| Read Time: 2 minutes | Federal Crimes

Accused of federal crimes? Here’s what to expect

If you are facing allegations of federal crimes, you probably have a lot of questions about the legal process upon which you are about to embark. Federal criminal cases are significantly different from federal civil cases, and it is important to understand the distinction between these two. Further, although processes for federal drug crimes and other violations may resemble those held at the state level, there are some important distinctions. Let us address some of those differences to help criminal defendants learn more about their legal rights. First, it is important to remember that criminal proceedings place the burden of proof squarely upon the government. We have all heard of the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra — that is of utmost importance in a federal crime courtroom. In civil cases, the defendant often must prove that the allegations are false. In criminal trials, the government must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt; that is a much stronger standard for evidence. In federal cases, more than 90 percent of defendants choose to plead guilty instead of going to trial. Plea agreements allow federal prosecutors and defense attorneys to negotiate for a more lenient sentence than the one that would be imposed after a criminal trial. Judges typically wait for the results of a comprehensive presentencing report before issuing a sentencing decision. A defendant who pleads not guilty will proceed to a criminal trial. Sentences for federal crimes often include fines, restitution or time in prison. Defendants may also be required to submit to supervision requirements, including drug testing and completing treatment programs. The fact is that no two Florida federal crime cases are the same; defendants need the advice of an experienced team of legal professionals in order to truly comprehend the nature of their alleged violations. Source: United States Courts, “Criminal Cases” Sep. 15, 2014

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Sex Crimes

Florida man with extensive record assaults girl in Walmart

A man in Florida who has a list of arrests for sex crimes has recently found himself facing more charges after he allegedly touched a girl while in a local Walmart. Most recently, the man was allowed to leave prison in the summer of 2013. This event could end up putting him back behind bars again if he is convicted. According to authorities, the entire thing was recording by the various security cameras in the department store. It appears that the man followed the girl, perhaps establishing an intent to assault her. He then touched her the first time, and she went to another part of the store. The man allegedly tracked her down there and touched her again. The girl is 12 years old. Another shopper who was asked, who has children of her own, said that a situation like this is frightening and that every parent dreads having something of this nature happen to their children. One interesting aspect of the previous stint in jail, the one that ended in June of 2013, was that the man was given a sentence of 11 years. For reasons that are not immediately clear, he did not have to serve more than roughly three years of that sentence before being released. His name has been previously added to the Sex Offender Database used by authorities across Florida. In this case, he has been denied bond. Police have stated that they do have some suspicion that this girl may not be the man’s only victim. When facing molestation charges or similar sexual charges, those who have been accused still have the right to a fair trial for the current allegations, regardless of their history of other convictions and jail time. Source: Click Orlando,

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Federal Crimes

Florida man found guilty for tax fraud and identity theft

White collar crimes come in all flavors. One of the more common ones in the last decade has been identity theft. This criminal offense, which has become more prevalent since technology has everyone doing business electronically, can branch off into numerous other crimes. Tax fraud is just one of them. A Florida man from Polk County, Florida, pleaded guilty to identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his part in a tax scheme. The 50-year-old man, along with alleged conspirators, used stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns. They used other people’s names, birthdates and Social Security numbers to collect fraudulent tax refunds. The refunds were either electronically deposited to reload-able debit cards or mailed to addresses where they could be retrieved. The fraudulent tax returns were filed between August 2011 and June 2012. The funds were reportedly used for personal benefits. In 2012, a tax fraud investigation was started by federal agents and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. On March 21, 2012, $14,952 was seized from the 50-year-old Lakeland man’s home. A recent ruling on his case included an order to forfeit those funds. Also ordered by the judge is a judgment in the amount $325,886 for funds that they were able to trace back to the fraud scheme. The man was also sentenced to a seven-year term in federal prison. Tax fraud cases can be complex. Those facing these charges will need a good defense in order to poke a hole in the prosecutor’s case. This is especially true when there is a great deal of evidence pointing to illegal activity. Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Polk man sentenced to 7 years for stealing IDs, filing phony tax returns” Kevin P. Connolly, Jun. 09, 2014

