Recently in Gun Crimes in Jacksonville Category

"Warning shot" case that garnered national headlines ends in plea deal for Jacksonville woman

December 5, 2014

A long-running Jacksonville aggravated battery case that drew national media attention because of a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence ended last month with a plea deal. The defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated battery for firing what she says was a warning shot into the ceiling because she was afraid of her estranged husband, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said there were two children nearby, which led to the three charges, the newspaper reported. The woman was facing 60 years in prison, but the agreement reached last month calls for her to do three years in prison. Because of time served over the delays and other turns in this case, she will be released in January.

This deal ends a highly-publicized case that drew local and national discussion about warning shots and minimum mandatory sentences. The defendant was initially found guilty of all three counts by a jury in 2011. Because of Florida's 10-20-Life law, and the fact the defendant fired a weapon, a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years applied and the judge had no discretion in the sentence. The conviction was overturned on a technicality and the case came back to Jacksonville. But one major element had changed. Interpretation of the 10-20-Life and minimum mandatory laws had since changed. Prevailing legal opinion now is that each charge carries a minimum mandatory 20-year sentence. So instead of 20 years, the defendant, now 34, was looking at 60 years in state prison if convicted again.

The three-year sentence is a similar plea deal to what the defendant initially rejected right before her 2011 trial, the newspaper reported. Under Florida's 10-20-Life law, if someone pulls a gun during the commission of a felony, there is a minimum mandatory 10-year prison sentence that can apply. If a firearm is discharged, the sentence is bumped up to 20 years. If someone is shot, the minimum mandatory is life. Now, prosecutors ultimately have the discretion to waive those penalties, as they eventually did in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. But once the case goes to trial, the sentencing decision is out of everyone's hands - even the judge's. The threat of minimum mandatory sentences is often used in bargaining by the state to get people to plead guilty to charges and take shorter prison sentences, rather than face a mandatory 60-year sentence, or whatever the charge may be. Minimum mandatory sentences are definitely a card the state holds and our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney can explain all of the details and consequences so you or your loved one can make an informed decision about a pending 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.


State rules motorcycle gang shooting at Jacksonville Beach restaurant justifiable, will not file charges

November 17, 2014

No charges will be filed in a Jacksonville Beach shooting that killed a member of a motorcycle gang. Prosecutors said the man who fired the shot was attacked by at least three men and pulled out a gun and fired a shot to end the attack, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. That shot hit one of his attackers in the head, killing him, the newspaper reported. The announcement comes more than four months after the June shooting, which prosecutors said stemmed from a planned confrontation between two rival motorcycle gangs, the newspaper reported.

The man who fired the shot had a broken nose, but prosecutors inferred it would have been much worse had he not ended the beating by firing a shot. Florida law allows a person to use deadly force if he or she feels in eminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. It's often known as the Stand Your Ground Law, and is often claimed but less often accepted in court as a reason for a shooting. But this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case did not get that far because prosecutors chose not to file charges in the case. The shooter in this case immediately gave his gun to a friend following the attack, who unloaded it before handing it over to police, the newspaper reported. The shooter, who had a concealed weapons permit to legally carry the gun, does not have a criminal record and voluntarily spoke to police after the shooting, according to the newspaper.

Speaking to police after an incident can be dangerous and could lead to criminal charges, but it is natural for people to want to explain themselves - especially in an incident where a person is accused of killing another person. In this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case, it worked out for the shooter, and was the right decision for the state to make. Once charges are filed, it can be difficult for the state to walk away from them - especially in a Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case like this where it was investigated for more than four months. Police were tight-lipped on this case for months, despite media attention and protests from the victim's family demanding information and justice. Prosecutors would have needed to be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and clearly did not believe they could in this Jacksonville Gun 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 Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Police say 23 arrests on gun, drug and robbery charges are tied to Jacksonville gang

November 2, 2014

Local police say a two-year investigation has helped weaken a Jacksonville gang known for dealing drugs and breaking into houses. The arrests have been made since police started investigating a January 2013 homicide, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union, so it has been an incremental dismantling - not just one sweep leading to a couple of dozen arrests. While most gang-related charges center on drugs, police say this gang also committed several residential burglaries within its territory near downtown Jacksonville, the newspaper reported.

