Articles Posted in Marion County

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Suspended Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair has dropped out of the race for re-election and has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the State Attorney’s Office to drop perjury and official misconduct charges against him.

Under the agreement, which Blair signed on Thursday, he will continue to receive his pension from the state retirement system and the state will not proceed with the charges against him that came from his time as sheriff. Also, the federal government does not presently consider him a person of interest or have any plan to file criminal charges against him.

Blair’s letter to Wesley Wilcox, supervisor of elections, reads: “Having duly qualified for election for the office of Sheriff of Marion County, in the Republican Primary and General Elections of 2016, I hereby immediately and irrevocably withdraw my candidacy for the office of Sheriff of Marion County.”

Blair also sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott’s office, which said: “Having been suspended from office on May 20, 2016, I hereby immediately and irrevocably resign from the office of Sheriff of Marion County.”

Blair, who had been sheriff since he took the oath of office in January 2013, had to leave office on May 20 after he was arrested and charged with two counts of perjury and one count of official misconduct. If convicted of the charges, he faced five years for each charge along with a $5,000 fine for each offense.

Blair’s charges resulted from his account of the 2014 arrest of a man. At least one deputy has admitted beating the suspect following a shootout and after the suspect left his northwest Marion County home. The suspect, who was later convicted of attempted murder, was unarmed and compliant at the time of his arrest; he has a federal civil rights case pending against Blair and several deputies.

Although Blair later swore, on a signed affidavit submitted for that federal case and in testimony in front of a grand jury, that he did not see the suspect face to face after the arrest, a video recorded at the scene shows deputies walking the suspect directly past Blair. A grand jury indicted Blair in May.

The court documents signed Thursday by Blair states that he did not admit or deny “the ultimate facts that gave rise to the charges” and “the agreement is made in my own best interest and enables me to dispose of the charges without risk of conviction and sentence.”

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An Ocala man continues to wait in custody for a judge to decide whether he deserves a new trial. It has been more than six months since his conviction.

The 29-year-old maintains his innocence of the two charges for which a jury found him guilty in an early September 2015 trial: lewd and lascivious molestation of a child and burglary of a dwelling with battery.

The charges arose from a June 2014 call to the Ocala Police Department, in which a concerned grandmother relayed her granddaughter’s story that the man had come into her room during the night and rubbed his genitals over her shorts.

The man is well known to the girl, who was 10 years old at the time, and her family. He said he is close friends with the girl’s mother and was a regular visitor to the Ocala home the three generations of women shared.

The man has been challenging his conviction by petitioning for a new trial.

While the judge denied his first motion for a new trial, filed by the public defender who represented him at trial, his second motion is pending and was the focus of a hearing this week. During the hearing, the girl changed her story to some extent, recanting the part of her original testimony that related to the molestation charge.

The judge is expected to decide on the motion at a hearing set for 10 a.m. April 29. Should the man be granted a new trial on both charges, he could be released from the Marion County Jail as he waits for the new trial.

The man’s first motion for a new trial highlighted a new finding in jury conduct: one juror informed the man’s public defender that she did not know she was allowed to disagree with the other jurors, according to the motion. The public defender polled the all-female jury. Two jurors changed their verdicts, prompting more deliberation and an eventual consensus around a guilty verdict.

William Sheslow, of Whittel & Melton, LLC, was hired by the man after his trial and has pursued a different avenue in a second motion for a new trial. Sheslow argued that the man deserves a new trial based on a notarized statement from the victim’s mother, in which she wrote that her daughter told her after the trial that the man had never molested her. Sheslow also pointed out an antagonistic relationship between the mother and the public defender in the original trial, which he said would have prevented the public defender from obtaining this information.

The antagonistic relationship stemmed from an unrelated case, in which the mother was a victim and the public defender represented the defendant (who was not the man convicted in this case).

Sheslow presented this motion before the judge in November, and the judge requested that he subpoena the mother so he could gauge her credibility at a future hearing before making a decision. That hearing came Monday, when court records indicate the mother, the grandmother and the now 12-year-old girl all testified. The public defender testified as well.

Sex crimes, especially those believed to have been committed against a child, are taken very seriously by courts, as this case shows. The truth is that these cases often rely on the alleged victim’s testimony against the word of the accused. Sadly, testimony from a child is not always an accurate account of what truly happened, and prosecutors will push for a conviction regardless of what evidence is available.