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Federal Crimes

New hope for those with life sentences for federal drug crimes

The federal government is currently reviewing the way it applies life sentences to certain convicted drug offenders. For example, numerous individuals are serving a lifetime prison sentence after only being convicted of non-violent federal drug crimes. If reforms are made, some of these individuals could be set free before the completion of their prison terms. One Florida man is 20 years into a double lifetime federal prison sentence. He was convicted of selling LSD and sending it by mail. He was 23 years of age when he was arrested and, without the chance of parole, he did not have any chance for freedom. This 45-year-old man received the same sentence as convicted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro. According to this man, most individuals do not understand what it means to be in prison. He says that anyone who has spent at least 10 days behind bars understands the difficult life that it means. Now, the current presidential administration is try to resolve overcrowding in federal prisons by letting qualifying non-violent drug crime offenders out early. The president is trying to identify suitable candidates with clean prison records, who can safely be reintroduced back into society. This is an important development, because it means that some individuals who were convicted of federal drug crimes and given lifetime sentences may be eligible for release. Incarcerated individuals from Florida can determine if they will qualify for inclusion in this program by reviewing their prison behavior records, the nature of their conviction and other details relating to their sentence. If successful, this could mean a new life for numerous prisoners who previously had no hope of freedom. Source: inquisitr.com, “Man Gets Same Prison Sentence As Rapist And Kidnapper Ariel Castro For LSD Drug Charge” No author given, Apr. 28, 2014

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Sex Crimes

Florida lawmakers seek to reform the state’s sex offender laws

We noted a few months ago that some Florida lawmakers have vocalized that reforming the state’s sex offender laws is going to be a priority for them during the 2014 legislative session. It seems that many more have jumped on this legislative bandwagon. Specifically, many Florida lawmakers are concerned that too many individuals convicted of sex crimes are reoffending once they have been released from custody. Preventing convicted felons from reoffending is certainly an understandable public safety priority. However, it is important that lawmakers keep in mind that the majority of sex offenders do not reoffend once released. As a result, it is important that any legal reforms that elected officials seek to make do not unduly punish or affect the lives of sex offenders at low-risk of reoffending once they are released. Various Florida House and Senate panels have already passed various bills related to sex offenders, even though the legislative session does not technically begin until March fourth. Among those bills passed by various panels are ones that would require sex offenders to provide law enforcement with more personal information once they are no longer in custody, bills that would require all sex offenders to undergo community supervision after leaving prison and ones that would keep offenders imprisoned for longer. None of these bills seems to take into account that low-level offenders characterized as unlikely to reoffend after release should be left in peace to pick up the pieces of their lives as best they can. Hopefully final versions of these bills will better reflect this reality. Source: WTSP, “Florida lawmakes hope to tighten loopholes in sex offender laws,” Feb. 18, 2014

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Prison & Sentencing

Lowering the Prison Population

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics the United States prison population is over two million people.  That is almost equivalent to the next two highest prison populations in the world COMBINED.  I know that as a country we always want to beat China (#2) and Russia (#3) but this is just absurd.  Is our population more deviant or do we need to reevaluation our sentencing philosophy? We have examined the idea of over criminalization in our blog previously, and the New York Times editorial on “Why Prison’s Are Shrinking” is showing how States are examining, sentencing and how they need not be a “one size fits all” process.   Sentencing reforms by states are being driven by statistics and data rather than gut reactions.  By expanding drug treatment and mental health services, and by improving probation, states are finding that they are actually able to save money by reducing the number of inmates that are being housed in their expensive prisons. Sentencing reform is a major project, but we need to make it a reality.  Drug treatment and better probation is but one step that needs to be taken.  Making a real effort to treat drug addicts rather than incarcerate them is the only way to win the war on drugs.  We also need to give our judiciary more autonomy to make the sentencing decisions that are appropriate.  The increase in madatory minimum sentencing is what drove our prison population and rethinking this type of sentencing is necessary to bring our prison population down.

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | Sex Crimes

Sex Crimes Operation “e-Guardian” arrests 15

Law enforcement sex crimes units just announced 25 arrests for traveling to meet a minor in the Tampa area. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) combined forces with the Department of Homeland security, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. FDLE is reporting that the majority of those accused have been arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor for sex, traveling to meet a minor for sex, sending harmful material to a minor and unlawful use of two-way device. If the accused are convicted as charged, they are facing significant prison time and the requirements of a registered sex offender. We have seen these stings pop up across central Florida over the past couple of years including in Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Lake Counties. This latest operation headed by FDLE nicknamed “Operation e-Guardian” was the first of its kind with FDLE in charge of the operation. The operation e-Guardian would set up listings on several locations across the web including chat rooms, dating sites, social networks, and online classified ads like Craigslist and Backpages.com. These types of operations are typically in place at a private residence and will be in place for about 5 days. The sex crimes agents would receive an inquiry from a listing soliciting sex with a minor and then instant message, text or even email the suspect to start the process. The Agents must establish the age of the minor and make it clear the child’s intentions of having sex with the adult. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee states, “It is critical that we conduct operations such as Operation e-Guardian as part of a multi-faceted approach to ensure the children in our community are protected from these individuals who are out to sexually exploit minors. A strong message needs to be sent to these offenders that this behavior will not be tolerated and if they commit acts such as this, they will be arrested and placed in jail.”

