April 24, 2012

Coast Guard Interdiction Nabs Sub

While on routine patrol, a United States Coast Guard aircrew observed a sem-submersible craft commonly referred to as a "narco-sub". The aircrew radioed the information to two vessels which then attempted to intercept the sub. Prior to capturing the craft, the crew of four scuttled the vessel. Thirty of these types of vessels used for drug trafficking have been captured or sunk since 2006. Crews caught operating these vessels are typically prosecuted in federal court. Over the years South Florida and Miami criminal attorneys have represented those captured and indicted for cocaine trafficking and importation of cocaine.

This case was a little unusual as this narco-sub was discovered in the Caribbean where most of the previous craft have been captured or sunk in the Pacific. Southern Command which has been at the point in battling the importation of illegal substances from South America, claimed that the Honduran Navy played a large role in the detection of the sub. The vessel's interception was part of a larger joint operation called "Operation Martillo". The 2012 Central American Security Conference was held this week in El Salvador. The head of Southern Command, General Douglas Frazer spoke at the conference and applauded the operation and mentioned the need for closer regional ties which are necessary to disrupt the drug trafficking which originates in Central and South America. According to Frazer, 80% of the cocaine trafficking occurs via sea routes.

Cartels involved in transporting cocaine and marijuana have increasingly relied on semi-submersibles and submarines to move the illegal substances from South America to Central America and Mexico. The first craft was captured in 2006, but the federal government have been aware of their use since the mid-1990's. The vessels are manufactured out of lightweight fiberglass and are constructed in makeshift shipyards hidden in the jungle. The vessels are constructed to sit just above the waterline, making them difficult to spot by the human eye and even more difficult to detect using radar. Recently, the vessels have become so advanced that they can ride completely underwater for long periods of time. The first fully submersible vessel was captured carrying a haul from Ecuador.

According to the United States State Department, 60 vessels are consistently used to transport more than 300 metric tons of cocaine on an annual basis. That means that only a very small number of the vessels being used have been captured or sunk over the past 5 or 6 years. Despite the efforts of the United States and its allies in Latin America, drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the Pacific continue to be a real problem with no end in sight. Operation Martillo continues to attempt to interdict illegal drugs. Since its inception, 25 tons of cocaine has been seized and 50 people have been arrested. Ongoing cooperation between countries will attempt to prevent the transfer and importation of illegal substances, however, the cartels seem to continue to have the upper-hand in this cat and mouse game.

Coast Guard Seizes "Narco-Sub" in Caribbean, The Christian Science Monitor.com, April 23, 2012.

April 16, 2012

Sanford Case May Affect Self-Defense Across the State

The highly publicized Trayvon Martin case has caused concerns for opponents and proponents of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Local criminal lawyers are concerned that the nationwide publicity garnered by the Martin case will somehow limit their clients' ability to prevail either at trial or during a pre-trial motion to dismiss. Some Miami defense attorneys believe that the highly publicized case will have a negative impact on judges and jurors alike. It is unfortunate that the media can play such a large part in determining the outcome of a criminal case. As most people know, the case stems from an incident that occurred between a neighborhood watch captain and local youth. Martin was killed during a struggle with George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.

According to the media, defense lawyers must be concerned with the Trayvon factor in cases involving self-defense. Stand Your Ground has been an effective defense technique for individuals charged with violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated battery and aggravated assault. According to Nellie King, the president of Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL), defense counsel will have to take precautions during jury selection in cases involving self-defense. In criminal trials, jury selection is often considered the most important segment. The purpose of jury selection is to find jurors that can be both fair and impartial to the state. In Miami-Dade County, judges use questionnaires to determine whether or not a potential juror would be fair and impartial. The prosecution and the defense are permitted to ask more detailed questions in an effort to find a proper jury. Defense lawyers representing clients basing their defense on self-defense must now inquire of jurors whether or not the Martin case will impact the decision they make regarding the case they over which they will preside.

The "Stand Your Ground" gives the power to the judge to determine whether or not a defendant should be immune from prosecution. The hearing is conducted outside the presence of jury and the judge is the sole finder of fact. If the judge believes that a defendant acted appropriately in self-defense within the bounds of the law, it is within his or her purview to dismiss the charge. If judge declines to dismiss the case, the defense can still argue self-defense to the jury. If the jury believes the defendant acted appropriately, then they will return an acquittal.

Opponents of the "Stand Your Ground" law believe that the law promotes vigilantes taking matters into their own hands. They also believe that the defense of self-defense is a matter that should be left up to jurors to decide. Public outcry has caused the governor of the State of Florida to appoint a special prosecutor to look at the facts of the case to determine whether or not Zimmerman should face murder or manslaughter charges. The appointment resulted from local law enforcement officers and prosecutors decision not to arrest or prosecute the case. In another note, the governor is and a panel elected officials have been appointed to review the law as it currently stands on the books.

Florida Defense Attorneys Fear Backlash in Self-Defense Cases,, Miami Herald.com, April 5, 2012.