A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton knows that sometimes mistakes are made during a criminal trial that can lead to wrong decisions being reached. Fortunately, Florida law provides for legal remedies to correct an improper conviction or sentence. A motion for a new trial may allow you to have your case heard again, but by a different jury.

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The new year is quickly approaching, and thousands of Floridians have made plans or are starting to think about how to say goodbye to 2015 and ring in 2016.

But before you solidify your New Year’s Eve plans, fire officials have some tips for residents and visitors when it comes to fireworks.

“Anything that is projectile or leaves the ground is illegal in the State of Florida. Basically your safest bet is with a sparkler,” said Natalie McQueen, a Firefighter and Paramedic for the Panama City Beach Fire Department.

Even though sparklers are allowed in the Sunshine State, residents and visitors still need to exercise caution when using them.

Younger children should never light or handle sparklers. Parents should maintain a close watch on kids at all times if sparklers are going to be used. Burns are very common to the hands and face since sparklers do have flickers that come off once they are lit.

If you are using sparklers, after you are done with them, fire officials say to place them in a big bucket full of water, and let them sit overnight.

While setting off your own fireworks might seem fun, our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton want to remind everyone that the best way to stay safe while ringing in the New Year is leaving the fireworks to the pros. If you are caught with fireworks in the State of Florida it could lead to misdemeanor charges.

Under Florida law, the use of or possession of illegal fireworks is a first-degree misdemeanor. If you are accused of breaking this law, please be aware that you will be arrested. If you are convicted of this crime, you can be sentenced to up to one year in jail, given up to one year on probation, and/or fined up to one thousand dollars.

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Police said they arrested three suspected drug dealers on Thursday after a tip led them to a home where K2, an illegal synthetic marijuana, was being sold.

Police officials, including the multi-agency Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team, continue to crack down on the local sale and possession of K2, which has sent dozens of people to the hospital and caused problems to several neighborhoods since late last month.

One of the three taken into custody had been arrested on Dec. 3 on principal to sale of synthetic marijuana. The man, who had been released from the Marion County Jail on Dec. 9, now faces a charge of possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to sell.

When arrested Thursday, the man was sitting in a vehicle and that contained K2, and the drug was near him, according to drug agents.

Agents also arrested a 27-year-old woman on charges of possession of synthetic cannabinoids with intent to sell, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia.

The third person arrested, a 39-year-old man, was detained as he walked away from the home, according to reports. He faces charges of for sale of synthetic cannabinoids and possession of synthetic marijuana less than three grams.

Authorities allegedly recovered 56 bags of synthetic marijuana and regular marijuana. The synthetic marijuana will be sent to a laboratory for testing, officials said.

Since late November, Ocala Fire Rescue and Ocala Police Department officers have responded to K2-related incidents at several locations, primarily at the Salvation Army compound near downtown, in Tuscawilla Park and along Northeast Eighth Avenue, on calls about people “acting weird.” The behaviors have included people being violent, getting into fights and having seizures.

Officials said some of those affected were taken to hospitals and others were taken to mental health facilities under the Baker Act, which allows authorities to intervene if people are considered a danger to themselves or others.

Fire and police officials estimated more than 40 people have been affected in some way by the drug. No deaths have been reported. Police officials believe the synthetic marijuana has been tampered with or laced with a more harmful chemical that causes people to have an adverse reaction and requires medical attention.

In response to the spike in medical calls and the ongoing investigation, OPD has deployed extra officers to some areas.

So far during the crackdown, 10 people have been arrested on K2-related charges.

K2, which goes by numerous other names, is a substance that mimics the effects of marijuana. Manufacturers are able to do this by taking a mixture of herbs and spices and spraying them with a synthetic chemical that has a similar structure to THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. Florida and other states across the country have been cracking down on K2, and some states have even banned this drug. If you have been arrested for possession, sale, or distribution of K2, talk to a Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton today.

Some other common names for K2 include:

  • Spice
  • Black Mamba
  • Bliss
  • Bombay Blue
  • Genie
  • Zoha

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Thanksgiving is a time of year when families get together to celebrate memories and honor traditions. However, this is also the time of year when law enforcement agencies gear up to catch drunk drivers on our roadways.

Most law enforcement agencies, receive federal grants to increase their staffing levels during the holiday season, which typically begins with the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and continues to New Year’s Day. Arrests for DUI are highest during this time period.

