Recently in Jacksonville Trial Attorney Information Category

Former day care owner gets 20 days in prison over the next 10 years for role in child's drowning

November 27, 2013

A day-care owner pleaded guilty to a reduced charged in the drowning death of a child and will have to spend two days in jail for each of the next 10 years as part of her punishment. Jan Buchanan pleaded guilty to culpable negligence and must report to jail on the birthday and on the anniversary of the death of a 2-year-old who drowned in a pool at her home, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Buchanan was originally charged with Duval County aggravated manslaughter of a child, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in state prison. The charge was reduced to a second-degree felony with a maximum of 15 years in prison but, given the negotiated sentence, the actual charge isn't as big of a deal.

Buchanan was the only adult in the home and took seven kids under the age of four swimming in the yard, the newspaper reported, Once they were done, she brought the children inside and was tending to an infant. She lost sight of the 2-year-old for between 10 and 15 minutes, then found a sliding door open and the boy in the pool, the newspaper reported. Buchanan, who was in the process of renewing her state child care license, had the charge of operating an unlicensed day care dropped. Other parameters of the plea deal include 10 years of probation, during which Buchanan cannot operate a child care center. As part of the plea in this Jacksonville Felony Case, she also must give $2,000 a year to Safe Kids, an organization that promotes water safety, the newspaper reported.

This is the state's way of trying to make a public relations move and make people forget that a woman who was charged with a crime and facing 30 years in prison is only serving 20 days in jail for a Jacksonville Felony Case. The child's parents supported Buchanan and remain friends with her, so it they were not likely to be on board for a lengthy prison sentence. And while the state doesn't need to run everything by a victim or victim's family, prosecutors generally prefer to have them in agreement with a sentence when possible - particularly if the case is going to end up going to a trial. From the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, it appears to be a deal you'd have to go along with - excessively personal or not. The state can structure it and spin it any way it wants, but the bottom line is Buchanan is looking at less than three weeks in jail as opposed to three decades in prison. Sometimes it takes a creatively structured agreement, or simply letting the state have its day, to get the best deal in a Jacksonville Felony Case. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney leaves no option off the table when it comes to negotiating on behalf of her clients in Jacksonville Felony Cases, or any case in the criminal justice system.

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

Murder conviction overturned in death of Clay County vet clinic worker

November 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

Judge to make ruling on whether 96-year-old woman is competent for trial on murder charge

A St. Johns County judge expects to decide in two weeks whether a 96-year-old woman is competent to stand trial in the shooting death of her nephew. Amanda Stevenson has been in the St. Johns County Jail since September, when she was charged with fatally shooting her 53-year-old nephew with a .357 magnum, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The issue is not whether Stevenson is in fact mentally ill. There seems to be little disputing that fact and, earlier this year, a state psychologist said she was not competent and was likely suffering from dementia. Behaviorally, it seems nothing has changed, but that doesn't rule her out from standing trial. What the judge is not examining is whether she can become competent enough to stand trial. There's a huge difference. Florida law states that someone cannot be automatically deemed incompetent just because they have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. If the defendant is on medication and can fully communicate with his or her Florida legal counsel, as well as understand the proceedings and consequences, he or she can be considered fit to stand trial. The judge asked two more court-appointed mental health professionals to look at Stevenson and determine if there is a way to get her competent enough to either resolve the case or take it trial. If she is not competent, one option would be sending the wheelchair-bound Stevenson to a state mental health hospital for her to live instead of continuing to be locked up in jail.

Competency is a serious issue that most commonly arises in murder and violent acts. The law is clear that a person must be able to understand what is happening in the courtroom and be able to consult and communicate with his or her St. Johns County criminal attorneys. Courts can be very strict on granting an incompetency claim and require written reports and testimony from mental health professionals who attest to the defendant's inability to stand trial. If competency is an issue, your St. Johns County criminal defense lawyer will likely have an evaluation done. That evaluation stays confidential, unless you chose to share it with the state. If it's the state that wants the evaluation, prosecutors must get the permission of the defense team.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Prosecutors make Jacksonville arrest in 1994 murder, charge same man they released just before trial