April 9, 2012

South Florida Task Force Makes Several Arrests

The South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force made several arrests over a three day span. The operation headed by the U.S. Justice Department led to several cyber crimes arrests for charges including traveling to have sex with a minor and possession of child pornography. The sting was led by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Two men from Miami-Dade County purportedly traveled to the Keys to meet with what they allegedly believed to be an underage girl. As it turns out, as in so many cases, the underage girl turned out not to be underage, but was in fact an undercover detective. The defendants may hire criminal lawyers from Miami or from Monroe County. If they can not afford to retain a defense attorney, a representative from the Monroe County's Public Defender's Office will be appointed to represent the defendants. Due to a possible conflict of interest, one of the defendants will be represented by the Office of the Regional Counsel.

The South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force continuously runs operations throughout all of the counties in South Florida. The operations are usually conducted with multiple agencies on the federal, local and state levels. The current operations are targeting adult males who meet girls over the internet and attempt to engage in sex with minors. The other area being targeted is possession of child pornography. Florida Statute 847.0135(4)(1) is titled "Traveling to Meet a Minor". To prove the offense, the prosecution is required to prove that a person traveled or attempted to travel from a location with the purpose of committing certain sexual acts with a child or with a person believed to be a child. The person charged must have also seduced, solicited, lured or enticed a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct. The crimes in the State of Florida is a second degree felony punishable up to fifteen years in prison.

Child pornography is encompassed by several Florida statutes. Child pornography is covered by Florida Statute 847.002, 847.011, 847.012 and 847.013. The child pornography statutes includes many illegal acts. Selling, lending or giving away, distributing, transmitting child pornography is a crime. Mere possession of child pornography is every bit a serious as the aforementioned offenses. Each of these crimes is a third degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. The important thing to remember when dealing with child pornography is that a defendant is subject to five years in prison for every image that is transmitted or merely possessed. Law enforcement officers typically serve search warrants to confiscate personal computers and laptops in an effort to recover child pornography. Anyone who engages in this conduct must erase images from their computers. To seize computers, investigators are required to obtain a search warrant, unless the computer owner consents to the search. Never consent to a search of your computer. Require a warrant before releasing computers and phones to the police.

Cyber crimes detection and prosecutions have become more common with the computer and internet age. As the problem of internet child related sexual offenses became more prevalent, the task force to prevent and detect internet crimes against children was created in 2008. The task force now includes more than 2,000 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Since the inception of the task force, more 30,000 arrests have been made. If a person is arrested for any of the above offenses, remember to never provide a statement to the police. A confession or admission is often the strongest evidence that can be obtained by investigators and will certainly be used by prosecutors to put someone in jail.

Miami-Dade Men Arrested, Meet Detective as Underage Girl for Sex, Miami Herald.com, April 9, 2012.

April 3, 2012

Immigration Authorities Arrest Thousands

Over a six day period, Immigration and Customs (ICE) agents arrested 3,168 foreign nationals. The crackdown is the largest since 2009. Of those arrested, 139 individuals were picked up in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The majority of those arrested had criminal convictions for crimes such as murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and certain sexual offenses. The large number of arrests will have immigration and criminal lawyers seeking ways to extricate family members from immigration custody. Others arrested by ICE agents were foreign nationals who have failed to comply with deportation orders or have illegally returned to the United States. Even though a person is being held by immigration authorities, all hope is not lost.

For years Miami criminal attorneys have represented foreign nationals set for deportation as a result of their criminal records by filing motions for post-conviction relief. While lawyers that specialize in immigration law are crucial to securing a person's release, more often than not, the problem lies with a criminal record that was acquired many years ago. Lawyers that practice in the area of criminal law are often contacted by immigration lawyers who request that criminal records be set aside. Over the years, the law regarding the rights of foreign nationals who enter no contest of guilty pleas to criminal charges have changed and the rights afforded to foreign nationals have been severely diminished. For example, the years ago, the Florida courts were instructed to advise defendants that if they entered a plea in a case, they could be subject to deportation. After the mandate came into effect, judges sometimes failed to advise defendants what were deemed "immigration warnings". On other occasions, transcripts of the plea colloquy were unavailable due to the age of the case.

If a judge either failed to warn a defendant about immigration consequences or a transcript proving that the warnings were provided no longer existed, a skilled defense lawyer could file a motion to vacate, thereby setting aside the criminal record. The motions were regarded as Peart and Green motions. However, after thousands of successful motions to vacate, the Florida Supreme Court set a cut-off date of two years after the plea was taken to file the motion for post-conviction relief. With that being said, foreign nationals with old convictions no longer have standing to file these motions in circuit court. The Supreme Court of the United States in the Padilla case, ruled that affirmative mis-advice from a criminal defense attorney regarding the immigration consequences of entering a plea could allow for a judgement and sentence to be vacated. The Supreme Court did not address whether the law applied retroactively, meaning that allegations of mis-advice could have occurred years before the ruling was handed down.

