Our Criminal Defense FAQs

Do I need to hire an attorney or will one be assigned to me? What if I don’t have any money? Should I just accept the DA’s offer? Before making a serious mistake when you have been charged with a crime, read our criminal defense Frequently Asked Questions.

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  • What are the Federal Mandatory Minimums for Drug Cases?

    barbed wire around a prison

    Mandatory minimums in federal sentences can often times be brutal. A person facing their first ever serious charge could be looking at a decade or more in prison. Below is a basic summary of some common drug mandatory minimums, this information was taken from the Untied States Sentencing Commission's Overview of Mandatory Minimum Penalties.

    The term “mandatory minimum penalty” refers to a federal criminal statute requiring the imposition of a specified minimum term of imprisonment.20 Mandatory minimum penalties vary in length depending on the offense type and specified criteria, from two years for aggravated identity theft, to life in prison for certain drug trafficking offenses. 

    The mandatory minimum penalty applies if the instant offense of conviction involves a specified element of which the offender is found guilty. In the case of drug offenses, these triggering characteristics include manufacturing, trafficking, importing or distributing a particular type of drug at quantities above a specified threshold. For example, a person convicted of trafficking 28 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing cocaine base (crack cocaine) is subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of not less than five years, whereas a person convicted of an offense involving 280 grams is subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of ten years.

    Common Drug Mandatory Minimum Penalties

       5 Year Mandatory  10 Year Mandatory
    Heroin  100 Grams or more  1 KG or more
    Powder Cocaine  500 Grams or more  5 KG or more
    Cocaine Base (crack)  28 Grams or more  280 Grams or more
    Marijuana  100 KG or more  1000 KG or more
    Methamphetamine (pure)  5 Grams or more  50 Grams or more
    Methamphetamine (mixture)  50 Grams or more  500 Grams or more

     

    Getting Out From Under a Mandatory Minimum 

    Not all offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty are sentenced to the minimum term of imprisonment specified in the statute of conviction. Under the current system, a sentencing court can impose a sentence below an otherwise applicable statutory mandatory minimum penalty if: (1) the prosecution files a motion based on the defendant’s “substantial assistance” to authorities in the investigation or prosecution of another person; or (2) in certain drug trafficking cases, the defendant qualifies for the statutory “safety valve”.

    ​If You Have Any Questions Regarding A Federal Criminal Charge

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • Can I Get Out of My Plea of Guilty to DUI in Jacksonville?

    Person drinking a beer while driving

    This question often arises after a person has plead guilty to DUI in their first appearance, or what is called J1 in Jacksonville, Florida. A person arrested is required to be brought in front of a Judge within 24 hours. This is called the J1 hearing. The Judge will review the arrest report for probable cause and make a determination on bail. People arrested on misdemeanors are also provided the opportunity to plea guilty and be sentenced immediately. There is a prosecutor and public defender present.

    When it comes to DUIs though, the consequences are often extensive and difficult to specifically articulate to a client who may have just spent 12 hours in jail for the first time in their lives. They are afraid, tired, hungry and often is a bit of shock and daze. 

    For a first time offender, this can be a very intimidating situation and without proper legal advice can lead to unnecessarily harsh plea deals and convictions that will stay on your records forever. 

    So can you withdraw a plea of guilty to DUI

    You can absolutely try. 

    The Law on Withdrawing a Plea of Guilty in Jacksonville, Florida

    Rule 3.170(f) Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, provides that “The court may in its discretion, and shall on good cause, at any time before a sentence, permit a plea of guilty or no contest to be withdrawn and, if judgment of conviction has been entered thereon, set aside the judgment and allow a plea of not guilty, or, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, allow a plea of guilty or no contest of a lesser included offense, or of a lesser degree of the offense charged, to be substituted for the plea of guilty or no contest.” 

    A plea of guilty should be entirely voluntary and should not be induced by fear, misapprehension or persuasion. Even the slightest undue motivation should invalidate a guilty plea.

