Major cruise have come under scrutiny for failing to report crimes committed at sea upon their vessels. Legislative pressure has caused three large cruise lines to publish data regarding serious criminal offenses committed on their ships. The Port of Miami is one of the largest ports of call on the east coast that caters to cruise lines. Our Miami criminal defense attorneys have represented dozens of passengers accused of committing crimes at sea. Three of the largest cruise lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian began comprehensive reporting last week. Prior to the new reporting standards implemented by the cruise lines, the Coast Guard maintained only records of criminal cases that had been investigated and closed by the FBI. The Coast Guard is required to maintain records regarding serious cases such as homicides, suspicious deaths, aggravated battery and aggravated assault cases with serious bodily injury, sexual battery cases, and grand theft cases exceeding $10,000.
Recently in In General Category
The conditions in some of the local jails have been called deplorable. The federal government has been monitoring the situation at the jails because of the sub-standard living conditions, and in particular, the treatment of mentally-ill inmates. In fact last week, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) visited Miami-Dade County jails as part of the ongoing federal oversight. Most Miami criminal lawyers visit the local jails at least once a week. Having visited each facility on dozens of occasions, one can easily understand why the federal government is involved in improving the local jail system. One of our attorneys recently visited a female client who was locked up on the psychiatric floor of the Pre-Trial Detention Center. The conditions there resembled the living conditions depicted in the jail scenes of Silence of the Lambs.
Budget cuts across the State of Florida have limited local police department's ability to properly train its officers. Money for training partially comes from a law enforcement training trust fund. The fund itself is at a all-time low. While the economy in Florida is continuing to improve, law enforcement agencies are beginning to recover. Despite the recovery, the number of felony arrests have been declining over the last couple of years. Miami criminal defense law firms will confirm this fact. Police departments claim that crime rates are dropping due to their efforts. What they don't tell you is that are making less arrests due to less funding. Police officers are receiving little or not overtime and have no incentive to make arrests.
The laws regarding the reporting of crimes in large part do not apply to cruise lines. The delayed reporting of crimes by the cruise industry has come under scrutiny by lawmakers and watchdogs alike. With Miami and South Florida being major ports of call for the cruise line industry, it is important for criminal defense lawyers and passengers to understand the laws that govern the reporting of crimes at sea. Congress created The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) in 2010 which established security requirements and procedure for reporting crimes aboard cruise vessels. Under the act, cruise lines are required to immediately contact the nearest FBI office as soon as an incident has been reported. They are also responsible for filing a written report which must be kept in a log book to be made available by any law enforcement agency upon request.
The CVSSA required the United States Coast Guard to report annual crime statistics. However, they are only required to report closed criminal investigations. Last year, the Coast Guard reported 15 closed investigations. Of the 15 investigations, 11 involved sexual assault and battery investigations. Crew members working on board vessels were suspects in six of the criminal investigations. The International Cruise Victims Association was created to protect passengers who were victims of crimes. The chairman of the association, Kendall Carver, claims that the number of incidents reported is much lower than the incident that occur aboard cruise ships.
Carver, along with a Canadian professor, used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request criminal reports received by the FBI from cruise ships. The final report indicated that 151 reports of unwanted sexual contact were made by passengers an crew members. Of the reported incidents, 56 involved both passengers and crew members. While the number of crimes reported seems keep in mind that an approximately 17.2 million people traveled on North American based cruise lines last year. While crimes on cruise ships occur, proponents of the industry claim that cruise afford the safest of vacation destinations. Cruise goers are not a fair cross section of the population. The majority of the passengers travel as families and a large percentage are elderly. As such, there a very few incidents of violent crimes aboard cruise vessels.