Certain appellate courts in the State of Florida have ruled that the law set forth in Padilla does not apply retroactively. Any plea taken prior to March 31, 2010, regardless of mis-advice of counsel, is not entitled to be vacated for that reason. The Supreme Court of Florida is currently deciding whether to apply Padilla retroactively. Obviously, if the law is held to be retro-active, a large number of foreign nationals facing deportation would have a legitimate chance to stay in the country if the appropriate motion is filed by an attorney and granted by the court. Unless the Supreme Court reverses the rulings of the appellate courts, motions to vacate have a limited chance of success. The best way to avoid deportation under the current state of the law is to present a mitigation packet to the prosecuting authority which contains records regarding a foreign national's children, tax returns, and letters from employers, friends and families stating the person set for deportation is worth keeping in this country to raise his or her family and to contribute to society. Effective mitigation packets can successfully allow for a judgement and sentence to be vacated. The result of course will depend on the charge to which a plea was entered. Simple drug offenses like cocaine or marijuana possession charges are more likely to be vacated than violent crimes like aggravated battery or sexually motivated offenses. Anyone trying to get a friend of loved one out of immigration custody must speak with a lawyer with experience in success in getting judgements and sentences vacated.

ICE Makes Record Arrests in Nationwide Crackdown, Miami Herald.com, March 2, 2012.

March 28, 2012

Dozens of Arrests at Ultra Music Festival

Another year in South Florida brought the annual Ultra Music Festival attended by thousands of local residents and tourists. In typical fashion, the music festival which is held in Miami, Florida was fun for all who attended except for the dozens of people arrested on a variety of charges. Anyone arrested at the festival should immediately contact a Miami criminal lawyer to defend the case. Seventy-one individuals were arrested over the weekend with 48 of those facing felony charges, mostly for drug possession. The majority of the arrests were for possession of an illegal substance. The most common illegal substance found at the concert was ecstacy or MDMA. While the concert is certainly not a hot bed for drug trafficking, many of those who attended the festival possessed MDMA. On its face, being arrested for possession of an illegal substance, such as ecstacy, seems like no big deal. While penalties of jail or prison time are remote, possession of ecstacy is a third degree felony under the laws of the State of Florida.

Tourists and residents alike, arrested for possession of ecstacy or possession of marijuana should not take their cases too lightly as entering a plea and receiving credit time served could have long term damaging affects on a person's personal and professional life. Everyone arrested should understand the process when involved in the criminal justice system. After someone is arrested, they are taken to the Dade County Jail. Upon booking into the jail, a bond will be set in the case. There are two ways to post bail. First, the cash amount of the bond can be paid resulting in the release of the person arrested. Once the case is closed, the money posted for the bond will be returned to the person who paid via a check from the clerk's office. If a person does not have the funds to post a cash bond, a bondsman can be hired. Florida residents will generally have to pay the bondsman 10% of the bond to secure a release. Out of state residents are typically charged the full amount of the bond, with 90% of the money being returned at the conclusion of the case.

After a person has posted bond or bail, he or she can return to the state where they reside. An arraignment will occur 30 days after the arrest. Prior to the arraignment, the state attorney's office will subpoena the witnesses listed on the arrest affidavit and conduct a pre-file conference. If the prosecution believes the case can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and there are no search and seizure issues, the charges will likely be filed. At the arraignment, if a defendant has no prior criminal record, the prosecution will offer the drug court program or a withhold and credit time served. There are serious problems with both resolutions. The drug court program is highly intensive and takes 9 months to a year to complete. A person must attend narcotics anonymous meetings three times a week and engage in some form of outpatient drug treatment. While the successful completion of the program will result in a nolle pros or dismissal, it is a long hard road to get that result. A time served plea is much easier and the case will resolve right away. However, a defendant who takes that plea will have a criminal record. The case can be sealed, but certain government agencies will have access to the criminal record.

A skilled defense attorney will not subject his or her client to the drug court program or allow the client to enter a plea. Lawyers familiar with the system can usually work out a compromise with the prosecutor. For example, a charitable contribution or community service hours can be exchanged for a nolle pros or dismissal. The success of such a strategy usually lies with prosecutors in a particular criminal court division. A defense lawyer's relationship with prosecutors in the division goes along way in resolving a case favorably for the client. If the case cannot be resolved in that manner, depositions of the involved officers should be taken. After the depositions are taken, cases of this nature generally fall apart due to the number of arrests made over the Ultra Festival weekend.

Drug Arrest at Ultra Music Festival, Miami Herald.com, March 28, 2012.

March 23, 2012

Legislators Re-Thinking Stand Your Ground

In 2005, the Florida legislature passed the "Stand Your Ground" law under Florida Statue 776.013 (3) which provides that a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she had a right to be, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Since the law's inception, Miami criminal attorneys and defense lawyers from around the state have increasingly used the new law as a primary defense to violent crimes such as murder and manslaughter. The use of the law has drastically increased in the last year and a half.

The "Stand Your Ground Law" has been invoked more than 130 times since it hit the books. The recent slaying of Trayvon Martin has brought the controversial law back into the spotlight as the other person involved in the case, George Zimmerman, who allegedly shot the victim has yet to be charged. Zimmerman has not be charged with any violent crime to date despite a public outcry for the contrary. The governor of Florida announced that he is assembling a task force to review and study the new law. Out of 130 cases that have involved the new law, 70% of the cases have involved a fatality. Defense lawyers in 50 cases used to the law to prevent their clients from being charged with violent crimes, such as murder, manslaughter or aggravated battery charges. In 10 cases, the law was able to allow defendants to plead to lesser charges. Twenty-eight "Stand Your Ground" cases have made to trial, with prosecutors achieving convictions on 19 occasions.

