Forensic evidence has been overplayed and possibly even misrepresented in TV and Hollywood crime dramas. While it is true that DNA evidence is somewhat reliable in a court case and 99.9 percent of DNA sequences are unique, DNA is not infallible, nor is it always 100 percent reliable in court cases. Scientists that analyze a person’s DNA assess the long chain of loci. Loci are used to link a suspect to a case, but they can also be used in a defense strategy to prove a person’s innocence.
Reliability of DNA Testing
Courts have accepted the value and reliability of DNA tests. Courts will also allow prosecutors to search for potential suspects by interviewing those within the DNA databases who have similar DNA to that found at a crime scene.
However, the probabilities of an exact match are easily disputed in court. The FBI itself estimates that the odds of a coincidental match are still possible – while the estimates of those theories do vary. Another reason there is so much variance in DNA reliability is the chemical replication, along with instances of human error that can occur during the testing itself.
The California Supreme Court recently addressed this during a cold hit murder case. In this case, DNA was found at a crime scene that matched the FBI database. The court allowed a rarity statistic to be used in the jury trial, stating that there was a 1 in 930 sextillion chance of finding the same DNA.
What About Other Forensic Evidence?
Other forensic evidence can also be disputed in court, such as hair, fingerprints, etc. This is because forensic techniques have not been subjected to sufficient scientific evaluation, and those that evaluate the forensic evidence can tamper or accidentally contaminate samples, dramatically reducing reliability.
Unlike DNA testing, other forensic disciplines, such as impression marks or fibers, were developed with the sole purpose of criminal prosecutions. Because they were developed for a singular purpose, there is a dramatic absence of scientific standards – and, without sufficient foundational research or adequate standards, it is hard to justify the evidence that is presented in court.
Also, the improper forensic testimony used in criminal trials is up for debate. All too often, an “expert” or “analyst” will take their testimony beyond what the evidence actually shows. For example, consider the scores of individuals who, after serving time in prison, were later found not guilty after DNA evidence came forth to exonerate them – even though these individuals were originally convicted based on forensic testimony, such as fingerprints or shoe impressions.
Bottom Line, Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested and the prosecution states that there is forensic evidence against you, you need to contact a criminal defense attorney. Most forensic evidence can be disputed in court and, in some cases, dismissed by a judge. Contact The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today at 904-356-8618, or fill out an online contact form with your legal questions.Read More
In 2014, Tennessee became the first state to criminalize drug use during pregnancy. This monumental case has impacted women from around the state – and has started to spill over into neighboring states. Since the enactment of this new law, more than 100 women in Tennessee have been prosecuted and sent to jail, though most receive drug rehabilitation and treatment rather than actual jail time.
While this criminal statute is certainly unique, there are many states that will punish mothers for using drugs during a pregnancy, and the penalties for doing so can vary from psychiatric commitment to criminal convictions.
Assaulting a Fetus
While the law generally views a fetus as non-human until it is born, the statute in Tennessee allows for the prosecution of any woman – for an assaultive offense – when they use illegal narcotic drugs while pregnant. If the child is born addicted to that narcotic, harmed by the use, or dies due to excessive use, then the mother can face criminal charges, including homicide.
There is currently a battle over whether or not the law should be renewed – it will expire in 2016 unless it is renewed – and there are some that want to enhance it even further. According to the state, the law has not had any true effect on the rate of drug addicted newborns, though advocates feel the law has not had ample time to work.
Understanding State Pregnancy Laws
While Florida does not use the Tennessee statute, Tennessee is not the only state that will prosecute pregnant women for their drug use during pregnancy. At this time, Florida does not employ any civil commitment laws that allow the state to commit a pregnant woman to psychiatric care for drug use during pregnancy. However, that does not mean that prosecutors cannot find a way around this non-existent statute, and may still attempt to charge you with a crime or send you to a psychiatric care facility.
Arrested for Drug Use During Pregnancy? Contact a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested for drug use during your pregnancy, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney. The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. can assist you with any drug crimes you may face. Contact us for a consultation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 904-356-8618, or fill out an online contact form with your questions.Read More
The chain of custody refers to the foundation prosecutors need in order to establish that certain exhibits (or evidence) are admissible to the court. Exhibits are tangible items that are relevant to the facts of the case and help establish the prosecution’s case.
For example, when a person is accused of shoplifting, the stolen goods would be submitted as exhibits in their criminal case.
Prosecutors must prove that a particular exhibit that they wish to enter is what they say it is – meaning that they must prove that the calculator submitted into evidence is the one you actually attempted to steal. That requires proof that they had possession of the evidence at all times, between the date it was seized by the officers to the date it is submitted to the court. This is known as the chain of custody, and this chain has several links that can be easily broken.
