July 2013 Archives

Clay County police now have warrants, charges pending for female passengers in stolen vehicle crime spree

Though initial reports indicated police did not suspect any criminal wrongdoing by two female passengers in a Clay County stolen car crash incident, warrants have now surfaced for both women. All four people have warrants now for charges ranging from grand theft auto to aggravated battery, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. One remains hospitalized, two are in the Duval County jail on unrelated charges and the fourth, one of the women involved, remains at large, according to the newspaper report.

The incident began when a man was eating at a Clay County McDonald's when he saw someone trying to steal his car from the parking lot. The man ran outside to stop the thief and Aaron Beckworth, allegedly driving another stolen vehicle, ran into the victim, knocking him onto the hood of the Toyota, the newspaper reported. Michael Rafuse did end up stealing the Ford Explorer from the McDonald's parking lot and, after driving off, the group of four ditched the Toyota and were all inside the Explorer. As the group tried to flee from police, the Explorer crashed into a tree, the newspaper reported. No charges were filed immediately, though the most severe charge police now have warrants for is the Clay County aggravated battery, which Beckworth is facing for hitting the man with the stolen car. Aggravated battery is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Grand theft of an automobile is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

These charges make sense for the two Beckworth and Rafuse in this Clay County Theft Case. But, for now, it's tough to determine where the criminal exposure falls for the women, especially since police initially said the women were not being looked at for a potential crime. That would seem to rule out a drug possession charge, especially because everyone in the Explorer was hospitalized. If they had drugs on them, police would have found them already. They could be loosely connected to the thefts, maybe they knew one or both of the victims and police are alleging they helped orchestrate the thefts. There are a number of possibilities, but the one our Clay County Theft Attorney tends to see the most in these cases is charging people in order to give them more incentive to talk. It's much easier to ignore police and not cooperate with their investigation when you are home and free than it is when you are looking at five years in prison. It will be interesting to see what charges are eventually filed against the women and if they end up testifying against Beckworth and Rafuse.

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

Jacksonville man once charged with murder sentenced to 15 years on manslaughter charge

A Jacksonville man initially facing up to life in prison when he went to trial on a second-degree murder charge was sentenced last week to 15 years in state prison. Aaron Kaiser was found guilty of shooting and killing his neighbor, whom he'd argued with for years, outside their apartment complex, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Kaiser allegedly shot him four times and Kaiser went to trial on a second-degree murder charge, the newspaper reported. The sentence for second-degree murder is between 25 years and life in prison.

The jury instead found him guilty of manslaughter, which is known as a lesser included offense. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony while second-degree murder is a first-degree felony, so the range of potential prison time is significant for defendants in Jacksonville Violent Crimes Cases. The distinction between second-degree murder and manslaughter was in the news recently in the trial of George Zimmerman, the Central Florida man who shot and killed teen-ager Trayvon Martin after the two were in a fight. In nearly all murder cases, including the Zimmerman case, jurors are permitted to consider manslaughter if they did not see reasonable doubt for second-degree murder.

In Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case, more juries and judges are now frequently reducing murder charges down to manslaughter, as was done in the case of Kaiser. Now, it is reasonable to believe that the judge did not agree in this case because she handed down the maximum sentence for manslaughter. The difference between second-degree murder and manslaughter in Jacksonville Violent Crimes cases is the intent to kill. It does not have to be planned or premeditated, that's first-degree murder. For second-degree murder, a person does not have to plan to kill some, but, when the incident is taking place, whether the person has a gun or a knife or a car, the intent to kill someone. In manslaughter, what often occurs is people are in a fight and someone ends up dying. The Florida Statutes define manslaughter as, "The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification ...". That can be from a variety of things, including a fight.

Lesser included crimes can be a key in Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case, and jurors often look to them as a compromise, a way to give a little part of the verdict to both sides. They can play in both directions for the defendant. In Kaiser's case, it helps shave off years of his sentence. In other cases, someone who was justified in taking a life through self-defense can end up incarcerated because the jury felt he or she had to be punished in some way.