    Factors Considered in Your Argument to Withdraw a Plea 

    • Lacked capacity to make an informed and voluntary decision with regard to the plea and the waiver of rights 
    • Impaired by the fact that at the time of his hearing he/she had not eaten or slept for a substantial period of time
    • Had not had an opportunity to adequately confer with counsel
    • Had not received a copy of the Arrest and Booking Report with the stated allegations or any related DUI reports 
    • Was not informed of the exonerating or mitigating evidence contained in any reports 
    • Had not had a chance to confront any witnesses
    • Did not understand the legal issues presented in the video presentation
    • Was under duress for fear that his/her employment may be affected
    • Has no criminal record and therefore no experience in the criminal justice system

    If You Have Questions Regarding a DUI or Any Other Criminal Matter

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at  904-209-4883.

     

  • What Happens If I Don't Show Up For My Court Date?

    Police lights on top of car

    First thing first, if you have an attorney and you are considering avoiding a court date or actively fleeing a jurisdiction, please contact your attorney so you can understand exactly what the consequences are in your case. I'm going to talk about some general consequences, but your attorney will have more insight regarding who your prosecutor is, what your particular charge is, your criminal history and who the judge is. All of these being very important factors to consider. 

    Should I Skip My Jacksonville, Florida Criminal Court Date?

    NO! If you have been released on bail and have a court date, whether is be arraignment, pretrial or sentencing, and you are required to be there, then get your self to court. An old boss of mine you to always say "what is the first rule of holes?" "When your in one, stop digging." Your already in a hole with a criminal case so don't make it worse. 

    Consequences of Jumping Bail in Jacksonville, Florida

    • You lose any money that you may have put up for bail.
    • A warrant will most likely be issued, which means, law enforcement may be knocking on your door and actively looking for you. Believe me, people never get picked up on a warrant when it is convenient for them, it's always Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, your mom's or kid's birthday or in the middle of a date that was going well. 
    • When you are arrested on the warrant, most judges in Jacksonville will issue a no bond, meaning you will sit in Duval County Jail until your case is resolved.  
    • Both Florida and Federal law provide for a separate charge to be filed if you fail to appear for court. You could actually have a new charge and prison time. 
    • You will lose favor with the Judge. Depending on your case, you may have to actually stand in front of the Judge some day and have him either sentence you or accept a negotiated plea deal you have worked out with the prosecutor. If the Judge knows you as someone who doesn't respect the law or his/her courtroom, you have now dug yourself a deeper hole.
    • You will lose favor with the Prosecutor. Depending on your case, you may want to negotiate an plea deal with the State. This will only become more difficult if you show a willingness to disregard the law and avoid the consequences of your actions. 

    I Missed A Court Date, Now What Do I Do?

    Call your attorney or hire one. Your attorney can find out if a warrant has been issued. Often a motion can be filed to have the warrant removed and have you appear in court willingly. Or an attorney can arrange to have you turn your self in, safely, and work on getting another bail set. There are always arguments to be made and reasons one might miss a court date. Don't make it worse by ignoring the situation and waiting for the police to come find you. As a defense attorney, I have more arguments to make to keep you out of jail if you are honest, willing to turn yourself in or appear in court and are humble and apologetic to the Judge. 

    Take care of yourself and stop digging. 

    If You Have Questions About A Criminal Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • Should I Just Plea Guilty to My DUI?

    Dead End Sign

    In numerous consults with clients, I have heard the remark "so I should just plea guilty". This usually comes after I have directly pointed out all the weaknesses in their case. For example;

    Client comes in to speak to me about their DUI. They had caused a minor accident, it was 2:00am, the police report states they smelled like alcohol, blood shot watery eyes, slurred speech, couldn't keep their balance and difficulty performing field sobriety tests. In addition, they provided a breath sample over the legal limit. 

    This sounds like a bad case to take to trial, appears the State may have a very strong case. Unfortunately for some, they are advised to plea guilty in their 1st Appearance court date, the morning after their arrest (This is a horrible idea, NEVER PLEA GUILTY TO DUI IN 1ST APPEARANCE). 