To invoke the self-defense law, counsel must file a motion to dismiss which will be heard by the circuit court prior to the commencement of the trial. After hearing testimonial evidence and reviewing the physical evidence, the judge can either dismiss the case or deny the motion and set the case for trial. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers have long been opponents of the "Stand Your Ground" law, as there are seldom any witnesses or physical evidence to refute the surviving person's version of the events. Proponents of the law say the law as it stands on the books is allowing citizens to defend themselves from violent crimes. Until the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin, changes in the law were not imminent. Today, it appears as if the legislature is going to scrutinize the law sooner than later.

Part of the problem with the new law is that it is being applied differently throughout the state. Once set of facts in Miami may lend itself to a dismissal, while a case in Ocala with the same set of facts will end up going to trial. The main variable that lends itself to disparate results is that the law can be interpreted differently based on the same set facts. The law requires a judge to consider a defendant's or potential defendant's state of mind which is always a difficult thing to do. The law is likely to be reviewed on an expedited basis as protests are occurring in Sanford, Florida as we speak during an election year. Until the law is reviewed and perhaps changed, the viability of the defense of justifiable use of deadly force will be decided on a case by case basis with a lack of visibility of success.

Number of Stand Your Ground Cases Rises as Legislators Re-Think Law, Miami Herald.com, March 23, 2012.

March 19, 2012

Caribbean Drug Trafficking Routes Back in Play

Efforts to curtail drug trafficking in Central American may inadvertently re-open former drug routes throughout the Caribbean. If the Caribbean becomes utilized for its drug routes as it has in the past, Miami may once again become the hub for drug importation into the United States. As the federal government's "war on drugs" concentrates in shutting down drug routes in the Central American corridors, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands could become main routes in the drug trafficking business. Miami criminal lawyers have always seen a steady stream of cases since the 1980's, however, federal authorities expect an increase in the number of cases as old trafficking routes are re-opened.

Congress, as well as, the United Nation's Narcotics Control Board is concerned that the increased pressure on Central American drug routes will cause the less protected Caribbean to once again become the primary trade route for illegal narcotics such as cocaine and heroin. Drug related violence in Puerto Rico has already began to sky-rocket with the number of murder cases rising to 1,136 last year. It is believed that 70% of those murder cases are drug related. Puerto Rico has enlisted the national guard to quell the violence. New equipment and security measures are being implemented in San Juan that will allow for the inspection of all of the cargo passing through the port. Concern is mounting that the re-routing of drugs will cause Miami to re-live the 1980's where the "Cocaine Cowboys became infamous. The 1980's were a time a violence and chaos as cocaine trafficking was taken to new highs. During these times, Miami and South Florida was considered to be the most dangerous locales in the United States.

Many fear that an increase in the flow of drugs through the Caribbean will directly impact Miami. Over the past couple of years, the Florida legislature has contemplated reducing the Draconian minimum mandatory penalties in an effort to reduce the costs of housing prisoners receiving double digit prison sentences for drug trafficking. The rationale of doing away with the minimum mandatory sentences was based on prison overcrowding, budget cuts and the burden being put on the taxpayers responsible for paying the high cost of housing inmates for extended periods of time. While the costs incurred by housing inmates for extended periods of time are a concern, the possibility of increased drug trafficking and violent crimes in Miami and South Florida make it highly unlikely that the legislature will repeal the long prison sentences that can be handed down for those arrested and convicted of drug trafficking.

As a result if the large scale drug importation business that riddled South Florida, the legislature passed sentencing laws that would take those convicted of drug trafficking off the streets for many years. For example, anyone convicted of cocaine trafficking in excess of 400 grams faces a 15 year minimum mandatory sentence. Heroin trafficking in excess of 28 grams carries a 25 year minimum mandatory sentence. The federal sentencing guidelines are every bit as oppressive when dealing with federal drug trafficking cases. Another negative impact caused by an increase in drug trafficking cases could be reflected in more stringent policies being put in place when dealing with bonds, both in state and federal court. Bond reductions may be less prevalent and prosecutors may look at Nebbia satisfaction requirements with a more discerning eye. All defendants charged with drug trafficking must prove to the prosecuting authority where the proceeds used to post bail originated, for both the collateral and the premium. With the downturn in the housing market, it is increasingly difficult to prove to the prosecution that houses have the required collateral to satisfy the bond requirements. If the future is as some predict, the criminal court system in South Florida could once again be indirectly overwhelmed by drug cartels.

Cocaine Cowboys, Not Again?, Miami Herald.com, March 19, 2012.

March 5, 2012

DUI Manslaughter Trial to Begin in Palm Beach

One of South Florida's rich and famous personalties is set to begin a trial where he is charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. According to the charging documents, John Goodman, is accused of causing the death of another motorist by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. On February 12, 2010, the defendant allegedly drank too much and collided with a vehicle operated by a recent graduate of Central Florida. If convicted on all charges, Goodman is facing up to 30 years in the state prison. The criminal defense attorney representing Goodman has had two years to prepare the case for trial. While DUI manslaughter cases occur around the state, this case has garnered a lot of media attention, largely because of the status of the defendant.