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

All-day hearing on sentencing for Jacksonville mother whose 12-year-old son killed toddler, decision next month

The Jacksonville mother of the youngest person in Jacksonville to ever be charged with first-degree murder will learn next month if she'll go to prison for her role in the death of her youngest son. Biannela Susana, who pleaded guilty to Jacksonville aggravated manslaughter in the death of her 2-year-old son David, will learn her fate next month, according to a report in the Florida times-Union. Attorneys for Susana and prosecutors made their cases in a sentencing hearing last week, the newspaper reported. Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys for Susana argued for her to be put on probation and that the two years and three months she's spent in jail since her arrest is sufficient time in this Jacksonville Manslaughter Case. The defense has already made arrangements for Susana to receive parenting and life skills counseling, along with a job at a nonprofit if she completes the terms of her release, the newspaper reported.

Prosecutors, however, are asking for 15 years in prison in this Jacksonville Manslaughter Case, the newspaper reported. Susana pleaded guilty to a first-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The neglect stems from Susana waiting to take her youngest son to the hospital and covering up for past violence. Her oldest son Cristian Fernandez has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated battery for slamming David into a bookshelf after Susana left them alone in their apartment in 2011. Susana waited eight hours to take him to the hospital after finding him unconscious and a doctor told police David may have survived if he was medically treated sooner.

Police said Susana also lied about an incident when Cristian broke David's leg, saying it was a playground accident to protect Cristian - and to likely protect herself from having her children taken from her by the state. Rarely in a Jacksonville Manslaughter Case like this would a defendant receive a sentence that does not include some time in prison. But this case has been anything but routine since the outset. Cristian was initially charged with first-degree murder, but later agreed to a deal that also him to be in juvenile jail until he turns 19, and then be released to serve eight years of probation. Jacksonville defense attorneys heavily discussed Susana's troubled life, including having Cristian at age 12, watching him be molested in foster care and seeing her husband kill himself in front of two children after being accused of abusing Cristian. The point of a sentencing hearing is to provide information to the judge that he or she can consider in issuing a sentence the defense is seeking. And the prosecutor does the same in terms trying to secure a longer sentence. This sentence is this Jacksonville Manslaughter Case is one that will be highly anticipated and receive plenty of attention - and likely criticism - however it comes out.

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

Twenty-year sentence in Jacksonville "warning shot" case now back in national spotlight

National activists are again beating the drum for courts to reexamine the 20-year sentence given to Jacksonville's Marissa Alexander, a mother who fired a shot into the ceiling because she said she was in fear of her now ex-husband. Alexander was convicted on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Jacksonville and then sentenced to 20 years in prison last year, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Under Florida's 10-20-Life law, the discharge of the firearm meant Alexander faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison, giving the judge no latitude in the Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case, the newspaper reported.

Alexander's plight has received some scrutiny in the past, but it was revived this week in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the case of George Zimmerman, acquitted of second-degree murder in the death of teen-ager Trayvon Martin. Jacksonville prosecutors were appointed by the governor to handle the Zimmerman case in Sanford, and national criticism of how that case was handled has, right or wrong, opened the door for questions about more decisions by local prosecutors. Prosecutors have long defended their decisions regarding Alexander's Duval County Gun Crimes Case. The state did not immediately file the minimum mandatory and has said that an offer of three years in prison was on the table until shortly before trial. Once the case went to trial, the state filed the minimum mandatory from the 10-20-Life law in the Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. The threat of a minimum mandatory is often a negotiating tactic the state uses to convince someone to take a plea deal. In this Jacksonville Gun Crimes case, Alexander insisted she was acting out of self-defense and was not guilty of any crime.

Alexander has said that she was in fear of her life and went to the car and got a gun out of her car and fired it into the ceiling. She was facing three Jacksonville felony charges because two children were also present at the time, the newspaper reported. A jury, though, sided with the state and found her guilty on all three charges. Her Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case has been appealed, and she has been transferred from state prison back to the Duval County jail while the appellate matter is pending, the newspaper reported.

In Florida, the 10-20-Life laws dictate punishment in Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases and prosecutors are reluctant to go below those standards. Punishments are as follows:

 10 years for showing a gun during a the commission of a felony
 20 years for discharging a firearm in the commission of a felony
 Life in prison of someone is shot during the commission of a felony.

Again, the minimum mandatories are not always filed immediately, but almost certainly will be once a trial is inevitable. The risks often go up when a cases goes to trial and Alexander clearly knew what her sentence would be if she was found not guilty. And despite the attention this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case is getting, for now it appears the sentence will stand.