Since the investigation began, police say they've taken five guns, 11 kilograms of cocaine, 20 pounds of marijuana and almost $30,000, the newspaper reported. A state law called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, or the RICO Act, allows for upgraded penalties if the state can prove that the crimes are gang-related. Prosecutors must first prove that the gang or criminal enterprise exists. Then, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury that the crimes at issue were committed to further the criminal enterprise. Any gang-related charges typically come after whatever the defendant is arrested for in the first place. For example, in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case, a man was accused of robbing another man, then shooting another person who tried to stop the robbery, the newspaper reported. The man was initially charged with armed robbery, aggravated battery and shooting into a home - all serious felonies. Armed robbery and aggravated battery are both first-degree felonies and armed robbery can have a life sentence for someone who is convicted. But recently, police added two RICO charges to in the case, adding two more 30-year enhancements on top of what the 25-year-old man is already facing.

In order to make those claims stand up in court, police must have some sort of inside information at the gang level. The threat of the RICO charges can also be used by the state to try to move negotiations along in a Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case or a Jacksonville Drug Crimes Case. Not only can the threat of another 30 years help coax someone along, it could also encourage the state to get one of the defendants to testify against another of the defendants in the case. Jacksonville Robbery Cases are serious on their own, first-degree felonies if people are accused of using a gun in the crime, and often people will do what they can to have their own sentence reduced. Police are also looking for two more of the gang leaders and are likely trying to publicize the case to help get more information about the whereabouts of the suspects.

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.

Lawyer asks to move high-profile Michael Dunn murder trial out of Jacksonville

September 8, 2014

When Michael Dunn is tried a second time next year on a first-degree murder charge, his attorney is requesting the high profile case be tried outside of Jacksonville. A motion was filed this month asking for a change of venue when the state tries Dunn again on the one count the jury couldn't agree on earlier this year, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Dunn said he feared for his life when he opened fire on a car of teenagers at a Southside gas station, killing a 17-year-old, the newspaper reported. Dunn went to trial earlier this year and his case was followed closely by national and local media. He was convicted on three counts of attempted murder for the shooting at the three teens in the car who survived, but the jury could not come to agreement on whether Dunn was guilty of first-degree murder in the teen's death.

Dunn, 49, faces a mandatory 20 years on each of the three counts, so he will be in prison for at least 60 years. Because these are mandatory sentences, they must be served consecutively and in their entirety without a change of gained time for good behavior. So he would be released when he is 109, meaning he's likely already serving a life sentence. Despite that prospect, the state is pushing forward with another trial that will be expensive to taxpayers and put the city in the national spotlight again. The first trial garnered gavel-to-gavel news coverage, so his attorney has a legitimate point that the media coverage could taint a potential jury pool.

The change of venue request in this Jacksonville Murder Case can be made in the "interest of justice" according to state statutes. Essentially that includes any elements that could prevent finding an impartial jury in the Jacksonville Murder Case, which could be whether jurors have heard about the case and already made a decision one way or the other on if they feel Dunn is guilty. The requests are filed fairly regularly, but not often granted. Most murder trials are in the media prior to the case going to trial, and reading a story or watching a news progress does not preclude them from being fair and impartial on the jury. But the level of media attention in this case was as high as it has been for any case in recent years - and there will be more in advance of the trial as it gets closer. The ultimate responsibility of the justice system in any Jacksonville Criminal Case is for the defendant to have a fair trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. The role of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney to fight for a fair trial, including seeking to move the trial if there could be an issue with a local jury.

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.

Jury convicts woman of reduced charges for firing shots at another vehicle

August 1, 2014

A jury convicted a Jacksonville woman of reduced charges in connection with her shooting into a car at a driver and her passengers. The charges have varied in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case that dates back to 2011. Ultimately, she was convicted of three counts of attempted manslaughter, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said the woman fired shots from a pistol from her car at another vehicle and, when the other driver tried to escape, the woman continued to follow and continued to fire shots at the vehicle, according to the newspaper report.

The woman was first charged in 2011 with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison, so a total of 15. Prosecutors then upgraded the charges to attempted murder, second-degree felonies, and those are the charges that were brought to the jury in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. In the end, the jury found the woman was not guilty of attempted murder, but instead guilty of attempted manslaughter. In the grand scheme of things, there's little difference in the bottom line. Florida's 10-20-Life laws dictate the sentencing in the Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case anyway, though the jury doesn't know that when they are deliberating on charges. Possible sentencing cannot be discussed in front of the jury because it could sway their opinion. The case is to be judged solely on the facts alone, not on any potential punishment. In Florida, prosecutors can choose to apply the 10-20-Life laws related to gun crimes and the minimum mandatory sentences that go with them. When applied, a person can receive a 10-year minimum sentence for showing a gun during the commission of a felony. The 20-year minimum mandatory applies when a gun is fired and the life sentence can come in when someone is hit.

