October 2013 Archives

Man charged with felony for spraying graffiti at Clay County home where detective was killed

October 30, 2013

A man accused of spray painting symbols of hate groups on the Clay County home where a police detective was shot and killed has been charged with a felony. Anthonio Cassanova is charged with felony criminal mischief, accused of spray painting swastikas and "RIP Ted Tilly" on the side of the home, according to a report on News4Jax. Tilly ambushed police officers during a raid and shot two detectives, killing Detective David White, before being shot and killed in the shootout.

Clay County Criminal mischief, more commonly known as vandalism, is typically a misdemeanor in Florida. But when it causes more than $1,000 in damage, the charge can be upgraded to a felony, as it was in this Clay County Felony Case. Cassanova is charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The house had been boarded up since the shootout during a police raid on the subjected meth house in February 2012, the television station reported. Volunteers have since painted over the graffiti on the house, the television station reported. Typically, a vandalism case like this would not be headline news among Jacksonville-area media. But this Clay County Felony Case is far different and the offensive nature of Cassanova's alleged graffiti, combined with the high profile of the case could spell trouble in terms of sentencing for Cassanova.

There are already examples in connection with White's death that foreshadow a sentence for Cassanova that is likely to be longer than average in a Clay County Felony Case. For example, people charged with dealing in stolen property for passing along the gun that was eventually used to shoot and kill White were sentenced to seven years in prison. Yes, they had criminal records that weighed in the sentencing, but stolen guns move around the state frequently and are used in plenty of crimes, but sentences of seven years aren't the norm. Both were facing up to 15 years in prison, so they received about half of the maximum time. The state may argue in this case that Cassanova's sentence should be even closer to the maximum. In the gun cases, yes it was certainly wrong, but the defendants did not have a way of knowing the gun they passed onto someone else was going to end up in Tilly's hands and that he was going to use it to shoot a police officer. Whereas Cassanova is accused of using the house as a way to get across a message that many find offensive and disrespectful to the community and the detective's family. All elements of a crime and a defendant's criminal record, which Cassanova certainly has, are brought into consideration when it comes time to sentence a person in a Clay County Felony Case. None of those elements appear to be in Cassanova's favor here, and many will be watching closely to see how the case plays 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 Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville attorney seeking new trial after conviction in connection with Allied Veterans gambling case

October 28, 2013

Just weeks after being found guilty on 103 counts of gambling-related charges, Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis is asking the court for a new trial. The state pegged Mathis as the mastermind of a $300 million gambling operation that prosecutors say used the Allied Veterans of the World nonprofit as a front for the ring, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Mathis and his defense lawyers in this Florida Felony Crimes Case said all along that Mathis was simply providing legal advice to the group. And, before the Allied Veterans case broke and 57 people including Mathis were arrested, the internet cafes were legal in the state of Florida.

Testimony regarding the legality of the machines is at the crux of the request for a new trial. During the trial in this Felony Crimes Case, Mathis was not allowed to present evidence showing that his legal advice was correct and that local governments had voted in laws to regulate these internet operations, the newspaper reported. Because that evidence could not be presented, Mathis argues the point could not be made clearly to the jury that the internet cafes were legal at the time. Mathis' defense team planned to call state legislators, county sheriffs and other lawmakers to testify about laws regulating or banning the machines, but was not allowed to do so, the newspaper reported. The guilty verdicts were a surprise to many observers, especially given the relative slaps on the wrist other defendants received in the case. Half of the other 57 people charged had reached a plea deal - and none of those included prison time. Even former directors of Allied Veterans and the person who made the software for the machines were given deals without prison time, though they said if called to testify against Mathis they would simply say Mathis gave the group legal advice. The state's gambling expert was barred from testifying at trial and the judge dropped dozens of charges during the trial, so many thought the case was looking favorable for Mathis.

