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Articles Posted in Criminal

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Gainesville Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Ezzell now spends his days representing those accused of the highest criminal allegations in Florida. His criminal trial experience along with his relationships built as an Assistant State Attorney in Gainesville are an invaluable part of his criminal defense practice.

We spent a few minutes with Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Ezzell talking about handling Rape and Kidnapping cases in Florida, and especially Gainesville. One of the highlights of our conversation is the specific pieces of data that he remembers from his thousands of past cases.

photo__3174468_bill-profileBecause I handled so many cases and supervised other lawyers at the prosecutors office handling our serious Sex Crime cases in Gainesville like Kidnapping and Rape, when we have the opportunity to represent new clients at Whittel & Melton we immediately work to deconstruct what we can assume or think the State’s plan is, down to how they have built the file, how they will present it to the judge and to the jury – and then we work backwards from verdict all the way back to arrest and look for holes, inconsistencies and vulnerable areas ripe for challenge and possible exclusion. Like anything else, because we’ve walked this road before, we know where they are going even before journey begins. – William “Bill” Ezzell, Gainesville Criminal Defense Attorney and Trial Lawyer.

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drugs-2793133_1280-300x200A 2-year investigation has led to 11 people being indicted for their alleged involvement in a drug trafficking ring in Tampa and Kissimmee. 

The suspects accused of drug trafficking have been arrested and federal prosecutors claim they brought heroin and fentanyl into the region, which caused at least one death. 

The 11 people arrested all face federal conspiracy and drug distribution charges. The penalties for these crimes range anywhere from five to possibly life in prison. 

Police have not released much more information regarding this case as they are hoping to make more arrests and indictments. 

Authorities say that heroin and fentanyl were trafficked throughout Tampa and Kissimmee. Authorities do believe that at least one overdose death resulted from the alleged drug trafficking ring and another person suffered severe bodily injuries. 

The two year investigation started in 2016 and continued through August of this year. It has been a joint investigation conducted by the Tampa Bay Police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, and The Department of Justice. 

Fentanyl is a dangerous opioid that has received a lot of media attention because of its highly addictive qualities with recreational use. The United States lists fentanyl as a controlled substance. This drug is commonly used by medical professionals as a pain killer for patients undergoing severe and painful medical treatments such as cancer, nerve damage, or burn wounds. Fentanyl is far more powerful than morphine and it takes just a few minutes for its effects to kick in. This is why the drug has become so popular on the street – people with chronic pain use it for quick relief, but find themselves needing more as prolonged use causes the body to become tolerant of the drug’s effects. 

The effects of fentanyl are very similar to heroin, actually. The only difference is fentanyl lacks the euphoric high that heroin offers. Fentanyl makes users feel drowsy, hazy, slows the breathing, and slows the heart rate. The effects of fentanyl begin a few minutes after taking the drug and last for about an hour. While heroin and fentanyl are similar, fentanyl usually comes in much higher doses that are about 50 times more powerful than heroin. The high potency of fentanyl is why it is labeled as being so dangerous. On the street, this drug may be mixed with heroin and users used to heroin run the risk of overdosing by ingesting a drug that is much more powerful than what they are used to. 

If you have been accused of being involved in a federal drug crime involving fentanyl or heroin, you need to enlist the help of a Drug Crimes Defense Attorney at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. We want to help you fight the charges stacked against you, and our representation could mean that you avoid serious criminal consequences. We know how terrifying drug charges can be, which is why we will provide you with the aggressive legal defense you need. Law enforcement targets those suspected of illegally selling opioids like heroin and fentanyl, so if you have been arrested for a drug crime stemming from one of these drugs, you need to be aware that even first-time offenders face very serious legal ramifications. The stakes are very high in federal drug crimes cases, so there is no time to waste. 

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The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 24-year-old man from South Carolina after he allegedly tried to kidnap WWE star Sonya Deville, also known as Daria Berenato, at her home in Lutz. 