These minimum penalties have been highly scrutinized and there has been some movement in the state legislature to give more latitude to judges, but for now these are the laws that apply in Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases. One of the biggest issues with these sentences is that judges have ruled they must be applied consecutively. In this Jacksonville Gun Crimes case, the woman was convicted of three counts. So each 20-year sentence must be severed separately, meaning she has a mandatory sentence of 60 years in state prison. In most cases, judges have the discretion to run the sentences concurrently, means all three 20-years sentences at once so the total sentence is only 20 years. So while the reduced charge sounds good, it ultimately means the same lengthy prison sentence as the murder charge.

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.

New Florida law includes warning shots in Stand Your Ground law

A new state law allows judges to veer from the Florida's strict 10-20-Life laws if it can be proven that a person fired a warning shot because he or she was in fear of death or imminent great bodily harm. The change expands the state's Stand Your Ground law to allow people to show a gun and fire a warning shot if they feel threatened, just as a person can use deadly force in a similar situation, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Before the law change, someone who fired a warning shot could be charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and, because a gun was fired, faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in state prison.

A Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case was one of the reasons a South Florida lawmaker said he sponsored the bill, the newspaper reported. A Jacksonville woman was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault, and sentenced to 20 years in state prison, for firing what she says was a warning shot to scare off her estranged husband. Two of his children were present at the time, hence the two additional charges. Her conviction was overturned by an appellate court, so she is now awaiting a second trial in her Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. Police and prosecutors contend that Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case wasn't a true warning shot, proof that you will still encounter similar disagreements in court on whether the law applies. Many in law enforcement have been generally supportive of the new bill because it helps clarify what is legal when it comes to self-defense, the newspaper reported, and because it protects people who are legally defending themselves.

From a sentencing and adjudication perspective, it essentially gets discretion back into the hands of judges, who are elected and appointed to make these decisions, which is a good thing. Anytime there's a hard and fast rule without room for interpretation, there's a risk of a sentencing not matching up with the actual crime, given the circumstances. Not all Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases are exactly alike, and judges should be able to take all of the facts into consideration and make the best decision in terms of sentencing. Under Florida's 10-20-Life law, anyone who displays a gun during the commission of a felony can be sentenced to an automatic 10 years in state prison. If a gun is fired, a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence is applied. If someone is shot during the felony, the defendant would receive a mandatory life sentence if convicted. This new law does not prevent judges from imposing severe sentences in Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases, it simply allows discretion in cases where it makes sense.

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.

Jacksonville high school student arrested after school officials find a gun in his sock

March 13, 2014

What school and police officials say was a random check in a Jacksonville high school classroom turned up a loaded gun in the sock of a 16-year-old boy. The student was arrested on the felony charge of bringing a weapon onto a school campus and was ordered to be held in a juvenile detention center, according to a report on News4Jax. The teen told police he was having problems with some people outside of school, was going to be walking to a friend's house that day and thought he needed it to protect himself, the television station reported. Bringing a weapon onto school grounds is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in state prison.

That punishment in a Jacksonville Gun Crimes case is for if the boy is charged and sentenced as an adult. The mere fact that this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case is a high school student being caught with a gun in a classroom would indicate that this is a Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case and should be handled through the juvenile justice system, though that is not always the case. Assuming that it does stay in the juvenile system, the range of penalties is far different than it is for adults. There are five different levels of juvenile detention, ranging from non-residential programs in which the students can still attend school, on up to what amounts to a prison for teens. Because this Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case involves a gun, the defendant would automatically be disqualified from the two least serious options. At the very least, if convicted, the teen would likely be in a locked juvenile facility serving a sentence with little access to the community. In some cases, teens are allowed to visit home or enroll in school near the end of their sentence to help get everything in order to move on with their lives after being released.

In terms of school, the teen's options could be limited, too, as a result of this Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case. Bringing a weapon to school is an automatic suspension in Florida and could ultimately lead to the student being expelled from school entirely. That leaves the teen without many places to turn to get an education that he will need to lead a productive life. There are some educational programs in the juvenile detention centers where a student can stay on track for his or her diploma, and the schools look at each student individually when determining whether he or she can return to school.

