Criminal Defense Lawyers in Broward County, Florida
Overview of Florida Criminal Law, Charges, Penalties & Defenses
Each person living in, vacationing in, or passing through Florida enjoys the protection of the United States Constitution as well as the Constitution of the state of Florida. Each document cloaks the individual with protection against government intrusion into their lives. There is no more significant intrusion into someone's life than to be placed into custody at the hands of a government official. That is precisely what happens when someone is arrested.
We see the Constitution and its freedoms play out every day in courtrooms across the United States and Broward County, Florida, in particular. Criminal defense attorneys battle the government daily to ensure that their clients' rights are protected and to hold the government to the restrictions imposed by the Constitution. Without a strong advocate by your side, you could suffer tremendous consequences at the hands of overzealous police officers, single-track minded prosecutors, and bloodthirsty judges.
If you are living in Broward County, Florida, vacationing in Broward County, or just passing through the area, and you are arrested by a law enforcement agent, you must have an experienced, devoted, and skilled criminal defense attorney with you every step of the way. Without a Broward County criminal defense attorney who stands strong in the face of governmental oppression, you could face decades of incarceration, expensive fines, and overwhelming conditions of probation. Musca Law's Broward County criminal defense attorneys are highly skilled, have extensive training and have garnered a reputation as fearless advocates for the clients' constitutional rights. At Musca Law, we believe the government must be held to the standard mandated by the Constitution. We will be there with you when no one else will.
Our sole focus is on serving people who were arrested in Florida. Our lawyers have extensive criminal trial experience in the state system and the federal system as well. As a consequence of our extensive and diverse experience, we understand how disruptive facing a criminal charge can be to one's life. Many people realize that criminal sanctions such as jail, probation, or fines disrupt a person's day to day life. However, the collateral consequences of suffering a conviction in Broward County can be incredibly significant as well. Our Broward County criminal defense attorneys fight to beat the charges pressed against you in court and, as a result, they fight relentlessly to protect your reputation, your standing in the community, your employment, and most importantly, your way of life.
Musca Law Defends You Against All Types of Criminal Charges
Musca Law has represented thousands of clients facing various criminal charges in Broward County. Those crimes include:
- driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs,
- boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs,
- drug possession and drug trafficking crimes,
- white-collar crimes,
- crimes of violence, like homicide, battery, assault, and robbery,
- domestic violence,
- sexually motivated crimes,
- Internet crimes, and
- juvenile offenders.
At the federal level, we have also represented numerous clients facing drug trafficking, white-collar crimes, and other federal offenses.
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Strategies
We work meticulously and pour over every detail of your case so that we could uncover every possible defense. Since every criminal case is as unique as the people involved, each case presents its own unique defense. In some cases, the best defense will involve suppression of the evidence, dismissal of the charges, or taking the case to trial and fighting for an acquittal. In some instances, a plea bargain is the best defense for the case to limit the prison time that must be served or to avoid jail time altogether. Additionally, a plea bargain could avoid a conviction and, in the proper circumstances, allow the accused to apply for an expungement of the criminal charge under Florida Statutes §943.0585.
Even people who believe they are under investigation by law enforcement agencies must align themselves with Broward County defense attorneys who understand how to protect your best interests. Many times people believe that they can handle the situation best while there are under investigation. However, the opposite is true. Speaking with experienced and knowledgeable Broward County defense attorneys while you are under investigation will help protect your rights against self-incrimination, against unlawful searches and seizures, and also gives your attorney the chance to talk with prosecutors and negotiate lesser charges, if any charges issue at all.
Involving our firm early in the investigatory process gives us the best chance to strategize a winning defense. We can use our expansive resources to speak with witnesses, take photographs, locate witnesses, secure video, and perform all tasks necessary to investigate your case from the defense point of view thoroughly. Waiting until the police and prosecutors turn over all of the evidence before we begin to investigate, regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, puts you at an extreme disadvantage and gives the government a higher chance of success.
We always strive to achieve your goals when defending a case. Some people wish to limit their exposure to harsh penalties and want us to negotiate a favorable resolution to the case. Other people proclaim their innocence and want to take the case to trial. We will not force someone to go to trial who wishes to plea bargain. The opposite is true, as well. We promise to fight vigorously to maintain your innocence and hold the prosecution to its burden of proof.
Unlawful Searches and Seizures in Broward County, Florida
The police must satisfy the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as section twelve of article one of the Florida State Constitution when they seize evidence. If the police violate a person's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, then a judge in Broward County could suppress the evidence. In some cases, the evidence will be contraband. For example, cases involving unlawful possession of firearms and drug trafficking always involve the seizure of contraband by police.
Conversely, some investigations do not involve police seizure of contraband. Instead, the police look to seize evidence of a crime that is not unlawful in and of itself to possess but is used as an instrumentality of the crime. A typical example is the examination of a cell phone by police conducting a murder investigation. In either case, the police must justify their actions. Violating a person's right when seizing the evidence will result in the suppression of that evidence, meaning that the prosecution cannot offer it against the accused at trial.
