Criminal Defense

Why Do You Need A Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney?

Your attorney is the only roadblock between you and the full weight of the government. The stakes are high even if you are facing the seemingly most insignificant criminal charge. You should not try to take on the government alone. Consider that a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney well versed in the law knows how to evaluate your case accurately and find the weak links in the case. Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Exposing that weak link causes the chain to lose integrity and fall apart. Learning how to find and expose the weak links in your case comes only with experience.

An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney knows how to present your case in the best light possible in court. Your attorney will follow Florida's procedural laws and will timely file motions in your defense. For instance, if you believe the police had no grounds to pull you over, then your attorney may consider filing a motion asking the court to rule that the police violated your constitutional right by not having a valid reason to stop you. If the judge finds the stop violated your rights, then the judge may throw all of the evidence out that came from the illegal stop. A criminal defense attorney will know when to file that motion and how to cross-examine the police officer with probing, pointed questions.

A thorough and accurate case evaluation is necessary to advise a client of the appropriate strategy to take. An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to evaluate a case properly. By way of example, you may ask your attorney whether you should negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution or stand put and take the case to trial. You have the absolute right to a trial by a jury of your peers. However, there are times when the better course of action may be to negotiate a plea deal. An experienced criminal defense attorney will work on negotiating the best plea terms possible if you choose that route. You must discuss the pros and cons of each course of action. Your lawyer must advise you the maximum sentence as well as whether any minimum mandatory jail sentences are possible. Depending on the circumstances, you may be better off pleading guilty rather than taking a case to trial. For example, a plea deal may result in a probationary period, whereas a conviction after trial could result in your incarceration. 

If you opt to take the case to trial, then you need a seasoned criminal trial attorney on your side. You need an attorney who understands how to get your case across to the jury convincingly.

What Rights Do You Have When You Are Accused Of A Crime In Florida?

The Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, and the Declaration of Rights of the Florida Constitution, guarantee every person accused of a crime certain inalienable rights. Any defense attorney worth their salt will thoroughly discuss all of these rights with you in great detail. First, you are presumed innocent until you are proved guilty. A jury or judge cannot find you guilty of a crime unless and until the government, who always has the burden of proof, proves that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to remain silent in court. You may not be compelled to speak, but you may waive that right and testify on your behalf. If you do not testify, the jury may not consider that as evidence against you. You are not required to call any witnesses to testify for you, but you may.

You have the right to due process. Due process means that the government bears the responsibility of informing you of all of the charges pending against you and all of the evidence it will use against you. The government is also bound to disclose any exculpatory (favorable) evidence which it possesses and may not hide it from you.  A necessary component of due process is a fair and public trial. Courtrooms must remain open to the public. There are no secret trials and only in the rarest of circumstances may the judge close the courtroom.

Finally, you have the absolute right to a jury trial. People from your community comprise the jury. You have the right to participate in the selection of that jury. The jury hears the evidence and must agree unanimously upon a verdict. In some cases, you may waive a jury and proceed with only a judge hearing the evidence.  There may be distinct advantages to having a judge hear a trial instead of a jury. You must discuss those closely with your attorney. An attorney who knows what they are doing will understand the tactical advantages of waiving a jury.

Working With Your Attorney

Being an active and informed client will help your attorney better defend you. Any lawyer who knows what they are doing encourages questions from their clients. A successful defense begins with open and honest communication from both attorney and client. Listed below are several questions designed to open communication with your attorney:

  • What evidence does the government have against me? Can I see it?
  • Who are the witnesses against me and what do they say I did?
  • What are my charges?
  • What are the elements of the crime?
  • What are the possible penalties I face?
  • What is your strategy for defending my case?
  • What are the consequences of going to trial versus negotiating a plea?
  • What effect will this case have, if any, on my driver's license?
  • What effect will this case have, if any, on my ability to work?
  • What can I do to help?

An attorney-client relationship is a two-way street. Your attorney will need some information from you to help prepare your case. You will need to inform your lawyer about any witnesses you have, documents or photographs you have that might help your case. You also need to discuss with your attorney your prior criminal history, family life, work history, medical history, mental health history, and history of substance abuse such as drug dependency or alcoholism.  Do not hide anything from your attorney. Every bit of information you provide will help your attorney accurately assess your situation.

What Are Your Rights If You Are Stopped Or Arrested?

You always have the right to remain silent. However, you must answer a law enforcement officer when he asks you to identify yourself. Other than that, you never have to answer any questions. You can answer questions if you want to, but remember, anything you say can, and will, be used against you in court.

Many people think that the police must read the Miranda warnings upon arrest and believe, incorrectly, that the court must dismiss their case if the arresting officer failed to recite the warnings to you. The police must read you the Miranda warnings if they placed you in custody or detain you and ask you questions. The police have no obligation to read the Miranda warnings to you if they do not ask you anything. The traditional booking questions do not fall under the Miranda requirements. Additionally, the law does not require the police to read you "your rights," that is the Miranda warnings, during questioning at a routine car stop.

The police must read the warning completely and accurately before asking you any questions. The Miranda warnings remind you that you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can, and will, be used against you in court. You have the right to an attorney present while police are questioning you. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you at no cost to you before police being questioning. You also have the right to cease questioning once it begins. You also have the right to the assistance of an attorney even if you start answering questions. The police must stop questioning if you ask for an attorney.  Additionally, the police cannot proceed with questioning unless you voluntarily and intelligently waive the Miranda rights.