Teens make mistakes - that's why there is a separate juvenile court system that is designed to focus on rehabilitation and education. Our Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Attorney can work with your loved one's case to help him or her have the opportunity to move on and learn from the incident.

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

Jacksonville woman avoids chance of death sentence, pleads guilty to shooting and killing ex-boyfriend

January 17, 2014

Rather than face a trial and the possibility of the death penalty, a Jacksonville woman pleaded guilty this month to killing her ex-boyfriend last year. Arianne Myles was accused of shooting her ex-boyfriend outside a Jacksonville post office, shortly after learning the man was engaged to another woman, the newspaper reported. Myles was charged with first-degree murder, which is only punishable by life in prison or the death penalty. Prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty against Myles, and the key element of this plea deal is that it takes the death penalty off the table. By pleading guilty to second-degree murder, the maximum penalty is life in prison. The death penalty can only be applied in first-degree murder cases.

And while it may appear to be a small victory for Myles, this is just another example of the state using the death penalty as a bargaining chip in a Jacksonville Murder Case. The inclination locally has been to charge first-degree murder, seek the death penalty and negotiate from there. It's all part of the process, and the practice of starting a negotiation with one charge and bargaining it down to a reduced charge is not uncommon for many Jacksonville Felony Cases, even Jacksonville Misdemeanor Cases. But the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous of heinous crimes, and literally threatening someone with their life seems to be the new tactic in Jacksonville Murder Cases.

Myles was driving down a Jacksonville road when she saw her ex-boyfriend's car in a post office parking lot, according to a report on News4Jax. She is accused of turning the car around, pulling into the parking lot, getting a gun from her glove compartment and killing him, the television station reported. The premeditation needed for first-degree murder does not need to be days or weeks of plotting, but could be met just in the time that Myles turned around and decided to go and shoot the victim. But would that have qualified this Jacksonville Murder Case as a death penalty case? At the end of the day, we won't know. Myles is scheduled to be sentenced next month in this Jacksonville Murder Case. The maximum penalty is life in prison, but the plea agreement does leave it open that she could receive a sentence that would allow Myles, 23, to be released at some point. A very small percentage of Jacksonville Criminal Defense Cases end up in trial, so a key is often being able to negotiate the best possible outcome for the you or your loved one. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney will thoroughly investigate the case so you can determine whether it makes sense to try to negotiate or to take the case to 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 Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Shooter and family of slain teen settle civil lawsuit a month before criminal trial

January 11, 2014

The man accused of shooting and killing a Jacksonville teen during an argument about loud music has settled civil lawsuits with the victim's family and the families of other teens in the car at the time of the shooting. Michael Dunn has settled lawsuits with the parents of Jordan Davis and two other teens in the car when Davis was killed in November 2012, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Davis and the others had their music turned up at a Gate gas station when Dunn and the teens got into an argument, the newspaper reported. Dunn shot into the vehicle several times, killing Davis, the newspaper reported. Dunn has said all along that one of the teens pointed a gun out of the car, but police have said there were no weapons found.

Among the claims of Davis' parents was that Dunn contributed to their pain and suffering by suggesting that Davis was violent, the newspaper reported. The monetary terms of the settlement were not made public. It is rare that civil suits would be resolved before the criminal trial. Typically, these cases play out after the criminal trial - partially because a criminal conviction can be used to bolster the civil case. But, in this Jacksonville Murder Case, the chronology is less important. First of all, the civil settlement CANNOT be used in Dunn's criminal trial in his Jacksonville Murder Case. One thing it could do, since the case has been covered extensively by local, state and even national media, is confuse potential jurors about Dunn's guilt, but that could be sorted out in jury selection. Another reason the timing doesn't matter is that Dunn has never denied shooting into the car, has never denied that he was the one that killed Davis.

