DOJ Changes Position on False Statements Prosecutions

The federal government will frequently charge individuals with a violation of 18 USC 1001 for giving a False Statement to a Government Agency.  To be convicted under that section, a person must act “willfully” in making false statements to investigators.  Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has quietly adopted a more defense-friendly position on such prosecutions.  Federal prosecutors are now told that in order to prove a person acted willfully in providing a false statement to a federal agency, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew that making the statement was unlawful – not just that the statement was false.  This is a material change in the government’s charging decisions that could affect future white collar investigations and prosecutions under Section 1001.

Such prosecutions have ensnared such high-profile defendants as Martha Stewart and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  In short, the government must now prove that the statement was false and the person making the false statement knew that making a false statement was unlawful.

 

Stay of Execution Lifted for Manuel Valle

Last month, a stay of execution was granted to Manuel Valle that arranged a review of the lethal injection protocol, prolonging Valle’s time on death row. Valle voiced concerns about the new lethal injection drug, pentobarbital.

Valle’s criminal defense lawyer argued that pentobarbital would subject him to substantial harm, which resulted in the postponing of his death sentence. Earlier this week, The Florida Supreme Court lifted the temporary stay and found the use of pentobarbital constitutional.

news release from Attorney General Pam Bondi stated that “The Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed the circuit court’s denial of postconviction relief and stated that no motion of rehearing would be entertained.”

Google It, Unless You’re a Juror

The Googling phenomenon is hard to escape; if you’re not sure what a word means, you Google it. If you want to find out who someone is, you Google him/her. When called to serve jury duty, some may find it second nature to look up facts or definitions in relation to the trial they are serving on. In most cases, if anyone on the jury is found to be Googling, a mistrial may be declared and the case could be tossed.

This is not uncommon. In 2009, a mistrial was declared in a largefederal drug trial in Florida when nine jurors admitted to doing research on the Internet. The mistrial resulted in eight weeks of hard work by criminal defense attorneys and federal prosecutors being thrown out.

An article from The Star referenced a first-degree murder trial in Maryland where the jury Googled and discovered two articles referencing body temperature after death. After refusing to declare a mistrial, the murder conviction was later tossed out by an appeals court.

As it may come as second nature to tweet, Google, blog, post or text anything these days, leaving this habit on the steps outside of the courtroom is a good idea. Last week, California Governor Jerry Brownsigned a law making it a misdemeanor for a juror to willfully disobey “a court admonishment related to the prohibition on any form of communication or research about the case, including all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research.”

Over the years, many trials have resulted in what is being called a “Mistrial by Google”, wasting time and money for all parties involved. With California’s recent action, it may not be long until other states adopt similar laws. So next time you are sitting on a jury, think twice before you let your urge to Google takeover, as it could not only result in a mistrial, but could land you in a jail cell as well.

Man Accused of Murder Will Represent Himself in Court

The jury selection process has begun for a Pinellas County man accused of killing his wife over 10 years ago. Robert Temple is facing first-degree murder charges and has announced that he will be representing himself in court.

With such serious accusations and convictions at stake, Temple is making a very bold move by deciding to act as his own attorney. Temple has no legal background, but according to a TBO article, he is finding encouragement from the recent acquittal of Casey Anthony.

“Nobody believed Casey Anthony, and I see she got found not guilty,” Temple said. “It’s a matter of what the proof shows, and I believe I have enough proof to show I didn’t kill my wife.”

It is not completely surprising that Temple finds encouragement from the Casey Anthony case, but it does seem unreasonable that he is going at this alone. Having the expertise of a criminal defense attorneyis certainly one of the key components that helped make Casey Anthony’s case. Although evidence is the major piece of the puzzle, the knowledge and experience that a defense attorney would provide is essential.

Temple has many forces working against him in this case; no attorney, a “forged” confession document, and his ex-girlfriend, who allegedly helped clean up the murder scene, is testifying against him. Will Robert Temple do himself justice or will he end up regretting the decision to act as his own attorney?