The man is accused of stalking the 26-year-old wrestling star featured on E!’s reality show Total Divas. 

The Sheriff’s Office believes the man began plotting the abduction around eight months ago, according to reports. 

The man apparently parked his car at a nearby church around midnight and then walked to the woman’s home at Lake Park Subdivision in Lutz. 

Reports indicate that he gained access to the woman’s home by slicing te patio screen and then entering the home through the sliding glass door after waiting for three to four hours for the oman to go to bed. This set off the alarm, causing Deville to look out her window and see the man and immediately flee her property in a car. 

She called 911 and the man was still inside the home when police arrived.

Police claim the man had duct tape, mace, zip ties, and a knife, and other supplies they believe he was going to use to take Deville hostage. 

He was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, armed burglary, attempted armed kidnapping, and aggravated stalking. 

Police claim that they have evidence showing he was stalking the woman on social media for months before showing up on her property. 

He was being held without bond, according to reports. 

Kidnapping and burglary charges are very serious and require a very strong defense strategy. A conviction for these charges can result in significant prison time, substantial fines, and probation. You need to obtain legal counsel as soon as you are aware of charges against you so that you can take appropriate action and defend yourself. 

Attempted kidnapping charges are a second-degree felony in the state of Florida. After your arrest, your charges will be given to the State Attorney’s Office to review. They will conduct an investigation before filing formal charges. This is where having strong legal representation on your side can help you. In most of these cases, the State does not have the time to perform an in-depth investigation. Your criminal defense attorney can meet with them and present any evidence that contradicts the charges, which could result in lesser charges being filed. 

You need to implement a smart legal defense strategy right away in these types of cases. As former prosecutors, our Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton understand how the State approaches these cases and what strategies they will use to try and obtain a conviction. We will use that knowledge to help with your case and formulate an approach to try and avoid a conviction and the harsh penalties that come along with it. 

We can negotiate with prosecutors to try and avoid the courtroom and reach a plea deal or advocate on your behalf at trial. Every case is unique and we cannot guarantee results. We can provide you with the legal help and support you need to implement the strongest defense strategy. 

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forest-fire-3747355_1920-300x169While no one will serve prison time, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company was found guilty Tuesday of starting the deadliest fire in California’s history that resulted in 84 unnecessary deaths, known as the 2018 Camp Fire. 

The Butte County District Attorney said this verdict is a “historic” one that will serve as a reminder that corporations will be held accountable for negligently endangering human lives. 

The 84 counts involuntary manslaughter the company pleaded guilty to as well as the 1 count of starting the wildfire, is one aspect of how the company is being held responsible for 84 people burning to death. 

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In one of several criminal justice reforms being pushed for 2020, the Senate voted 39-1 to relax some drug-related mandatory minimums.

SB 346, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, would increase judicial discretion in sentencing non violent offenders in their first drug possession conviction.

Bradley noted that this was a “third rail” back in 2013, but now has support from the Florida Prosecutors Association.

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Offenders caught with small amounts of most drugs could be sent to jail but not prison under a bill approved by a Florida Senate committee.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday. It would also give judges more leeway in sentencing drug dealers in some circumstances.

The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Rob Bradley would mean people possessing less than two grams of drugs other than fentanyl couldn’t be sentenced to more than 12 months in jail. Offenders would be held in county jails and not state prison.

Judges would also be able to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers if they are non-violent, didn’t possess a gun and haven’t been previously convicted of a felony.

Incarceration of individuals that are convicted of non-violent crimes, like drug crimes, comes at a great cost to society. When a person is found guilty of a drug-related offense, but would be best served by treatment for addiction, the criminal justice system can actually perpetuate the problem. But the Florida legislature is giving strong consideration to reducing sentences for those convicted of possessing small quantities of drugs. 

The state of Florida has many types of drug possession charges, most of which can be charged as a felony offense. Drug possession charges happen as a result of being arrested with drugs in your possession for personal use. However, depending on how much is found in your possession, you could be charged with possession with intent to sell, regardless of if you were actually selling drugs. 