In any Jacksonville Felony Case, a defendant is entitled to present evidence as an alternative to the state's case. The defendant can call witnesses and bring in testimony, just like prosecutors can. And when that defense is restricted, that's where appellate issues can arise. People are entitled to defend themselves in a criminal trial. That's a hallmark of our judicial system. Would that testimony about the legality of the cafes have made a difference in the minds of this group of jurors in this Jacksonville Felony Case? No one knows. But if the higher court agrees they should have been able to weigh that evidence, another group of jurors may get to hear it in a second trial.

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

Florida Supreme Court tosses out drug trafficking charge for Jacksonville man and orders him resentenced

October 25, 2013

The Florida Supreme Court has thrown out a drug trafficking charge against a Jacksonville man, saying the way the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office tested the drugs was insufficient to prove he had as much cocaine as the state alleged. Instead of the 15-year sentence that was imposed after trial, Baron Greenwade is now looking at a maximum of five years in prison on a cocaine possession charge, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. When Greenwade was arrested in 2009, police found a bag inside his garage with nine individual plastic bags inside, the newspaper reported. Police then dumped all nine into one bag before sending the drugs off to be tested by a forensic chemist, the newspaper reported. Because the combined amount was more than 200 grams, Greenwade could then be charged with trafficking in this Jacksonville Drug Crimes Case, which opened him up to a minimum mandatory sentence of seven years in prison.

Greenwade's Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys argued that the state should have sent each individual bag of cocaine to the chemist to be tested - a practice that is followed in other major Florida cities, including Miami and Tampa, the newspaper reported. The Supreme Court agreed. One main reason is that drug dealers sometimes put fake cocaine in a baggie, if they think they can get away with it, so it is possible there was less than 200 grams or actual cocaine in the larger bag police found. This Jacksonville Drug Crimes Case decision by the Supreme Court will now force Jacksonville police to individually test each baggie or container they find.

Drug charges and sentences are based on the type of drug and the amount the person is accused of having. As was proven in this Jacksonville Drug Crimes Case, a few grams either way can make an enormous difference in the amount of time a person receives. Greenwade was initially charged with a first-degree felony and is now guilty of just a third-degree felony, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison. His maximum sentence is more than the minimum seven years he was required to serve on the trafficking charge. While Jacksonville Drug Crimes laws seem like they'd be pretty straightforward, cases like this are always changing the landscape of Jacksonville Criminal Defense Cases. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney stays on top of all of the latest rulings and has the latest information at her fingertips to advise you or your loved one.

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.

Sixteen men arrested for traveling to have sex with a minor during Clay County sting

October 23, 2013

Officers from Clay County and several other agencies posed as young teens online and then arrested 16 men who chatted with them online, set up a meeting and came to a house with plans to have sex or some kind of sexual contact. The men were arrested and taken into custody when they arrived to meet the person they allegedly thought was a child in these Clay County Sex Crimes Cases, according to a report on First Coast News.

The stings are growing more common and were popularized several years ago with the To Catch a Predator series as part of Dateline NBC. Police have honed their craft in these types of stings and are careful to build up as much of a paper trail as they can to try to show clear intent among the men who end up showing up and the house and getting arrested. Most of the men have two charges in common in these Clay County Sex Crimes cases: traveling to meet a minor to conduct unlawful acts and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony. The traveling charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in state prison, while the use of the communication device charge is a third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Some of the men may have additional charges, including drug possession if they had marijuana or any other narcotic on them when they were arrested.

The key though is the traveling to meet a minor charge, because that's the one that would qualify a person as a sex offender. Sex crimes can stick with a person publicly more than any other criminal offense - including murder. When a person pleads guilty to or is convicted of a Clay County Sex Crimes Case, such as traveling to meet a minor, he or she will have to register as a sex offender. That means checking in with police at least every six months. It also means that whenever the person moves into a new house or apartment, neighbors are alerted with the person's picture and the charge that made the person a sex offender. Registered sex offenders are also restricted as to where they can live, and must not be close to a school or other places children congregate. It will be interesting to see if most of the defendants agree to a plea deal or end up taking the Clay County Sex Crimes case to trial. Albeit a different judicial circuit, a similar sting last year in St. Johns County netted far different sentences for those who pleaded guilty versus those who went to trial. Our Clay County Sex Crimes attorney can thoroughly investigate the facts of the case and advise you or your loved one so you can make an informed decision 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 Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Veteran Jacksonville police officer charged with grand theft, accused of falsifying overtime records