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

Jacksonville mother pleads guilty after methadone killed her infant child

A Jacksonville mother pleaded guilty this month in connection with the death of her 6-month-old daughter, whom police say died of a lethal dose of methadone. Jennifer Frazier pleaded guilty to Duval County aggravated manslaughter of a child by way of culpable negligence, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The charge is a first-degree felony in Jacksonville punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Frazier is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Frazier was taking methadone, a drug commonly given to help someone who is recovering from addiction from narcotics - in some cases streets drugs like cocaine or heroin, in other cases prescription painkillers. Somehow, Frazier said she was giving the child ibuprofen and antibiotics, but her daughter ended up with a lethal dose of methadone in her system, the newspaper reported. Frazier told police she gave the child ibuprofen and an antibiotic from a container she had previously mixed methadone in, the newspaper reported. But police said there was no ibuprofen in the child's system and the bottles of methadone were found in a box used for the antibiotic, the newspaper reported. The facts of this Jacksonville Drug Crimes case could lead anywhere from Frazier mistakenly giving her daughter methadone instead of the antibiotic, to her intentionally giving the child methadone. Those facts would have obviously come out on a trial, but will now be coming out in the crucial sentencing next month. In some cases where there is not a trial, the sentencing phase ends up being a de facto trial. In this Jacksonville Drug Crimes case, Frazier's Duval County criminal defense attorneys will need to lay out the circumstances of how this happened in an effort to push for a sentence for their client that they believe is fair.

Clearly, Frazier was negligent in some regard because the baby has a lethal dose of methadone in her system. There was very little argument in terms of a defense at trial. Any argument is more an explanation of why it happened, which is more suited for sentencing anyway. In many Duval County Drug Crimes cases, the state and the Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney have agreed upon a sentence or even a range to submit to the judge. It's unclear whether that has been done in this case. There are two common types of guilty pleas in Jacksonville Drug Crimes cases. One is a negotiated plea, where the prosecutors and the defendant have agreed to a sentence. The second is referred to as a "straight up" plea, where the defendant simply pleads guilty to the judge without any indication of the length and severity of a possible sentence. Both types of pleas have their strategic benefit, depending on the facts and circumstances in the case. Our Jacksonville Drug Crimes Attorney has helped thousands of clients resolve their cases over the years and is experienced in working to get clients the best deal possible, if taking the case to trial is not the best option.

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

Two Jacksonville Beach men arrested for posting "Townies Go Home" stickers along Beaches corridors

Jacksonville Beach police arrested two men this month for sticking "Townies Go Home" stickers on buildings, signs and other local landmarks. The stickers are a reference to recent trouble at the beach, including a Memorial Day brawl that was videotaped and went viral on the Internet, which was believed to be caused by people who lived in Northwest Jacksonville - not at Jacksonville Beach, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Matthew Sugden-Kirsch and Jason Swanson were both arrested after a citizen flagged down an officer about 4 a.m. and said he saw two men on bicycles putting up the stickers, the newspaper reported. Both had dozens of stickers in their backpacks and officials have reported that hundreds have been removed from various structures since early June, the newspaper reported. Both men were charged with criminal mischief in Jacksonville causing between $200 and $1,000 in damages, a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida punishable by up to one year in the county jail. Criminal mischief is a Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crimes charge that is essentially vandalism. It's the same charge people would get for spray-painting a building or smashing a window, provided the damage is between $200 and $1,000. If the damage is more than $1,000, the charge can be upgraded to a Duval County felony and the defendant can be facing up to five years in prison. The same is true if the vandalism is done to a business and the labor and supplies to repair the damage or bring it to the prior condition was more than $1,000. It doesn't take long to get to $1,000, but apparently in this Jacksonville Misdemeanor Case, the property owners were able to just peel the stickers off if they wanted them removed. It also may be difficult for the state to prove just how many of the stickers these two men posted, or if there were others making similar statements in this Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crimes Case.