The most recent event regarding cruise ship safety involved a sexual assault committed against an eleven-year-old girl aboard a Disney cruise ship while in port in Port Canaveral. The Port Canaveral police were not contacted until the following day. The ship had already sailed for the Bahamas. When the ship returned four days later, the crew member accused of the sex crime was sent back to India from the Bahamas and was never investigated for committing a crime. Disney claimed that the family declined to prosecute and that is why the crew member was sent back to India. Regardless of the victim's position, Carver and other watchdogs are still concerned with the lack of reporting of crime aboard cruise vessel. They believe that the industry is largely unmonitored and that a culture of "cover up" exists. The U.S. Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation recently sent letter to three cruise lines requesting reports on crimes such as homicides, theft and sex offenses. To date the cruise lines have not complied.
Cruise Ship Stats Aren't Smooth Sailing, Florida Today.com, June 9, 2013.
As is the case every year, thousands of vacationers and party goers attend Urban Beach Week. Of the thousands that attend, several hundred will spend one or two days of their vacation behind bars in the Miami-Dade County Jail. The overwhelming police presence and the zero tolerance policy netted 344 arrests on Miami Beach. Anyone arrested over the Memorial Day weekend should contact a Miami criminal lawyer as soon as possible. A qualified attorney will be able to discuss your options when defending a case in this county. In many instances, a case can be defended without requiring the presence of the person arrested. The money spent on airplane tickets and hotel rooms can be better used in the hiring of an attorney to defend the case. The fees for defending a criminal case will largely depend on two factors. The first factor to consider is whether the charges involve misdemeanors or felonies. Second, the complexity of the case will also be considered in determining the legal fees involved in defending the case.
The majority of the arrests during Urban Beach Weekend were for drug offenses, assault, battery and disorderly intoxication. While there are certainly more serious crimes, criminal convictions for minor offenses can cause everlasting consequences. Employment opportunities can be lost and immigration problems can arise if criminal matters, even minor ones are not handled appropriately. Possession of marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy are the most common drug offenses for which vacationers get arrested. Simple drug possession cases can be disposed of favorably and quickly with the right representation.
Violent offenses such as aggravated battery, aggravated assault, simple battery, and simple assault are not as easily defended as simple drug crimes. The outcome of these types of cases will be largely determined by injuries suffered by the alleged victim and the victim's willingness to cooperate on te criminal process. Anyone arrested for a felony or a misdemeanor will be required to appear in court at the arraignment. An arraignment is simple court proceeding where the prosecutor formally files the charges. Individuals that have been arrested that fail to appear at the arraignment will have arrests warrants issued for them. However, defendants are not required to appear at the arraignment if they retain counsel. As long as a lawyer files a notice of appearance on a person's behalf, the appearance at the arraignment can be waived.
After the arraignment, the case will be set for trial. The prosecution will be required to produce all police reports, statements provided by witnesses, and any forensic reports. While the case is pending trial, the discovery process will take place. In the State of Florida, Defendants charged with felony offenses are entitled by law to depose the witnesses involved in the case. The purpose of depositions is to learn what a potential witness will testify to during trial. In misdemeanor cases, a defendant must request permission from the court to dispose witnesses involved in the case. A defendant is also entitled to list witnesses that will testify on his or her behalf. Defense witnesses can be very important in cases to refute the testimony of state witnesses whether they are police officers or civilians. If a strong enough defense is presented to the prosecution, they will eventually dismiss the charges.
Urban Beach Week Comes to an End - Very Quietly, Miami Herald.com, May 27, 2013.
Despite the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States denying the retro-activity in Padilla type cases, the high court ruled in favor of immigrants with minor marijuana offenses on their record. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared that a resident of the U.S. of Jamaican decent should not have been deported for a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. Criminal lawyers in Miami and across the nation will applaud the new ruling, but it is at most a consolation prize in light of the ruling that determined that Padilla would not apply retro-actively. The Supreme Court in Chaidez ruled that a defendant cannot withdraw guilty or no lo contendere pleas in cases that were resolved prior to March 31, 2010 even if they received affirmative mis-advise from their lawyer.