October 21, 2013

A longtime officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was arrested this month and charged with 27 felonies after authorities say an internal investigation found he falsified time sheets. Police say Denny Hamlin, a 17-year veteran of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, lied about more than $4,000 in overtime, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Hamlin resigned from his position after being confronted about the falsified documents, the newspaper reported.

The investigation in this Jacksonville Theft Case allegedly revealed that of more than 40 overtime submissions between January and June, 26 were falsified, the newspaper reported. For each of the 26, Hamlin was charged with misconduct by a public official - a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Hamlin was also charged with grand theft and the severity of the charge varies based on the amount stolen, what was taken and where it was taken from. In this Duval County Theft Case, Hamlin was arrested on a first-degree felony grand theft charge, presumably under the provision in state law claiming the money was "law enforcement property." Normally, the amount Hamlin was accused of taking would only merit a third-degree felony. Instead, he is looking at the possibility of 30 years in prison for the first-degree felony, and 130 more if sentenced to the maximum on each of the 26 official misconduct counts. Now, it's highly unlikely anyone would receive that amount of time for allegedly stealing about $4,000, and that is not expected in this Jacksonville Theft Case.

But this does show what could be the balance of power between police officers and prosecutors when it comes to Jacksonville Theft Cases. Police officers make the arrest and suspects are booked into jail on charges that police believe qualify. Prosecutors then examine the case and determine which charges they will file. Typically, there are a few weeks between when a person is arrested and when he or she is formally arraigned on charges - and that delay is partly to allow prosecutors to make that decision. In this Jacksonville Theft Case, Hamlin's arraignment was set for about three weeks after his first appearance in court. This period is also a time where a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can begin talking with the prosecutors about the case, even starting negotiating if the client wishes, before charges are officially filed. In many Jacksonville Theft Cases, prosecutors are hesitant to drop or reduce charges once they have been filed.

It will be interesting to see if this Jacksonville Theft Case remains a first-degree felony. Granted, Hamlin is facing plenty of other charges here, but any potential sentence is likely to be much lighter for a third-degree felony than it is for a first-degree felony.

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

Man on way to Jacksonville stopped on Interstate 95, police find bricks of marijuana in dog food bag

October 18, 2013

A Miami man is facing felony drug trafficking charges after police found 30 bricks of marijuana in a dog food bag during a traffic stop on the interstate. Police estimated the marijuana was worth $120,000 and arrested Roger Aguilera for trafficking in marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to sell, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Trafficking in marijuana is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The charge also carries a minimum mandatory sentence of three years in prison. Possession with intent to sell in Florida is a third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, so obviously the trafficking charge is the one for Aguilera to be most concerned about.

The news reports do not specify exactly how much marijuana was taken, but for it to qualify as a trafficking charge in this St. Johns County Drug Crimes Case, it was a significant amount. In Florida, a person must have at least 25 pounds of marijuana for the state to charge a person with trafficking in marijuana. For other types of drugs, trafficking applies with a fraction of that amount - 28 grams for cocaine and just 14 grams for oxycodone and other prescription drugs. Aguilera was stopped in this St. Johns County Drug Crimes Case because the tinting on his windows was too dark, the newspaper reported. Once police approached the car, they said Aguilera was acting nervous and police asked to search the car, the newspaper reported. Police said Aguilar gave them permission and that's when police saw the dog food bag and found the marijuana, the newspaper reported.

