Articles Posted in Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Law Firm

In what appears to be a nationwide preemptive strike, the American Civil Liberties Union is formally asking cities and states across the country how they plan to use and store data collected by the new automatic license plate readers that are installed by law enforcement. Jacksonville is on that list, as are Miami and Tampa, as part of ACLU’s records requests in Florida, according to a report on First Coast News. The civil rights group is asking for specific details on how the license plate readers will be used to track to movements of people in Duval County, the television station reported. The readers are camera mounted either on patrol cars or alongside roads on telephone poles or overpasses that snap a picture of every license plate the crosses the frame. The photos are usually timestamped and can be sent to a database, where police would theoretically be able to search for matches, or have the system alert them when a certain tag number is spotted and recorded.

The ACLU has concerns about how police agencies across the country would be using the technology to track people. Police say it is one more tool that law enforcement can use to track people wanted in serious Jacksonville crimes and could, for example, get a violent person off the streets before he or she can inflict more damage. The issue, from the perspective of a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney, becomes if the police are using the information to find people already accused of a specific crime or if they are using it to narrow in on people who frequent or live in a particular neighborhood or part of town. In reality, though, if police want to pull someone over, they will. All it takes is one sign of impaired driving – a quick swerve, driving over the speed limit – or a small violation such as a busted taillight or questionable window tint for an officer to make a traffic stop. The question is, if police make an arrest based on what they find after the stop (a Duval County DUI or perhaps drugs in the vehicle), will that traffic stop stand up in court?

The same questions will need to be asked if the use of these automatic license plate readers becomes more prevalent. Chances are, it is unlikely police will put in police reports or other records that a case was initiated based on information from one of these readers. More likely, police will include the images as one piece of a larger pool of evidence, not a cornerstone of a case. Courts, likely federal court and possibly as high as the Supreme Court, will probably be the ones deciding this issue in the future and our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney will be keeping a close eye on the ramifications on Jacksonville criminal cases.

Every year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement releases offense and arrest data for the state as a whole and for individual counties. In 2011, the total number of adults arrested in Florida was just over 950,000. Just over 87,000 juveniles were arrested for various crimes in every county, including Duval County. Reports of many crimes went down last year, including instances of rape (sexual battery), robbery and aggravated assault. There are many factors that contribute to a crime rate dropping, including reduced budgets. Less money means less police officers on the streets. Less officers on the street arrest make less arrests overall.

As a Duval County Criminal Defense Attorney, I am very interested in analyzing crime statistics in Jacksonville. Last year, Jacksonville logged a total of 44,522 crimes committed and reported. Jacksonville crime went down more than 3% from 2010. Reported Jacksonville robberies went down, Duval County rape allegations went up, Aggravated Assault charges in Jacksonville went down, Jacksonville burglary charges dropped, and Jacksonville theft charges went down. There are several law enforcement agencies that can arrest people in Jacksonville, including The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, The Atlantic Beach Police Department, Jacksonville Beach Police Department, Neptune Beach Police Department, and the University of North Florida Police Department.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Law Firm also represents people who have been arrested in Clay County. Total crime went up from 2010. Several reported crimes dropped in 2011, including rape charges, robbery cases and Clay County aggravated assault. There are several agencies that have arrest power in Clay County. These law enforcement agencies include the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Green Cove Springs Police Department and Orange Park Police Department.

The fiasco in opening the new Duval County Courthouse in downtown Jacksonville isn’t just a public relations black eye for the city, it’s been grinding the justice system to a halt. The new courthouse is now set to open June 18 – though we’ll believe it when we see it. If it does, the court system will be been shut down for a month, far longer than the one week closure that had been planned. During that time, the population at the Duval County jail has seen its population increase as the system has come to a halt, according to a report on News4Jax. The television station reviewed inmate records and found last week, two weeks after the courthouse was supposed to be open, there were 3,742 inmates being held in the jail. That’s about 100 more than on the day the courthouse was supposed to open and left the jail just 10 percent from its maximum capacity, according to the news report. The State Attorney’s Office also told the television station that at least 30 jury trials had been postponed during the delay. Thousands of Jacksonville court dates and hearings had to be rescheduled, which will make for packed calendars during the first few weeks in the new building.

