Recently in Violent Crimes in Jacksonville Category

Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence in Jacksonville murder case

March 31, 2014

A Jacksonville man convicted of a 2008 murder should have been sentenced to life in prison, not sent to death row, the Florida Supreme Court ruled last week. The court found that the murder of a convenience store clerk did not meet the standards the state applies when considering sentencing a person to death, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Instead, Michael Yacob will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the newspaper reported.

In Jacksonville Murder Cases, there are only two possible sentences in a first-degree murder case: life in prison or the death penalty. There are 16 types of circumstances that would allow the state to seek the death penalty in a Jacksonville Murder Case, including if it was committed during the commission of another felony. That was the only aggravating factor used to justify the death penalty in this Jacksonville Murder Case and the Supreme Court ruled the case lined up with other cases whether the court has overturned the death penalty when a robbery was the only piece of the crime that was used to pursue the death penalty, the newspaper reported. Other factors that can be used in seeking the death penalty include if the victim was younger than 12, if the crime was committed by a convicted gang member or sexual predator, or if it was especially "heinous, atrocious or cruel," according to state law. By design, what the legislature and courts are saying is the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst and should only be applied in extreme circumstances.

Locally, however, the state is often using the threat of the death penalty as a bargaining tool in getting people to plead to guilty to some sort of murder charge - usually second degree murder - to avoid a trial and take the death penalty off the table. Yacob is the fifth person in recent years sentenced to death locally who has had his sentence reversed, the newspaper reported. If the state is seeking the death penalty in a Jacksonville murder case, there are two phases to the trial. It starts with the initial trial and, if the person is found guilty of first-degree murder, a penalty phase follows. This is where both sides present their case and the same jury that decided the first phase makes a recommendation on the death penalty. And, unlike any other phase of Jacksonville Criminal Trials, the decision does not have to be unanimous. Ultimately, the judge makes the final decision, but rarely strays from the jury recommendation, which was 10-2 in favor of the death penalty in Yacob's Jacksonville Murder Case.

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

Jacksonville man goes to trial on murder charge, found guilty of much lesser charge

February 20, 2014

A Jacksonville man was charged with first-degree murder as the state alleged he was one of four people involved in the killing of a local man. A jury of his peers, however, did not fully agree and found Corey Bright guilty instead of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. So instead of looking at a mandatory life sentence, Bright was sentenced this week to 20 years in state prison, the newspaper reported.

Bright and three others were accused of ambushing a 22-year-old man because they were upset with the man's alleged domestic abuse toward his girlfriend, the newspaper reported. Witnesses said two of the men pulled out guns and started shooting, the newspaper reported. All four suspects were charged with first-degree murder and faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted. What the state was likely trying to do is charge all four with first-degree murder and hope at least one of the men who didn't fire the shots would speak out, be a witness for the state and point the finger at the shooters to help have his own charges significantly reduced. That does not appear to have worked in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. Another suspect pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced. The other two are still charged with first-degree murder and are awaiting trial, the newspaper reported. Now, it is possible the suspect who pleaded guilty could be working with the state, and that his sentencing is being delayed until the other two cases are resolved. In Bright's case, it appears the jury thought he was involved and used a weapon, but likely felt the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bright was indeed responsible for the man's death.

That can be the danger in overcharging crimes, or using the initial charge to attempt to get the suspect to plead guilty to a lesser charge - something that likely is more fitting of the crime in the first place. When a jury is read instructions before it starts deliberating in a Jacksonville Criminal Case, there are often other charges known as "lesser included offenses." For example, if someone like Bright is charged with first-degree murder, there is a list of other charges the jury can decide to find the defendant guilty of, if jurors don't think the initial charge was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In many Jacksonville Gun Crimes cases, jurors believe the suspect is guilty of something - perhaps just not the most serious charge the state could possibly file - and will look to the lesser included charges as a compromise. But, in many Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases, the state's game of hardball works. Some defendants feel they have too much to lose with a mandatory life sentence on the line in a trial, and try to plead guilty to second-degree murder in hopes of someday being released. The decision to plead or take a Jacksonville Gun Crimes case to trial is an individual choice that should be based on the facts of the case and the suspect's personal situation. What is the right call for one person may be more than another is willing to risk.

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.

Substitute Clay County school bus driver fired, state not filing charges in alleged choking incident

February 12, 2014

A substitute school bus driver in Clay County was fired this month for what some say was a choking incident with a 10-year-old student. The driver was fired after she was accused of putting her hand on the throat of a 10-year-old boy who refused to put away a cell phone on a ride home from school, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. While she is no longer employed, the larger issue would be criminal charges. Prosecutors have chosen not to file criminal charges in this potential Clay County Child Abuse case, the newspaper reported.