Court documents and police reports allege that the defendant was speeding along a road in Palm Beach County in his convertible Bentley when he struck a Hyundai being operated by recent college graduate, Scott Wilson. The collision purportedly caused Wilson's vehicle to crash into a canal. Wilson could not escape, as he was wearing his seatbelt and could not remove himself from the upside down vehicle and drowned as a result. Accusations include the fact that the defendant was speeding and ran a stop sign causing the crash. It is also alleged that the defendant fled the scene after the accident, failing to render aid to the victim. As a result, the defendant is also charged with leaving the scene of an accident (LSA) that resulted in death.

If the allegations are true that the defendant fled the scene, the biggest hurdle for the prosecution is to prove that the defendant was impaired and in actual physical control of the vehicle. To prove the offense of DUI manslaughter, the prosecution must prove three elements. First, the state must prove that a defendant was in actual physical control of a vehicle. This is typically proven by a wheel witness, or in other words, a witness who can place a defendant behind the wheel at the time of the accident. The state can also prove actual physical control using forensic evidence left behind, such as DNA, taken from blood samples the driver may have left as a result of the accident. Secondly, the state must prove that a defendant was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, chemical substance, or controlled substance to the extent his or her normal faculties were impaired or that a defendant had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more. In cases involving accidents with serious bodily injury, blood samples can being taken as long as probable cause exists that DUI was the cause of the accident. Third, the fact that a defendant was DUI was the proximate cause of the death of the victim.

According to reports, Goodman made contact with a civilian witness. The testimony of this witness will be crucial to the state in proving whether the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. Testimony regarding alcohol on the breath, blood shot eyes, slurred speech and a flushed face are all indicia of being under the influence of alcohol. However, many of these indicia can be explained away by other external factors. The BAC is the best evidence that the prosecution can present to the jury. If a DUI charge is weak, the prosecution will also charge vehicular manslaughter which is established by different elements. The state will be required to prove that a defendant operated a vehicle in a reckless manner which was likely to cause death or great bodily harm. The allegations of speeding and running a stop sign at night could be enough to obtain a conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Both DUI and vehicular manslaughter are second degree felonies punishable up to 15 years in prison. If a jury convicts on both counts, the penalties can be enforced concurrently leaving a defendant looking at 30 years in state prison.

Houston Millionaire's Trial in Fatal DUI Crash Starts Tuesday in Florida, Chron.com, March 4, 2012.

February 28, 2012

Bankers Meet to Discuss Money Laundering

Bankers, lawyers, regulators, government officials, and other financial professionals met to discuss what they perceive as an ongoing battle against money laundering. Criminal defense lawyers in Miami have battled money laundering cases over the years both in state and federal court. While money laundering is considered to be a worldwide problem, the meeting occurred locally at the Hotel Intercontinental Miami on February 23, 2012. About 1,200 people from about 40 countries participated in the event. The event was titled FIBA Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Conference. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the Bank Secrecy Act and exchange information on bank related crimes. All financial lending institutions are required to have programs in place to curtail money laundering.

As money laundering is becoming perceived as a greater problem, a department in the Treasury bureau, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is requiring that banks collect additional information and report suspicious activity. The network is the part of the bureau that collects and analyzes suspicious financial transactions. Proponents of the changes say that the added regulations will assist law enforcement and regulators. Other than Miami, the Mexican drug trafficking cartels have become an area of key concern for banks and regulators, alike. Mexico has restricted vendors in that country from entering transactions involving U.S. dollars. Mexican cartels are accused of smuggling U.S. dollars from the United States to Mexico with the money eventually re-crossing the border and ending up in U.S. banks.

Money laundering charges usually accompany other charges both in state and federal court. Money laundering charges can be found in informations and indictments also charging drug trafficking, mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud, securities fraud, tax fraud, mail and wire fraud. The Florida Money Laundering Act is the controlling legislation in state court. An individual can be charged with money laundering if a person knows the property involved in a financial transaction represents proceeds from some form of illegal activity and that the person also conducted a financial transaction with the proceeds with the intent to promote the carrying on of the illegal activity, or with the intent to conceal or disguise the source of the money, or to avoid financial transaction reporting requirements. The severity of the punishment depends on the amount of the property involved in the alleged money laundering.

An illegal financial transaction involving property between $300 and $20,000 is a 3rd degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. A transaction between $20,000 and $100,000.00 is a felony in the second degree and is punishable up to 15 years in prison. A transaction in excess of $100,000.00 is a 1st degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison, the bottom of the guidelines is four years in prison. Other potential punishments include exorbitant fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the criminal punishments are not enough, the government agency involved in the investigation may seek an asset forfeiture of the tainted proceeds. A forfeiture action in state court is a separate case in civil court to be litigated apart from the criminal case.

Fighting Money Laundering a Constant Battle for Banks, Miami Herald.com, February 23, 2012.