A judge can throw out evidence that law enforcement obtained against you if the police got the evidence by violating your rights. For example, if the police do not read you the Miranda warnings before questioning you, then anything you say to the police may be inadmissibile in court.

Contact An Attorney First Before Speaking With Police

It is in your best interest to contact a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney when Florida law enforcement officers contact you. You always have the right not to incriminate yourself. Also, you have the right to representation even if you are not in custody. Call an attorney first before speaking with any law enforcement officer.

Common Criminal Charges In Florida

  1. Driving Under The Influence

Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a serious crime that affects people from all walks of life. Facing DUI charges does not mean you are a criminal. It is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle in Florida if (1) if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or above, (2) your normal factulties are impaired by alchol, drugs, or medication.

First and second offense DUI are misdemeanors in Florida. You may be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.00 but not less than $500.00 and up to six months incarceration in the county jail if you are found guilty of a first offense. However, if you drove with a minor in the car or with your BAC at 0.15% or higher, then the maximum jail sentence is nine months. The total period of incarceration and probation for a first DUI offense may not exceed one year. Additionally, you must perform 50 hours of community service or pay a fine of $10 for each hour of community service. Further, the state will suspend your license for six months for a first-offense DUI conviction. 

The court must impose additional conditions upon a person convicted of a second offense DUI. Punishment for a second offense increases the fine to $2,000.00 and the possibility of incarceration to a 9-month maximum jail sentence.  If you were convicted of driving with a minor or a blood alcohol level of 0.15% or greater, then the maximum sentence you face is one-year incarceration. If, however, you second offense occurred within five years of your first conviction, then the court must sentence you to ten days in jail, with a minimum of 48 hours to be served consecutively. Your car must be impounded for 30 days as well.

Florida law imposes mandatory license loss for DUI charges as well. Florida is an "implied consent" state. Implied consent means that by simply driving on a public way in Florida, you agree to take a breathalizer test if police have reason to believe you to be under the influence. Refusing to take a breath test can be used against you in court. You can be charged with a crime for refusal if you refuse to take a breath test more than once. Also, the state will suspend your driver's license for up to one year. A second refusal results in a mandatory license suspension of 18 months for refusal and one year for a conviction of a second DUI offense.

In Florida, a third DUI offense is a felony. A judge could sentence you to prison for up to ten years. Florida law also punishes DUI homicide and DUI manslaughter severely.

Facing DUI charges is daunting. You need a tough, knowledgeable, and experienced Fort Lauderdale DUI attorney to fight for your rights.

     2.         Drug Charges

Florida, like every other state, faces increased drug abuse among its citizens. Drug dependency affects all and is not limited to any socio-economic demographic, age, or race. Not only are drugs like heroin and cocaine abused but also drugs like crystal meth, "Molly", and prescription pills are as well. Under Florida law, simple possession of a narcotic, including marijuana, is a crime. Florida characterizes drug into schedules based upon chemical composition and effect on the user.

Potential punishments depend on the classification of the drug. Florida continues to punish possession of marijuana. Possession of fewer than 20 grams of marijuana is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year in jail and a $1,000 fine, or both. Florida law increases the incarceration period, including mandatory minimum sentences, for trafficking, selling, or distributing narcotics.  Florida's penalties for these crimes are extremely harsh.

Possession can be either actual, constructive, or joint. Actual possession is fairly easy to understand. Constructive possession means that the person had the intent and ability to exercise control over the drug. Constructive possession is not hard to understand when the drug is in a car with the owner driving. What happens when four people are in the car? Should the police charge all four? Police frequently charge everyone in a car with possession of drugs, which can cause patently unfair results. You need an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney to fight for you if you face drug possession charges. 

     3.         Theft

In Florida, obtaining property or using the property of another with intent to prevent the owner from using the property or misappropriating another's property is theft. Any theft of $300 or more is grand theft, a third-degree felony. A person convicted of a third-degree felony faces five years' imprisonment in the state's prison. However, if the theft was property in a home, then the value of the property need only exceed $100 to qualify as grand theft.

The State of Florida permits judges to exercise sentencing discretion and impose probationary conditions depending on the circumstanes and the crime charged.  A judge possesses discretion to order the person to pay restitution to the victim, attend inpatient drug counseling, and be under supervised control by the probation department.  The judge can order the person to serve a split sentence instead of a full sentence. For example, a judge can sentence a person convicted of grand theft to five years in prison, with two years to serve, and with the balance of the sentence ordered suspended for three years. The judge places the person on probation or community control for the three remaining years. The judge has the discretion to order the person to serve the remaining portion of the split sentence if the person failed to satisfy all conditions of probation. 

Call Englander Peebles Today If You Face Charges Fort Lauderdale

Defending a person accused of a crime in Fort Lauderdale is a privilege. Successfully defending the rights and freedom of the accused requires an exhaustive knowledge of Florida criminal law and procedure, extensive courtroom expertise, and the determination to fight for each and every client. The attorneys at Englander Peebles pride themselves on fighting to protect the rights of their clients. Call Englander Peebles today at 954-500-4878 to schedule a free consultation to learn how you can get the representation you deserve.