There is an important distinction in Clay County Criminal Court Cases on discipline that employers can levy and what is provable beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a jury. Prosecutors have the final say on when charges are filed in a Clay County Criminal Case. For example, once an arrest is made, the state has 40 days to determine whether the or not to file formal charges in a case. And, once charges are filed, the state has six months to take the case to trial, unless the defendant waives that provision and allows the deadline to be extended. There are several factors the state must consider when they are looking to file charges in a Clay County Child Abuse Case. In this case, the newspaper reported there were no video cameras on the bus, so law enforcement would have had to rely solely on statements from witnesses, as well as those from the suspect and the alleged victim. The stories from the boy and the driver, not surprisingly, differed significantly about exactly what happened and police said witness accounts were somewhere in between, the newspaper reported. That was apparently not enough for prosecutors, who appeared to make the right call in this potential Clay County Child Abuse Case. In order for a person to be convicted by a jury in any Clay County Criminal Case, that jury must be unanimous. If just one person on the jury does not agree with a guilty verdict, there is not a conviction.

If the jury cannot agree and is unable to come to a consensus, the result is a hung jury and a mistrial is declared. From there, the case essentially starts over from scratch. The state can decide to drop the charges, negotiate a plea agreement or take the case to trial again. If the Clay County Criminal Case ends up in trial a second time, an entirely different jury is chosen to hear the case. If you think you may be investigated in a Clay County Criminal Case, it can be beneficial to speak with a Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney before you speak with police. You have a right to remain silent and consult with an attorney, but must know that any statements you make to police can be used against you.

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.

Woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in St. Johns County stabbing

January 22, 2014

A woman initially charged with second-degree murder for stabbing a homeless man to death in St. Johns County has reached a deal to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Brenda Muniz pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the 2012 death, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Aggravated manslaughter is still a serious felony, but the plea deal that Muniz agreed to has a sentencing range of between nine years and 30 years in prison for this St. Johns County Manslaughter Case, the newspaper reported. Second-degree murder had a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison so, essentially, the plea deal opens up to the possibility for a sentence in the range of nine to 20 years in prison that would not have been on the table had she pleaded guilty to or been found guilty of a St. Johns County Murder Charge.

Both Muniz and the victim were homeless and the stabbing occurred at a homeless camp behind a shopping center where people often congregated, drank and slept, the newspaper reported. Muniz and the victim apparently got into an argument, which escalated to the point where Muniz stabbed and killed the man, whom police said was her boyfriend, the newspaper reported. Muniz' plea agreement touches on two important issues in St. Johns County Felony Cases. First, she pleaded no contest, instead of pleading guilty to the charges. Functionally, the two are the same. The difference is, Muniz is not admitting guilt, but is essentially saying it is in her best interest to stop fighting the charges and take a deal, rather than push the case to trial and risk even more time in prison. That often is a plea that is insisted upon by the defendant in a St. Johns County Manslaughter Case. But it can backfire when it comes to sentencing. In many St. Johns County Criminal Defense Cases, the judge wants the defendant to show remorse, admit his or her mistake and take ownership of it. When that doesn't happen, as in the case of a no contest plea, a judge may be less inclined to give the defendant a more lenient sentence.

The other interesting element is that the two sides at least agreed to a sentencing range to present to the judge in this St. Johns County Manslaughter case. That range does not bind the judge in any legal way, but in most instances the judge will honor a range that prosecutors and the St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorneys agree on. The range is the case is 21 years, so it's likely the judge will find plenty of latitude in the range to deliver what he or she decides is an appropriate sentence in this St. Johns County Manslaughter 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 St. Johns County Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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.

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.

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.

After two juries can't decide, third trial begins for Jacksonville man accused of killing pregnant woman

September 16, 2013

A Jacksonville man is on trial for the third time, accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend's pregnant roommate in 2010. Andrew King is on trial facing two counts of first-degree murder -one for the death of 22-year-old Felicia Burney and the second for the death of her unborn child, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. King is also charged with one count of Jacksonville armed burglary with assault or battery, the newspaper reported. If King is convicted on one or both of the murder charges, he will be sentenced to life in prison - there is no other option for a judge in a first-degree murder case, other than the death penalty. The state is not seeking the death penalty in this Jacksonville Murder Case.