The following are a few tips that may prove helpful to avoid a Thanksgiving DUI:

  1. Do not drink and drive. If you have been drinking, call a cab, a friend or use a ride share app like Uber or Lyft to get home safe. If you know you will be drinking, designate a sober driver to take you home.
  2. If you are pulled over, do not talk to law enforcement about where you were or what you were doing. Remember, you have the right to remain silent until you have your lawyer present.
  3. If you are involved in an accident, stop immediately and remain at the scene. Do not admit to anything and request to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.
  4. Do not fall asleep inside your vehicle. You could get arrested if the officer observes that you have the keys in the ignition or if the engine is running.
  5. Drive cautiously. Police will be closely monitoring motorists for any mistakes they make. In particular, they will be on the lookout for motorists who may be driving too fast or too slow, or running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs.

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Newly released footage from a body-worn camera contradicts statements two Marion County deputies made just two days after they were suspended with pay, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

The two deputies were suspended after officials learned of possible officer misconduct in regards to how they executed a search warrant.

The deputies searched a Marion County hotel after receiving word that a suspect, wanted on a warrant, was at the property. The incident lead to a search and seizure situation.

One of the deputies wrote in the arrest affidavit that when he arrived to the suspect’s room, he knocked on the door and identified himself as a member of the Sheriff’s Office.

But footage from a body-worn camera apparently tells a different story.

“Maintenance. I know you have the do not disturb sign, but I need to come in,” the deputy said. “Maintenance. Are you available?”

Deputies said they discovered drugs and a stolen gun inside the room. The suspect was later spotted in the lobby and arrested.

The body-camera evidence could be enough to destroy the case against the suspect as well as  end the two deputies’ careers.

One of the deputies has been employed by the MCSO for 12 years and the other for nine years.

The suspect remains in jail.

Both the Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorneys’ Office are investigating the incident.

The use of police body cameras in this case is obviously playing a major role. A video log of the actual event is clearly shown, documenting what occurred during an arrest, including the dialogue between the arresting officer and the suspect. This type of footage is extremely important when it comes to criminal defense. The footage from a body camera worn by an officer will show if the criminal defendant’s rights were infringed upon and will show for certain if they were properly Mirandized as required by law.

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According to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, police arrested an Ocala man Friday morning on 20 counts of possession of child pornography.

The 51-year-old man turned himself in at the Marion County Jail and was booked in at 10:45 a.m., according to the Sheriff’s Office.

He declined to speak with detectives.

4754231502_940e0fe7f1_zThe police began investigating the case after a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Police believe the man possessed child pornography and had transmitted it through his email for several years, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

On Tuesday, authorities executed a search warrant at the man’s home where they seized several computers and cellphones containing “hundreds of child pornography images.”

The man was being held at the Marion County Jail on Friday in lieu of $200,000 bond.

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You want to avoid getting arrested for DUI in Florida on New Year’s Eve and “becoming a statistic.” New Year’s Eve is a holiday that it is both cause for celebrating and relaxing. After the stress of getting ready for Christmas, people usually take this time to enjoy the end of the holiday season and contemplate their goals for the new year. However, because this is the last holiday of the year, there tends to be an increased number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Listed below are several tips to help drivers avoid a DUI this New Year’s Eve.

  1. Limit Drinks

If you are at a party that has an open bar, and you know you are driving, know exactly how many drinks you are having so that you can watch your personal limit. Remember that once you start drinking it can be difficult to stop yourself from having too many. Be mindful of the exact amount you have had to drink.

  1. Call a Cab or Uber or Lyft

Public transportation can save many people from DUI-related accidents and arrests. Save the number of a local cab company in your phone, use a ride share app on your phone or attend parties or social gatherings close to a bus route.

  1. 15958303240_5a5181cc2a_zDon’t Go Solo

Don’t go to a party or social gathering by yourself. Bring along at least one other friend and make sure to determine who the designated driver is for the entire group before any alcohol is consumed.

  1. Eat!

While many people have New Year’s resolutions about weight loss, New Year’s Eve is one of those nights where you should eat. Food fills the stomach, making less room for alcohol. Try to snack on foods like meats or dark chocolate, which are known to keep you fuller longer.

  1. Offer Alternative Drinks

If you are hosting a party, include “mocktails,” sodas, punch, or even just water on your drink menu.

  1. Make Accommodations for Guests

If you know your guests have a far trip ahead of them, arrange for them to stay with you or at a nearby hotel. That way, no one drives home drunk.

  1. Leave the Party Early

New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year. You can expect delays for taxis and other modes of public transportation, so be prepared. Leaving your party or social gathering early can also ensure that you get home safely and at a reasonable hour.