Another deterrent in these Jacksonville Misdemeanor Cases is if someone is arrested on a criminal mischief and has one or more previous conviction for criminal mischief, he or she can be charged with a felony - regardless of the dollar amount. In most cases, that's enough for defendants not to do it again. Misdemeanor cases can be positive learning experiences for people - enough of a taste of the criminal justice system to know you want to stay out, but not enough to put a serious damper on someone getting an education or holding down a job. These cases generally get little public attention and defendants can work them out and move on in relative anonymity. This Jacksonville Misdemeanor Case is different. The Memorial Day brawl and its aftermath were covered extensively by the local media outlets, more than one of which published or aired stories about the conflict between some Beaches residents and people they deem as outsiders who just come down to fight and stir up trouble. People will be paying more attention to this Jacksonville Criminal Mischief Case and, in some cases, that alone can lead to a higher sentence.

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

Jacksonville man guilty of manslaughter, not second-degree murder in 2012 shooting death

A Jacksonville man initially charged with second-degree murder was convicted instead of manslaughter in the shooting death of a man that hit him in the head with a metal crutch. James Waters was found guilty by a jury last week and will be sentenced next month, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Florida and Waters could be sentenced to up to 15 years in state prison. Second-degree murder has a maximum sentence of life in prison, so the reduction in the charge limited his exposure considerably in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case.

Waters and another man got into an argument in the parking lot of an apartment complex when the man hit Waters over the head with a metal crutch, the newspaper reported. Waters pulled out a gun and, after the two men exchanged words. Waters allegedly shot him. The man died two days later, the newspaper reported. The state charged Waters with second-degree murder and took the case to trial, the newspaper reported. During the trial, the Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys for Waters argued that the shooting was in self-defense. The judge then ruled the jury could not consider second-degree murder, only manslaughter, an uncommon move in a Jacksonville Gun Crimes case. The jury agreed on the manslaughter charge and found Waters guilty.

The second-degree murder versus manslaughter debate has some parallels to the George Zimmerman case, the second-degree murder case the nation was glued to over the past two weeks. Though that jury had the option to consider both second-degree murder and manslaughter, Zimmerman was found not guilty of either charge in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In Waters' case, there appears to have been more or a break in the action once he pulled the gun. He was hit, then he pulled out the gun, then the two had words and then he shot the victim. That all likely happened very quickly, but the jury could have seen plenty of possible opportunities for Waters to exit the situation instead of shooting the man. The sentencing will be interesting to watch in Waters' Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. The judge has already made it clear she thought second-degree murder was too much in this case. Does she agree with the defense that Waters acted in self-defense? Those answers will be pretty clear once the sentencing comes up next month in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case.

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

Jacksonville police find meth lab beneath Main Street Bridge

Two Jacksonville men were arrested last week after police allege they were manufacturing methamphetamine underneath the Main Street Bridge in downtown Jacksonville. Police found the men sitting on the ground with plastic bottles containing chemicals, other loose chemicals, pipes, syringes, scales and other drug paraphernalia, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Both men, James Jackson and Ernest Tutton face four felony charges and are being held in the Duval County jail. They are charged with:

- Manufacturing methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a specified area, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
- Possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell, manufacture or deliver within 1,000 feet of a specified area, also a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
- Unlawful possession of a listed chemical, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
- Possession of paraphernalia for the manufacture or delivery of drugs, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
As Jackson and Tutton are finding out in this case, and old adage commonly applied to real estate is also a major factor in Jacksonville Drug Crimes cases: Location, Location, Location. Jackson and Tutton were found within 1,000 feet of a park. Not even a park where children routinely congregate - there are no swing sets or jungle gyms at Treaty Oak Park. Just the city's most famous tree. But it's still enough for the state to file enhances charges against the two men.

The charges can be upgraded from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony if the drugs are manufactured or sold within 1,000 feet of a:
- School
- Child care facility
- Community center
- Park
- Publicly owned recreational facility

Not only does the enhanced charge bring an additional up to 15 years in prison - 30 for each man in this Jacksonville Drug Crimes case because of the manufacturing and intent to sell charges - it also brings a minimum mandatory sentence into play. Each charge carries a minimum of three years in prison, should the state choose to file it. The location enhancement, especially in a Jacksonville Drug Crimes case such as this, seems a little excessive. The park is insignificant to the charge. The school and active park enhancements are one thing, the argument that people selling drugs near a school or Little League baseball games is a compelling one. But in this Jacksonville Drug Crimes case, it appears to be piling on. And while it's unlikely either man will be sentenced to the maximum of 80 years in this Jacksonville Drug Crimes case, the state clearly has the upper hand if and when negotiations begin.