The Links Within the Chain of Custody
Criminal prosecutions depend heavily on the evidence that is gathered by police during the investigative phase. Prosecutors, however, are the ones who are required to prove that the chain of custody exists. It is a common, solid defense strategy to attack the links within that chain, showing that officers did not collect evidence properly, or the chain was compromised somewhere along the line. If defense attorneys can establish a missing or broken link, they can then have the judge assess if the evidence is admissible. If a judge decides the chain of custody was broken, that evidence cannot be submitted or used in court.
The chain of custody goes beyond proving that the prosecution was in possession of the exhibit at all times. They must also establish that the evidence submitted is what they say it is. For example, in a cocaine drug case, the prosecutors must prove that the cocaine submitted was tested by a reputable scientific laboratory and proven to be cocaine. Then, they must establish other links within the chain, including:
- The officer who seized the evidence packaged it in a way to distinguish it from other evidence seized that same day or in the same arrest.
- The police stored the evidence in a secure location where no one could have removed it or tampered with it while in storage.
- A qualified expert must testify that the item presented to the court is in fact what the prosecutors say it is.
- The evidence given to and tested by that expert is proven to be one and the same, and it has not been compromised during transport.
- The expert followed all state-required procedures.
- The evidence tested is the same that was brought back to the court for admission.
Speak with an Attorney to Learn More About the Criminal Procedure
The chain of custody is just one of many things involved in a criminal case. If you have been arrested, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. An attorney can work quickly to gather evidence establishing your innocence, or start building a more effective defense strategy. For a consultation, call The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today at 904-356-8618, or fill out an online contact form.Read More
It is nothing new for bill collectors to threaten those in debt, and there are numerous instances where third party collection agencies will threaten people with jail time if they do not pay consumer debts. This causes confusion amongst citizens that fall behind on their payments, worrying that they could go to prison for being unable to pay. However, know that, if you owe money on a debt and cannot afford to pay it, it is typically a civil matter – therefore, no jail time is involved. Instead, the creditor would have to sue you in court and receive a judgment to collect.
Debtor’s Prisons: Do They Exist?
Debtor’s prisons were used years ago as a way for lenders to imprison poor people who could not repay their debt obligations. These were used in the United States until the mid-1800s, when they were finally banned. States started to eliminate debtor’s prisons, and most have followed suit across the board, though there are some states that do have jail time for certain debts.
Essentially, you cannot go to jail for failure to pay civil debts – such as credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, or even hospital bills. These are the types of debts for which most people will encounter harsh third party debt collectors and threats.
You can, however, go to jail for not paying two specific types of debts: child support and taxes. There are also state owed debts that can result in jail time if you do not pay them. Some states and local courts in Florida will use fees, fines, and other costs as part of their criminal justice system. If you fail to pay these fees as part of a condition of your probation or parole, you can go to jail.
Three Instances That Could Result in Jail Time
There are three instances that could result in jail time for unpaid debts in Florida:
- Willfully Violating a Court Order – If you are ordered by the courts to pay for a debt, typically child support, and you are found in contempt for nonpayment, you could go to jail.
- You Refuse to Pay Income Taxes – Being behind on your tax payments do not automatically constitute jail time, but if you outright refuse to pay your tax debts and you are then prosecuted and convicted, you could go to jail.
- You Do Not Appear During a Debtor’s Examinations – These are not used in the state of Florida, but other states do use them as a way to assess a debtor’s ability to pay their obligations.
When You Are Being Threatened with Jail Time, Speak with an Attorney
It can be hard to tell if a creditor has legitimate threats or not. If you are being threatened with jail time for nonpayment of certain debts, contact an attorney to explore your options. Also, if you have been arrested for a crime, contact The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today. Schedule your consultation at 904-356-8618, or fill out an online contact form with your questions.Read More
Domestic violence is a serious accusation and can include assault, stalking, battery, and even harassment that has been perpetrated by someone against a family member or household member – not necessarily husband and wife, which most people think of when they hear the term domestic violence. Florida has statutes that define domestic violence and even outline specific punishments for those convicted of these heinous offenses. If you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, it is important that you hire an attorney to represent your case.
Defenses to Domestic Violence Accusations
If you are charged with domestic violence, you will need a criminal defense attorney to establish a strategy that accomplishes one of two things:
- Your attorney may attempt to show that the prosecution has not and cannot prove their case – meaning they cannot convince a judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty.