It would have been interesting to see how police would have handled the situation if Aguilar had not given permission to search the car. An officer would need probable cause and just acting suspicious is not enough. The news report does say police smelled marijuana, but that was after they started searching the car. Aguilar certainly had the right to decline to have his car searched and it is reasonable to expect that conversation will get plenty of attention in this St. Johns County Drug Crimes Case. If Aguilar did not fully understand his rights, what the officer was asking of him or that he had the right to say no, there could be grounds to try to have the traffic stop suppressed. And without the traffic stop, police do not have a St. Johns County Drug Crimes Case. That may sound ludicrous because, either way, Aguilar still had more than 25 pounds of marijuana bricks stuffed in a dog food bag. But, there are certain rules and procedures police must follow. Officers cannot go around just searching cars to search cars - especially cars they pull over just because of their window tint. Our St. Johns County Drug Crimes Attorney knows those rules and procedures inside out and can investigate all aspects of the stop to determine if there could be a reason to have the stop thrown 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 St. Johns County Drug Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman accused of trying to hire undercover Jacksonville police officer to kill her daughter-in-law

October 16, 2013

A 70-year-old Clay County woman is charged with two felonies after allegedly trying to hire a hit man to kill her daughter-in-law. Diana Costarakis is accused of meeting twice with the person she thought was a hitman, but was actually an undercover officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said she paid the officer $500 one day and $1,000 the following day as a down payment, the newspaper reported. The rest of the $5,000 to have the woman killed could come from the jewelry she would be wearing at the time of her death, Costarakis is accused to telling the officer, the newspaper reported.

Costarakis is charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case. Both charges are first-degree felonies in this Jacksonville Criminal Case, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. In criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy cases, the seriousness of the charge is based on the crime the person is soliciting or conspiring to commit. If the crime is a capital crime, such as murder, then soliciting and conspiracy charges are first-degree felonies. So Costarakis is looking at up to 60 years in prison if convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty on each count. As a general rule, the solicitation felony degree is one level down from the crime the person is soliciting for. So if the base crime is an armed robbery, a first-degree felony, soliciting or conspiring to commit an armed robbery would be a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If the conspiracy is based on a third-degree felony, the solicitation or conspiracy charge would be a misdemeanor.

The key in a Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case like this is the state's ability to prove Costarakis was expressly paying to have the person killed. Police know that and, according to the newspaper report, asked her if the daughter should be killed. Costarakis is accused of saying, "If you don't do it, I will," the newspaper reported. On the surface, that doesn't bode well - and neither do the two cash payments to the officer. Defenses to conspiracy and solicitation in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case can be that the suspect was backing out of the plan and changed his or her mind. There is no evidence to that end that has been released so far, but that wouldn't be something police would voluntarily give up. It would, however, be subject to disclosure as the Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case moves forward. Jacksonville Violent Crimes Cases often appear to be open-and-shut cases when police wrap them up in a tidy bow and present them to the media. But when an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney starts examining the case and investigating the details and tactics used by the police, an entirely different picture can sometimes emerge.

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

State drops murder charge against 98-year-old St. Johns County woman found mentally incompetent

October 14, 2013

Prosecutors have finally dropped murder charges against a 98-year-old woman who was found mentally incompetent to stand trial over a year ago. In doing so, Amanda Stevenson now has access to her retirement benefits that had been suspended due to pending charges and those funds can be used for a private long-term care facility where she can live, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The back and forth in this St. Johns County Murder Case highlights the fact that a case doesn't just end once a person is found to be mentally incompetent to face the charges.

Stevenson was charged with second-degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of her nephew, with whom she had an ongoing dispute, the newspaper reported. A year later, Stevenson, who suffers from dementia, was found incompetent, but remained in jail while state agencies went back and forth as to who would be able to take care of her. In May, she was finally released from jail and placed in a mental health facility under the care of the state Department of Children and Families, the newspaper reported. In the motion dropping the charges, two doctors agreed that Stevenson was not going to regain mental competency, likely because of the stage of her dementia and her age, the newspaper reported. In many St. Johns County Murder Cases where mental competency is at issue, the person will be periodically evaluated to determine if competency can be regained - possibly through counseling or medication. The murder charge was punishable by up to life in prison. At 98, practically any sentence amounts to life in prison in this St. Johns County Murder Case.