February 21, 2012

Davie Man Arrested on 144 Counts of Child Pornography

A South Florida resident was picked up in Kissimmee, Florida pursuant to an arrest warrant issued out of Broward County. The defendant is accused of multiple counts of possession of child pornography. Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators in conjunction with the Pembroke Pines and Davie Police Department discovered that Orville Bulitt had advertised child pornography on a file sharing website. Law enforcement was able to trace the images back to the defendant which led to his subsequent arrest. Broward County set the bond at $1.4 million. The defendant is unemployed, making it unlikely that the bond would be posted. Once the extradition process has been completed with the defendant being transferred to Broward County, a criminal attorney will mostly be appointed by the court to represent his interests.

Bulitt has faced serious charges involving sex crimes in Miami-Dade County. He was charged in 2003 with two counts of sexual battery on a minor. His Miami criminal attorney was successful in having the counts dismissed prior to trial. However, a records check revealed that the defendant has entered a guilty plea in 1985 to the crime of sexual molestation of victim under the age of 12. The defendant was sentenced to 10 years of reporting probation. He was not required to register as a sexual offender as he completed his sentence prior to 1997. In 1997, the Florida legislature passed a law requiring defendants convicted of certain sex crimes to register as sexual offenders and sexual predators with FDLE.

Once law enforcement became aware of Bulitt's involvement with child pornography, they served a warrant at his address and discovered the child pornography images on his laptop and other storage devices. The pictures that were discovered appear to be of children under the age of 10 depicted in various sexual positions. The images include both boys and girls, but it is yet to be determined whether the defendant created the images or merely downloaded them onto his computer. The investigation has been open for about a year. FDLE blamed the delay in the arrest and prosecution of the shorthandedness of the cyber crimes division and the number of charges filed against the defendant.

Prosecuting child pornography cases has become a priority for local, state and federal authorities. All prosecutors' offices have specialized units whose sole function is to prosecute and punish defendants charged with computer related child pornography offenses. Anyone being investigated by law enforcement for possession of child pornography or any other sexual crimes involving children face serious prison sentences. As such, individuals involved in cases with these types of charges should hire a criminal lawyer as soon as practicable. Additionally, anyone being investigated for these types of offenses should refuse to speak to law enforcement as any statements made will in most circumstances be admissible and quite damning in court.

Davie Man Faces 144 Counts of Child Pornography, Miami Herald.com, February 17, 2012.

February 7, 2012

Series of Tax Fraud Cases to be Filed in Federal Court

A South Florida couple is being charged with tax fraud for their alleged role in stealing millions of dollars worth of income tax return checks that were stolen or fraudulently obtained by third parties. The defendants owned and operated American Quick Cash Depot in Oakland Park, Florida. The indictment alleges that the couple conspired by charging fees in exchange for cashing stolen or fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. The defendants appeared with their criminal defense lawyer at their arraignment in a Fort Lauderdale federal court. At the arraignment, federal investigators from the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service testified regarding two specific checks in the amounts of $5,415 and another for $9,391. Both checks were stolen and cashed using forged endorsements and signatures.

According to the investigators, the defendants were involved in the cashing of hundreds of checks amounting to $5.26 million. The defendants are not only charged with tax fraud, but also with aggravated identity theft. In federal court, aggravated identity theft carries a two year minimum mandatory sentence. The defendants are alleged to have conspired with third parties to steal social security numbers to take tax payers refunds prior to their filing. Federal authorities are focusing on crimes involving identity theft as the number of prosecutions have quadrupled since 2007. Tax return rackets will be specifically targeted because there are two victims involved in crime, private citizens and the federal government.

According to the special agent in charge of the IRS's criminal investigation division, the electronic filing system has a defect. The IRS fails to match tax returns to an individuals's W-2 forms until long after tax filing season is over. By that time, it is too late to catch the identity theft. Until the IRS corrects the problem, fairly sophisticated people are using computers and on-line tax software to steal from citizens and the government. The number of identity theft fraud cases involving stolen or fraudulent tax returns has skyrocketed to 248,000 in 2010. The number of criminal investigations involving fraud has increased in part due to the larger number of people filing electronic returns.

While the aggravated identity theft charge the defendants are facing is serious enough, the real problem lies with the amount of loss caused to private citizens and the federal government through their actions. Tax fraud in and of itself is fairly low scoring offense under the federal sentencing guidelines. The significant portion of incarceration occurs as a result in the increased levels, not only for millions allegedly stolen, but also for the level increases the couple is likely to receive as being the managers/operators of the criminal enterprise. If the federal government's evidence is as good as they would have you believe, the defendants may have no choice but to cooperate with the federal government which would certainly significantly reduce the prison sentences each is currently facing.

Broward Couple Charged in Tax-fraud Case that Will Be the First of Many to Come, Feds Say, Miami Herald.com, January 23, 2012.