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

Investigation suspended, no arrests so far in Memorial Day brawl at Jacksonville Beach

Various cell phone videos have been played it seems on a loop by local television stations and on news websites of a Memorial Day brawl at Jacksonville Beach that prompted increased security and town hall meetings for residents concerned about safety. But it now appears all of that attention and video was not enough to gather the evidence needed to charge anyone in the incident, including a beating on video that left one man with a dislocated shoulder and other injuries, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said they are confident they know who some of the key players are, thought to be Jacksonville gang members, but they can't with certainty identify them, the newspaper reported.

The fights involved between 10 and 15 men in their late teens and early 20s, but none of the witnesses have been cooperative in their discussions with police, the newspaper reported. A video pulled from someone's Facebook page simply is not enough to put together a Jacksonville Battery Case and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Police would need some sort of witness who could say they saw the suspect participate in the fight, which apparently not even the victim is able or willing to do. This Jacksonville Battery Case is a prime example of the role witnesses play in criminal cases and how uncooperative victims or witnesses can stall and end a case. One common example, though it often doesn't have the media interest or attention generated by these public videos, is domestic violence. Oftentimes, someone will call the police out of fear or to try to end the situation immediately, but, when it comes time to press charges, the victim does not want to. If, in fact, these Memorial Day fights are gang-related, that could explain why people aren't saying much that would push this Jacksonville Battery Case forward. Retaliation for speaking to the police in a case like this could create problems for witnesses and many may feel it's just not worth it to come forward. The charges in this Jacksonville Battery Case would appear to be misdemeanors, meaning those prosecuted would face a maximum of one year in the county jail.

This Jacksonville Battery Case may not be over though. Police could be putting this suspension story out in the media as a way to try to get other witnesses to come forward. Technically, because this Jacksonville Battery Case is a first-degree misdemeanor, the state would have two years to file a charge. It is not expected to take that long in this Jacksonville Battery Case, but this would be a good time for people who know they could be suspects to contact a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney. Getting a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney on board early can help you or your loved one understand the process and prepare you for how the case may develop. If there is a situation where an arrest is forthcoming, a Jacksonville Battery Attorney can help it go as smoothly as possible to prevent police from showing up at a client's workplace and making a big scene.

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

More trouble for Clay County mom infamous for "bong baby" photo

A Clay County mom who's no stranger to drug trouble connected to her young son was arrested again last month, this time for charges related to cooking methamphetamine in her home. Rachel Stieringer was arrested on charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, possession of a listed chemical used to manufacture meth and knowingly maintaining a dwelling for the manufacture of meth where a child resides, according to a report on News4Jax. Her troubles are far more serious this time around, as each of the three charges are felonies.

Maintaining a dwelling where a child resides to manufacture methamphetamine is a first-degree felony with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. It also has a five-year minimum mandatory sentence, should the state choose to pursue it. Possession of chemicals used to manufacture meth is a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Conspiracy to manufacture meth is a third-degree felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Pictures of her son with his mouth on the top of a water bong commonly used to smoke marijuana made national news in 2011 and spread quickly on the internet. Detectives said the bong did not test positive for drugs, but Stieringer was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, the television station reported. She completed a four-month pre-trial intervention program and the charges were dropped, according to the television station. Stieringer also maintained custody of her son.

Now, she finds herself in similar trouble with drugs around her child, but staring at a possible minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison. She's in jail while this Clay County Drugs Crimes Case resolves, being held on a $225,000 bond. If she were to be released before trial, she would need to post $22,500 - 10 percent of the total bond - for a bondsman to get her released. It's very likely Stiernger showed a great deal of remorse following her arrest in 2011 - enough so that the state offered her a pretrial intervention program. And she successfully completed it to get the charge dropped. But she is likely to soon find out what often happens to people that don't take advantage of a break given by a judge: they get hit twice as hard when they show up in court again.