The state's argument in this Jacksonville Murder Case is that King blamed Burney for his failed relationship with her roommate, Danielle Butler, the newspaper reported. King had been arrested a month prior for kicking in the door to the home and because he used to live there, prosecutors argued he knew his way around the house in the dark, the newspaper reported. But King's Duval County criminal defense team says King was framed by Butler, who was angry with Burney over an incident with Butler's 2-year-old son, the newspaper reported. Burney allegedly watched the boy while Butler worked and went to school, but Burney was talking about moving to be closer to family and King's attorneys said Butler was upset she would have to find and pay someone to watch her child.

There are enough moving parts in this Jacksonville Murder Case where two juries, so far, have been unable to agree on whether King is guilty. In a Jacksonville Murder Case, as with any criminal trial, the jury must be unanimous in its decision - either to convict someone or to find the defendant not guilty. It only takes one person on either side to hang a jury, and it's not known how far apart the first two juries were, nor do we know which side the majority was leaning toward. King has long proclaimed his innocence and his attorneys said he is not interested in any sort of plea agreement in the case. The only thing the state could do is reduce the charge, seeing that a plea to first-degree murder is a plea to life in prison. The rationale is understandable. King likely feels he's been close to being found not guilty twice by now. The state likely feels the same way. If the trial is not resolved after the third time in this Jacksonville Murder Case, it may be time for the state to take another look at the charges. But, it also seems King is not pleading to anything - and he has the right to take a 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.

Judge grants order keeping evidence sealed - for now - in murder of young Jacksonville girl

September 13, 2013

Evidence in the murder of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl will be able to be reviewed by the suspect's Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys before it is released to the public, a judge ruled last week. Donald Smith is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the killing of Cherish Perrywinkle, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Smith's criminal defense attorneys have asked that all evidence remain sealed until the trial, the newspaper reported. The concern is that some of the stories will include information that will be ruled inadmissible at trial in this Jacksonville Murder Case, and would severely limit Smith's right to a fair trial. Prosecutors did say there likely would be some items released that the judge may ultimately rule could not be a part of a trial in this Jacksonville Murder Case.

The judge did not grant the entire motion, but did agree for now to let Smith's attorneys review the evidence first and have the ability to then ask the court to keep the evidence sealed until trial. Once the defense receives discovery information in the case, Smith's attorneys will have 10 days to file a motion as to whether or not the information should stay out of the public eye until trial, the newspaper reported. The judge will make the decision outside of open court, meaning there will not be a hearing the media or public can attend, the newspaper reported. All defendants have a right to a fair trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. This Jacksonville Murder Case, as expected, received plenty of media attention after Perrywinkle was abducted from a Jacksonville Wal-Mart when Smith lured her family with the promise to buy the family food and clothing, the newspaper reported.

It is always difficult to seat a jury in high-profile Jacksonville Murder Cases. And the case would certainly qualify. The media coverage of this Jacksonville Murder Case has been intense and will continue up to and through the trial. And as disturbing as the allegations are, Smith is entitled to a fair trial. The goal is to find 12 jurors who can sit in judgment who have not already formed an opinion one way or another in this Jacksonville Murder Case. While this coverage has not been as prolific nationally, everyone saw the difficulty of picking a jury in the case of George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Smith's Jacksonville Murder Case has already drawn attention from state legislators and others asking how Smith, a registered sex offender, could have been out of prison and able to commit the crime he is accused of. The judge in this case is trying to protect Smith's right to a fair trial, and it will be interesting to see how much of the discovery is allowed to be released prior to a trial, if Smith indeed chooses 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.

State clears corrections officers in the death of Clay County inmate

August 31, 2013

Prosecutors have decided not to seek criminal charges against Clay County corrections officers who watched a 19-year-old inmate die in a restraint chair earlier this year. The death of Daniel Linsinbigler Jr. was ruled a homicide, but no charges will be filed in this Clay County Homicide Case, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Linsinbigler was in the medical unit of the jail and taken from his cell after officers said he was acting belligerent - kicking his cell door and yelling, the newspaper reported. Linsinbigler was on suicide watch at the jail 10 days after his arrest on an indecent exposure charge and was likely days or weeks from being released before his death, the newspaper reported.

Three inmates told investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement they heard Linsinbigler crying out that he could not breathe, the newspaper reported. But none of the corrections officers or medical personnel mentioned that fact in the 62-page report, the newspaper reported. Linsinbigler died of asphyxiation, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors have ruled the death accidental and unintended in this Clay County Homicide Case, the newspaper reported. The lack of charges is fairly common in case involving an inmate death, much like when people are killed in police-involved shootings. Any penalty or punishment for the police or sheriff's office likely comes in the form of a civil lawsuit filed by the family. The standard of proof in a civil case is not as difficult to meet, and many police departments will defer to the civil court system rather than have one of their own face criminal charges. Not to mention, if prosecutors file criminal charges, it certainly lends creditability to any civil claim in the case - opening up the sheriff's office to what could be more serious monetary damages.

