When a case is going to trial, there are a million things going on. Witnesses must be coordinated, exhibits must be organized, opening statements must be prepared and a jury must be selected.
But an attentive Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer will be able to multi-task all things and still watch out for problems caused by an overzealous prosecutor or a judge who oversteps their bounds.
Sadly, defendants’ rights are trampled every day in courthouses across the country when judges say something they shouldn’t or prosecutors attempt to admit into evidence or testimony through a witness something they know shouldn’t come in.
When you’re talking about as serious a crime as murder in Jacksonville, when a defendant’s freedom or life is on the line, every effort must be made to ensure their rights are upheld. Much of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of a defense attorney.
In the case of State v. Allen, a Maryland case on appeal, a defendant charged with murder and robbery not once, but twice, had a new trial because of mistakes made along the way.
According to court documents, Jeffrey Allen was tried for the robbery and murder of his friend John Butler after being arrested in 2001. According to the case summary, the two men were at Butler’s house when Allen demanded that Butler drive him home.
Butler refused, but Allen grabbed his keys and jingled them and said he was going to drive himself home. The two began fighting, which escalated when Allen allegedly grabbed a knife and stabbed Butler several times. He drove away, but later crashed the car and was arrested.
During the first trial, he was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and other, less-serious charges. The jury found him guilty of first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and other charges.
On appeal, Allen argued that the judge messed up when instructing the jury that they could find Allen guilty of felony murder whether the intent to rob was formed before or after the trial. In Florida, a person faces first-degree murder if the state can prove one of two theories. Under one, the murder must be premeditated, or planned out. Under the other, a murder is committed during the course of committing another felony, such as robbery.
An appeals court ruled that “an afterthought” robbery can’t be considered an underlying felony in support of felony murder. The court upheld all convictions except the felony murder charge.
The state, despite already having convictions for several charges, including second-degree murder and robbery, attempted to try Allen again for the first-degree murder charge. Again, there was a major error made that violated his rights.
During the second trial, in 2008, a judge told the jury — over objection by the defense — that the defendant had already been convicted of robbery. The judge told the jury that all they had to decide is whether the man committed felony murder.
But an appeals court correctly pointed out that by a judge telling jurors the defendant had already been convicted of robbery, as well as second-degree murder, the judge had set the elements for felony murder, wrapped them up with a bow and delivered them to the jury room for them to convict. Not surprisingly, they did.
The appeals court overturned the felony murder charge a second time. It’s unclear if prosecutors are going to waste more taxpayer dollars on a third trial.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
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