a suspect in a criminal case, you should always ask to speak with a Jacksonville Criminal Lawyer. The line police read people is not to be taken lightly: Anything you say really can and really will be used against you in court.

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

Jacksonville teen's life sentence for 2010 murder overturned by appeals court

January 9, 2013

A state court has overturned the life sentence of a Jacksonville teen who was 16 when he robbed and stabbed a man to death in 2010. The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the sentence last week because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

The reversal is the latest sticky issue when it comes to sentencing juveniles in Jacksonville and all over the state of Florida. Life sentences for crimes other that murder were already determined unconstitutional, and it was a Jacksonville Juvenile Gun Crimes case that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on to establish precedent. With murder added, it directly conflicts with Florida law that requires anyone convicted of first-degree murder to be sentenced to either life in prison or the death penalty. The appellate court did not specify what should be done in the next sentence for Thomas Partlow, who along with two friends robbed a man of $3 and then stabbed and killed him, the newspaper reported.

The larger issue that will likely have to be addressed then is whether the state will be able to charge youth as adults in first-degree murder cases. Jacksonville was once more in the national spotlight after local prosecutors charged 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez with first-degree murder in 2011 in connection with the death of his 2-year-old half-brother. Lawyers for Fernandez have sought to have the charge dropped because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but the motion was denied. Fernandez is scheduled for trial in March.

In Jacksonville Juvenile Crime cases, the state has the power to charge youth as adults, and typically does so in violent cases or cases involving guns. The practice is known as "direct filing" and has increased dramatically in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties in recent years. The discretion is solely up to the prosecutors. And once someone is charged as an adult, they can be sentenced to prison and be in the same population as adults who have been convicted of crimes. If the Jacksonville juvenile crime case stays in juvenile court, any incarceration would be done in a youth facility, not in an adult prison.

There could be as many as 260 other cases in Florida like Partlow's that would need another sentencing, the newspaper reported. Appellate courts have been split about whether cases like Partlow's where the sentence was decided before the Supreme Court decision are even subject to the law. It will be interesting to see where the courts end up in coming months. Wherever the decision lands, it will likely have a dramatic impact on the charging, prosecuting and sentencing of Jacksonville juvenile crimes.

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 Juvenile Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville youth minister charged with molesting 15-year-old girl

January 7, 2013

Jacksonville police arrested a youth minister last week after allegations that the 38-year-old man molested a 15-year-old girl. David Wayne Larson was charged with four counts of Jacksonville lewd and lascivious molestation of a juvenile, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. These Duval County Sex Charges are all second-degree felonies, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Police received information in December that Larson was sexually involved with a teen over the course of the past four months, according to the newspaper report. Police investigated and then discovered enough evidence to make an arrest and charge him, according to the newspaper, though none of the evidence was made public last week. Jacksonville sex crimes cases are extremely serious and come with severe consequences that can stick with a person forever. For example, if a person is convicted of the sex related crimes Larson is charged with, not only will the person likely go to prison, once they are released they will be required to register as a sex offender. That means any time they move, all of their neighbors will be notified of their Jacksonville sex crime. They are also restricted as to where they can choose to live because they cannot legally live near schools or other areas children congregate.

Sex crimes in Florida and everywhere also carry a stigma unlike any other crime and people often assume that if an accusation is made, the person is automatically guilty. To the contrary, Jacksonville sex charges can be the most difficult cases for the state to prove. It's impossible to know what evidence the state has against Lawson in this case, but in many Jacksonville sex crimes cases there is little to no physical evidence. Many times it is simply the word of the alleged victim versus the word of the defendant. There are countless examples of people recanting stories of alleged molestation and there are others where juries have found people not guilty because they didn't feel there was enough independent evidence to convict the defendant.

One key to Lawson's Jacksonville sex crimes case will be what, if anything, he told police when he was arrested. If he did not make an admission, he helped himself significantly. If he did end up making a confession in an interview with detectives, the "he-said, she-said" type of defense is basically out the window. Our experienced Jacksonville sex crimes attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with sex crimes and knows the significance a conviction or a guilty plea can have on a person for the rest of his or her life.