The criminal issue in this Jacksonville Murder Case is whether or not Dunn acted in self-defense, and that will be the crux of the criminal trial scheduled to begin Feb. 3. The issue will be whether jurors believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Dunn fired into the car on his own and was not defending himself from the shotgun he said he saw out the window of the vehicle. While there is always hesitation to admit any wrongdoing in advance of a criminal trial, there could be a variety of reasons to wrap up the civil case early. Dunn's finances have been contested from the start of the case - his criminal defense attorney has asked the judge repeatedly to order the state to cover investigative costs - so that could be a factor. Another could be to get the dispute with Davis' family cleared up so they are more likely to be on board with a plea agreement for Dunn if there is one in the works. Regardless of the reason, the criminal trial is sure to get plenty of media coverage in this Jacksonville Murder Case. And while readers and viewers will know the civil cases have been settled, jurors will not. And that's what really matters 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 Jacksonville Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

St. Johns County teen arrested for bringing a gun to school

December 6, 2013

A student at St. Augustine High School was arrested last month for allegedly bringing a gun into school and now faces criminal charges as well as significant discipline from the St. Johns County School Board. A concerned student told teachers the teen might have a gun and the staff alerted a deputy assigned to the school, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. When approached, the student said he did have a gun in his bag, which was underneath his desk, the newspaper reported. The accused student never displayed the gun, nor did he threaten any students, teachers or other staff with the weapon, the newspaper reported.

In Florida, the state makes the guidelines for facing criminal charges in all cases including this St. Johns County Gun Crimes Case but, in the case of guns in schools, also has a law that determines the length of an expulsion. Any student bringing a firearm into a school or school event is automatically expelled from school for one year. Now, the school district has the discretion to place the student in an alternative school or a disciplinary program, but the student cannot return to his or her school for at least one full year. The term is for a full calendar year, not just a school year, which is the length of time many think of when it comes to school discipline.

On the criminal side of this St. Johns County Juvenile Crimes case, the third-degree felony charge has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The age and criminal history of the student were not available in the newspaper report, but they will both play a significant role in the punishment the student receives in this St. Johns County Gun Crimes case. In some St. Johns County Juvenile Crimes Case, a teen will be charged as an adult, and that is more likely in crimes when a gun is involved. In other St. Johns County Juvenile Crimes, the case will stay in the juvenile court system. When it does, there are varying degrees of incarceration for juveniles, from house arrest to minimum security detention facilities to what amounts to a juvenile version of the state prison. The point of juvenile sanctions should be to play a role in getting the student or teen on the right track. The school expulsion makes sense for the safety of the students and teachers at the school, especially given the rash of school shootings over the past several years. Our St. Johns County Juvenile Crimes Attorney will work to help negotiate a disposition that will allow the teen to continue some form of education and an opportunity to get on a track to graduate.

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

Jacksonville man's conviction overturned because of improper testimony from police officer

November 25, 2013

A judge has ordered a new trial for a Jacksonville man convicted of six counts of aggravated assault after a judge ruled an officer's testimony crossed the line and may have influenced the jury. Randal Ratledge was convicted at trial earlier this year, accused of firing one shot into the air and another into a group of neighbors in August 2012, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. No one was hurt and Ratledge has said he didn't remember the incident and his Jacksonville criminal attorney argued Ratledge had a bad reaction to a sleeping pill.

During the trial, an officer testified that Ratledge told the officer "he made a mistake and did not want to talk about the incident," the newspaper reported. Immediately after the comment was made, Ratledge's Jacksonville Trial Attorney asked for a mistrial, but the judge denied the request and Ratledge was eventually found guilty by the jury, the newspaper reported. But the job of a Jacksonville Trial Attorney does not end there. Following a trial, there are other measures a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can take to work to get a new trial in the case. In this Jacksonville Gun Crimes case, the attorneys focused on the officer's testimony and found previous cases that showed similar testimony resulted in the conviction being thrown out. The issue was that by saying what Ratledge said, the officer violated Ratledge's Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself.

Typically, these issues are handled in appellate courts and can come a year or more after the trial. Attorneys routinely file motions for new trials following a case. In this Jacksonville Gun Crimes case, the judge saw the error and ordered a new trial before Ratledge was sentenced to prison. He was facing a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years in state prison and up to 120 years - 20 years for each of the six counts. At 56, much more than the minimum 20 years could end up effectively being a life sentence for Ratledge. Ratledge had been in jail awaiting sentencing, but will now have a hearing next month to determine if he can be released on bond until the second trial - or until the case resolves, whichever the case may be. It seems likely that there will be another trial - there's nothing of consequence the state lost in terms of evidence. They'll have to make sure the officer doesn't say something similar on the stand, but prosecutors can essentially run the same case. This Jacksonville Gun Crimes case is a prime example of how a Jacksonville Trial Attorney's work continues after the actual trial is complete - even after a conviction would seem to end the 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 Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case among catalysts as Florida lawmakers consider changes to 10-20-Life law

November 12, 2013

State lawmakers are looking at adjustments to Florida's strict 10-20-Life gun crimes laws, and a Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case is being touted as an example of why excluding "warning shot" cases may be beneficial. The state has been holding hearings about revisions to the controversial Stand Your Ground law, but is now focusing in on possible changes to the 10-20-Life law, according to a report on News4Jax.

