Case Law Updates

Important Changes To Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Upon being arrested a criminal defendant’s most pressing concern is the range of punishment. Knowing what to expect by way of fines and possible incarceration helps to prepare you for what lies ahead and can also help aid you when deciding on a defense strategy. When the offense is in federal court rather than state court the Judge is required to adhere to strict sentencing guidelines. Over the years these guidelines have changed. This Fall, criminal defendants in federal matters will see another change. It is important to know what’s in store for the future, even if your case is not a federal case. This is because some prosecutors in state court try to draw parallels to these rules, so understanding the rationale behind them is key to understanding how the criminal judicial system works.

The United States Sentencing Commission has approved the following changes, to be effective November 1, 2015:

  • Clarification on who is considered a “conspirator” in a conspiracy case. This change is aimed at clarifying who can be held accountable, and for what. The hope is that one single defendant will not be made to answer for all the charges in a case, but only those for which evidence points to their involvement.
  • For financial crimes, the punishment can be adjusted downwardly depending on the amount in controversy. The financial harm suffered in a money crime (commonly thought of as white collar crimes) has been adjusted to take into account inflation.

The Commission hopes these changes will provide fair punishment, and hopefully decrease the amount of incarcerated individuals. An interesting fact is that the United States jails a higher percent of its population than do most other countries in the world. This statistic is truly amazing, and should give prosecutors pause when pushing for jail time. Our goal is to reach results that are appropriate for the case. When a punishment is out of line with the charge, we aggressively pursue alternative sentences.

If you have questions about how criminal sentencing works, contact a qualified criminal defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. Your first visit is a free consultation and we work with you to reach results that fit your needs.

Two Ways To Get Ticketed For Texting While Driving

The dangers of texting and driving are well known. Studies show taking your eyes off the road even for the minimal amount of time texting takes can have serious consequences because the time needed to refocus is significant. This means that the dangers of texting and driving are well known. Studies show taking your eyes off the road even for the minimal amount of time texting takes can have serious consequences because the time needed to refocus is significant. This means that when you text and then shift your gaze back to the street you are driving without fully paying attention to the rules of the road. To combat this growing problem and decrease the number of accidents related to texting and driving, Florida has passed a ban on texting while operating a motor vehicle.
The law is close to a year and a half old, and thus far has not netted the number of citations officials envisioned. This may be due to the fact that texting while driving isn’t something you can be pulled over for without further cause. Two ways to get a ticket for texting and driving are:
● Speeding
● Failure to wear your safety belt
If you are pulled over for another traffic violation, such as one of those listed above, and are found to be texting while driving you can expect to receive a citation for violation of the text ban as well. The current law makes it a secondary offense to text and drive, and that is why you cannot be pulled over simply for that act. If you have received a ticket for texting and driving you should put on a solid defense for that offense as well as the primary offense that led to the texting ticket. We can help you develop a strategy that works, call our office for help.
If you have received a traffic ticket or two, contact an experienced traffic ticket defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. Your first visit is a free consultation and we work with you to reach results that fit your needs.
When you text and then shift your gaze back to the street you are driving without fully paying attention to the rules of the road. To combat this growing problem and decrease the number of accidents related to texting and driving, Florida has passed a ban on texting while operating a motor vehicle.

The law is close to a year and a half old, and thus far has not netted the number of citations officials envisioned. This may be due to the fact that texting while driving isn’t something you can be pulled over for without further cause. Two ways to get a ticket for texting and driving are:

  • Speeding
  • Failure to wear your safety belt

If you are pulled over for another traffic violation, such as one of those listed above, and are found to be texting while driving you can expect to receive a citation for violation of the text ban as well. The current law makes it a secondary offense to text and drive, and that is why you cannot be pulled over simply for that act. If you have received a ticket for texting and driving you should put on a solid defense for that offense as well as the primary offense that led to the texting ticket. We can help you develop a strategy that works, call our office for help.

If you have received a traffic ticket or two, contact an experienced traffic ticket defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. Your first visit is a free consultation and we work with you to reach results that fit your needs.

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

Great secretEarlier in the year we reported on a crime so bizarre it could have been taken from a primetime police drama; the so called “cookie monster”. The case centered around a woman who was very vocal about how easy it was for her to steal money from girl scouts selling cookies. But that wasn’t the woman’s only crime. Stefanie Woods was currently on probation for a felony charge, and her antics proved to be a violation of that probation.