Given that this Clay County Drug Crimes Case is her second drug-related charge involving her and her child, now 2, Stieringer is likely to face severe penalties this time around. Fumes emitted from cooking meth are toxic, which is why when a meth lab is found at a hotel or an apartment, police generally evacuate surrounding rooms as a precaution. Details have not been released on Stieringer's role in the meth operation. If she's a bit player in the scheme, that may be the only thing saving her. If not, expect the court to come down hard on her.

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

Death sentence overturned in 1994 Jacksonville murder, man to be sentenced again

Eighteen years after a Jacksonville man was sentenced to death for a murder he committed as a teen-ager, the Florida Supreme Court has overturned his death sentence. The court ordered that Michael Shellito be sentenced at an upcoming hearing that has yet to be scheduled, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Shellito was convicted of first-degree murder, a crime for that there are only two possible sentences in Florida: life in prison or the death penalty.

Shellito was convicted in 1995, a year after he stopped a man who was walking down a Jacksonville street and demanded money from him, the newspaper reported. Once he determined the man had no money, Shellito shot and killed him, the newspaper reported. Shellito, 18 at the time, reportedly bragged about the murder and, when police went to take him into custody, Shellito pointed a gun at officers and was shot, the newspaper reported. Shellito appealed the convicted and sentence on several grounds, the newspaper reported. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but did find there were elements of mental illness that could have been presented as mitigation in the sentencing phase that may have led the judge to sentence Shellito to life instead of death.

In Jacksonville Murder Cases such as Shellito's where the state is seeking the death penalty, there are two phases to the court proceedings: the trial and the penalty phase. Obviously, if the jury finds the person not guilty - or guilty of a lesser charge like second-degree murder where the death penalty does not apply - then the penalty phase is not needed. A potential death sentence is the only type of sentence a jury has a role in. If the verdict is indeed first-degree murder, the jurors will then hear a whole separate set of evidence and testimony. The defense will bring what is called "mitigation," essentially a history of the defendant's life showing the reasons his or her life should be spared by the criminal justice system. If there is a history of mental illness, for example, that would be one of the items discussed in the penalty phase of a Jacksonville Murder Case. The courts often provide deference to the defendant in death penalty cases, simply because the stakes are so high. This frustration among some led the Florida Legislature to pass a bill this year that specifies timetables for when a person must be executed once the appeals are exhausted. It's unclear if the state will pursue an entirely new penalty phase in this Jacksonville Murder Case, or just concede the life sentence and move on. After all, the Supreme Court has spoken in this 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 Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man turns himself in for Jacksonville bank robbery, says he was on "crack cocaine binge"

A Jacksonville man turned himself in a day after her robbed a local credit union, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Kris Reinertsen turned himself in the following day and he was charged with armed robbery, the newspaper reported. Armed robbery is a first-degree felony and punishable by up to life in prison. Reinertsen is being held in the Duval County jail without bond until the case resolves.

It's unclear just how Reinertsen was armed because initial reports said he did not show a weapon. He allegedly did pass a note and make threats in that note before making off with an undisclosed amount of cash, the newspaper reported. But the note alone would not be enough to charge him with armed robbery, even if the note did indicate that Reinertsen had a gun or a knife on him. He would have had to actually possess the gun or knife during the robbery, so perhaps he told that to police during the interview when he turned himself in on this Jacksonville Armed Robbery Charge. Reinertsen told police he was on a "crack cocaine binge" when he robbed the bank, the newspaper reported. That's another charge he the state cannot file, unless of course Reinertsen had cocaine on him when he came to police for the interview. A person has to physically possess a drug to be charged with possession, it's not enough if a person just says they were doing drugs.

Apparently Reinertsen was rather forthcoming with police, to the point the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office posted "Apparently, he felt remorse," on its Facebook page once he had turned himself into police. While he may have felt remorse and he may want to serve his time and move on, Reinertsen likely did not do himself any favors if he planned on taking his Jacksonville Armed Robbery Case to trial, simply because the state has his own words saying he did it. He may have helped himself in terms of sentencing by admitting his crime, though. Some judges place more weight in that than others, it will remain to be seen once his Jacksonville Armed Robbery Case is finalized.

Reinertsen likely wasn't going to be on the lam too long anyway. Surveillance footage taken inside the bank showed his face very clearly - he was not wearing a mask, hat, sunglasses or anything to disguise himself whatsoever. And if the state blew those photos up nice and large and showed them to the jury with Reinertsen sitting in the courtroom, it'd be pretty clear who's face jurors were looking at on the poster.