Adrian Moncrieffe resided in the United States since the age of 3. In 2008, Moncrieffe was pulled over by police officers in the State of Georgia. He was found to be in possession of approximately 1.3 grams of marijuana and charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. Moncrieffe entered a plea to the charge which amounted to a short period of probation with no jail time. In fact, he was eligible to have his case expunged once he had complied with all the conditions set out in the plea.
After completing his sentence, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) picked up Moncrieefe at his residence, incarcerated him and initiated deportation proceedings. After hearing arguments on the matter, the Supreme Court Justices ruled 7-2 that Moncrieffe should have had the opportunity to contest the deportation. The majority of the court found that possession of a small amount of marijuana is not an aggravated felony, and was therefore insufficient to permit automatic deportation. Criminal records involving aggravated felonies subject immigrants to deportation without exception. Misdemeanor amounts of marijuana allow for deportation, but in the majority of cases, immigrants are granted waivers under those circumstances.
Immigrants that are not U.S. citizens arrested for simple possession of marijuana should not entered a plea to the charge. While the punishment in the State of Florida for such an offense is typically time served, serious immigration consequences can arise from entering such a plea. While one conviction for simple possession can allow for a waiver in immigration court, a second conviction will subject someone to automatic deportation. Immigrants arrested and charged for simple possession should hire a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney to contest the charge.
An experienced defense lawyer can often find defects in the case and file appropriate motions which may lead to a dismissal of the charge. If there are no defects ion the case, another option would be to enter a pre-trial diversion or pre-trial intervention program. In Miami, first-time offenders can enroll in the program and exchange for completing a drug class, the prosecution will dismiss the case. Entry into one of these program will have no negative immigration consequences because a defendant never enters a plea. The best advise is to seek counsel and avoid taking a plea at all costs. Remember there are options that may cost a little more up front, but will avoid a defendant from later facing deportation proceedings.
Court Limits Deportations Over Marijuana Crimes, Miami Herald.com, April 23, 2013.
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.
Anyone charged with a felony is entitled to be represented by a defense lawyer. Public Defender's Offices were created for that reason. However, when conflicts of interest arise in cases where multiple defendants are charged with criminal offenses, attorneys from the public defender's office can only represent one client. The question arises, who is going to represent the other clients who are indigent and cannot afford to retain private counsel? The State of Florida approximately five years ago created the Office of Regional Counsel. The creation of this office effectively did away with what used to be called "the wheel". "The wheel" consisted of a list of private Miami criminal defense lawyers that would be appointed cases that the public defender's office could not handle due to conflicts of interest. Budgetary constraints caused the Florida legislature to abandon the wheel and form the Offices of Regional Counsel.
"The wheel" in its past form no longer exists, but the courts still appoints cases in which both the public defender's offices and regional counsel both have conflicts of interest. The State of Florida has cut the rates for which the private lawyers can now bill the state to the extent that defendants are not receiving adequate representation. The fees are so paltry that defense lawyers who accept court appointed cases cannot effectively represent indigent defendants. A recent rule change has capped the fees to an even greater extent. It is understandable that the State of Florida needed to curb the growing expenses of legal fees, but not to the extent that the lawyers are not effectively representing their clients. For the fees being paid, the lawyers representing indigent clients cannot complete effective discovery in the cases prior to their resolution.
Attorneys around the community are making a stink that indigent clients cannot receive effective representation with the fees being they are being paid. One of the cornerstones of the Constitution provides that every defendant is entitled to effective legal representation. Effective representation means quality representation by qualified lawyers. Quality lawyers cannot afford to handles these cases for amount of time and effort to effectively defend them. If a lawyer decides to participate in the court-appointment process, economics dictates that the requisite amount of time required to provide a solid defense cannot be put into a case, thereby leading to ineffective assistance of counsel. Dozens and dozens of hours of work are put into a case before it is resolved. The discovery process, especially depositions, take hours of preparation and planning along with the time it takes to properly question witnesses.