And while it can seem like some cases go on forever – and some clearly take longer than they need to – there are time constraints that must be followed. For instance, once a person is arrested, they must appear before a judge within 24 hours. That is not a problem here even with the courthouse situation – those appearances are held in a jail courtroom, also called “first appearance” or J-1) and were not affected here. Another crucial deadline is after 40 days. The state, if it files an extension, has no more than 40 days to file Jacksonville criminal charges against someone who is being held in jail. If charges are not filed, a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney can ask the court to release the inmate. If the state does indeed chose to file charges, prosecutors then have 175 days (about six months) to begin a trial, unless the defendant waives that right. Many defendants do, simply to allow for further negotiations and for the Duval County defense team to prepare for a trial, but there had to be at least a few speedy trial issues crop up in what’s now a month without any trials.

Our legal system is built around certain rights for people charge will crimes, and many of them have to do with specific lengths of time and deadlines. A significant slowdown or delay, as Jacksonville criminal defense lawyers are facing now, can cause major problems in making sure people’s constitutional rights are respected and not violated. If you or a loved one needs 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 Trial Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State Attorney Angela Corey publicly laid out her expectations of the consequences for two former Raines High School administrators accused of trying to protect students by giving police false information. Corey told the Florida Times-Union she expects former principal George Maxey and assistant principal Oscar Harris, who still works at the school, to “show up in court and handle this issue.” Corey said she would likely be seeking community service hours as a possible sentence for the two men.

Both face the Jacksonville misdemeanor charge of providing false information to police in connection with the theft of electronics and other items from the visitors’ locker room during a football game at Raines last fall. The maximum penalty is a year in the county jail. Maxey was forced to resign in the December and the charge was filed in late January. Typically, the elected official would not get into the weeds on a Duval County misdemeanor case. But this one is different. Community leaders and those active in the school have rallied to Maxey’s defense after his ouster – acknowledging he made a serious mistake, but that the punishment was too severe. Criminal charges only ratcheted up those cries.

Sometimes it’s not always the charge but who is being charged that makes the difference in whether top officials from the prosecutor’s office get involved. Police do not like being lied to, and if they can use the case against Maxey to send a message that it lying to officers carries a penalty, they will. Messages are an inherent part of the give and take of the criminal justice system. Judges will, at times, make sure a stiff sentence is handed down in a courtroom full of defendants awaiting arraignment, so the whole crowd knows he or she means business.

Jacksonville police are again using federal racketeering laws to bring in arrests by the bunches in Northwest Jacksonville. The latest haul was seven men police say are in the “Grand Park gang,” named after the neighborhood that’s the gang’s home turf and one of the most violent areas in Jacksonville, according to the Florida Times-Union. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office started using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (known as RICO) over the past two years to charge people as running an organized criminal enterprise, or a gang. The RICO law allows prosecutors to bundle the actions together and point to them as proof of a criminal racket. The charges carry stiffer penalties in Florida than street-level crimes.

Essentially the state is using multiple charges with less serous penalties and charging them as a gang crime to ratchet up the maximum prison sentence. State Attorney Angela Corey said at a news conference earlier this year that RICO statutes help prosecutors because if the state can’t nail down a more serious crime, they can charge it as an enterprise and get a longer sentence. Police used a similar strategy with a gang off of 103rd Street and another near 45th Street and Moncrief Avenue. The state attorney and sheriff will periodically hold press conferences to announce a slew of sentencings and emphasize how many years in sentences people have received. What they don’t say is for every big sentence, there are people who only receive probation.