A sound defense strategy includes a thorough inspection of the constitutionality of the law enforcement officers' actions. Any evidence of a violation of the suspect's rights could lead to the suppression of evidence and a dismissal of the charges or key pieces of evidence excluded from use at trial by the prosecution. Therefore, filing motions to dismiss or suppress are key defense strategies.
Common Examples of Invasion of Privacy by Law Enforcement
A law enforcement officer must have a valid reason to interfere with another's liberty. Under our constitutional scheme, the police must justify each action that they take. Police explain their actions by the amount of proof or evidence that they hold against the person. For instance, the police must have reasonable suspicion to stop a car. Thus, law enforcement officers are justified by stopping a car for a violation of the rules of the road.
Similarly, a police officer can force a person to stop while walking down the street if the police officer believes, based on more than a hunch, that the person has committed, is committing, or will commit a criminal act in the near future. A hunch does not satisfy the requirement of reasonable suspicion. In other words, the police officer must explain in detail why he or she believes the person the officer encountered was violating the law.
A person has the right to consent to interact with the police. However, consent may be terminated at any time, and the person is free to walk away. The police officer cannot prevent the person from walking away unless the officer has reasonable suspicion to prevent the person from disengaging from the police.
When the police stopped someone based on reasonable suspicion, the officer could develop additional evidence that would allow them to intrude on the personal integrity of the individual to a greater degree. A police officer could conduct a pat frisk of a suspect during an encounter based on reasonable suspicion if the police officer believed that the individual is armed and dangerous. The officer can pat down the outer clothing of the person to ensure that the person is not concealing a weapon. Even though a pat frisk is essentially a safety check, a police officer does not need to ignore evidence of contraband he or she might find during a pat frisk. Thus, police officers could seize a quantity of narcotics if the officer felt a bag of drugs in a person's pocket while searching for weapons.
A police officer may be justified in searching a person for contraband in other scenarios as well. Law enforcement agents often search people's cars during car stops based on observations the officers make. Removing the occupants from the car and searching the car after a stop is justifiable if the police observed so-called furtive movements from inside the car. Police officers are highly skilled at drafting reports justifying their decision to remove a person from a vehicle and to search that vehicle for contraband.
Probable Cause to Arrest
Reasonable suspicion is the lowest amount of proof a police officer needs to interfere with a person's life. As the level of intrusiveness increases, the amount of evidence that police officers must have increased as well. Therefore, the police cannot arrest a person until they possess probable cause to believe that that person has committed a crime. A police officer at that point can handcuff the individual and return them for booking.
The officer is not limited to personal observations when arriving at probable cause. Of course, a police officer can make an arrest if the officer observes a crime taking place. For example, a DUI arrest is often based on the arresting officer's observations of the person's driving and results of roadside testing. However, a police officer can investigate a crime and formulate probable cause based on the statements of witnesses and the accumulation of inculpatory evidence.
A court in Broward County can grant a search warrant to police only when the investigator set out in an affidavit, evidence amounting to probable cause. The officer must explain how the evidence of a crime might be found at the place the police seek permission to search. Additionally, the officers must explicitly identify the items they wish to seize. Failing that, a neutral and detached magistrate is without authority to grant a search warrant.
A Broward County judge has the authority to suppress evidence unlawfully seized by police under the apparent authority of a search warrant if the affidavit filed in support of the search warrant does not spell out probable cause. Under the explicit language of the Fourth Amendment to the United States constitution, attaining a warrant is presumptively reasonable. When a police officer obtains a warrant by falsifying evidence, exaggerating evidence, or confusing evidence, the significance of the Fourth amendment is eroded. Fortunately, Florida law allows judges to suppress evidence when the police refuse or fail to satisfy their obligation to be truthful when requesting a search warrant.
Confessions and Admissions
A substantial number of adults in the United States could recite the so-called Miranda warnings even if they have never been arrested. Television shows and movies have ingrained those rights in our culture. Sadly, the import of the Miranda warnings has been watered down because of the media's portrayal of the warnings. As a result, the Miranda warnings are misunderstood.
Many people believe, incorrectly, that a police officer must give you Miranda warnings if you are under arrest. That is only half true. A police officer must recite the warnings pursuant to the US Supreme Court decision known as Miranda v. Arizona every time the person is in custody and is interrogated by the police. Custody does not necessarily mean formal arrest. However, arrest in this circumstance means that the person's freedom of movement was so restricted that they did not feel free to leave. Interrogation, on the other hand, means that the police ask questions designed to have the person testify against himself or herself.
A person has the absolute and inalienable right under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution not to give testimony against himself or herself. We now call that the right against self-incrimination. The Miranda warnings were designed by the US Supreme Court to protect people who are under arrest from being pressured by police to make statements against his or her penal interest. Consequently, the officers must explain that the person has the right to remain silent, and that any statement made could be used at trial against them, that they have a right to consult a lawyer at any time, and the court will provide an attorney free of charge if the person wants one and cannot afford one.