There are certain requirements that must be met to charge someone with possession. In order to be found guilty of a drug possession charge, the prosecution must prove the following elements in court:

  1. An illegal or controlled substance or drug was found on the person
  2. The person had knowledge of the controlled substance
  3. The person was in control of the drug or its location

Current Florida law makes possession of marijuana (under 20 grams) a first degree misdemeanor. If you are convicted of a simple possession of marijuana offense, the court may impose penalties of up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000 Your driver’s license could also be suspended for two years.

Under Florida law, possession of cocaine is a third degree felony, with penalties that include up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. A conviction for cocaine possession will also result in a two year Florida driver’s license revocation.

Possession of a controlled substance in the state of Florida is charged as a third degree felony, and comes with penalties of jail time, probation, and thousands of dollars in fines. A controlled substance is defined as “a drug or chemical whose manufacture, possession, or use is regulated by a government, such as illicitly used drugs or prescription medications that are designated by law.” The penalties for possessing a controlled substance vary based on the drugs involved, and the amounts in your possession at the time of your arrest.

A conviction for any drug possession crime can follow you around for the rest of your life. This could be brought back up when you want to apply for a job, a student loan, or a lease. Even if it is your first offense, a possession charge of any kind is a serious charge that could result in a criminal record that will affect your future in some way.

Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton will do everything we can to get the charges against you dismissed or seek alternative sentencing, such as Pretrial Diversion or Drug Court. In certain cases, if you can pass through either of these programs successfully, the state will dismiss your possession charges. If trial is the only option for you, we can represent you in court and fight for the best possible outcome on your behalf. 

Our Florida Drug Possession Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton are committed to helping those with a drug addiction problem get the treatment they need. If you are personally struggling with addiction problems or you are concerned family member trying to help a loved one with the underlying issues of their drug charge, we can help you explore your legal options for your criminal case as well as locate any addiction and recovery programs that could benefit you.

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Police claim they have reports of a man trying to lure a teen girl into his van in Winter Haven.

The incident was reported to have happened Thursday afternoon in front of Polk State College. Investigators said the man attempted to lure a 15-year- old girl into his van and when she declined, he allegedly blocked her path with his van. 

In less than 48 hours, Winter Haven Police said they arrested a 55-year-old man, in connection to the incident. He has been charged with stalking, a misdemeanor, and driving with an expired license. 

A Winter Haven police officer spotted a van that matched the description pulling into a parking space at 3:53 a.m. at the Racetrac gas station on Havendale Blvd. 

Police claim the man admitted to the incident. 

Reports indicate that there was a witness who yelled and told the teen girl not to get into the van, causing the man to take off. 

The accused allegedly told officers he was just offering her a ride and that he asks people if they need rides all the time. He said he thought she was an adult. 

Under Florida law, stalking is considered a serious offense and is charged as a misdemeanor. Stalking is generally defined as a pattern of following, watching, or monitoring another person with the sole intent to harass, frighten, intimidate, threaten, or cause emotional duress. The act of stalking can vary in how it is carried out, and may include the following: 

  • Following someone – this can be just once or on a routine basis
  • Driving past or randomly showing up at someone’s residence, place of work, or school
  • Cyberstalking: monitoring a person’s computer, cell phone, or social networking activity 
  • Monitoring a person’s whereabouts through a secretly implanted GPS device on their vehicle or person
  • Sending someone unwanted letters, gifts, or emails
  • Contacting someone repeatedly via phone calls and text messages
  • Secretly videotaping or photographing someone
  • Gathering information about a person without their permission through public records, internet searches, private investigators, or by contacting the person’s friends, family members, and acquaintances
  • Threatening a person or their friends, family members, or pets
  • Damaging a person’s property, such as their home, vehicle, or other property

In the state of Florida, a person who repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harasses another person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If the person repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harassed another individual, and makes a credible threat towards that person with the intent to cause fear of death or bodily harm, the offender will be charged with a third degree felony. This crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Stalking charges are taken very serious in the state of Florida. If you have been accused of stalking, you do not want to just sit around and wait to see what happens. Instead, you need to take action right away, ideally before formal charges are even filed. This will give you the best possible chance of avoiding arrest and prosecution, if possible, as well as any undeserved penalties. 