- Your attorney may offer a defense that absolves you of your actions.
Many domestic violence cases turn into he-said-she-said situations, meaning it could be your word against that of an alleged victim – and you may have difficulty proving your innocence when someone blatantly accuses you of harming them. That being said, just because someone accuses you of domestic violence does not mean you will automatically be convicted. The prosecution still must establish a case strong enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty.
Tactics Used in a Defense Strategy
Your defense strategy will depend on the circumstances of your particular case. Some things your defense attorney may consider include:
- If the victim was even under the protected status class of individuals for domestic violence. For example, a coworker who you have no relationship with, who lives in another residence, cannot accuse you of domestic violence.
- Did the alleged assault, stalking, or harassment actually occur? Your attorney may be able to prove that the victim fabricated his or her story via physical evidence.
- Was it actually you that committed the crime? Sometimes, you may be falsely accused for the actions of another person. Your attorney can work to prove that, while the victim was assaulted, you were not the actual assailant.
- The violence was due to self-defense. There are instances where someone can be accused of domestic violence, but their actions were done in self-defense, because the real instigator of the crime was the victim. For example, an ex-girlfriend attacks you with a knife and attempts to harm you. You defend yourself by hitting and disarming her. When first responders arrive, she tells them that you attacked her – without mentioning she attacked you first with a knife. In this instance, your attorney would then show evidence that she was the aggressor, and you were acting in self-defense.
Speak with an Attorney
If you have been arrested or you are being questioned for domestic violence, it is important that you speak with an attorney. Domestic violence charges carry harsh penalties; therefore, you need an attorney by your side to protect your rights. Speak with an attorney today at The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. by calling 904-356-8618 or by filling out an online contact form.Read More
Traditionally, if a defendant is under the legal age of 18, they are considered a juvenile and will be tried for their crimes in juvenile court. However, there are circumstances that permit the state to push a youth under the age of 18 through the criminal justice system as an adult. The rules for this are complex, but it is important to note that juveniles are not free from adult prosecution simply because of their age.
How Juvenile Crimes Can be Charged as Adult Crimes
There are three ways in which a case can be transferred from juvenile court to the adult criminal system. These include:
- Direct File – This gives the prosecution the discretion to decide when a case is tried as a juvenile or adult crime.
- Statutory Exclusion – If a juvenile’s crime meets the age and offense criteria of a specific crime, the statutes automatically allow for that crime to be moved from juvenile court into the adult criminal justice system.
- Reverse Waiver – In certain cases, such as homicide, the assumption that a juvenile should be tried as an adult is used, unless the court otherwise determines the child to be tried in juvenile court.
Also, if a juvenile has been tried in the past as an adult, they are typically tried for future crimes as an adult as well. This is because the courts typically take the stance that “once an adult, always an adult” for criminal acts.
What the Law Says
Florida statutes define anyone under the age of 18 as a juvenile. However, Florida prosecutors are allowed to decide if a juvenile is tried as a juvenile or as an adult. For a discretionary waiver, the minimum age is 14 years or older in order for a prosecutor to legally try a juvenile as an adult. Therefore, crimes committed under the 14 year threshold will automatically be seen in juvenile court in regards to discretionary waivers.
For direct filings, however, there is no minimum age. Instead, the age for capital offenses – those punishable by death or life in prison – are left to the sole discretion of the prosecution.
For statutory exclusions, the minimum age is not set, but typically prosecutors will not try individuals under the age of 16 for adult crimes, unless there is reasonable evidence to justify doing so.
The Consequences of Being Transferred to Adult Court
The consequences of a transfer to adult court are extremely serious. A juvenile can be tried as an adult and face the same harsh penalties an adult would – including decades in prison. Additionally, if convicted, a juvenile will have an adult criminal record, which can significantly impact their future in regards to employment, housing, and education.
An adult conviction also means the forfeiture of certain rights – such as the right to vote or own a firearm.
Speaking with a Criminal Attorney
If you are a juvenile being threatened with an adult case, you need an attorney by your side. Due to the serious consequences of being tried as an adult, you need an attorney with experience in the juvenile justice system. Your attorney may be able to assist you in reducing the charges or negotiating to have the case heard in the juvenile court system. Speak with an attorney at The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today by calling 904-356-8618, or by filling out an online contact form.Read More
An injunction is an order issued by the court that directs another party to take – or directly prohibits them from engaging in – a specific action. These can be issued via a judgment order or in connection with a lawsuit. In some cases, they are also seen in criminal trials.