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The State Attorney’s Office has made the decision to charge a Marion County juvenile as an adult for a robbery that happened last month.

According to jail records, at 12:01 a.m. on a Friday night, on his 18th birthday, a teen was charged with robbery with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a delinquent and carrying a concealed firearm.

6444319887_9045628534_zThe teen and another 16-year-old juvenile were taken into custody Nov. 17 after they were accused of robbing a man in Silver Springs Shores the day before.

The alleged victim told sheriff’s deputies he was approached by two people, each armed with a handgun, when one of them took his cell phone, ear buds and wallet.

His description of the two teens lead to their arrest.

The 18-year-old’s court date is scheduled for Jan. 13.

When it comes to juvenile crimes, it is up to the court to decide whether the juvenile case is transferred to adult criminal court. The court considers many factors when making its choice, including the nature of the crime and the juvenile’s previous delinquent history. If the case is transferred to adult court, the juvenile will be subject to the law in the same manner as an adult.

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According to the most recent FBI Crime report, Florida is home to some pretty dangerous cities. The top 20 cities that were found to have the most violent crimes and property crimes are as follows:

 

  • Miami Beach, Florida5196788334_e6ed189c68_m

 

With a population of 91,066, the total reported crimes were found to be 109.47 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.33 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 99.14 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Orlando, Florida

 

With a population size of 246,513, the total reported crimes in Orlando were assessed at 78.19 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.34 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 67.85 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Daytona Beach, Florida

 

Daytona Beach has a population of 61,861, and 74.10 reported crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.56 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 62.54 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Panama City, Florida

 

Panama City’s reported population is 37,187, with a total number of reported crimes at 70.27 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 7.80 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 62.47 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Key West, Florida

 

With a smaller population of 25,249, Key West has a total of 69.47 reported crimes per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.24 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 61.23 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Homestead, Florida

 

Homestead has a reported total population of 62,785, with a total number of crimes at 67.87 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 16.64 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 51.22 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

With a population of 170,827, the total reported crimes in Fort Lauderdale were determined at 67.92 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.11 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 58.80 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Pensacola, Florida

 

Pensacola’s population size is 52,909. The total reported crimes are 69.86 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.11 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 60.75 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Fort Pierce, Florida

 

The total population for Fort Pierce is 42,566 and the number of reported crimes ranks in at 65.95 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.14 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.81 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Miami, Florida

 

With a larger population size of 414,327, Miami has a total reported crimes of 65.47 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 11.72 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 53.75 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Pompano Beach, Florida

 

The total population size in Pompano Beach is 103,003. The total reported crimes in the area are 64.29 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 10.29 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.00 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Sarasota, Florida

 

Population size in Sarasota totals 53,055 with the total reported crimes at 63.14 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.03 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 55.11 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Riviera Beach, Florida

 

Riviera Beach has a total population of 33,309 and the total reported crimes are 61.97 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 13.21 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 48.76 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Lake Worth, Florida

 

Lake Worth has a population size of 35,788 and the total reported crimes are 61.17 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 12.88 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 48.28 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • West Palm Beach, Florida

 

The population size is 102,422 and total crime ranks in at 60.78 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 8.02 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 52.76 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Oakland Park, Florida

 

Oakland Park’s population is 42,071, with the total reported crimes at 60.75 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 7.85 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 52.90 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Ocala, Florida

 

The population in Ocala is reported at 57,288. The total reported crimes for the area is 60.61 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 6.55 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.06 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Sanford, Florida

 

Sanford has a population of 54,662. The total number of reported crimes for the area is 60.13 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 5.91 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 54.22 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Lauderdale Lakes, Florida

 

The population is 33,644 and the total reported crime is 59.80 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.99 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 49.82 per 1,000 residents.

 

  • Leesburg, Florida

 

Leesburg’s total reported crime is 60.05 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes: 9.19 per 1,000 residents. Property crimes: 50.85 per 1,000 residents.

If you are facing criminal charges, you need to understand exactly what is at stake. How you respond to your charges will have a direct impact on how your case plays out, including your freedom and your future. During this critical time, everything you say and do, along with every decision you make can be the difference between imprisonment and you being free to move forward with your life.

Have you been arrested for a crime in Florida? You must act fast to protect your good name even if you have not had formal charges filed against you yet. A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help you with your case no matter what you have been arrested for or charged with. We will fully investigate the facts of your case and aggressively defend you in court or in seeking a settlement.

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