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

Jacksonville man facing death penalty chooses to plead guilty to second-degree murder

A Jacksonville man is no longer at risk for the death penalty, but does still face up to life in prison after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in a 2011 double murder. Tyreyon Washington pleaded guilty last week to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of kidnapping, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The state had been seeking the death penalty against him but cannot any longer, because it is only applicable to first-degree murder cases. In return, Washington agreed to testify against his two co-defendants, the newspaper reported. Both other men, Harochio Varnadore and Emanuel Pressley, are still charged with first-degree murder. The state is seeking death for both men in this Jacksonville Murder Case, the newspaper reported.

This Jacksonville Murder Case is yet another example of the prosecutors using the death penalty as a bargaining chip in a murder case, quite frankly not the intention of the death penalty. Either the case is a death penalty case or it's not. But more and more in Jacksonville Murder Cases, the charge starts out at first-degree murder with the death penalty on the table and results in a deal with the state to plead to second-degree murder, where the judge can impose a sentence anywhere between 25 years and life. In this Jacksonville Murder Case, the state now has a star witness who is testifying against the two other men involved in the case. The three are accused of kidnapping a newlywed couple from their home following a drug-related argument, the newspaper reported. The two bodies were found days later in the nearby woods, the newspaper reported.

The plea for Washington could mean he was the least culpable in this Jacksonville Murder Case, so the state was willing to work with him. Or it could mean he was the first one to take a deal. Washington is 21 and the other two men are 25 and 30, so the state could have seen Washington as the one most likely to talk. When someone is facing the death penalty, it often doesn't take too much to get them to cooperate - another reason it should not be used as a bargain chip for the state. In most instances, the sentencing for Washington in this Jacksonville Murder Case will be delayed until the cases of the other two co-defendants are resolved. The state makes a recommendation to the judge, which is typically based on how helpful the defendant is in his testimony. The state cannot put the death penalty back on the table, but it could still recommend life - regardless of how much he helps in this Jacksonville Murder 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 Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville Jaguars star Maurice Jones-Drew will not face criminal charge for bar incident

One month after a security guard at a St. Augustine bar accused Jacksonville Jaguar star running back Maurice Jones-Drew of punching him and knocking him unconscious, prosecutors announced Jones-Drew would not face charges. One video of the St. Johns County Battery incident that was released to the media is taken from a long distance and it is difficult to see exactly what happened, let alone identify anyone in the melee. Last week, prosecutors filed an "announcement of no information," ending the criminal side of the case by saying Jones-Drew would not face a misdemeanor simple battery charge, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Misdemeanor simple battery is a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in the county jail. In order to pursue criminal charges, the State Attorney's Office should have a reasonable probability of proving the charge beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Now, that's not always the case when charges are filed, so trying to predict when they'll file and when they won't is risky. This case always seemed more about money than criminal wrongdoing, and that reality is playing out now. When someone like Jones-Drew, scheduled to make $6.8 million next season, is involved, the real meat of the case can be in civil court. In civil court, the standard of proof is lower and the defendant can be at risk to pay damages. The standard of proof in a criminal case, as it would have been if prosecutors opted to pursue this St. Johns County Battery incident, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the standard is a "preponderance of evidence," which could make it more likely for a jury to find Jones-Drew responsible.

Jones-Drew did not speak to St. Augustine police during their investigation, primarily because it would be public record and he did not want it to be available for attorneys to use in their civil case against him, the newspaper reported. An attorney for the security guard said after the state opted not to press charges that he will file a civil case. This high-profile case does provide some insight into how charging decisions are made and the power prosecutors have. Many cases that end up getting essentially dropped after a few months of legal wrangling can be avoided if the state does more investigating on the front end and chooses not to file charges it can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending on the incident and how the case develops, our St. Johns Criminal Defense Attorney can sometimes be involved after the incident but before charges are filed to discuss the case with the state and advise you or your loved one going forward. If you believe you or your loved one may be a suspect in a crime, it's crucial to get a St. Johns Criminal Defense Attorney on board early, even if you haven't been arrested - as Jones-Drew hadn't in this St. Johns County Battery Case.

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