January 30, 2012

Seventeen years ago the state let David Carpenter walk out of jail, saying conflicting witness statements and a lack of evidence was not enough to take him to trial on a murder charge. This week, Carpenter was arrested again in Jacksonville on the same murder charge and police are relying on jailhouse snitches to put the case together this time, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Police said Carpenter was in jail on unrelated Duval County drug charges and was boasting about the 1994 murder of Joseph Allen Watson, according to the newspaper. Carpenter had long been a person of interest in the case, police told the newspaper.
In late 1994, police found the body of a 39-year-old man in a trail of blood near a wooded area. Witnesses at the time told police Carpenter said he traded some speakers to the man for crack cocaine that turned out to be fake. Carpenter said he went back to the man and stabbed him, according to the newspaper.

Yet shortly before a trial date, the state dropped the charges and let Carpenter go.
Carpenter has been in and out of jail since, arrested 25 times on various charges, according to the newspaper. He had just been sentenced to 18 months on a drug charge and was in jail when they added the murder charge this week. Detectives would not say who Carpenter told recently and how it got back to police, but that will be key if and when this case makes it to trial. Statements and accusations from other inmates can be dicey for the state. They are in the jail because they've been arrested for something and, while that does not make them guilty, there is the underlying current that what they say on the stand could benefit their own situation.

And that's true. Prosecutors cut deals all the time to reduce sentences in exchange for cooperation. For example, police may send someone facing drug charges back to where he or she bought the drugs, this time with a wire, to try to reel in a bigger fish.
But the state will have to prove they learned something significant with this new information - something so significant that without it, prosecutors could not charge Carpenter with murder at any other point in the past 17 years. If the only change is another inmate says he heard Carpenter brag about the killing in jail, expect defense attorneys to make that point loud and clear.

Our Jacksonville criminal defense law firm been involved in dozens of cases with jailhouse snitches and is adept at pointing out potential motives for people to say what they say. If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County criminal lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

St. Augustine captain key to reopening case of late Hollywood starlet Natalie Wood

November 27, 2011

Hollywood and the celebrity news organizations were abuzz last week when police reopened the death investigation 30 years after actress Natalie Wood was said to have drowned. And a St. Augustine boat captain is at the center of the case. Dennis Davern, who now lives in St. Augustine, was captain of the boat owned by Wood and her husband, film and television actor Robert Wagner, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Thirty years after Wood disappeared, Davern has co-authored a book that pins the actress' mysterious death on Wagner.

Not surprisingly, it's Davern that now finds himself on trial in the court of public opinion as media and others try to figure out if Davern's story is legit. And, if it is, why did he not tell police at the time? Davern was grilled on the Today show and by polarizing pit bull Nancy Grace. Wagner has not been charged with any crime to date. Wood, Wagner and actor Christopher Walken had gone out on the boat over Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. Davern writes the three had been drinking much of the day, when an argument boiled over. In his book, Davern wrote that Wagner became so angry that he smashed a bottle of wine on the table in the yacht's main salon, causing everybody to shield themselves from the broken glass. Walken became upset and retreated to his stateroom, while Wagner chased Wood into the master stateroom to continue the argument, Davern said.

Shortly after that, Wagner told him that Wood was missing, Davern said. Davern admits that he did not initially tell police the truth. That makes Davern's credibility dicey at best, and could present problems for the state. The credibility of a witness is crucial to prosecutors and our St. Augustine criminal defense firm will thoroughly examine all aspects of the case and find out if there might be a reason a witness might say something other than what really happened. The longer a case drags out and the more dishonesty the witness has in his or her background, the more that could raise doubt in the minds of a jury. If a criminal case goes to trial in Florida, the background of a witness is pretty much unknown to a jury. The only background information a jury gets to hear on any witness is whether or not the witness is a convicted felon and how many felonies the witness has been convicted of. Also, the jury can hear if the witness has been convicted of a "crime of dishonesty". Some examples of crimes of dishonesty in Florida are theft crimes (grand theft, petty theft, dealing in stolen property) or worthless check crimes.

If you need a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call Mussallem and Associate, PA at 904-365-5200 for a free consultation.