The most likely criminal charge, if there were to have been one filed, would be manslaughter. Manslaughter is the charge the state applied when someone dies as a result of another person's negligence. For example, if two people are in a fight and one ends up dying, the state could file manslaughter charges. Intent is not an issue in a manslaughter case. The state would not have to prove that the corrections officers were trying to kill Linsinbigler, only that their negligence caused his death. The first step in any case that might include officers and criminal conduct is the criminal investigation - which is now complete. The next step is an internal review that could include changes in policy or potential discipline for the officers involved. While there still are punitive options against the officers in this Clay County Homicide Case, the most serious are clearly the criminal charges - which have now been eliminated.

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

Man facing life on two Jacksonville murder charges accepts state's plea deal for 15 years

August 23, 2013

In another example of the state charging people with crimes that carry life sentences and then offering a much better deal as trial approaches, a Jacksonville man facing two counts of murder will go to prison for 15 years. Calvin Bryant was charged in two shootings during a 2010 a block party where one man was killed and another was injured, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Bryant was initially charged with second-degree murder, attempted first degree murder, carrying a concealed firearm and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Both murder charges are first-degree felonies that carry a sentence of up to life in prison. The use of a firearm charge is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and the concealed weapon charge is a third-degree felony with a five-year maximum sentence. In this Jacksonville Murder Case, the state dropped both gun charges - virtually unheard of in Jacksonville criminal justice proceedings these days. On the surface, it appears the state was not confident at all in either of the two murder charges against Bryant. To start with second-degree murder and an attempted first-degree murder and them go down to 15 years is a significant drop. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney sees the state routinely insist on far higher sentences for much less serious charges - certainly charges that don't involve someone being killed. The next obvious question, then, is: If the state's case is so weak, then why did the defense take prison time and not push the case to trial?

In Jacksonville Criminal Defense Cases, especially Jacksonville Murder Cases, the decision to take a deal or go to trial is one of balancing and managing risk. In this Jacksonville Murder Case, Bryant was facing life in prison if convicted. It was not a mandatory life sentence but, in the vast majority of Jacksonville Criminal Defense cases, the sentencing following a trial is more severe than what the state was offering before trial. That doesn't say much about every person's fundamental right to a trial before a jury of one's peers, but that's how our system operates. The opportunity to take 15 years instead of risking a life sentence was why Bryant chose to plead guilty, his attorney told the newspaper. In many Jacksonville Murder Cases, the state does not even have an offer other than life in prison. That's why so many Jacksonville Murder Cases end up in trial. If a defendant is looking at life in prison on a plea or life in prison on a trial, there's no incentive not to take the case to trial and most defendants do. But, when there is another option on the table, the decision is different. In Bryant's Jacksonville Murder Case, the state gets at least some time in prison and the defense cuts its losses and gets a favorable deal for the defendant.

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.

No prison time for mother of 12-year-old who killed half-brother in Jacksonville manslaughter case

August 21, 2013

A Jacksonville mother charged with manslaughter and child neglect for waiting to take her unconscious son to the hospital was sentenced to probation and counseling this month, despite prosecutor's hopes of locking her up for 15 years. The sentencing wraps up the criminal portion of the case involving Cristian Fernandez, whom the state charged with first-degree murder at age 12 for crushing his 2-year-old half-brother with a bookcase, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Biannela Susana returned home from a quick errand to find her young son injured and tried to research the injuries, among other things, while waiting hours to take her young son to the hospital, the newspaper reported. Had she brought him earlier, he may have survived, doctors have testified in this Jacksonville Manslaughter Case. The sentence was issued last week, a month after an all-day hearing where both sides stated their case. Prosecutors wanted 15 years for Susana, but the judge went in an entirely different direction.

Susana was sentenced to 10 years, but the judge opted to suspend the sentence, the newspaper reported. She was also given credit for the more than two years she spent in jail awaiting the resolution of her Jacksonville Manslaughter Case so, technically, she'd have less than eight years left to serve. The judge ruled that Susana's need for immediate mental health counseling that she could not receive in prison outweighed the threat of her being a danger to the community, the newspaper reported. She will spend 90 days at a domestic violence shelter and then two years at a halfway house to get life skills training and mental health counseling, the newspaper reported. She will remain on Duval County probation for the remainder of the 10-year-sentence. A local nonprofit that helps at-risk girls has agreed to hire Susana once she meets the other requirements. If Susana violates any of the terms of her release, she could be sentenced to serve the rest of her sentence in prison.