February 6, 2012

Oxycodone Trafficking Crackdown Appears to be Working

Oxycodone trafficking became such a problem in South Florida that new legislature and law enforcement action became a primary mission. Recent statistics show that the number of oxycodone dispensed by doctors was drastically reduced in 2011. Multiple high-profile arrests and stricter state laws are supposedly responsible. Miami criminal attorneys have seen the number of arrests and prosecutions for trafficking oxycodone significantly increase over the past couple of years. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, oxycodone sales by doctors decreased by 97%. In 2010, doctors were responsible for the distribution of 46 million oxycodone pills, but only distributed 1.1 million pills in 2011.

Proponents of the new legislation passed last July would have you believe that the biggest reason for the drop in distribution are the new laws. The legislation prevents doctors from dispersing oxycodone pills directly from their offices. Several doctors were charged with accepting cash from out-of state patients. Federal authorities would have you believe that the recent arrests have reduced the distribution of illegal substances by putting pressure on pain clinics and clinic owners . Whatever the theory, something appears to be working. In 2010, 90 of the top prescribing doctors practiced medicine in Florida, while in 2011, the number dropped drastically to 13. Not surprisingly, sales from doctors in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee have increased over the same period of time.

Another theory is that the significant penalties that attach to oxycodone trafficking charges have become common knowledge. The possible sentences for all drug trafficking charges are severe, but none more severe that of oxycodone. Florida drug trafficking laws do not require the intent to traffic or import illegal substances. Mere possession of an illegal substance of a weight deemed to be a trafficking amount is enough to be charged with the offense. When it comes to trafficking in oxycodone, an amount of between 4 and 14 grams, will subject an individual to a three year minimum mandatory sentence in state court. Possession of 14 to 28 grams or in excess of 28 gram subjects a defendant to a 15 and 25 year minimum mandatory sentence, respectively. The penalties are far more severe than in cocaine and marijuana trafficking cases. In addition, marijuana and cocaine trafficking cases require much greater weights to be charged with a trafficking offense.

While all three points can be attributed to the recent declines in the sale of oxycodone, the result is likely a combination of the three. While the DEA and the legislature think they have solved the problem, it may only be a temporary fix. Several years of data will be required to determine if the problem is under control. For all those who distribute oxycodone, be aware that just because oxycodone is legal prescription drug, that does not give everyone the right to dispense it or merely possess it. Anyone carrying oxycodone is required to have a prescription. Any one arrested for possession of an illegal substance or trafficking in an illegal substance, whether it is oxycodone or other form of pain killer, should seek advice from a qualified defense lawyers with experience in defending these cases both in state and federal court. The consequences of a poor defense could be devastating.

Sales of Oxycodone by Doctors Fall in Florida, Miami Herald.com, January 31, 2012.

February 3, 2012

Pundits Discuss Criminal Link to Casinos

Proponents of casinos claim that the creation of additional casinos in South Florida will improve unemployment numbers. Anti-casino activists retort that resort casinos in Miami-Dade County would increase the crime rate leading to increased costs to the residents. In recent times, Miami criminal attorneys have defended large numbers of defendants charged with economic crimes such as mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud and insurance fraud. If large scale casinos are built, opponents say gambling crimes such as robbery theft, burglary, drug offenses, prostitution and embezzlement will increase. Others claim that the increased crime will lead to the increased costs of housing prisoners in the local state department of corrections system. In reality, no one is sure how additional casinos will ultimately impact crime. Spokespersons for local law enforcement have yet to render an opinion claiming that is near impossible to measure casino crime.

While the Florida legislature has yet to pass laws enabling large casinos to enter the county, discussions between lawmakers is currently underway in Tallahassee. Supporters of the proposed legislation claim that the casinos have the ability to create badly needed jobs, while opponents claim that these are false promises. Another report generated as a result of the controversy estimates that the inclusion of the proposed casinos will cost the State of Florida $3 billion for the cost of incarcerating additional prisoners and building new prisons. Many studies have been done regarding an increased crime rate that comes along with the implementation of casinos. The results have been skewed depending on who paid for or sponsored the study. However, a couple of independent studies have been compiled projecting whether or not casinos directly cause an increase in criminal offenses.

One study out of the University of Illinois revealed that crimes would increase about 8%, 3three or four years after the casinos begin to operate. The report went further to say that the creation of casinos does not shift crimes from other communities, but rather creates new crimes. The report failed to mention whether the crimes created would be drug offenses, crimes against personal property, such as robbery or burglary, or more white collar crimes, such as, forgery, fraud or embezzlement. Another national study created by Harvard and MIT reported that counties that built and operated casinos saw a jump in criminal activity. Opponents of these studies claim that they are flawed. Factors left out of the study included the increased tourism and crimes related to tourism.

At present, Miami and South Florida have 10 casinos that are currently operating. However, statistics relating to casino related crimes have never been compiled. Law enforcement departments claim that is difficult to determine exactly which crimes are linked to casinos. First, the majority of the casinos are located on Indian reservations. Law enforcement that operate on the reservations do not have the same reporting requirements as other departments. Secondly, those casinos are operated with a high degree of security, more so, than in other areas of the community. Third, when crimes are charged, the motive for the criminal offense is not reported in any current statistic. Fourth, the new mega-casinos will include table games such as roulette and craps which are not offered at the present time. While both sides will continue to argue to pros and cons of additional casinos, the community and defense attorneys will never truly know the impact unless the law is passed permitting additional gambling in the State of Florida.

