March 2013 Archives

March 25, 2013

Federal Public Defender's Offices Face Budget Cuts

As federal budget cuts occur across the nation, the criminal justice system will not be able to avoid the same fate as other areas of government. Federal public defenders' offices all over the country are going to feel the impact of the mandatory budget cuts. Criminal lawyers employed by federal public defenders' offices claim the budget courts will cause staff reductions either by lay-offs or mandatory furloughs. Representatives of these offices say that the cuts and furloughs will cause cases to be delayed and the level of criminal representation will fall below the current standard. Both attorneys and support staff are either being laid off or are being forced to take off six or more weeks off without over the next half a year. A judge currently sitting on the Supreme Court of the United has expressed concerns that the criminal justice system could feel pressure as a result of the cuts.

The mandatory budget cuts are expected to slash 10% of the budgets of federal public defenders' offices. The United States Department of Justice have notified the offices of the potential cuts which have yet to take affect. U.S. District Judge Catherine Baker said that "It's important that people who don't have any power and any voice have people to speak for them." The cuts contravene the basic tenets set forth in United States Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright. Fifty years ago the highest appellate court in the United States provided that criminal defendants be afforded a criminal defense lawyer in the event they could not afford one. Opponents of the cuts argue that the judicial system will get bogged down causing trials to be delayed and innocent people being convicted.

Some Miami criminal attorneys represent indigent defendants when the public defender's cannot due to conflicts of interest. As of yet, budget cuts have not impacted these lawyers that represent indigent clients. It is almost certain that the rates these lawyers bill will be cut as well. Potential budget cuts of this nature could cause these private attorneys to refuse to participate in the program. The same thing occurred a few years back in the state system when specially appointed public defenders had their rates cut to the point that the majority declined to continue representing indigent clients. Cuts of the nature could certainly bog down the criminal justice system in federal court.

Some federal courts have decided to reduce the number of days criminal cases are presented in court. These reductions come as a result of fewer public defenders and U.S. marshals being available for court. Representatives of the affected offices are also concerned that the budget cuts and furloughs will continue to get worse putting even more of a strain on the system. Staffing problems could become a concern as well, if support staff employees leave to find better paying jobs. While the level of the impact will be unknown for several months, the cuts are certainly going to have an adverse affect on the system.

Federal Defenders Face Deep Cuts, Delays in Cases,, Miami Herald.com March 24, 2013.

March 19, 2013

Dozens of Arrests Made at Ultra Music Festival

Every year, the Ultra Music Festival comes to town. The festival has become so popular that it now extends over two weekends. Tourists and locals alike flock to the festival. Despite the festivities, dozens of people are arrested each year for numerous criminal offenses. Anyone arrested at the festival should immediately contact a Miami criminal lawyer to assist in defending the charges. The majority of the people arrested have no prior contacts with the criminal justice system. Anyone arrested at Ultra should not panic. Hiring the right Miami criminal law firm can mean the difference between having a criminal record or coming out the situation completely unscathed.

A total of 84 people were arrested last weekend at Ultra on a variety of charges. The most common criminal offenses are related to drugs and alcohol. Drug possession charges are felony offenses and can have a significant impact on a person's life. The most common controlled substances found at Ultra are ecstacy and LSD. Anyone arrested for possession of either of these narcotics can be arrested and charged with a third degree felony which is punishable up to five years in prison. While none goes to prison for possessing ecstacy or LSD, failure to properly handle a case could land a person a permanent criminal record or a year long stay in the drug court program. The other common offense is drunk and disorderly conduct. While the offense is only a misdemeanor, it can certainly impact a person's life, both personally and professionally.

Experienced and qualified Miami defense attorneys know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This knowledge allows for creative solutions to resolve criminal charges with without a permanent criminal record or a year-long stint in the drug court program. Cases can often be disposed of without requiring a defendant to return to the jurisdiction. There are hundreds of criminal defense attorneys in Miami and the South Florida area. The hard part is figuring out which lawyer will provide the best result. Try to interview at least a couple of attorneys. If you are out of town, a phone consultation will have to suffice. Look at a law firms website to determine if the lawyer you hire is qualified and experienced enough to get the result you seek.

If you are loved one is arrested at the festival, don't freak out over the situation. Everything is fixable with the right person working for you. Anyone from out of town that is arrested can post bond and immediately return home as long as the offense allows for a bond without appearting a bond hearing. All drug possession and misdemeanor cases have standard bond amounts. A person can either pay the cash equivalent of the bond which will be returned at the conclusion of the case to the person who posted the bond. Alternatively, a person can pay a bondsman 10% of the bond amount to secure his or her release. Bondsmen sometimes require additional monies for out of town defendants as collateral. Sometimes it is better to contact a lawyer first who can secure a bondsman for only 10% of the amount of the bond. Remember, if arrested, don't panic, hire a good lawyer and your problem should soon go away. Once the case is closed, a record can be sealed or expunged which will leave no record of the arrest.