The Purpose of an Injunction
Injunctions are used as relief from an action, or putting a stop to ongoing or repeated conduct that violates a person’s rights or causes injury. It can also force a defendant or prosecutor to take action. They are a legal remedy that is considered a last resort by the courts and typically only issued when there are no other legal remedies that are adequate for the situation.
Injunctions are not a right; instead, they are issued at the discretion of the court. Whether an injunction will be granted depends on the facts of each case, and there is no guarantee that a specific type of case would receive an injunction.
The Types of Injunctions
There are several main types of injunctions that can be issued by the courts, including:
- Preliminary – These are temporary and used as a provisional remedy to preserve the subject matter in its existing form. They seek to prevent further injury, threats, or any injustice until such time as the rights of the party can be permanently settled in court. They are never granted automatically, but instead are used to maintain the status quo until the final trial.
- Preventive – These direct an individual from refraining to do a particular act. They are also referred to as prohibitive, prohibitory, and negative injunctions. They prevent a threatened injury, preserve status quo, and restrain the continued commission of ongoing wrongdoings.
- Mandatory – These command the performance of a positive act. They are extremely harsh; therefore, courts rarely grant them.
- Permanent – These are used as part of the final relief and are perpetual, provided that the conditions that produced them remain permanent as well.
Contempt of an Injunction
When an injunction is issued, an individual cannot violate that injunction. Doing so could result in a punishment of contempt of court. However, a person may not be considered guilty if they did not know about the injunction. Also, that individual will be issued a trial or hearing to determine if they have violated the injunction and the extent of such a violation. The penalty is at the discretion of the court and will depend on the nature of the violation. Typically, punishment includes fines, jail time, or a combination of the two.
Factors to Consider
Before the courts issue an injunction, they will consider four critical factors:
- They will consider if there is significant harm or threat if the injunction is not ordered. For example, a stay pending appeal for an execution would require the courts to issue an injunction so that the individual was not executed until their appeal has been concluded.
- The courts would then consider the effects of issuing or not issuing such injunction – and how it impacts all parties involved.
- The courts will consider the likelihood of success if they do issue that injunction and if the injunction will succeed on merits at the end of litigation.
- Lastly, the courts will consider the possible effect on public interest.
Speak with an Attorney Regarding Your Case
Injunctions are complex and rarely issued. If you have questions about injunctions or other procedures used in criminal courts, contact an attorney at The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today. Schedule your consultation at 904-356-8618 or fill out an online contact form.Read More
Violent crimes are those that are heinous in nature and often involve intentional harm that has been inflicted upon another individual during the commission of a crime. Violent crimes do not have to involve the intent to harm, though they can include the threat of intentional harm. The majority of violent crimes are charged as felonies, and they are considered one of the most serious crimes – which is why they carry harsher sentences and penalties, including at least one year in prison.
The FBI’s statistics state that there were approximately 1,246,248 violent crimes in the United States in 2010. Aggravated assaults accounted for the highest percentage of those violent crimes – about 62.5 percent. Robbery comprised 29.5 percent of those violent crimes, while forcible rape accounted for 6.8 percent and murder made up 1.2 percent of the violent crimes reported in 2010.
Examples of Violent Crimes
There are numerous types of crimes that could be classified as “violent,” but some of the more common include:
- Armed robbery
- Domestic violence
- Gang crimes
Examples of Non-Violent Offenses
Some crimes can be particularly heinous in nature, but they are not necessary violent. Some examples of non-violent offenses include:
- Property crimes
- Drug or alcohol-related crimes – including DUIs
- Fraud or tax crimes
- White collar crimes
There are, however, instances where non-violent crimes can be raised to the level of a violent crime. For example, in a fraud case, which is a non-violent crime, some violence could be involved if a person was threatened and/or coerced into handing over funds. In this case, the crime could be considered “violent,” even if no physical violence actually occurred.
Punishments of Violent Crimes
Non-violent and violent crimes both carry harsh punishments, but in general violent crimes carry stiffer penalties than those that are non-violent, though there are some non-violent crimes that can be punished more strictly as well – depending on the circumstances of that particular case.
Typically, non-violent crimes are met with short jail sentences and probation. Violent crimes, on the other hand, involve longer prison sentences, restitution, and parole (after the prison sentence has been served).
Defense Matters in a Violent Crime
If you are being accused of a violent crime it is imperative that you seek legal counsel. One of our attorneys can provide defenses for your violent or non-violent case, and our tactics will vary depending on the circumstances. If you have been arrested or you are a suspect of a violent crime, speak with an attorney at The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today at 904-356-8618, or fill out an online contact form with your questions.Read More
When placed on probation, you may also be ordered to pay court-ordered restitution, as well as court costs and associated fees. This is typically part of the conditions of your probation. Therefore, when you do not pay the court-ordered restitution, you could be in violation of the contract you have with the District Attorney’s Office. This can occur even when you make partial payments or fail to make the entire scheduled payment – as well as paying your fines and fees late on a continual basis.