Cristian pleaded guilty to manslaughter as well, along with Jacksonville aggravated battery, and was sentenced to time in a juvenile jail. He'll be released when he turns 19 and will be on probation for another eight years. The judge has the latitude in Jacksonville Manslaughter Cases to break up the sentence however he or she chooses. While it is rare for no prison time to be issued in a Jacksonville Manslaughter Case, this case is inherently different, with a 12-year-old initially charged with first-degree murder and his mother charged for her role following the injuries. Probation can often be a trap for defendants, with the state eager for a violation to get another shot at prison time. This seems to ring especially true in this case, where prosecutors were openly critical of the sentence for Susana, the newspaper reported.

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

Investigation into Memorial Day brawl at Jacksonville Beach suspended again

August 12, 2013

It appears there will be no arrests in the foreseeable future connected to the Memorial Day brawl that shut down part of Jacksonville Beach during holiday festivities and left one man seriously injured. Jacksonville Beach police last week suspended their investigation in the case for the second time, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Charges or not, the incident has heightened awareness and led to a push from residents for more of police presence at the beach - especially during special events and holidays, the newspaper reported.

Cell phone videos of the brawl went viral and were broadcast heavily on local television and local news websites, clearly showing a man being beaten. With the public nature of the incident, many are asking how there could possibly not be any Jacksonville Beach Battery charges. Our criminal court system operates far differently than the court of public opinion, even in this Jacksonville Battery Case. Police have said they suspected this brawl was between two rival gangs from Jacksonville and that none of the witnesses said to have been nearby have been willing to provide any information to police. A grainy cell phone video is not enough to positively identify the attacker in this case in front of a jury - and that appears to be about the extent of the state's case thus far.

While this was made more public by the video and the public reaction that ensued, it's no different than a fight that might happen outside a bar or a sporting event. Things happen quickly, words escalate into a physical fight and people scatter. Unless someone is arrested in Duval County and detained right there at the time of the fight, there may not be any arrests in the case. In this Jacksonville Battery Case, prosecutors would need someone to sit on the witness stand and testify to the fact that the defendant, whoever it may be, was the one that threw the punches and kicked the man in the video. Prosecutors don't have that in this case. They don't have police saying they were called to the scene and found a defendant there or saw him running away or anything close. The investigation will remain suspended until a witness comes forward that will provide police with enough information so authorities can make an arrest in this Jacksonville Fighting Case, the newspaper reported.

The potential defendants know who they are and this would be an ideal time to consult with a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney. An Jacksonville defense attorney can discuss what is likely to happen next and, if charges are filed, can lay out potential scenarios and options for a defense strategy.

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

Judge rules woman was mentally competent during St. Johns County road rage episode, finds her guilty on 14 counts

August 2, 2013

Despite conflicting opinions on the defendant's mental competency, a judge found a woman guilty of all 14 felony counts related to a 2010 St. Johns County road rage incident. Andrea Zampatti allegedly rammed her Land Rover into a bicyclist, ran a scooter of the road and crashed into two St. Johns County Sheriff's deputies and a truck, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Several people were injured, but no one was killed in the series of accidents, the newspaper reported. Zampatti was initially ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial and spent five months in a state mental hospital, but has since been released on bond, the newspaper reported. Zampatti's St. Johns County defense team continued to argue that she was mentally ill at the time of the crash, which led to her behavior, but the judge ruled last week that she was mentally competent at the time.

She was found guilty of 14 felonies in this St. Johns County Aggravated Battery case. Two charges - aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon and aggravated fleeing or eluding a law enforcement officer causing death or serious injury - are first degree felonies in Florida punishable by up to 30 years in state prison. She was found guilty of five second-degree felonies, which carry a maximum of 15 years in prison, and seven third-degree felonies, each punishable by up to five years in state prison. The judge has the option to sentence the maximum on each of the counts, which would be 160 years in this St. Johns County Aggravated Battery Case, but it's rare that a sentence would be that severe.

In the vast majority of criminal cases, a trial is done in front of a jury of one's peers. In some cases, particularly complex cases where there are a mental health concerns, the defense can request that the trial be done just in front of the judge. These trials are known as bench trials. If the St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorney requests the bench trial, the state must also agree for it to go forward. In any St. Johns County Criminal Case, there are certain strategies and techniques that a criminal defense attorney will look at in order to provide the best representation of his or her client. The hallmark of our criminal justice system is a defendant having a trial in front of a jury of his or her peers, but that may not always be in the client's best interest. Our St. Johns County Aggravated Battery attorney will fully investigate the case of you or your loved one and then lay all of the options and potential consequences out on the table 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 Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

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

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

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

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

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