84 Arrested During First Weekend of Ultra Music Festival, NBCMiami.com, March 19, 2013.

March 11, 2013

Feds Arrest Cops for Identity Theft and Tax Refund Fraud

Federal agents arrested two local police officers for identity theft and tax refund fraud. Both officers are accused of using the State of Florida driver's license data base to obtain names and personal information to commit the fraud. City of Miami Police Officers Malinsky Bazile and Vital Frederick, acting independently, got caught using the database to accumulate hundreds of names and associated personal information to file fraudulent tax returns. Bazile alone is accused of stealing $140,000 from the federal government that was meant to be returned to legitimate tax payers. Both defendants will appear this week with their respective Miami criminal lawyers for their bond hearings and arraignments. Both officers joined the City of Miami Police Department back in 2008. The arrests were made by the FBI and Miami police internal affairs detectives.

The arrests of these officers for identity theft and tax-refund fraud stem from the large scale investigation into an illegal gambling ring in Liberty City. In that investigation, officers were accused of providing protection for the gambling ring in exchange for money. Identity theft and tax-return fraud have become a big concern for law enforcement. It is a greater concern when police officers use their authority and access to public records to commit criminal offenses. Both officers are presumed innocent until they are found guilty by a jury or enter a plea. It is not clear how many state cases will have to be dismissed as a result of the alleged malfeasance.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida displayed disappointment and was quoted as saying, "To date, we have prosecuted Social Security office employees, hospital employees, clinic workers, former NFL players, gang members and violent criminals to name a few. Today, we sadly add law enforcement to the list of thieves." Bazile and Frederick are among the growing number of City of Miami police officers that have lost their jobs and are pending criminal charges. The entire investigation targeted officers working the Liberty City area. Both defendants are facing significant incarceration for the charged offenses. Their potential sentences will be determined by the federal sentencing guidelines which will take into account the number of victims and the amount of loss the federal government suffered. To make matters worse, both officers face a two year prison sentence for aggravated identity theft that will be stack on top of the sentence imposed by the federal judge presiding over the cases.

Over the past year, the federal government has indicted approximately 130 defendants accused of stealing more than $140,000,000 from the federal government. As the n umber of arrests grows, so does the sentences imposed in federal court for identity theft and tax-refund fraud. A defendant recently convicted of stealing more than $117,000 in tax refunds received a 16 year prison sentence. Assuming the officers do not cooperate with the federal government, they may even receive more time behind bars if convicted. Prosecutions for these types of offenses will continue until the Treasury Department can find a pro-active way of preventing the crime. South Florida is again on the radar screen as it is considered one of the capitals of this type of fraud.

Two Miami Police Officers Arrested on ID-Theft, Tax Refund Charges Linked to FBI Corruption Probe, Miami Herald.com, March 7, 2013.

March 4, 2013

Florida Judge Reverses Verdict in Sexual Predator Case

Defendants who were previously convicted of sexual motivated criminal offenses are subject to incarceration even after completing their sentences. Civil commitment pursuant to the 1998 Jimmy Ryce Act is a real possibility and allows for an indefinite period of incarceration for offenders labeled as sexual predators too dangerous to re-enter society after serving time in prison. As in criminal matters, defendants that qualify for civil commitment under the act are entitled to be represented by any Miami criminal lawyer of their choice. If a defendant cannot afford to retain a private criminal attorney, the Public Defender's Office will appoint a lawyer to defend the case. Defendants that are found to pose a danger to society upon their release by a jury are sent to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, Florida for an indefinite period of time.

Recently, a Miami-Dade County circuit court judge overruled a jury who decided that civil commitment was not appropriate. Juan Vega served 25 years in prison for several sexually motivated offenses such as sexual battery and kidnapping. Despite serving his sentence, Vega was held until a jury could determine whether or not he posed a threat to society upon being released from prison. Defendants sought to be held beyond their release date are entitled to a jury trial. In Vega's case, the jury decided that he would no longer pose a threat and decided against civil commitment. Vega's case is unusual because the judge disregarded the jury's verdict and decided that civil commitment was appropriate despite the finding.

The judge's ruling has angered criminal defense lawyers in Miami. It is the first time a circuit court judge in the State of Florida ordered civil commitment of a convicted sexual predator over a jury's non-commitment verdict. Now Vega's fate will be determined by an appellate court, most likely the 3rd District Court of Appeals. What caused the judge to overrule the jury? Apparently, the judge relied heavily on psychologists that evaluated Vega and found that there is a significant likelihood that he would re-offend if released from custody. Hundreds of Jimmy Ryce cases have been tried in the state. The majority of offenders have been committed, but some have prevailed. Of those released, some have become productive members of society, while others have re-offended and are spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act, there are approximately 569 individuals being held in Arcadia in what is deemed to be civil confinement. Another 97 inmates in the state are awaiting the same type of trial that Vega just sat through. In Jimmy Ryce cases, the Florida Department of Children and Families evaluates all sexual predators set to be released from Florida prisons. If civil commitment is found to be appropriate for a particular defendant, he or she will be transferred to Arcadia, Florida pending a civil trial. After hearing testimony, a jury of six people must decide unanimously whether a defendant is a sexual violent predator who merits civil commitment by clear and convincing evidence for involuntary commitment to occur. If a majority feel commitment is appropriate, a judge will declare a mistrial and prosecutors can re-try the defendant. If the verdict is even or less than half decide that commitment is appropriate, the defendant should be released from custody.

Florida Judge's Decision in Sexual Predator Case Sparks Controversy, Bradenton Herald, March 4, 2013.