The crime of Driving Under the Influence, commonly referred to as DUI or DWI, can have very serious consequences. Many times, DUI offenders have never been arrested before and their mistake may have led them to their first brush with law enforcement. Recently a judge in West Palm Beach, FL gave a 1st time offender a 32-year sentence for a DUI conviction. That DUI did result in a crash that led three people dead but similar convictions have led to far more lenient sentences. For the defendant, Mr. Keith Richard Jenkins, the sentence seemed overly harsh and he has blamed his attorneys for the lengthy sentence. Of key importance to the sentencing decision was an investigation after the conviction was secured which revealed that Mr. Jenkins continued to party after the DUI incident playing a game of beer-pong. Sometimes a lawyer must explain more than just the law to their client and provide counseling beyond that of what the law entails. Unfortunately for Mr. Jenkins, his counsel may have failed to provide him with advice that could have helped him avoid such a lengthy sentence.
On Jan. 7, 2016, a man named Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. was executed by the state for the murders of three South Florida women in the mid-1980s. The U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear his final appeal in a final effort to save his life. Among the arguments his lawyers had made: The court’s pending decision in Hurst v. Florida, weighing the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty scheme.
Five days after Bolin was put to death, the Hurst decision was released. The high court declared Florida’s jury-recommended death penalty system unconstitutional. It didn’t come in time to save Bolin, but it may just be the beginning of the end for the death penalty.
In 2015, there were 28 prisoners in the U.S. put to death. That was the lowest number of prisoners executed since 1991, and evidence from the Death Penalty Information Center suggests this is part of a larger trend involving a sharp decline of death penalty cases. Continue reading
Public support for the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana has never been higher, both nationally and in Florida. A state poll released in October revealed 51 percent of Florida voters supported the legalization of personal use marijuana. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Florida voters support legalization of medical marijuana.
Although voters turned down an opportunity to legalize the drug this year, it’s almost certain to come to another vote, and probably sooner than later. As it now stands, 23 states allow some form of legal marijuana, while four plus Washington D.C. have legalized the drug for recreational purposes.
When that happens, there will be a host of issues with which state and local officials are going to be grappling – from employment concerns to bank transactions to penalties for those who don’t abide by the regulations. And let’s not forget: Even if the state does pass a law, marijuana remains a Schedule I narcotic, with no accepted medical use, as far as the federal government is concerned. Although U.S. Department of Justice officials have vowed to lay off those who abide by reasonable state guidelines, there is no guarantee. As we’ve seen in California, those promises may be worth little. Unless federal law changes too (and there are efforts underway to make that happen), a passage of any law in Florida may still leave recreational users, patients, doctors and businesses vulnerable to legal action. Continue reading
The mind-bending twists and turns of the American criminal justice system as experienced by a Wisconsin man named Steven Avery were detailed in a recently-released Netflix documentary series, “Making a Murderer.”
An innocent man locked up for 18 years for a rape he did not commit, he sued the county after he was exonerated and released, with the aid of DNA evidence. But while his civil lawsuit was pending, he was again accused of a gravely serious crime: Rape and murder of a young female photographer in 2005. He was ultimately convicted and is slated to be imprisoned until 2048.
Although Avery steadfastly maintained his innocence for both crimes, hoping the documentary might help to exonerate him, filmmakers say that was never the goal. They take no formal position on his guilt or innocence, and say they had wanted to shed light on the experiences of an accused in the American criminal justice system. Numerous questions were raised by the documentary about the way in which the investigation and prosecution was handled. Continue reading
The United States Supreme Court is taking a close look at the death penalty with Hurst v. Florida, which raises questions about the jury’s role in these gravely serious cases.
Specifically, the court has been asked to consider the validity of Florida law, which limits the power of the jury in death penalty cases, raising issues under both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Oral arguments in the case were heard in October and a decision is pending.
The case involves death-penalty sentencing of a man deemed guilty of murdering a co-worker at a fast-food restaurant in 1998. Defense attorneys argued on appeal that jurors failed to consider properly the fact defendant suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and was thus intellectually disabled. However, the Court decided to narrow the issue it would consider, which was the way defendant was sentenced to death under Florida law. Continue reading
In a split decision some speculate may find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled two defendants in a Florida child pornography case had no standing to challenge the seizure of a cell phone that contained the images because, justices concluded, the phone was “abandoned.”
Defendants in Sparks and Johnson v. U.S. had argued a 23-day delay between the time the phone was turned over to police and when the police obtained a search warrant rendered the subsequent search illegal. Not so, ruled the court, which concluded even a search of the non-password-protected phone by a store employee in the first three days before defendants abandoned the device wasn’t grounds to reverse defendants’ convictions, which resulted in 30- and 50-year sentences, respectively.