    Anyways. Even with bad facts and/or accusations, there is still an opportunity to reach a better result. DUI penalties are severe, and for someone with no criminal record, they will now have a conviction that can never be removed. I repeat, A DUI CONVICTION CAN NEVER BE REMOVED. Often times in a DUI, a lawyer will try to get the charged amended to a Reckless Driving.

    How Does Getting a Reckless Driving Conviction Benefit You?

    First, and most importantly, it is not a DUI. With a Reckless Driving disposition, you are often giving a Withhold of Adjudication (WH). A WH means you are not convicted of the crime and allows you to get your record sealed, along with the police report which often does not paint the client in the best light. Although you may still have to do probation, DUI school, victim impact panel and community service, you will not have a criminal record. 

    So how can this be done?

    Mitigation in a Criminal Case. 

    Although the State may be able to convict you in trial, they are not always heartless bastards. Mitigation is a way to show the prosecutor who you are and that your obvious mistake was out of character and you have a lot to lose if convicted of a crime.

    Mitigation is used in almost every criminal case negotiation, however I'm going to focus on DUI's. 

    You are nothing more than a name on a piece of paper, the prosecutor does not know you and will certainly take a guilty plea any day of the week. So how can a lawyer help you?

    A good lawyer will early and often get in the prosecutors ear about who you are:

    • Age
    • Criminal History
    • Job
    • Schooling
    • Family
    • Children 
    • Future Aspirations

    A lawyers job is to paint the picture of who you are present that picture to the prosecutor. Letters from friends, family and employers will often also be provided in order to show your true character. By presenting mitigation to the prosecutor and pushing hard for their client, a lawyer can sometimes take a loser of trial case and still get a good result. 

    Anyone can get a DUI. All demographics; race, age, religion, economic status, they all get DUI's. I have represented grandmothers, teenagers, bankers, pillars of the community, lawyers, felons and all sorts of very nice people after they were arrested for a DUI. Don't just give in, you have a story and it should be told to the prosecutor and you should be given a chance. 

    If You Have Questions Regarding a DUI or Any Other Criminal Matter

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

     

  • How Can a DUI Charge Be Proven?

    police car at night

    How Can a DUI Charge Be Proven?

    In Florida, the prosecutor must prove that you were driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle while you either:

    • Had an unlawful blood alcohol content (BAC); of .08% or higher.
    • Your normal faculties were impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.

    Proof Offered by State Attorney in a DUI

    BAC is proven by:

    • Breath Testing results. Breath testing is done at the jail, you will be observed by a breath tech operator and he/she will submit a report with the breath test results, in addition to his/her observations of you and your answers to questions. 
    • Blood test results. If you are in an accident, blood may be drawn at the hospital or at the scene of the accident by a medical professional.  

    Normal faculties impaired proven by: 

    • Police officer observations. The officer's report will often describe driving patterns, behavior, field sobriety testing, statements made, evidence of drinking or drugs, and/or the smell of alcohol or marijuana.
    • Any statements made by you, including where you were prior to the stop, how much you had to drink or any admissions to being intoxicated. 
    • Any items seized from your vehicle or person, including alcohol, drugs or paraphernalia. 
    • If you provide a low BAC, you may be asked to provide a urine sample. If any drugs are detected, the State will argue that you were under the influence of said substances. 

    If You Have Any Questions Regarding a DUI in Florida

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.  

  • What is RDAP and How Can it Help a Federal Inmate?

    Barbed wire fence at prison

    Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP) 

    • A 500 hour program where inmates are placed in a class that lives together, separated from the general prison population.
    • Takes six to twelve months to complete.
    • Inmate must have (1) verifiable drug abuse problem (2) No ‘serious’ mental health issues (3) within 36 months of release (4) agree to participate (sign agreement) (5) appropriate security level.
    • Inmate cannot have a crime of violence. 

    ​A qualified attorney will request the Court to recommend RDAP and other programs in the Court's sentencing order. 