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 Sex Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville teen arrested for bringing a gun into Clay County movie theater

January 4, 2013

A Jacksonville teen trying to sneak into a Clay County movie theater is now facing a felony charge of carrying a concealed firearm after police found a gun in his waistband. The 17-year-old is charged with carrying a concealed weapon, resisting arrest and trespassing, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The concealed weapon charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The teen could be charged as a juvenile and avoid prison time, but the newspaper reported he also had three warrants out for his arrest in Duval County, so the state may be unwilling to keep him in juvenile court. The resisting arrest without violence charge and the trespassing count are both misdemeanors in Florida.

People are on high alert for guns in movie theaters after the mass shooting in Colorado over the summer. A prime example was when police evacuated a St. Johns County movie theater last week after there was a report of someone bringing a gun into the theater. After further investigation, it turned out the person was simply trying to sneak in a submarine sandwich to eat during the show. So the recent Clay County case will be thought of as a teen bringing a gun into the theater, but it's really a trespassing case where the person happened to have a gun on him. He was trying to watch a movie without paying for a ticket and got caught. There is no evidence that's been made public about the teen planning to shoot people inside the theater and he didn't show it or try to use it when he was running away from police. In fact, the newspaper reported the teen told police about the gun before they found it.

It is not illegal to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida, but there are several requirements that must be met. First, a person must have a permit to do so. In this case, the teen was not even eligible, because a person must be at least 18 to even apply for a permit. There are also restrictions on where a person can bring a gun and it is a felony for a convicted felon to possess or own a firearm.

Clay County Gun Crimes cases are treated very seriously by prosecutors and, in many cases, the state is looking for sentences close to the maximum if it is willing to negotiate at all. For the teen in this Clay County juvenile gun crimes case, there doesn't appear to be much he can argue. He admitted to having the gun and police found it on him, so the proof is there. But the key in this Clay County gun crimes case will be trying to keep the case in juvenile court.

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

Woman accused of stealing crab meat from Jacksonville Wal-Mart

January 2, 2013

Jacksonville police arrested a 53-year-old woman whom they say tried to leave a
Jacksonville Wal-Mart without paying for several packages of crab meat.
Greta Young was arrested for felony theft in Jacksonville last month and police found $120 worth of crab meat in her purse, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Ordinarily, because the value of the property is between $100 and $300, Young would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. A Jacksonville Theft Charge does not become a felony until the value of the property stolen is more than $300. However, there is a part of the law working against Young in this case. If someone has already been convicted twice of any type of Florida theft charge, the state can charge the person with felony petit theft, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison.

Young has several prior theft charges on her record dating back to 1990, the newspaper reported. A Jacksonville theft crime is one of the crimes that can elevate to a felony based on a person's record. Jacksonville DUI is another that can become a felony if a person has multiple convictions. These cases are a prime example of why it is critical to have a Jacksonville theft attorney on board, even if it seems like an insignificant event and there is no jail time at risk. Not every arrest results in a conviction. Many people will choose to simply plead guilty at first appearance court without consulting a lawyer and that conviction will be on their record forever. A Criminal Theft Lawyer in Jacksonville, for example, may have been able to get the state to agree to withhold adjudication if certain conditions were met, meaning the guilty plea may not appear on the person's record. That would be extremely important in a case like Young's where one plea could be the difference between a Florida misdemeanor and a felony. It may seem like the easiest and best way to handle a situation is to enter an immediate guilty plea and be done with it, but that could have serious consequences down the road.

There are also several diversion programs available for first-time offenders in Jacksonville theft cases and it is not typically a crime where prosecutors are expecting someone to agree to significant jail or prison time. Obviously, Young would not qualify for these programs and there does come a time where the state will try to send a message to a defendant who is repeatedly in the same type of trouble. I t remains to be seen if that will be the case for Young this time around.

Our Jacksonville theft lawyer has represented hundreds of clients facing theft charges - misdemeanors and felonies, first-time offenders and people with several theft convictions on their record. 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 Theft Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.