But, as all of the legal wrangling was working itself out, her retirement benefits were frozen until the charges were formally dropped, the newspaper reported. Different pension and retirement plans operate differently. In terms of social security, payments are only supposed to be suspended when a person is convicted of a felony, not simply charged. But many state plans, for retired teachers or other state workers for example, and disability payments can be suspended once a person is jailed on charges. Part of the argument is that state and federal disability benefits are used to pay for living expenses and, if the person is incarcerated, the state is paying to take care of the person - regardless of whether or not the person has been convicted. Mental competency can be a serious issue, especially in St. Johns County Murder Cases, and the courts have complicated standards as to when a person is mentally able to stand trial - and when he or she is not. Our St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorney can have your loved one evaluated by a mental health professional and present those findings to the court, if deemed necessary.

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 St. Johns County Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jury can't agree in murder trial of Jacksonville Beach man accused of shooting his wife; new trial expected

October 11, 2013

A Jacksonville judge was forced to declare a mistrial last month in the case of a Jacksonville Beach man charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his wife. Michael Morris is charged with shooting his wife seven times in the foyer of their home during an argument when both had been drinking, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Morris' neighbor, an off-duty police officer, took Morris into custody and would not let the man back in his home after Morris said he wanted to use one of his 40 guns to kill himself, the newspaper reported.

The issue in this Jacksonville Murder Case isn't really the crime itself, but rather the charge. The state charged Morris with first-degree murder, meaning the crime was premeditated. Now that doesn't mean Morris needed to have plotted the shooting weeks or months in advance, but that in that moment when he pulled out his gun and shot several times he intended to kill her. With first-degree murder charges, there are only two possible sentences: life in prison or the death penalty. Because the state was not seeking the death penalty in this Jacksonville Murder Case, a conviction would have resulted in an automatic life sentence for Morris. But Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys argued that Morris should have only been charged with manslaughter. Manslaughter is also a first-degree felony, but the maximum penalty is 30 years in prison. That would still essentially be a life sentence for Morris, 67, but the judge has discretion he or she doesn't not have in a first-degree murder case. Manslaughter is basically a charge for when someone dies as a result of negligence or as part of another criminal act where there was no intent to kill. For example, manslaughter is commonly charged if two people get into a fight and the one is killed, perhaps from hitting his or her head on the concrete.

It's impossible to know just how deadlocked the jury was in this Jacksonville Murder Case. For someone to be convicted of any crime in the state of Florida, the jury must be unanimous in its decision. So even just one person who disagrees - and stands his or her ground - can force a mistrial. In some Jacksonville Criminal Defense Cases, a mistrial opens the door to further negotiations and perhaps a plea agreement. In many Jacksonville Murder Cases, though, it adds to the defendant's resolve, thinking the jury was close to finding the person not guilty. Our Jacksonville Trial Attorney knows every trial carries a significant risk. And although the charge is obviously very serious, that actually doesn't hold as true in Jacksonville Murder Cases. If the only possibility is life in prison whether the person pleads guilty or goes to trial, why not take the case to trial? The risk factor in other cases varies tremendously and, having represented thousands of defendants on charges ranging from misdemeanors to life felonies, our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can lay out the options for you or your loved one to make the best decision 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 Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge allows resisting arrest case at Jacksonville International Airport to move forward

October 9, 2013

Jacksonville Misdemeanor charges against an Illinois man arrested during a bomb threat and evacuation at Jacksonville International Airport will go forward, a judge ruled this month. Manuel Rivera is charged with resisting an officer without violence after police said he was acting suspiciously when the airport was emptied last week when another man told agents at a security checkpoint that he had a bomb, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. There was speculation from the outset that Rivera and the alleged attempted bomber were connected, but police have clarified the two men did not know each other and the man who said he had a bomb was acting alone, the newspaper reported.