The new rule change calls the pool of lawyers the "Limited Registry". The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) is challenging the new procedure for appointing lawyers to represent indigent clients. Many of the attorneys who used to represent clients on "the wheel" are no longer taking these cases because they can simply no longer afford to do so. Prior to the recent change, defense attorneys could bill a case for a flat fee, or by the hour if the cases were more complex and took significant time. All the cases are now paid by way of flat fee which cannot properly compensate those defending the cases. The flat fees vary depending on the severity of the offense. For example, an armed robbery case will pay more than a drug sale or drug possession case. Anyway you slice it, more and more attorneys will choose not to participate in the new program leaving a void in the number of lawyers ready, willing and able to defend indigent clients.
New Fee Rules Rile South Florida Defense Lawyers, Miami Herald.com, June 23, 2012.
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.
Memorial Day weekend on the beach again resulted in violence and arrests. With the evolution of cell phones has come the ability of civilians to video police actions. Several incidents of police officers seizing or destroying cell phone were reported during the long weekend. The police chief of Miami Beach claimed in a statement that cell phones are taken to preserve evidence and not to cover up police misconduct. Miami criminal defense lawyers who have represented clients arrested on the beach will testify that many arrests occur as a result of innocent civilians video recording police misconduct. According to public records, there have been 11 incidents where police have either arrested individuals for filming police actions or instances when cameras have been confiscated by law enforcement. Records of police abuse regarding videos date back to 2008. Some examples of these conflicts are:
In January 2008, two individuals filmed an ordinary traffic stop. They were forcibly removed from the vehicle, beaten and charged with disorderly conduct. After a thorough investigation, the Miami-Dade County State Attorneys Office dropped the charges. Later in 2008, a woman filmed a police officer beating a man outside a Miami Beach bar. The police that took her camera were exonerated of theft and battery after an internal affairs investigation was conducted. In 2009, a photo journalist was arrested for taking a picture of an arrest. The police took him into custody and charged him with drunk and disorderly conduct. Yet again, the charges were eventually dismissed. During Memorial Day weekend in 2009, a husband and wife were arrested for disorderly conduct and had their cell phone confiscated because they filmed officers beating a man who had used profanity toward the officers. Charges were again dropped by the state. You can see the ongoing pattern.
The problem got so bad that several people formed a group calling itself Channel 62. One of its members became engaged in a verbal confrontation with Miami Beach offices and was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence "DUI". Another member of the group attempted the video the event, until the camera was seized. The police in turn issued a warning to its officers to use extreme caution when dealing with the group as they were armed with cameras. The department has since implemented a training program which instructs cops when and how they can confiscate cameras. Bear in mind that Miami Beach is not the only jurisdiction that has had issues with cell phone cameras. A Broward County officer was suspended with pay for snatching a woman's cell phone and destroying it during an arrest.
While using a camera is well within one's constitutional rights, a bystander who wants to become involved by filming must be prepared to be arrested. Regardless of the outcome of the case, a trip to jail and attending a bond hearing could certainly be in the cards. If anyone is arrested and falsely accused for simply filming the police, it is imperative to hire a criminal defense law firm quickly so that inquires of the police can be made. In certain instances, internal affairs complaints must filed immediately. The longer the delay in filing the complaint, the less credence it may be given. The state attorneys office must be contacted immediately with the hope that the criminal prosecution can be headed off quickly with a dismissal of the charges. While filming police action is certainly legal, it can be a costly endeavor.
A History of Cops vs. Cameras in Miami Beach, Miami Herald.com, June 14, 2011.
The credibility of photo lineups in Florida criminal proceedings has come under recent attack both from the legislature and the Innocence Project of Florida, a non-profit organization, that works to overturn wrongful criminal convictions. The organization sometimes solicits the assistance of Miami criminal defense lawyers. According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness misidentification accounts for over 75% of all wrongful criminal convictions nationwide. The issue gained particular prominence in Florida after the release of Derrick Williams on April 4 of this year. Imprisoned for sexual battery since 1992, Williams was convicted following an eyewitness identification. He was released from prison when DNA testing conclusively eliminated him as the assailant.