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Federal Crimes

Study reveals benefits of federal drug sentencing reform efforts

Last week, we discussed the news that several Florida legislators are determined to strengthen sex crimes sentencing laws during the next legislative session. In that post, we explored why subjecting low-level offenders to even stricter sentencing laws would neither be in the best interests of Florida’s taxpayers nor the public generally as longer imprisonment terms for low-level offenders are unlikely to reduce recidivism rates. Additional evidence that applying shorter sentences for low-level offenders does not increase recidivism rates was released a few weeks ago by the United States Sentencing Commission. The commission issued a report indicating that offenders convicted of federal drug crimes who had their sentences shortened under the Fair Sentencing Act did not re-offend at rates any higher than those who had served far lengthier sentences for the same crimes. According to the report, over 7,300 offenders have had their incarceration terms shortened by an average of 29 months since the law went into effect. In addition to the fact that shorter prison terms have yielded no increase in recidivism rates, the government has saved roughly half-a-billion dollars annually by releasing these prisoners earlier than the time period that their sentences originally mandated. It is time for Florida to embrace the approach that the federal government has already begun to take. Longer incarceration terms harm taxpayers and do not benefit society in terms of recidivism rates. Reducing incarceration minimums for low-level offenders in Florida is a goal worthy of pursuit, as is a measure designed to reduce overinflated sentences for existing prisoners. Source: The New York Times, “Sentencing Reform Starts to Pay Off,” Editorial Board, Aug. 1, 2013

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Federal Crimes

Why the Justice Safety Valve Act should be made law

When national crime rates reach all-time lows, one would expect that America’s federal prison population rate would similarly be situated at an all-time low. On the contrary, federal prisons are currently operating at a rate nearly forty percent above their capacity, despite record lows in national crime rates. Partially in response to this gross inconsistency, Congress has created an overcriminalization bipartisan task force. This new task force held its first hearings in June of this year. In those first hearings, the task force focused its attention on mandatory minimum imprisonment sentencing trends. At present, over half of federal inmates affected by mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences have been convicted of drug crimes. It has been determined that mandatory minimum sentencing was a primary driving force behind the federal prison population increase of 37,091 in 1995 to 76,216 in 2011, according to the New York Times. A bill entitled the Justice Safety Valve Act could help to reverse this disturbing trend currently being studied by the overcriminalization task force. The bill would allow judges greater discretion in certain cases that would ordinarily be subject to mandatory minimum sentencing. In these certain cases, convicted persons could be granted lesser sentences at a judge’s discretion, subject to specific criteria. The federal prison population is exploding at a time when crime rates are plummeting. In order to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal sentencing, the Justice Safety Valve Act should be passed. Once passed, judges could more fairly and proportionately sentence low-level offenders and keep the prison population manageable at the same time. Source: New York Times, “Needed: A New Safety Valve,” June 23, 2013

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| Read Time: < 1 minute | Federal Crimes

What privatizing Florida’s prison healthcare means practically

Several days ago, the First District Court of Appeals held that Florida may privatize its prison healthcare system. This broadly means that rather than assuming responsibility for the care of its prisoners, a private healthcare contractor or set of contractors will be tasked with that challenge. While this decision may ease certain budgetary burdens plaguing the state, it may truly imperil the ability of prisoners to receive the healthcare to which they are entitled. The criminal defense system operates in part to hold individuals accountable who have committed various illegal activities. However, those individuals do not lose their right to receive adequate healthcare if they are sentenced to any length of imprisonment. On the contrary, the law mandates that prisoners be granted access to a certain level of healthcare when they are imprisoned. Many individuals and organizations are expressing sincere concern that privatizing Florida’s prison healthcare system will lead to an unacceptable level of care for inmates. Private prison healthcare contractors have been criticized, fined and otherwise held accountable in other states for severely compromising inmate care in the interest of saving money. In some situations, the level of care inmates have received have inspired them to riot and otherwise react in dangerous ways in order to insist that their rights be enforced. Other private prison healthcare systems have been indicted for inhumane conditions and inmate deaths as a result of their approaches and practices. Though concerned Floridians may not have the power to reverse the court’s decision, they can remain educated about conditions as they evolve and demand reform if prisoners are denied access to adequate care in the future. Source: ThinkProgress, “Appeals Court Allows Florida To Privatize Prison Health Care, Ignoring Rampant Abuse Of Inmates,” Aviva Shen, June 5, 2013

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