The RICO laws are another example of the seemingly endless supply of tools law enforcement has at its disposal. If you or your loved is accused of a gang crime or of being part of an ongoing criminal enterprise, you need a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney in your corner. The RICO arrests can end up being similar to what happens in federal court – make a bunch of arrests at once among people who know each other and see who starts squealing first. To the state’s credit, it has worked and helped solve more than one homicide in the last few years. But it also is another example of the importance of having an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney on board immediately to help understand the state’s case and just who and what they are after.

A Nassau County Sheriff’s Office detective crossed the vaunted “thin blue line,” going to the FBI and wearing a wire to try to take down his boss. A Florida Times-Union investigation published over two days last week provides an inside look at what the feds might be looking for with their probe into the department and retiring Sheriff Tommy Seagraves. A former detective went to the FBI after fearing Seagraves would not take action against deputies seen as friendly to Seagraves who were accused of corruption and civil right violations. The cop-turned-informant secretly recorded conversations within the department for over a year, gathering string for an investigation the FBI is keeping quiet about. Seagraves dismisses the informant as a disgruntled employee with an ax to grind.

Employees usually raise a fuss about corruption for one of two reasons: They’ve got the goods on their employer and there’s a serious problem, or, they are disgruntled.

Either way, it could be trouble for Seagraves and the department.

Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, our Jacksonville Sex Crimes Attorney, represented a client in trial on three sex crime charges in Jacksonville and our client was found NOT GUILTY. Our client, J.B., was arrested and charged with Lewd or Lascivious Molestation on a child under 12 years-old, Unlawful Sexual Contact with a Minor, and Lewd or Lascivious Molestation on a child over 12 but under 16 years-old. Two sisters, the cousin of our client’s wife, claimed that he touched them sexually. If convicted of these sex cases, our client faced Life in prison.

Both alleged victims disclosed that our client had sexual contact with them for years. Both girls were interviewed by the child protection team where they went into more detail about the alleged sexual abuse in Duval County. Our client was then arrested on the sex charges and the only evidence it happened was their word. Ms. Mussallem quickly investigated the case further and revealed inconsistent statements and motivations to lie. After conducting depositions in the case, Ms. Mussallem revealed even more conflicts in the stories. Despite the conflicts, the state attorney’s office elected to proceed with the case. Our Jacksonville Sex Crime Law Firm is not scared or intimidated by trial and Ms. Mussallem conducted a trial for our client.

Ms. Mussallem conducted the trial and fought the prosecutor’s office every step of the way. She aggressively questioned the alleged victims and showed their lack of credibility. Ms. Mussallem argued our client’s innocence and won. Our client was acquitted of all three crimes! She walked our client out of the courthouse and he is now able to enjoy the holidays with his family as a free man.

The last of four men involved in attempted escape from the Duval County jail was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week, again proving the old adage correct that it’s just better to do your time. William Roy Hayes was one of four men who in August 2010 overpowered a corrections officer and fought with two others before being restrained, according to the Florida Times-Union. All three officers were hospitalized. Before the escape, Hayes was in jail on charges of domestic battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon in Jacksonville.

According to the police report, a corrections officer was jumped from behind by Hayes and another inmate. Hayes then attempted to unlock the control pod door and struggled with the officer. Other inmates subdued the corrections officer and several of them entered the control pod. Hayes grabbed the officer’s utility belt and tugged it violently in an attempt to pull it off the officer’s waist. The belt, which was eventually removed by Hayes, had the officer’s communications radio and electric control weapon on it.

Add up all of the charges and he was looking at a maximum of 11 years behind bars.

The hottest news out of Jacksonville in a long time is the arrest of 35-year-old Christopher Chaney in connection with a computer hacking scandal that resulted in nude photos of celebrities being sent across the Internet.

The Florida Times-Union reports that Chaney will appear in court in Los Angeles on Nov. 1 to face charges as part of a 26-count indictment alleging he broke into celebrity e-mail accounts and found personal information, including photos.But the biggest news from a criminal defense standpoint is that Chaney has, unfortunately, granted interviews to the media, during which he has apologized, which is something that definitely will be used against him.