A large number of variables can affect the reliability of witness identification during a photo lineup, such as, how much the witness learns about a particular suspect in custody; the actions and attitudes of the police officers administering the lineup that might cause a witness to feel pressure to make an identification; and, of course, the quality and the nature of the pictures themselves. Flawed line-ups have sent defendants to prison on very serious charges such as armed robbery and various sex crimes. In February of this year, Republican Senator Joe Negron of Palm City and Democratic Representative Perry Thurston of Ft. Lauderdale, submitted separate bills calling for a massive overhaul of witness identification procedures in the State of Florida. The bills received the support of criminal attorney from state's public defender offices, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Innocence Project of Florida.
Among other proposed changes these bills called for witnesses to be issued a disclaimer that would, inter alia, warn the eyewitness that the suspect might not be in the photo array; make clear that the witness does not have to identify someone; and, that the investigation of the crime will continue with or without a photo lineup identification of a suspect. If police do not follow this new protocol, a jury or judge could take that into consideration when determining the reliability of an eyewitness identification.
Though both bills have failed to prosper, their basic proposed provisions have become the foundation for changes advocated by the Florida Innocence Commission, a statewide panel chaired by Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. Two weeks ago on May 16, the commission met at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando. Among their recommended changes were,
1) Reducing the suggestiveness of photo lineups by insuring no suspect in the pictures has overtly distinguishing characteristics, e.g., if the alleged perpetrator is of a certain race or color, that there not be just one or two photos of suspects of that race or color;
2) Procedures be administered in a "double blind" fashion, to wit, neither the witness nor the administering officer will know if the suspect, in fact, is in the photo lineup; and,
3) Pictures be shown one-by-one.
The commission has no official law-making powers. Absent, therefore, action by the legislature, the burden falls entirely on state and local law-enforcement agencies to implement the proposed changes. As expected, law enforcement officials are hesitant to embrace the reforms. Charlotte County Sherriff, Bill Cameron, acting as a representative of the Florida Sheriff's Association, charges that these changes send the wrong message to the community, specifically, that law enforcement "should not be trusted." Photo lineups have long been a hallmark of criminal convictions. Challenging their reliability could have a profound effect not only on how criminals are prosecuted, it could complicate convictions of persons already imprisoned by opening the door to appeals. Law enforcement agencies have said that such bills or changes are unnecessary and even redundant as these agencies already have underway new guidelines that would require similar protocols.
Florida Legislature Looks at Better Criminal Identification Procedures, Digital Journal.com, May 8, 2011.
South Florida has always been a hotspot for both tourists and vacationers. Often times visitors get more from the vacation they envisioned. For example, drinking and partying on South Beach in Miami, Florida recently led several people to be manhandled and arrested by the police. Over the years, the records are replete with tourists being arrested for charges including drunk and disorderly intoxication, assault, battery, resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. While the charges and levels of criminal offense vary, non-locals arrested in Miami-Dade County and in particular, Miami-Beach, should seek an experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer to fight the charges. While it may seem an easier path to accept a plea bargain as a matter of convenience, this result can often have unforeseen circumstances such as loss of employment or immigration problems down the road.
In the most recent case, a female tourist was ejected out of a show for disorderly conduct. Security staff pointed out the lady to Miami Beach police officers who eventually had enough and threw her to the sand. Another man came to her aid and became involved in a scuffle with the security staff as well. The officers shot pepper spray in the female's face. According to police reports , the man struck an officer in the head with a weapon causing the officer to go to the hospital for stitches. The woman was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer without violence. The man who intervened in an attempt to assist the women was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with violence.