Casino Opponents: Gambling Would Lead to More Crime, Miami Herald.com, February 1, 2012.

January 30, 2012

Former School Athletic Director Charged with Additional Sex Crimes

A former charter school athletic director has been charged with seven additional sex crimes allegedly discovered by local law enforcement authorities. The defendant was previously charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a twelve year old female victim. During the pendency of the case, a 17 year old female reported that she and the defendant had a unlawful sexual relationship. The defendant now faces 7 more counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor. The defendant was arrested in Polk County on the new charges and was extradited to Miami-Dade County. The defendant is currently in custody and being held without bail on the second case. The arraignment on the new case is scheduled for January 5 where the defendant and his Miami criminal lawyer will appear in court.

In the case involving the 12 year old, the defendant is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child and one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child between the ages of 12 and 16. According to police reports, the defendant used his position as athletic director to coerce the girl to engage in unlawful sexual conduct. The crime of lewd and lascivious battery requires the state to prove that the defendant committed a sexual act with a victim, more specifically, that the defendant's sexual organ penetrated or had union with the sexual organs or the mouth of the victim. Neither the victim's past sexual history or the victim's purported consent is a defense to the sexual offense. Furthermore, the defendant's lack of knowledge of the victim's age, even if misrepresented by the victim, is also not a defense to the crime. The offense itself is a second degree felony punishable up to fifteen years in prison.

In the case involving the 17 year old, the defendant is charged with 7 counts of sexual activity with a minor. To prove the case, the state must show that the victim was 16 or 17 years old; the defendant was 24 years of age or older, and the defendant has sexual activity with the victim as defined above. The charge itself is also a second degree felony punishable up to fifteen years in prison. The defendant's knowledge of victim's age and the victim's prior sexual history are not defenses to the charge. The defendant is currently being held without bond on these charges. The offense itself allows for a bond to be posted. As long as the alleged criminal acts were not committed after the bond was set in the first case, the defendant should be entitled to a bond. If the state or corrections is improperly holding a defendant, an experienced criminal lawyer will demand a bond hearing before the presiding judge.

Although the defendant along with every other defendant charged with a criminal sexual offense is facing serious terms of incarceration, cases involving sex crimes can be effectively defended. As in all cases, the strength of a case will be based on the amount and quality of evidence gathered by law enforcement. Anyone being investigated or arrested for a sexual offense should seek the advice of a qualified lawyer experienced in defending these types of cases. The most damning evidence against a defendant is certainly a inculpatory post-Miranda statement. Anyone involved in a criminal investigation must remember that suspects have the right to remain to remain. The constitutional right should always be invoked at the earliest possible time. A taped or written confession seals a case for the state and allows for the state not to rely so heavily on victim's/witness's credibility. Be aware of your rights.

School Athletic Director in West Kendall is Charged with More Sex Crimes, Miami Herald.com, January 30, 2012.

January 24, 2012

GPS Tracking Requires a Warrant Says Supreme Court

In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will assist defendants in fighting their charges and curtail law enforcement's ability to conduct surveillance on suspects committing criminal offenses. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that there are privacy interests involving GPS devices and that warrants may be required to obtain permission to use them. It is uncommon for Miami criminal attorneys to see cases involving GPS tracking devices, certainly on the state level. The case being heard in front of the Supreme Court came by way of Washington, D.C. A suspected drug trafficking kingpin was prosecuted with evidence obtained as a result of using a GPS devise. The case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

According to the Court's opinion, all the justices agreed that the Fourth Amendment applies to GPS devices. Federal investigators attached a GPS to the defendant's vehicle and monitored his movements over a twenty-eight day period. Significant evidence was acquired through the use of device and helped convict the purported drug kingpin of charges serious enough to merit life in prison. The trial garnered a lot of media attention during its pendency. An appellate lawyer from Washington, D.C., filed an appeal on behalf of the defendant, specifically objecting to the use of the GPS devise. The government filed a response claiming that the use of a GPS device is no different than current forms of low-tech monitoring that are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

While the decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous, the judges were split 5 to 4 on the basis for their findings. The Justice Scalia, representing the majority of the court, found that the attachment of the device was in and of itself unconstitutional. He specifically wrote, "We hold that the government's installation of a GPS on a target's vehicle, and its use of that devise to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a search." The Court did not go as far to say all uses of a GPS device will be per se prohibited, but the use of any such device would be "risky undertaking". The court did not address other modern forms of surveillance devices and explained that they did not want to "rush forward" and make other decisions other than the issue at hand.

Surveillance has always been a primary means of gathering evidence for federal and local law enforcement agencies. Wiretaps have always been the most common form of intelligence gathering. As technology advances, law enforcement will seek to implement new ways to use that technology to prosecute individuals suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering, and other forms of organized crime. Anyone charged with a criminal offense that is supported by the use of surveillance equipment should discuss the case with an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with the requirements federal law enforcement must comply with prior to obtaining evidence in this manner.

Supreme Court: Warrants Needed in GPS Tracking, The Washington Post.com, January 24, 2012.