Letters From The Bar

I am honored to have received a personalized letter of thanks for the second year in a row from the Bar President in regards to my time and efforts spent with the Criminal Law Certification Committee. I feel privileged enough to be able to serve as chair of a Committee, which, as Mayanne Downs put it, “Our committees have always been the grassroots of our existence.” To receive personalized thank-you letters makes the experience even more rewarding.

For those who serve along side me on the Bar Committee, I’d like to thank you for a great year as well. I look forward to what is to come and appreciate all of the hours we have spent together devoted to theBoard Certification Program. I am confident that the future will be great, if not better, than the past two years thanks to Presidents Mayanne Downs and Jesse H. Diner.

Charges Reduced for Florida Teen Accused of Killing Parents

Tyler Hadley, 17-year-old male from Port St. Lucie, Florida has been accused of murdering his parents, Blake and Mary-Jo Hadley. Hadley allegedly bludgeoned his parents to death with a hammer Saturday night before throwing a party where 40-60 teens attended as guests.

Hadley was appointed a public defender before facing a judge from St. Lucie County Jail, in Fort Pierce, via closed circuit camera. He was first charged with two counts of first-degree murder which have now been reduced to second-degree. No reason has been given as to what Hadley’s motive was or why the charges were dropped from first-degree murder to second. See the story from WSVN News.

First-degree murder is considered premeditated while second-degree is categorized as a crime of passion. Given the murder weapon, and the events that took place afterwards, it’s hard not to wonder, why the drop in charges? Was there a fight between the parents and Hadley prior? Is it because of the suspect’s age? There are many questions to consider, and this is only a few days after the incident. It will be interesting to see what approach the criminal defense lawyertakes in this case. We don’t know much but this is certainly a case to watch as more develops.

Social Media’s Role in the Casey Anthony Case

The Casey Anthony trial was the first high-profile murder case to take place in the social media realm. The blogosphere went haywire; tweets and posts around the country were trending anything related to Casey Anthony. We saw the posts, even sent out a few tweets about the topic ourselves, but what did the defense think about all of the social media action? Some argue that they made their case based on it.

Prior to the trial, Amy Singer was hired by the defense (pro-bono) to help with the jury selection process and consultation during the trial. According to an article from Law.com, Singer was quoted saying that “the whole trial was social-media driven.”

Singer and her team searched thousands of blogs and posts before and during the trial to find out “what was annoying people about Anthony”. They wanted to hear the important negative comments so the defense could address the issues in their arguments.

For example, as soon as the bloggers and tweeters developed an opinion about George Anthony, Singer encouraged the defense to dig more information up and put him in the spotlight. The thought here was that if the public had such an agreed consensus towards certain evidence or topics, the jury may share the same thoughts.

The jury selection was very critical in this case, and according to some the trial was over after the jury was selected. The defense’s ideal juror was “bright and intelligent” and if they were talking about Casey Anthony, they were talking about the facts; i.e mentioning Caylee’s skull being found in a field as opposed to Casey’s alleged party girl persona.

Needless to say, all the posts, blogs and tweets involving anything to do with Casey Anthony were analyzed by the defense and taken into account for the development of the case. And for what it’s worth, the defense team did a proficient job using that information to help back the case.

Is social media another expertise that should be developed by criminal defense attorneys? Florida A&M professor Shiv Persaud thinks so.

“It definitely might become a part of my curriculum in trial practice. We could benefit from a new type of tool we didn’t have before.” 

It couldn’t hurt. Time is an obvious issue, but when searching for a criminal lawyer, check Facebook and Twitter. If they have a presence, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

What are the DUI laws in Florida?

In the state of Florida, if you are driving under the influence and have a blood/breath alcohol level of .08 or higher you will be charged with a DUI. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the penalties upon conviction are the same but depending on certain factors such as prior convictions or if there was a minor in the car, the suspect will face heavier consequences.

Referenced from the Department of Highway and Safety and Motor Vehicles, here is an outline of the consequences and suspension laws for a DUI in Florida.