As police tried to clear the area near the airport, an officer saw Rivera carrying a bag in a parking garage and ordered him to stop, the newspaper reported. Rivera dropped the bag and pulled away. Police took the bag and checked for explosives and other contraband, but did not find any, the newspaper reported. Rivera was arrested for resisting an officer without violence, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail. Typically, a resisting arrest charge comes when someone is running from police, or gives officers a hard time when he or she is being questioned by authorities. In many Jacksonville Misdemeanor Cases, the resisting charge is on top of other charges, For example, a person may turn and run when police show up a party. When police eventually catch the person, officers find marijuana in his or her pocket. Then, the defendant could be charged with resisting arrest and marijuana possession. It's more uncommon to see resisting arrest as the sole charge, but it does happen in Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crimes Cases.

There are two types of resisting charges. There's resisting without violence, as Rivera is charged, and also resisting with violence. When violence is involved, the charge becomes a third-degree felony in Duval County punishable by up to five years in state prison. In this situation at the airport, police were in the heat of a potentially dangerous situation and had to take everyone and everything seriously. The public may not argue with them arresting people on Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crimes to eliminate the threat and sorting it out later. Well, later is now here. There's a fine line between resisting arrest and not following the instructions of an officer that doesn't have a legal basis for stopping you. Now that the airport threat has been eliminated and police know Rivera was not involved, it will be interesting to see how the case plays out.

Our Jacksonville Misdemeanor Attorney has represented thousands of people charged with misdemeanors and, just because there isn't significant prison time on the horizon, doesn't mean the charge isn't serious for the defendant. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney takes every single case seriously and will help you work through the case to get back to your 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 Misdemeanor Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

New trial ordered in Jacksonville "Stand Your Ground" case that garnered national headlines

October 7, 2013

A Jacksonville mother sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of firing a warning shot to ward off an abusive husband will now get a new trial. The 1st District Court of Appeal threw out the 2012 conviction of Marissa Alexander last month, citing an issue with what the jury was told about what to consider regarding self-defense, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. This adds another chapter to the case that has been the subject of protests and rallies by politicians and civil rights leaders who claim the punishment for Alexander did not fit the crime.

Alexander was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Jacksonville for going to the garage and getting a gun, then firing one shot into the ceiling to stop her threatening husband, the newspaper reported. The other two charges were filed because two children were present during the incident. According to Florida's 10-20-Life law, Alexander faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years if she was convicted in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case - which she was in March 2012. Up to the trial, the state was offering to waive the minimum mandatory sentence for Alexander if she agreed to plead guilty to the Duval County criminal charges and accept three years in prison. She refused and, once she was convicted, the judge had no choice but to give her 20 years. The decision by the appellate court could have wide-ranging effects on Jacksonville Gun Crimes cases, and others in which a self-defense claim could be used.

In every Jacksonville Criminal Defense Case, the jury is read a series of instructions right before they are sent back to deliberate. These instructions include the elements of the charges they are to consider and the standard for conviction on this particular crime. The jury in this Jacksonville Weapon Crimes case was told that in order to find Alexander not guilty by reason of self-defense, that Alexander must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was battered by Gray and that's why she felt she was in imminent danger and got the gun. The appellate court ruled burden of proof should have been on the prosecution to prove Alexander was not acting in self-defense. It's a subtle point, but one that can be essential going forward with self-defense claims. The language used to the jury in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case is fairly standard and will now require a change to stay in accordance with the ruling. And you can bet appellate attorneys are looking at other Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases to see if a similar statement was made to the jury that could be brought up in hopes of getting the conviction tossed. Now that there's an opportunity for all parties to reconsider their decision, including Alexander on going to trial with a 20-year sentence hanging over her head, it will be interesting to see how negotiations and this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case play 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 Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Investigator for Medical Examiner's Office accused of stealing jewelry off of dead bodies

October 4, 2013

A forensic investigator with the Medical Examiner's Office faces three felony charges amid allegations he was taking jewelry off of dead bodies and pawning the items for cash. Christopher Allen was arrested at work in September after a four-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The investigation stemmed from a complaint when family members noticed several pieces of jewelry missing from a deceased woman earlier this year, the newspaper reported. Allen had allegedly pawned more than 60 pieces of jewelry at local pawn shops in the last year, and many of the items were things he would have had access to through work, the newspaper reported.

