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There is no better way for law enforcement to damage their image than by excessive uses of force. Few events are more publicized, and even fewer create as much outrage. With examples such as the Rodney King beating in 1991, the Al Hixon lawsuit in 2005, and the Eleanor Bumpurs murder in 1984, excessive uses of force have been an enduring part of the modern era. The words “police brutality” strike a very sensitive nerve within many people.

What is the law enforcement community’s response to the public outcries that follow these events? “Less lethal weapons.” Doesn’t that just sound reassuring?

Tazers. Pepper Spray. Flash-bangs. Rubber bullets. All of these are attempts by law enforcement to reduce the lethality of their officers and restore some public faith in their own images. Regardless of the attempt to make officers less able to commit murder and wanton acts of violence, recent actions by the Federal courts have shown that even these “less lethal weapons” can be, and are being, abused.

The Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals recently held that simply because an officer is using one of these “less lethal weapons” does not mean that the officer can use it without discretion. Typically, law enforcement officers are entitled to immunity from being sued if they can show they used force in the line of duty, but the Ninth Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s test on whether or not lethal force is justified also applies to non-lethal force as well.

In doing so, the Ninth Circuit put a leash on what has become a rabid dog. Tazers have become commonplace on police officers throughout the country, and stories of the abuse of these devices can be found all over the internet. In the case before the Ninth Circuit, a man was tazed after being pulled over for a traffic infraction and because he was “talking gibberish.” The Court pointedly stated that traffic violations generally do not support the use of a significant level of force. Thank goodness.

If you are a victim of police brutality, your rights may have been violated. You need an experience attorney to assess your case and possibly pursue a remedy. Don’t face it alone. Visit my website at http://www.shafercriminallaw.com or call me at (904)350-9333 for a free consultation.

Trials are a very important part of representation.  Whether you are facing a misdemeanor DUI or felony drug, weapon, or white collar charges, having the right trial lawyer by your side can be the difference between jail or freedom.

We recently went to trial in a case where our client was charged with Driving Under the Influence.  Without violating the attorney-client privilege, I will only say that at first glance, the charges against my client were serious and there was a lot of evidence against him.  We spent weeks in preparation and sifted through the testimony of every witness, expert, and officer.  The trial lasted nearly seven hours, and after two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts.  My client was not even found guilty of speeding, the reason he was pulled over in the first place.

I say that to only say that when you are charged with a crime, the government will throw everything they have at you.  Even though Florida’s budget is stressed more now than at any point in history, our State Attorney continues to feel the need to exhaust Florida’s resources by taking as many cases to trial as possible. Being a former prosecutor, I know that each trial costs the taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money.  Paying for jurors to be brought in, expert witnesses for the State, courtroom personnel, after-hours staff, even keeping the lights and air conditioning on when jury deliberations go well into the night: all of these things cost you. Greatly.  At my firm, we often try to resolve cases without a trial, in the hope that we can convince a prosecutor to drop charges or a judge to throw out the case.  However, there are times that prosecutors feel the need to make a statement and try even the most frivolous of cases, despite strained budgets.

That’s fine for us, we’ll be ready.  If you are facing a trial in a criminal case, you need an experienced criminal trial attorney at your side.  At my firm, we only do criminal defense.  Visit my website at http://www.shafercriminallaw.com or call me at (904)350-9333 for a free consultation.

Regards,

Robert Shafer

In response to rising violent crimes involving guns and large amounts of weapons, the Florida legislature enacted a series of statutes that require mandatory prison terms without the possibility of gain time. These types of sentences are commonly known as mandatory minimums. Mandatory minimums are very tough sentences, and I believe they are unconstitutional.

In school, we are taught that our government runs on a principal of checks and balances, meaning that separate branches of the government decide different aspects of the law, thus limiting the power that any one branch holds. The Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches all work separately to decide everything from criminal justice to taxes. But what happens when one branch oversteps their bounds and limits another branch’s ability to do its job?

Minimum mandatories are a prime example of this. Judicial discretion is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. Judges are elected by the people to make wise, informed decisions. Under the Florida Constitution, judges have sweeping authority to decide the appropriate sentence in criminal cases. This is one way that the Judicial Branch of government checks the Executive Branch, by ensuring that, no matter what charges are filed, a fair and justice sentence is determined.

The Florida Legislature has apparently decided that the judges of Florida are not wise enough to exercise this discretion. By enacting minimum mandatories, the Legislature has usurped a portion of the Judiciary’s authority. The job of the Legislature is to determine what acts are illegal. The job of the Judiciary is to determine what the punishment for those acts are. It’s that simple.

Minimum mandatories have been created for many crimes, including crimes involving drugs and firearms. If you are facing such a penalty, call me at (904)350-9333 or visit my website for a free consultation. With so much at stake, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side.

One of my clients gave me this statement a short time ago and, with his permission, I felt it would make an excellent blog.

[EDIT: 12/8/09. Due to a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court regarding attorney advertisements and websites, I do not feel I am ethically permitted to post a testimonial on any webiste affiliated with my practice.  I encourage those seeking representation to ask around for an attorney wtih a good reputation.]

Regards,

Robert Shafer

Driving an automobile is a necessity for many people. Gone are the days when one could easily walk or get a cab to their work or school – especially in Jacksonville, Florida. We live in one of the most spread-out communities in the nation, and a result of this sprawling layout is that people need to drive. However, this need is often confronted with the strict regulation of your driver’s license by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, commonly called the DHSMV.