The final word is now in on the punishment Woods will face for violating probation:

  • The 24 year old will be nearing her 30th birthday before she is released from prison, in close to four years.

● Woods had been on a six year probation term for the felony charges of robbery with a      firearm, and kidnapping.

While six years seems like a long time, the prison term Woods was facing had she not agreed to probation was over three times that amount. Woods was looking at 20 years in prison for her felonious activity, and so entered a plea agreement to avoid a lengthy jail sentence. Negotiating a plea agreement in exchange for probation does work, but only when the defendant follows the rules. Violating probation has serious consequences, as this case demonstrates. If you are facing criminal charges and are considering entering a plea in exchange for a probationary term, consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to learn what will be expected during your probation. Being prepared is the best defense, and we help our clients understand the terms of probation and work with them to help them stick to those terms!

If you have been arrested for a crime, including violation of probation, call a competent criminal defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast for help. We offer aggressive representation for criminal charges. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

Money Can’t Buy Freedom

heinkel oct 30 5thTwo years ago, in 2012, Polo Club founder John Goodman was convicted of DUI manslaughter. But, on further review that verdict didn’t stand because there was evidence of juror misconduct. So, the State took a second crack at the case. This time, the State got their conviction. Make no mistake though, this conviction will also be appealed. There are serious legal issues left unresolved, and the decision to question the jury’s verdict is sound.

Goodman’s defense team claims the verdict is subject to attack for the following reasons:

● Goodman’s vehicle was released from evidence before the defense had the opportunity to have tests performed on the vehicle’s possible malfunction.

● Errors in the blood testing were present, but the Judge denied the defense request to put on expert testimony supporting this claim.

 

In any criminal case it is necessary to go over all the evidence with a fine tooth comb. In DUI cases, the field sobriety or blood tests are often subject to attack. Being denied the chance to show the jury how the testing was done improperly severely prejudices the rights of the defendant. When your rights are infringed upon, the proper course of action to take is to appeal jury verdicts or the Judge’s decision from the bench. Goodman faces up to 16 years in prison, so it is important that the verdict was arrived at lawfully. This is true for any criminal case, where the freedom of the accused and other important rights are at stake. We aggressively fight for your rights, and for the right to a fair and proper proceeding.

 

For more information about DUI cases, call an experienced criminal defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. We aggressively defend you so you can move forward with your life. Your first visit is a free initial consultation.

How Long Can You “Stand Your Ground”?

stopwatchThe Stand Your Ground Law is well-known throughout the country. Several states have a version of this defense that allows a person to protect their body and home from mortal danger, by returning fire. But, like most rights, if you are a convicted felon you may not be able to take advantage of this defense. Maybe

Ever since George Zimmerman “stood his ground” and the death of Trayvon Martin was the result, the Courts have been flooded with issues surrounding this defense. The time is ripe for a decision on this important issue. A recent ruling has proved controversial and could have wide reaching impact:

● The Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms is not a constitutional provision the Courts take lightly.

● The 4th District Court of Appeal recently ruled a felon may use the stand your ground defense.

The problem? A felon is usually prohibited from possession of a firearm. In fact, in some cases it would be a violation of probation to possess a gun. If found to be in possession while on probation, the defendant would likely have their probation revoked and face the initial charges that prompted the probationary period. And consider this wrinkle, if the stand your ground defense is being offered it is possible the defendant was not only violating probation by possessing the gun, but perhaps by engaging in the activity that necessitated use of the firearm. While the basic concept of the defense that you are permitted to meet deadly force with deadly force would seem to absolve a person using this defense of any criminal wrongdoing, that is not always how the cases end. To find a way of this legal maze and the criminal charges against you, it is vital to call a skilled criminal defense attorney. A thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances of your case, how you came into possession of a gun, and whether doing so is a violation of probation with felony conviction implications must be made. Call one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys for help.

If you need help with a probation violation, weapons charge, or other criminal defense matter, call a competent criminal defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. We offer aggressive representation for all the charges against you. The first visit is a free initial consultation. Call today to schedule an appointment.