If you are arrested for not paying your court fines, you can expect a contempt of court case in criminal court. You may be sued in civil court by the victim that you have not paid, and face a violation of probation hearing or motion to revoke probation.
The Use of Private Probation Companies
Cities around the country are slowly turning to the use of private probation companies to collect all unpaid court fines and fees. Unfortunately, these companies make it next to impossible for anyone to pay off their fines – and with their own associated fees tacked on to every payment you make, you may feel it is impossible to make a significant dent in your balance.
However, if you do not continue to pay the private collector, they will report you to your probation officer and your officer could invoke a hearing to determine if you should stay on probation. This means that, even if you are on probation for a minor offense, you could still face jail time simply because you could not pay the fines.
Revocation of Probation or a Probation Violation
The District Attorney could file a motion to revoke probation for non-payment of restitution. After the motion has been filed, the court will hold a hearing to decide if revocation is the best form of punishment. It is important to realize that these hearings are much less formal than your original criminal trial, and the burden of proof is much lighter for the prosecution. All they have to show is your fail to pay, late payments, or frequently inadequate payments for a judge to grant the revocation.
You will have fewer rights during a violation of probation hearing as well. You do not have the right to a jury trial; instead, a judge will determine your fate. Unlike a criminal trial where the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, all it takes is 50 percent certainty to get a judge to agree to revocation.
You do, however, have some rights present during your hearing, including:
- The right to have witnesses present and testify on your behalf.
- The right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.
- The right to submit information to the court regarding your situation and why you have not paid or cannot pay the full amount.
- The right to an attorney to represent you and your case.
Speak with a Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney
Any probation violation is a serious matter and one that you should not take lightly. Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away regarding your upcoming probation violation hearing at The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. by calling 904-356-8618 or by filling out an online contact form with your questions.Read More
Fingerprints are a vital investigative tool, as the technology used to match suspects with fingerprints found at a crime scene can help investigators better understand what happened – and, potentially, who was involved. Despite the clear benefits of finding a suspect’s fingerprints at the scene of a crime, fingerprints themselves have come under scrutiny.
In the past, prosecutors found few weapons more powerful than the fingerprint. But today, the reliability of those fingerprints at a crime scene can be challenged. Defense attorneys have access to evidence that can show the fallibility of fingerprinting technology, and even challenge the presence of fingerprints in the first place. After all, your fingerprints at a crime scene do not automatically make you guilty of a crime, and there is no way to prove when and how the fingerprints got there.
Using Fingerprints for Plea Deals
Prosecutors are notorious for using fingerprint evidence in order to negotiate a plea deal with a suspect. They will intimidate suspects into thinking that fingerprints are incriminating enough for a guilty conviction from a judge or jury.
The Truth About Fingerprints in Criminal Investigations
When law enforcement testifies that fingerprints matching the suspects were found at the crime scene, they are not testifying that there was an identical match. Instead, the term “match” is used widely to describe a fingerprint with similar characteristics to another.
Fingerprints contain 75 to 175 unique characteristics. When an examiner is able to identify eight to 12 common points during a fingerprint comparison, they legally can state that they have a “match” and testify to such in court. Fingerprint analysis has been around since the early 1920s, but even then, Scotland Yard required a minimum of sixteen matching points. Today, there is no scientific basis for determining if 12 or 16 are more reliable, as there is limited research on the protocol itself.
Prosecutors would have a suspect believe that fingerprint evidence is reliable and enough to convict someone, but without context or additional evidence, the reality is that a fingerprint may not convict a person at all.
Fingerprints and Lacking Evidence
A crime scene is investigated to find evidence of a suspect’s presence. Nevertheless, when a suspect’s fingerprints are found at the scene, but there is no other evidence that they have committed the crime, those fingerprints become less powerful. A person could have visited the crime scene weeks before the actual crime and this is even easier to argue when the crime scene is a public place – such as a restaurant or store.
Having the Right Defense is Imperative
If your fingerprints were found at a crime scene, it is important that you seek legal counsel. An attorney can assess the true value of those fingerprints, along with other evidence present, to determine if prosecution has a valid case. Contact The Armstrong Law Group, P.A. today regarding your criminal case. Schedule a consultation by calling 904-356-8618 or filling out our online contact form.Read More