The DHSMV controls the roads. This agency is responsible for designing and building roads, maintaining them, determining who can drive what on them, and policing them with Florida’s Highway Patrol. The DHSMV is one of the most powerful administrative agencies in the State, with a massive budget and nearly unchecked authority. In my experience, the DHSMV tends to take their role as “King of the Road” very seriously. Though created with the best of intentions, this system can often create some very complex and frustrating barriers to those who are trying to get their driver’s license reinstated.

Your driver’s license can be suspended for a multitude of reasons. Every time you are cited for a moving violation such as speeding or running a red light, the DHSMV can assess points to your license. If you incur twelve or more points within a twelve month period. Your license will be suspended. If you fail to pay court-ordered child support, you license can be suspended. If you are convicted of any crime involving drugs, your license can be suspended. The list goes on and on, from not having the proper automobile insurance to failing to pay simple tickets. The worst part is this: If you are caught driving on a suspended license, you will more than likely be arrested and taken to jail. At this point, people usually pick up the phone and call a lawyer.

Why wait until you are arrested? At my law firm, we address driver’s license issues everyday. Often times people assume that because their license is suspended, they simply have to wait on the suspension to be up before they can drive again. However, many times we can have your old tickets or convictions set aside, or at the very least, prevent new points from going on your license. Sometimes, we can even ensure that your unpaid traffic tickets do not effect your current ability to drive. Dealing with the DHSMV can be a tiring task, so let us do it for you. There is no need to spend money on cabs or walk everywhere you go – if there is a way to make your license valid, we will find it.

If you are dealing with a driver’s license suspension, call us at (904)350-9333 or visit our website at www.shafercriminallaw.com

Regards,

Robert Shafer

In 1966 the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona and instituted what are commonly called miranda rights. Miranda rights have become famous through their frequent and required use in everyday law enforcement, and are often used in TV shows that portray criminal arrests. The notion is simple: if you are not free to leave an officer’s presence, you are in custody. If you are in custody, you must be told that you do not have to say anything that might be used against you. It seems simple enough, yet a loophole Florida law strips this principle of its power during DUI investigations.

Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal has decided that miranda warnings are not necessary when a citizen is pulled over and subjected to a DUI investigation. How can this be? Is the driver free to walk or drive away from the officer? Absolutely not. The judges in the Third District have diminished the power of Miranda v. Arizona by holding that it does not apply to “routine traffic stops.” State v. Alvarez, 776 So. 2d 1060 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001). This holding is both dangerous and violates your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

I have represented many clients who have been effected by this decision. When drivers are pulled over at a late hour, they are often immediately asked if they have been drinking. They are not free to leave and are being asked incriminating questions. This is the very scenario which Miranda v. Arizona is meant to apply to. Yet in Florida, an officer is not required to tell a DUI suspect that they have a right to remain silent and that they do not have to answer their questions.

Remember, if you are pulled over, you have a right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions. If you have been arrested, call us at (904)350-9333 for a free consultation.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was intentionally designed to limit the power of law enforcement. The law used to be very clear on the role of law enforcement in our nation: police must have a good reason to hold you against your will. This is no longer the case.

When the United States Supreme Court decided Illinois v. Wardlow in 1963, it was confronted with a difficult dilemma. In that case, a young man was standing around in an area known for its high crime, and when he saw the police he simply turned and ran. The police chased him, and he was found with narcotics. The young man’s attorney spent a lot of time and energy arguing that the police had no good reason to chase after the young man in the first place, and that therefore anything they found on him should not be used against him. Court after court rejected this claim, until the issue found itself before the highest court in the land.

Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court allowed this type of action by law enforcement, but in limited circumstances. They decided that if a person engages in “headlong flight” upon seeing the police in a “high crime area,” then the police can attempt to stop the suspect and determine if he was doing anything illegal when he ran. This Supreme Court decision loosened the restrictions placed upon law enforcement by the Fourth Amendment, and is still being litigated today.

In Florida, the courts have had mixed interpretations of this decision. Judge Alterman of the District Court of appeals has noted the effect that designating economically poor areas as “high crime areas” can have. He expressed the implicit racial and social discrimination that will soon follow “if we allow the sale of drugs in poor and ethnic minority neighborhoods to transform those neighborhoods into ‘high-crime neighborhoods’ where the Bill of Rights means something less than what the original framers intended it to mean for all free people.” C.E.L. v. State, 995 So. 2d 558, 562 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008)(Alterman, J., dissenting.)

I cannot help but agree with the Honorable Judge Alterman. I represent many clients that the State seeks to put in jail or prison because when they saw heavily armed police officers approaching them, they ran – only to be chased and caught with some small amount of marijuana or a firearm on them. If these people run from the police in a rich neighborhood, they cannot be pursued. If they run from the police in a public area like a grocery store or a mall, they cannot be pursued. If they run from the police in a courthouse, they cannot be pursued. But if they are in a neighborhood with a bad reputation, they will be chased through the streets like an animal and their actions will be supported by the courts. This is a travesty that I fight everyday.

If you are the victim of such biased and prejudicial policing, please give us a call at (904)350-9333.

Regards,

Robert Shafer, Esq.