 

An Update On A Judge Charged With DUI

justice scalesThe law of driving while under the influence is certainly changing. With statistics showing more and more accidents being caused by texting and driving, that may be the next type of “DUI” to surface. But for now, another form of the charge includes more than being under the influence of alcohol. Drugs, whether prescription or not, are substances that can lead to a charge of DUI.

A Florida Judge learned this lesson when she was arrested a few months ago on charges of DUI. The catch? The substance was Xanax. The case has now reached a conclusion:

● Judge Lynn Rosenthal of Broward County was arrested two months ago on suspicion of DUI.

● Rosenthal attributed her erratic driving to use of Xanax.

● The Judge has now entered a plea to the charge of reckless driving.

Pleas are a common way to resolve a DUI case. In some instances if you agree to plea to a lesser charge, like reckless driving, you will be placed on probation and upon successful completion the charges will be dismissed. It takes skillful negotiating and persuasion to reach agreements with the prosecution that are satisfactory. The prosecution’s interest is in obtaining convictions, but when a bargain makes sense for the facts of the case you can resolve your matter by entering a plea and keeping your nose clean. The attorneys at our office have years of experience negotiating cases as well as trying cases and develop solutions that fit your case and needs.

If you have been arrested for DUI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Stuart and the Treasure Coast. We offer a free initial consultation and create a defense strategy tailored to your individual case.

Forced Blood Draws for DUI – Implications of Missouri v. McNeely,

DUI Stuart Treasure Coast

Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely will have lasting impact on DUI Investigations

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on forced blood draws in the context of DUI investigations.  Prior to that ruling, some police jurisdictions were forcing people that were suspected of driving under the influence to give blood by literally jamming a needle under their skin when they refused to give a breath test.  Law enforcement in Indian River County, on Florida’s Treasure Coast has done this on several occasions.  In the McNeely case, the State of Missouri sought a bright line rule stating that in a DUI, blood may always be taken without a warrant because of the immediate threat that evidence would be destroyed as the body naturally goes through its process of eliminating alcohol from the blood stream.

In that case, McNeely was stopped by a Missouri police officer for speeding and crossing the centerline. After declining to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC), he was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer never attempted to secure a search warrant. McNeely refused to consent to the blood test, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sample. McNeely’s BAC tested well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). He moved to suppress the blood test result, arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his rights under the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution (bar against unreasonable searches and seizures).

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to these issues, concluding that in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.  However, Justice Sotomayor did not say that warrantless blood draws would be improper in all cases.  The opinion of the Court was that there should NOT be a bright line rule in either direction, and that exigency (the exception to the warrant requirement) must be considered on a case by case basis.

Interestingly, McNeely speaks to DUI cases in general.  One question that it potentially raises and must be litigated is whether Florida’s long standing law of taking blood in ALL cases with an accident involving death or serious bodily injury is unconstitutional under the McNeely ruling.  According to McNeely, these cases may also need to be considered on a case by case basis, without the bright line rule set forth by the Florida Legislature.

While many on the defense bar are considering the McNeely case a huge win, it may have set a precedent for some jurisdictions to seek a warrant in EVERY DUI case to take blood from a suspect.  The Court correctly points out that with new technology, the delay in obtaining a warrant is much less than it ever was before.  After all, an officer could conduct a roadside investigation, type or speak his report and warrant application into an ipad or other tablet, email it to a judge for review and electronic signature and potentially have a signed warrant by the time the suspect gets to the hospital for the blood removal process.  With the Intoxilyzer 8000’s known issues that are currently being litigated in Florida, and the back drop of a decades long fight between defense attorneys, the State of Florida and the Intoxilyzer makers for the source code to replicate the machine’s process (which the makers claim is proprietary), it seems more likely than not that the breath testing machine may become a thing of the past, and the blood draw the waive of the future.  The only real question remaining is how do you (the public) feel about that?

What is a Stuart Florida DUI?

Stuart Florida DUI

In Stuart Florida DUI is across the board one of the most heavily enforced and prosecuted laws.  A Stuart Florida DUI is Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol.  You can get a Stuart Florida DUI, even if you are not driving, as long as you are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.  Actual Physical Control could even include sleeping in a vehicle with the engine on or the keys in the ignition.  The State Attorney’s Office and the local Martin County judges take Stuart Florida DUI very seriously.