If you are from out of town and are arrested in Miami-Dade County, there are several things you must remember. First and foremost, have friends or family post your bond. You can wait until your bond hearing, but the judge will not give you pre-trial release because you are from out of town and inevitably you will have to post the bond. Have your friends or family contact a bondsman. There are hundreds of bondsman roaming South Florida. Normally, a bondsman will require you to pay 10% of bond to secure a person's release. For example, you will be required to pay the bondsman $1,000 on a $10,000 bond. However, a bondsman may require additional collateral because the person is not a resident of the county. After securing your release, look for a qualified criminal attorney to represent you. You can hire a lawyer in person or by telephone depending on when you are scheduled to depart the area. Before hiring a lawyer, do some research and request a consultation so that you are comfortable with the person representing you. Your case will be scheduled for an arraignment. You will not be required to attend this hearing as long as you are represented by counsel.
Most out-of-towners are first-time offenders and can generally avail themselves of the pre-trial diversion program (PTI). In exchange for completing certain conditions, the state will nolle pros or dismiss your charges. The program is available for misdemeanor and less serious felony charges. Charges such as aggravated assault and aggravated battery will probably not allow for the program, at least in the preliminary stages of the case. PTI is voluntary and does not have to be accepted by a defendant. In many instances, based on the facts and circumstances, a case should be vigorously defended as a matter of principal as many defense man exist to beat the charges and the case. Qualified defense counsel will review the discovery including police reports and in most instances have the right to depose witnesses. Once a case is evaluated, it is easier to make a decision in how to proceed with the case.
Miami Beach Police Defend Actions in Videos Showing Confrontation, Orlando Sentinal.com, March 30, 2011.
Court officials and judges alike are concerned about the budget proposals that will be discussed when the legislation meets this month. The reduced funding and budget cuts have already severely affected the criminal justice system in South Florida and Miami-Dade County. Some are worried that further budget cuts could cause the system to come to grinding halt. Miami criminal defense lawyers are finding longer lines at the clerk's offices and larger dockets on the judges' calendars. Some people will benefit from the delays while others will suffer as a result. Victims seeking domestic violence injunctions will wait longer to present their cases to magistrates. Defendants will benefit because delays in criminal cases always benefit the defense to the detriment of the prosecution.
The general rule is that the longer a defendant can delay a case, he or she will receive a better result. First and foremost, cases involving civilian victims and witnesses often fall apart over time. Victims and witnesses alike lose interest in criminal cases over time. Examples of these types of cases involve charges of aggravated battery and aggravated assault. Domestic violence cases also tend to fall apart as victims and defendants have time to reconcile their issues. Generally, all types of narcotics cases from drug trafficking to drug possession get better over time. Detectives memory fades regarding facts surrounding arrests and the investigators tend to lose interest in cases over time.
The budget proposal submitted by the governor recommends a $40 million cut from last years budget. The cuts involve reducing the payroll by about 600 jobs. Most of the job cuts include staff attorneys or judicial assistants (JA's). JA's act as judges' secretaries and are responsible for calendaring motions and hearings on the court's docket. Currently, each judge is assigned one JA. Under the proposal, one JA will be assigned to two or three judges. This in and of itself will jam up the current court docketing system, causing delays in resolving cases. Miami-Dade Chief Circuit Judge holds the same opinion and was quoted as saying, "The current proposals will create a never before seen level of inefficiencies in our court system."
Public defenders offices across the state are also concerned. Already overworked and underpaid, a reduction in the number of criminal defense attorneys acting assistant public defenders will also jam up the criminal justice system. The reductions could also cause cutting the number of assistant state attorneys prosecuting cases across the state. The reduction in the number of assistant public defenders and assistant state attorneys will delay cases as fewer attorneys will be available to complete the discovery process at the current pace. Opponents of the budge cuts complain that the reductions will jeopardize the safety of citizens throughout the state. The true ramifications of the new budget will only be known after the legislature decides how best to spend the taxpayers money.
Judges, Court Officials Warn of Justice Delayed if Judicial System is Cut Significantly, TCPalm.com, March 7, 2011.