First offense:

  • Pay a fine anywhere between $500- $1000.
  •  50 hours of community service is mandatory; you can either complete the community service or pay $10 for every hour that is required.
  • Probation (should not exceed a year).
  • You will not face more than 6 months jail time.
  • Your license will be suspended anywhere from 180 days to a year.
  • Mandatory DUI school before hardship reinstatement.
  • Your car will be impounded 10 days.

If it is your first offense AND you have a BAL of .15 or higher or have a minor in the car your sanctions will worsen. Your fines will increase to $1,000-$2,000 and you could face up to 9 months in jail.

Second offense:

  • A fine of $1,000- $2,000
  • You will not face more than 9 months of jail time.
  • If it is within 5 years of prior offense, license will be suspended for 5 years.
  • Mandatory DUI school.
  • Your car will be impounded for 30 days.

If you have a BAL of .15 or higher or a minor is present, your fines increase to $2,000-$4,000 and you can face up to 12 months in jail.
Third offense:

  • A fine of $2,000-$5,000
  • You will face at least 30 days of jail time but no more than 12 months.
  • If it is within 10 years of prior offense, license will be suspended for 10 years.
  • Mandatory DUI school.
  • Your car will be impounded for 90 days.

Again, if you have a BAL of .15 or higher or a minor is present, your fines increase to no less than $4,000.

The most important thing you can do after receiving a DUI is to contact a criminal defense attorney. Hillsborough County is one of Florida’s most active counties in cracking down on drunk drivers. Generally speaking, if you are pulled over for DUI questioning, you will be arrested. Unfortunately you must pay the price, but having a Tampa defense attorney present throughout your process will ensure that you are making the right decisions as you go forward. A Board-Certified attorney should know the DUI laws like the back of their hand, so they will be able to educate you on what happens next.

What NOT to do after an arrest…

There are many mistakes made before and after an arrest is made, the biggest behind breaking the law is making statements to law enforcement without a lawyer present. In this video found on myYouTube channel, you will find a sample of the advice I would give to you if I was your criminal defense attorney.

“The singular biggest mistake that everyone makes is they make statements to the police in the hopes of making their situation better and all they’ve done is hurt themselves.”

Although it is hard not to make any statements during this process, remember that anything you say will be used against you in the court of law.

Peer Review Rating on Martindale-Hubbell

I am pleased to announce that I have received a Peer Review Rating on Martindale-Hubbell: AV® Preeminent™ 4.6 out of 5! This was quite an honor and I would like to thank all of my colleagues for their reviews. I’d also like to take a moment to explain how one obtains a review on Martindale-Hubbell and what it means.

The Peer Review reflects a combination of achieving a Very High General Ethical Standards rating and a Legal Ability numerical rating. Prior to obtaining a review, a lawyer must get a specific number of responses and based on if those responses meet the criteria, they will move to the next step in the rating process. One requirement is that the lawyer receives a “Very High” rating within the General Ethical Standards measuring the attorney’s conduct, ethics, reliability, diligence, etc.

The next step is the Legal Ability numerical rating. Lawyers are rated on a scale of 1 (lowest) – 5 (highest) based on five performance areas: legal knowledge, analytical capabilities, judgment, communication ability, and legal experience.

With the two ratings combined, the Martindale-Hubbell Peer review rating is calculated and given a rating number and term. The guidelines for what each rating means are explained on the Martindale website) as:

AV® Preeminent™ (4.5-5.0) – An AV® certification mark is a significant rating accomplishment – a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.
BV® Distinguished™ (3.0-4.4) – The BV® certification mark is an excellent rating for a lawyer with some experience. A widely respected mark of achievement, it differentiates a lawyer from his or her competition.
Rated (1.0-2.9) – The Peer Review Rated designation demonstrates that the lawyer has met the very high criteria of General Ethical Standing.

I am proud to say that my rating of 4.6 out of 5 lands me in the AV® Preeminent™ category. Again, I want to thank my fellow members of the bar and judiciary for this Martindale-Hubbell rating.

Ratings and Reviews

Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Rated

FL Bar Board Certified

Former Prosecutor