Get an Experienced  Stuart Florida DUI Lawyer

It is important to hire a competent and experienced trial lawyer if you feel that you are Not Guilty of a Stuart Florida DUI, because it is very rare that a Stuart Florida DUI case gets dropped or dismissed completely.  Sometimes the State will agree to reduce the charge to a reckless drving charge or a wet reckless.  Speak with your lawyer with regard to the consequences for a reckless driving as they are often not much different that the mandatory minimum sentence for a Stuart FLorida DUI.

Penalties for a Stuart Florida DUI

A first Stuart Florida DUI requires a mandatory sentence that includes probation, DUI School, the Victim Impact Panel, 5o hours of community service, a 10 day vehicle impound and a 6 month driver’s license suspension.  A second Stuart Florida DUI requires most of the same penalties, however if that second Stuart Florida DUI is within 5 years of the first, 10 days in jail is required.  Here in Stuart, Martin County, St. Lucie County and Okechobbee County, the judges usually require even more than 10 days in jail for a second DUI within 5 years.  The penalties are even higher if the DUI is accompanied by a charge of driving with a suspended license.  A 3rd DUI within 10 years of the last DUI can be charged as a felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years.  A 3rd DUI within 10 years also includes a 10 year drivers license suspension.  A Fourth DUI requires a lifetime revocation of your driver’s license.  Besides the DUI Criminal Case, the DUI arrest also spurs an Administrative case with the DMV.  If you have been arrested for a DUI, get a lawyer.  If you have been arrested for a DUI in St. Lucie County or Martin County or Indian River County or Palm Beach County, contact the Ferraro Law Group.  We have tried many DUI cases and we are prepared to let our experience work for you.

Obscure Traffic Law Alert!

Traffic Law Violation

Be sure to come to a complete stop, or you are committing a traffic law violation even without a stop sign.

In case you didn’t know, it is a traffic law infraction to cross a sidewalk without stopping first with all four tires when leaving a parking lot – even if there is no stop sign.  This traffic law is a civil infraction, which means you can’t go to jail for it, but you can be fined.  And, it is a reason for an officer to pull you over and investigate whether he thinks anything fishy is going on.

Just last week here in Martin County, a local DUI and traffic law judge sentenced a man to a $500 penalty for crossing a sidewalk without stopping first. It was late at night and there was no vehicle or pedestrian traffic on the roadway or sidewalk.  In that case, the officer wrote the traffic ticket and after engaging the man, also arrested him for DUI.  His prior driving record was insignificant.  The man exercised his right to a trial by a jury of his peers on the DUI.  The jury found him Not Guilty of DUI after hearing and seeing all of the evidence.  But juries don’t decide the facts on noncriminal traffic law violations, and they never decide the penalties – that’s for the judge to do.

The $500 dollar fine that the judge imposed was the maximum sentence for that traffic law violation.  Was the maximum penalty imposed because the judge felt so strongly about drivers failing to stop at a sidewalk with no traffic in the middle of the night; or was it punishment for being found Not Guilty of a DUI by a jury of his peers?  Regardless of which reason motivated the judge to rule this way, we as citizens get to decide if this is the brand of justice we expect and want from our local judges?  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  You’re turn to be the judge.  What do you think about it?

RJ Ferraro III, Criminal Lawyer and Blog Author

RJ Ferraro, III, Stuart, Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

RJ Ferraro, III, has been a criminal defense lawyer serving clients in and around Florida’s Treasure Coast and the Palm Beaches since 2001.  His practices is focused on representing individuals charged with crimes in both State and Federal Court.  RJ has  handled everything from routine traffic tickets to capital felonies.

Despite the fact that the law is constantly changing, ignorance is never a defense. With that in mind, the purpose of this blog is to discuss the issues that continue to re-surface on a consistent basis, and to answer many of the simple questions that people charged with a crime often contemplate.

If you are charged with a crime, the attorneys of the Ferraro Law Group, PL in Stuart, Florida are here for you.

Contact the Stuart, Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys of the Ferraro Law Group, PL today to set up a free and confidential consultation.  We are available by phone at (772) 221-0600 or by e-mail to info@ferrarolawgroup.com.

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