A court will examine the voluntariness of the waiver of Miranda rights and the manner in which the police gave the rights to be sure the police did it correctly. A Miranda violation committed by the police could allow the judge to suppress the statements made by the accused when in custody.
Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
A person whose rights were violated by police has the right to ask a judge to throw out or suppress the evidence unlawfully seized by police. The court-created doctrine called the fruit of the poisonous tree extends the remedy for a Constitutional violation to evidence seized as a result of unlawfully obtained evidence. For example, if a suspect confesses to a crime and police seize evidence of that crime after asking a court for a search warrant, all evidence of the crime obtained from the search warrant will be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree if the police violated the suspect's Miranda rights.
Another common example of the application of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine happens during car stops. If the police stop a car and search it without justification, any contraband or evidence seized from the car as a consequence of an unlawful stop must be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree if the judge believes that stopping the car violated the suspect's rights.
Rights to A Fair Trial in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution and §16(a) of the Constitution of the state of Florida protect the rights of a person arrested for a crime. These constitutional provisions apply upon the first appearance of the accused in court. They guarantee that every person charged has a fair and just trial.
Competent Defense Attorney
Everyone who was charged with a crime and faces potential jail time has the right to an attorney. A person who cannot afford an attorney could receive the services of the public defender. Experience tells us that the public defender's office is overwhelmed, overworked, and substantially underpaid. You do not get to choose who will be your attorney if you opt to have the public defender's office take your case. At a minimum, the US Constitution requires a competent defense. However, when you engage the services of Musca Law, you avail yourself to all of our substantial resources, investigatory tools, vast experience, along with the individualized attention you deserve.
Testimony of Witnesses
The right to a fair trial also means that you have the right to produce witnesses who could testify on your behalf. Legal scholars called that right compulsory process. A court will issue subpoenas for witnesses who will testify for you if they exist. The court can compel the witness's attendance if they do not appear in court to testify.
Confrontation and Cross-Examination
No greater tool has ever been developed that can uncover the truth like cross-examination. A defendant at a criminal trial has the absolute and inalienable right to cross-examine the witnesses who will appear in court and testify against the defendant. A skilled criminal trial lawyer, like those from Musca Law, knows how to develop effective cross-examination through their years of experience in court and defending cases at trial. Effective cross-examination can deconstruct the prosecution's case and show the jury that the government failed to satisfy its burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Trial by Jury
A trial by a jury of one's peers is the embodiment of the US Constitution in action. The jury must assume that the person sitting before them accused of a crime is innocent. Jurors take their oath seriously, honestly, and strive to do the best they can as laypersons before the court. Any criminal defense attorney who has tried a case understands the power a jury holds. A jury can right wrongs committed by the government against the accused by acquitting the defendant.
Guilt Beyond All Reasonable Doubt
Defining reasonable doubt is difficult. Judges must explain the notion that the accused is presumed innocent and can only be found guilty if the prosecution proves the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Most courts will add that reasonable doubt does not mean absolute truth, nor does it mean speculative doubt. Some courts describe it as an abiding conviction to a moral certainty. It is the highest standard or "quantum" of proof used in any court in the US.
Right to Testify in Defense
The accused has the right to testify in defense of himself or herself. The government cannot force the accused to take the stand and explain his or her innocence. In fact, the jury cannot use the defendant's exercise of his or her right not to testify as grounds to convict the defendant. The jury cannot consider that fact in its deliberations.
Punishments Under Florida Law
Like most states, Florida law recognizes misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are offenses and crimes punishable by less than one year in jail. Felonies, on the other hand, are punished by incarceration for more than one year, and that time must be served in the state prison under §775.08(1) of the Florida Statutes.
Florida law also distinguishes between degrees of crimes. Section 775.081 of the Florida Statutes arranges crimes from first to third degrees, depending on the severity of the crime. Florida law also recognizes capital offenses.
Florida Statutes §775.082 delineates the maximum penalty allowed for each degree of the offense. The maximum incarcerated sentence for crimes in Florida are:
- Life in prison or death for a capital crime, such as intentional murder,
- Life felonies, like rape,
- Thirty years in prison for a first-degree felony,
- Fifteen years in prison for a second-degree felony, and
- Five years in the Florida state prison for a third-degree felony.
Misdemeanors are also classified by degrees. A conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor could subject the offender to no greater than one year in jail. A conviction for a second-degree misdemeanor carries a 60-day maximum sentence, while a third-degree misdemeanor, or non-criminal offense, authorizes no jail time.
Musca Law: Navigating the Tumultuous Waters With You Every Step of the Way
At Musca Law, our defense attorneys have over 150 years of experience serving all of Florida, including Broward County. Our diversified experience allows us to strategically craft defenses designed to be aggressive and effective. Call us today at 888-484-5057 for a consultation with our Broward County criminal defense attorneys today.