There are several things you should not do if you learn you are being investigated for or charged with stalking. You should NOT:

  • Try to talk to the alleged victim about the case or have any contact with the alleged victim. 
  • Talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present. It is very common for the police to ask for statements from the accused during an investigation. An experienced attorney can take charge and help prevent you from talking your way into more trouble.
  • Give any evidence to law enforcement without consulting with your lawyer first. Even if you believe the evidence will show you are not guilty of the alleged crime, you should wait for your attorney to review this and handle the matter accordingly. 

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Miami Dolphins running back Mark Walton has been sentenced to six months’ probation for weapons charges after reaching a plea deal on Monday. 

Court records show Walton plead no contest to a misdemeanor weapons charge.

In addition to probation, Walton must take anger management and driving courses and must give up his firearm.

Walton did have a slew of other charges stacked against him, including marijuana possession and reckless driving, all of which were dismissed. The charges stemmed from a March incident in which Walton fled on foot from his rented car after police tried to pull him over. Authorities claimed they found a rifle and the marijuana in the car.

The 22-year-old Walton played college football at the University of Miami and was a 4th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2018 NFL draft. He signed with the Dolphins earlier this year.

When you are facing serious criminal charges, such as a drug or weapons charge, you may be wondering how these types of charges can be dropped or dismissed. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have successfully had charges reduced or dropped against many clients over the years, and it is possible that we can help you, too. 

It is important to point out that not all criminal cases go to trial. In fact, many criminal charges are dropped before trial after negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers. It is also worth noting that only the prosecutor has the power to drop criminal charges.Criminal charges can be dropped due to many factors that can ultimately outweigh the prosecution’s case, like insufficient evidence, inadmissible evidence, and lack of witness credibility. 

Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton also know there is an important difference between dropping charges and dismissing charges. Charges can be dismissed only after charges have been filed. A charge can be dropped before or after a charge has been filed. To clarify, you may need a charge dropped by the prosecutor, or you may need a charge dismissed by the prosecutor, however, a court can dismiss a charge if a prosecutor makes a legal error in the case. Either way, we can help you.

Before going to court for a trial, our criminal defense lawyers can argue that the prosecution’s case is not strong enough to obtain a conviction in what is called pretrial negotiations. This is where we will urge the prosecution to dismiss or drop the charge. The prosecution may accept or counter with an offer to reduce the charge. We can further review the facts and possibly counter back that even the reduced charge will not prevail in court.

A reduced charge is possible when the evidence is not strong enough for a certain charge, but strong enough for a lesser charge. When this happens, prosecutors may offer a plea bargain agreement. This means that prosecutors will dismiss the original charge if the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a less severe charge instead. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can make sure your rights are protected when it comes to plea bargain agreements. These vary case by case, and we may advise you to take the deal or reject the agreement if the case against the original charge is weak.

To conclude, there are many ways to get your criminal charges dropped or dismissed. However, for this to happen, you first need to seek legal help from us as soon as possible. The earlier we get involved with your case, the much better the odds of obtaining a favorable outcome. We want to help you move on from criminal charges and resume your normal life with as little damage to your reputation and record as possible. Every case is unique, so we can make sure you understand all of your legal options. 

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The former mayor of Port Richey, Dale Massad, was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The jury’s verdict came at about 6 p.m. at the end of a one-day trial in which four witnesses testified. The jury took less than an hour to decide on the evidence.