The police claim that they have solved a murder and sexual battery case that was committed in 2000. The cold case was solved through the use of DNA evidence. The defendant, a former Miami-Dade transit employee, was already in custody on two other cases involving sexual battery and attempted murder. The Miami criminal defense lawyer representing the defendant on the first two cases will apparently represent him on the newest charges. Detectives obtained the DNA as part of their investigation into the recent sexual battery case. Many other cold cases have been solved by the use of DNA. The law in the State of Florida changed a couple of years ago that requires defendants under certain circumstances to submit their DNA to a data base. This change in the law has allowed law enforcement to solve old previously unsolved cases.
The defendant has had relatively few contacts with the criminal justice system which is the reason his DNA was not found in the data base. He had previously been arrested for strong arm robbery which was eventually dismissed by the state and a domestic violence case in which he was charged with simple battery for allegedly beating his girlfriend and the mother of three of his children. The charges were dropped after he completed the pre-trial diversion (PTD) program after attending domestic violence classes.
Florida Statute 943.325 was passed by the legislature because DNA databases are important tools in criminal investigations, not only for apprehending people who commit crimes, but also to exclude people from being wrongfully charged with a crime. The statute mentions that it was created to assist law enforcement on the federal, state and local level in the identification and detection of criminals, as well as missing persons. The legislature also believed that it was in the best interests of the citizens of the State of Florida to establish a statewide data base which contains DNA samples of individuals convicted of or arrested for felony offenses and convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses.
The law that requires individuals to submit their DNA samples apples to qualified offenders. Qualified offenders are defined as persons: committed to a county jail, committed to the department of corrections, committed to the juvenile justice system, convicted of a felony offense, or convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses. Each qualified offender must submit a DNA sample at the time he or she is booked into a jail, correctional facility, juvenile facility or at the time the plea is taken. A statewide laboratory is responsible for maintaining a statewide automated personal identification system capable of classifying, storing, and matching DNA samples. All crime laboratories within the state have access to the data base.
Arrest Made in 2000 in 200 Murder and Rape of Miami Runaway Girl, Miami Herald.com, February 8, 2011.
According to a recent report, the city saw a decrease in crime last year. According to FBI statistics, the number of robbery, burglary, sexual battery and auto theft cases are on the decline. The Police Chief of Miami told reporters that the numbers would have been even better if his predecessors had provided more complete reports regarding crimes in the city. While, the statistics show a decline in crime, Miami criminal lawyers continue to be busy representing clients charged with offenses from cocaine trafficking to Medicare fraud. The chief boasted that the numbers for the second half of the year should be even better. Whether the reduction in crime is a result of better reporting or better crime fighting remains to be seen.
The achievements of the Miami Police Department have not gone unnoticed. The International Association of Police Chiefs presented the department with an award for its achievements. The department was one out of the 18,000 police departments nominated for the award. Another achievement for the department was that Coconut Grove was named as the safest neighborhood in South Florida and in the top 29 for safest neighborhoods in the United States.
The Miami Police Department attributed the drop in crime to several innovative ideas used to target serious violent crimes ans sex crimes. One of the initiatives was the creation of the Tactical Operations Center (TOS). The TOS is a 24 hour/seven day a week operation that pro-actively attacks violent crimes and is made up of more than 100 undercover and plain clothed police officers. A new Tactical Robbery Unit has allegedly made an impact in reducing the number of serious violent crimes within the city limits. While most violent crimes are down, homicides are on the rise due to gang violence and turf wars.
The department claims to have significant success in removing dangerous weapons from the streets. In comparison, 930 firearms have been taken off the streets as opposed to 601 weapons the previous year. Opponents of the new police chief are taking the opposite approach. They claim that the information laid out does not show the increase of certain offenses such as aggravated assault and theft. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also took exception to the claim of the under-reporting of crimes. Despite the infighting, crimes will still be committed in the City of Miami and anyone charged with committing a crime should speak with a Miami criminal defense attorney regarding the defense of their case.
Crime is Down in Miami, The Miami Herald.com, January 8, 2011.