The state law now provides the following minimum mandatory sentences for Jacksonville Gun Crimes:

 10 years for showing a gun during the commission of a felony
 20 years for firing a gun during the commission of a felony
 Life in prison for shooting someone on the commission of a felony

If there's a confrontation involved, the felony is simple for the state to charge - it'll likely be an Jacksonvilleaggravated assault. Jacksonville's Marissa Alexander has become the prime example for advocates of changing the law. She was found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot when she said her husband was threatening her. His two children were present, hence the three charges in her Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison and the judge had no choice in the matter. Her conviction has since been overturned and a bail hearing is set for this week.

Prosecutors are lobbying to keep the law the same. Of course they are. The 10-20-Life law has turned into one of their biggest negotiating chips - especially in questionable cases that could go either way at trial. The state hangs those sentences over a defendant's head during any plea negotiations. For example, the state may be offering three years in prison in a case with a 20-year minimum mandatory sentence. The defendant then has a difficulty choice - take the three years and get out, or risk it at trial knowing there's a mandatory 20 years if things don't go your way. Many defendants in Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases end up taking a deal that might be three years and cutting their losses. But, without the 20-year minimum sentence in place, more defendants may take their Jacksonville Gun Crime Case to trial, knowing that the judge then has discretion to look at the facts and circumstances and make a fair determination for a sentence. Judges have been practicing attorneys for years before taking the bench and most have some background in criminal law. Yet prosecutors will fight at every turn to try to tie the judge's hands in sentencing and to try to guarantee outcomes in cases, especially Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases. But not every arrest and every charge should be treated equally in terms of sentencing.

Our Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney has represented hundreds of people charges with gun crimes - including those facing minimum mandatory sentences. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can advise you of your options and the consequences, so you can 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 Jacksonville Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man jailed, accused of telling police a woman threatened him with a gun

November 8, 2013

A Jacksonville man was arrested this month after police say he made up a story about being held at gunpoint by a woman. Andra Griffin was arrested and charged with making a false report to law enforcement about the commission of a crime, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Griffin is charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in the county jail. Police said a man called 911 and said he was being held at gunpoint and gave the dispatcher a tag number to a vehicle, the newspaper reported. Officers ran the license number and it led them to a home on the Southside, but there was no man at the home, nor any evidence of any abduction, the newspaper reported. Police then determined the man who called 911 gave a false name and he was eventually identified as Griffin, the newspaper reported. Griffin was apparently mad at the woman and used the allegation to get back at her. Now he's the defendant in a Jacksonville Misdemeanor Case and is the one who's the subject of a police investigation.

By nature, Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crimes are less serious that Jacksonville Felony Crimes. Most importantly, a defendant cannot be sent to state prison on a misdemeanor and the maximum sentence is one year in the county jail. And there are many professions and employers that prohibit hiring people with felony convictions on their records but do not disqualify people with misdemeanors. But that certainly doesn't mean the charges aren't serious for the person facing the charges. In many Jacksonville Misdemeanor Cases involving false police reports, the defendant may be required to pay for the cost of the investigation and the time police spent working on what officers thought was a legitimate case. Prosecutors also don't take kindly to people lying to police, so that may make it less likely for the state to offer a favorable plea deal to Griffin. These types of cases can often wind up going to trial, especially if the state is so dead-set on a sentence close to the maximum that there isn't much difference in the punishment he could face is he lost at trial. In most cases, defendants take a plea agreement to limit their exposure to jail time. But in a Jacksonville Misdemeanor Case, with a year being the maximum anyway, the risk may not be as high.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney has represented hundreds of men and women charged with misdemeanors and has taken several to trial. If you or a loved one is charged with a Jacksonville Misdemeanor Crime, our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney can explain the potential consequences and fully examine your case to help you 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 Jacksonville Misdemeanor 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.