Massad, 68, faced multiple charges from his February arrest, but the ones at issue Tuesday stemmed from a jailhouse phone call with former acting Mayor Terrence Rowe.

The state tried to prove that call showed Massad targeted a Port Richey police officer involved with his case.

Investigators claim that Massad called the man who filled his spot as mayor, Terrance Rowe, from jail and the two conspired to have a Port Richey police officer involved in Massad’s case fired.

The police officer testified that he felt threatened and intimidated by Massad. 

The police officer had helped the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Massad’s alleged practice of medicine without a license, and he was the one monitoring his calls for the agency.

Massad’s defense team argued that there was no clear evidence of conspiracy to intimidate the police officer in the call, including when the former mayor told Rowe that “anything he can do” where the police officer is concerned was good.

The call lasted 14 minutes. It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. 

Jurors also heard from City Manager Vince Lupo, who testified that council members usually made records requests through him.

The state argued that because Rowe made repeated email requests to the city clerk instead of Lupo, he was trying to avoid the normal process.

Police Chief Gerard Decanio said the jury made the right call.

“To think that you’re going to call from jail and order certain things to be done, it’s ridiculous,” Decanio said. “So justice prevailed today. The jury brought back the right verdict.”

Massad’s attorney, however, believes the jury should have come back with the opposite verdict. The defense team believes city officials wanted him out as mayor, and that they unfortunately succeeded. 

Massad’s legal team requested a speedy trial in the hopes that they would win and Massad could post bond. They are now working to expedite the prosecution for the original charges.

This was only the tip of Massad’s legal problems. He still faces trial on charges of attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license.

Massad will continue to be held in jail without bail, pending his next trials. However, Tuesday’s conviction could result in prison time. 

At the first Port Richey City Council meeting since the city elected its new mayor, Scott Tremblay, it was business as usual, with no comments about the Massad trial during the first few minutes of the session.

Tremblay did say he’s looking forward to helping the city move forward, despite two other trials involving Massad looming over the city’s near future.  

Conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges are nothing to scoff at. These crimes are nothing minor. In fact, these are felony offenses that can negatively impact one’s freedom, life, and livelihood. A person commits the crime of obstruction by engaging in any act or behavior that interferes with the investigation or prosecution of a crime. Both state and federal laws have many provisions written in regarding obstruction of justice for many different laws, but such actions can range from simply warning someone about a subpoena for documents to hiding a suspect from police. Certain types of interference may seem innocent, such as warning a co-worker that they are being investigated, while others cross the legal line more blatantly, like destroying evidence. The greater the obstruction of justice, the greater the criminal consequences. 

Even a person who is not directly involved in a crime that is under investigation can be charged with criminal obstruction. These charges are not necessarily black and white, and can be quite confusing. If you have been charged with criminal obstruction or have questions about the crime, consult with our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton who can make sure you fully understand what you are up against. 

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A University of Florida junior cornerback was arrested by Gainesville police Monday and is facing a charge of simple battery/date violence following an alleged altercation with his girlfriend in his apartment.

The man and the woman got into an argument, and as she attempted to leave the apartment, the man apparently grabbed her by the neck to stop her, according to a Gainesville Police Department arrest report. Police claims she had marks on her neck and a scratch on her shoulder.

The man, 20, and the woman have been dating for two years, according to the report. A witness to the incident intervened in an effort to stop the argument and then called 911.

A simple battery charge is a misdemeanor under Florida law.

A battery charge can be emotionally fueled by the alleged victim and the person charged. These arrests usually arise from situations that are personal and highly emotional, and often involve misunderstandings that were blown out of proportion.

If you have been arrested for battery in Gainesville, our Alachua County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help. Possible penalties can include jail time, fines, and a criminal record. We can help you avoid the penalties of a conviction. When possible, we will negotiate for a reduction or a complete dismissal of charges.

Regardless of the events leading up to your arrest, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend your rights against your accuser. We will investigate all of the facts of your case and present your side to prosecutors and in court, when necessary.

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