While it may feel like a soul-cleansing act to tell the world he’s sorry, it will only add more evidence for federal prosecutors to use in Los Angeles, the paparazzi capital of the world. With the world watching this case, they will use as much evidence as they can in working to convict this man.

Whether talking about computer-related cyber theft in Jacksonville, robbery, assault or any other crime, it is highly ill-advised to speak to anyone, let alone the media, before trial.

As an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer will tell you, the battle in the public is sometimes as important as the battle in the courtroom. What people read in the newspaper, see on television or watch online influences their opinion. And every person who is exposed to this case is a potential juror.

Therefore, there may be times where it is advantageous to speak with the media in an attempt to sway people into seeing both sides of the story, but that requires smart thinking and a strong strategy for how to handle it. Allowing a defendant to go out and tell the world he’s sorry implies guilt and it could be used at trial or in sentencing.

The case boils down to a 35-year-old man who allegedly got into the computer accounts of actresses Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis along with singer Christina Aguilera. Nude photos of Johansson, along with personal information of all three were posted online.

The federal indictment against Chaney alleges that he monitored popular celebrity social networking sites, such as Twitter to be able to come up with the passwords to these accounts. Once accessed, he was able to find persona information, such as conversations about roles in films, photos and contact information.

Already facing a steep public relations battle, Chaney made it worse by granting interviews. In them, he told the media that he apologizes, that it “eats at” him and that he worries for his mother’s safety. He must now worry that prosecutors in Los Angeles will use those words, along with any statements he may have made to investigators, in order to send him to prison for years or decades.

Consult with your attorney before you say anything — either to police, a neighbor, cellmate or the media –because there’s a reason you are told it “can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Because it will.
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A Jacksonville man was recently jailed for making a false report of child abuse to the Florida Department of Children & Families, reports.

Charges of child abuse in Jacksonville, or in this case making a false report of child abuse, are very serious allegations. Everyone knows that children are clumsy and sometimes don’t have the mental capacity to understand the risks they are taking when they go too far or do too much.But authorities sometimes over-charge in child abuse cases because they know these cases will be followed in the news media. So, rather than allow a person to “get away” with a crime, they almost always file charges. Our Jacksonville child abuse defense attorneys have seen innocent parents charged with hurting a child they would never imagine harming.

In this case, the man was sentenced to 45 days in jail after being charged with making a false report of child abuse, the TV station reports. The report doesn’t detail the specifics of the charge. He was charged with a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Filing a false report in Florida means reporting abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child to the state’s child abuse hotline when the purpose of the call is to harass, embarrass or harm another person, gain financially, get the custody of a child or otherwise benefit from making the call.

DCF investigators must see the children who are allegedly abused within a certain time period according to the law and officials say that false reports, while rare, can take away from the time spent with real abuse victims.

But it’s often DCF investigators that lead to charges being filed against parents. They typically get the first call to go a house where child abuse or neglect is alleged, sometimes before police are even notified. And it can be an investigator, who has no training in law enforcement, making determinations that abuse has happened.

While it appears this defendant got a good deal if the charges were actually substantiated, child abuse defendants often don’t get such consideration.

According to Florida Statute 827.03, child abuse means:

  • Intentionally inflicting physical or mental pain upon a child.
  • An intentional act that could be expected to result in mental or physical injury to a child.
  • Active encouragement of another to commit acts that could result in mental or physical injury to a child.

Any parent would be quick to tell you they play with their kids, run around with their kids and sometimes even wrestle with their kids in order to entertain them. And you will see cases where this playful atmosphere turns tragic.

The key to this statute is the term “intentional.” Attorneys have battled over this word for years as it means the defendant meant to commit this crime. An accident shouldn’t apply. Sadly, police will charge a parent or guardian anyway and let the court system decide if the charges apply.

By that point, the defendant is already scarred, their reputation in shambles, all while their child may have been injured and dealing with recovery. It’s irresponsible, but it happens every day. Don’t let the state accuse you falsely of child abuse when it’s undeserved.
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