The ruling was accompanied by sharp dissent from Judge Beverly Martin, who asserts the majority made a ruling of fact on the abandonment issue. To do so was erroneous, Martin wrote, because the role of the appellate court is to review findings of fact for clear error. Criminal defense lawyers have weighed in to state the definition of “abandonment” has been stretched to the point where it may be widely interpreted. One opined the ruling was a means to justify an end in a case where the crimes were extremely disturbing. Continue reading
The U.S. Constitution protects those accused of criminal acts from being tried repeatedly for the same crimes. You may have heard this before referred to as the “Double Jeopardy” clause in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
However, there is a controversial exception to this rule that is sometimes referred to as “dual sovereignty” or “dual and successive prosecution.” Offices of the U.S. Attorneys refer to this policy in their own manual, under section 9-2.031, as the “Petite Policy.” The name derives from the 1960 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Petite v. U.S. Essentially, the policy allows the federal government to initiate a separate, federal prosecution of the same acts for which defendant is being charged or has been acquitted in state-level courts. There is actually no constitutional bar for this action because, the reasoning goes, prosecution by different sovereigns are not considered prosecutions for the same offense under the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The policy does stipulate that the U.S. Justice Department should avoid a federal prosecution for the same actions from which a state-level prosecution arose, unless there is a “compelling federal interest.” But that interpretation is left open to federal prosecutors, who have long held a reputation for being overzealous. Continue reading
An essential right within the criminal justice system is that when a person is accused of a crime, he has the right to directly confront his accusers and any evidence against him. This right is guaranteed by the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it applies to witness testimony as well as other forms of evidence.
However, several courts in at least four states – including Florida – have reportedly been using DNA evidence processed by a computer coding program, but refusing to turn that coding information over to defense lawyers. These states are arguably denying critical evidence to individuals accused of serious crimes in violation of their constitutional rights.
Specifically at issue is the source coding. The courts who have denied access to this information say they have released the underlying mathematical model and methodology, and the company did provide defense experts an opportunity to observe the process. That might sound fair, but here’s the problem: We know that coding errors have increased the likelihood of a false DNA match, which could undoubtedly lead to an erroneous criminal conviction. And even when audits of the technology are conducted by defense experts, if those experts don’t have access to the real source coding, the only thing they will be able to determine is how those results bear out in controlled lab environments. Continue reading
Florida Statute 316.193 makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. However, it is actually not illegal to drive after you drink as long as your “normal faculties” are not impaired. The most common DUI arrests are made against people who have been drinking alcohol, but you can also be arrested if you are operating a motor vehicle after using other types of drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine or Xanax if your “normal faculties” are impaired. Under Florida law, a person will be presumed to have violated Fla. Stat. § 316.193 when a driver has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. The police will typically determine your blood-alcohol by asking you to blow into a machine called a breathalyzer after they have arrested you.
In the vast majority of Miami DUI cases, there are effective defenses that deserve exploration. This is important to note because many people simply assume that because they were drinking, driving and subsequently arrested, they have no choice but to enter a guilty plea and hope for leniency.
This is usually NOT the best strategy. Prosecutors and judges are not inclined to “go easy” on DUI defendants, even for a first-time offense. In fact, a first-time offender with no prior record is facing up to six months in jail – and that’s assuming the arrest wasn’t the result of a crash in which someone was injured. In cases where defendant has prior convictions or is accused of DUI manslaughter, penalties can be as high as 30 years in prison or more.
The specific legal defense approach will vary depending on circumstances. However, you should know that Florida DUI arrests are successfully challenged all the time. By contacting an experienced DUI defense lawyer early on, it may be possible to avoid the ordeal and expense of a trial. You may eventually be able to walk away with no stain on your permanent criminal record. Continue reading
Hello and welcome to the very first blog posting in USCriminalLawBlog.com! So let’s get started.. My name is Court E. Keeley and I am a partner at the law firm of Jacobs Keeley, PLLC, located in downtown Miami, Florida. I am a Florida Bar Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Trial Law licensed to practice law throughout the State of Florida. I am also admitted to practice throughout the United States of America, and in particular, the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
I am a former prosecutor with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office and thus, I am familiar with how law enforcement investigations are conducted and how crimes are prosecuted. I rose up through the ranks of the State Attorney’s Office to become a Career Criminal/Robbery Prosecutor. I then helped create the State Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Unit and eventually became a member of the Gang Strike Task Force focusing my time on the prosecution of Gang Homicide Cases.