In these Jacksonville Theft Cases, Allen is charged with falsifying a document as a public official, giving false verification of ownership of pawned items and dealing in stolen property. Dealing in stolen property in Duval County is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, while other two are both third-degree felonies with maximum sentences of five years. In all, he is facing up to 25 years in prison for these Jacksonville Theft Crimes. Allen has not been charged with theft yet, which could be a second shoe to drop in the case. Though, in Florida, theft is often a less serious charge than dealing in stolen property. If the Jacksonville Theft Case involves property that has a value of less than $300, it is a Petit Theft and the charge would be a misdemeanor, not a felony. The maximum jail time on a misdemeanor is one year in jail and a person cannot be sent to state prison on a misdemeanor conviction. If the property is valued between $300 and $20,000, the charge is a third-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in state prison.

But selling the items changes the charges in Duval County Theft Cases and severely ups the ante. And the cases can be much easier to prove, especially if the property is taken to a pawn shop. If it is, the person selling the items must provide identification and, in many cases, leave a thumbprint that serves as another form of identification. The other element of the crime is that the person had to either know the property was stolen or should have known the property was stolen before selling it. In this Jacksonville Theft Case, if Allen was indeed the one taking the items himself, he obviously would have known they were stolen. Depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant's record, Jacksonville Theft Cases can be cases where a defendant is offered some sort of pretrial intervention program that can include probation and restitution costs for what was stolen. The nature of Allen's crime may make that difficult, but it can be an option for others charged in Jacksonville Theft Cases.

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

Judge issues life sentence but rare parole eligibility for man who was 17 at time of Clay County double murder

October 2, 2013

A Jacksonville man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a Clay County double murder, but he could be released after 25 years in an increasing common sentence for judges waiting for direction on a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Derrell Emery Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, Clay County Murders he was charged as an adult for even though he was 17 years old at the time, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Emery and Todd Bradshaw went to a house where a man they knew was housesitting, the newspaper reported. They allegedly planned on robbing the man, but when the man fought back, he was shot and killed. Police arrived and when Emery and Bradshaw tried to run, both were shot by police, the newspaper reported. Emery was shot in the ankle, but Bradshaw was killed by police. Prosecutors argued Emery was criminally responsible in both Clay County Murders because he was involved in the robbery that eventually caused both of the murders, the newspaper reported.

In Florida, there are two possible sentences for someone convicted of first-degree murder: life in prison without parole or the death penalty. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court put a wrinkle in Florida law by ruling juveniles could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, even in Clay County Murder Cases. This ruling came two years after a decision banning life sentences for juvenile on every crime but murder. In the most recent opinion, the Supreme Court argued the life sentence is cruel and unusual punishment. So even though parole does not even exist in Florida, some judges are adding it to the sentences people who were juveniles at their time of their crimes. This is done as a way to try to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, though there has not been direction on what would constitute a proper sentence going forward. Florida abolished parole in 1983 and people who are convicted must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. No one sentenced to life can be released but, for example, someone sentenced to 10 years must serve at least 8-1/2 years. Laws have been proposed to add parole specifically to comply with the Supreme Court ruling on juveniles, but they've gone nowhere as lawmakers are reluctant to appear soft on crime, according to a previous report in the Florida Times-Union. The Supreme Court case provides a challenge for judges in cases such as this Clay County Murder case, but there is plenty of time for further directions. The first few defendants sentenced in these cases will not become eligible for parole for another 24 years.

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