    Early Release Based on Successful Completion of RDAP

    Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 227(d), an inmate who is sentenced for a non-violent offense, has a substance abuse problem and successfully completes a residential drug abuse treatment program, may qualify for an early release not to exceed twelve (12) months   

    Inmates Who Are Not Eligible for Early Release

    • INS/ICE detainees.
    • Inmates with prior felony or misdemeanor convictions within 10 years of the sentencing date for their current case; for homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, arson, kidnapping or child sexual abuse offenses. 
    • Inmates whose current offense has an element of physical force, carry, possession of a firearm, sexual abuse offenses. 
    • Current offense that by it’s nature or conduct present a serious potential risk or physical force against the person or property of another. 
    • Offenses for which a guideline enhancement was applied to the offense level for the use or threatened use of force or firearm.

    If You Have Questions Regarding A Federal Criminal Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online, or you can call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • Can My Driver's License Be Suspended For Possession of Weed?

    Large Marijuana Plant

    Can My Driver's License Be Suspended For Possession of Weed?

    Yes, even a small bit of marijuana.
     
    Any person over the age of 18 convicted of possessing, selling, or trafficking a controlled substance, or convicted of conspiring to commit these offenses, will have his or her driver’s license suspended for one year.  However, the judge may direct the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) to issue a driver’s license restricted to business or employment purposes. A person who loses his or her license in this manner may petition for restoration after six months have passed. 
     
    License suspension under this provision can only be applied to a conviction for an offense specifically listed in the statute (possession, sale, trafficking, conspiracy).  Other offenses which are not specifically listed but are drug-related (such as the manufacture or purchase of drugs) will not trigger this suspension. 

    Important Issues To Consider 

    • Even a conviction to a charge as petty as misdemeanor possession of marijuana will trigger this suspension.  Although the judge has no discretion to waive the automatic suspension if the defendant has been convicted of an enumerated drug offense, the court may have discretion, depending on the case, to withhold adjudication.  A withhold if possible is significantly preferable to an adjudication, given that it does not trigger the automatic license suspension.  
    • It is important to remember that only the enumerated crimes trigger the automatic suspension.  The driving privilege should not be suspended merely because the conviction is drug-related.   
    • Additionally, a person convicted of a felony for the possession of a controlled substance will have his or her driving privilege revoked if, at the time of the possession, the person was in control of a motor vehicle.  If a person has his or her driving privilege revoked under this rule, he or she will not be eligible to receive a hardship license during the revocation period.

    If You Have Any Questions Regarding A Criminal Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

  • What is a Withhold of Adjudication?

    Legal books on library table

    What is a Withhold of Adjudication?

    A withhold of adjudication of guilt is unique to Florida.  When a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial, like in any other state the judge can adjudicate the defendant guilty.  However, for certain offenses the judge may instead withhold an adjudication of guilt.  A withhold of adjudication is often referred to simply as a “withhold.”  
     
    A court can withhold adjudication upon finding that “the defendant is not likely again to engage in a criminal course of conduct and that the ends of justice and the welfare of society do not require that the defendant presently suffer the penalty imposed by law.” A person with a withhold can lawfully deny having been convicted of the crime; cannot be impeached with the crime when testifying in future court proceedings; and, if adjudication is withheld in a felony case, will not lose the right to vote. In other words, as a general matter a withhold is not a conviction for purposes of Florida law.   

    No Witholds in Certain Felonies

    Florida statute prohibits the imposition of a withhold for defendants charged with a capita felony, a life felony or a 1st degree felony.

    Witholds are allowed in 2nd and 3rd degree felonies if:

    • the client doesn't have (for 2nd degree felony) any prior felony withholds or (for 3rd degree felony) two prior felony witholds AND
    • the state attorney agrees to it and provides a written explanation OR
    • the Court feels that doing so is justified based upon factors explained in Florida Statute 921.0026

    Important Issues in a Withhold of Adjudication

    • The withhold will appear on background checks and on your records, however, you can petition to have a withhold sealed from your criminal record
    • A withhold means you were not convicted of the charges, it does not mean you were found not guilty or the charges were dropped
    • There are still certain employment fields, including nursing and the military, where even a withhold could your prevent you from being eligible to work
    • Once you get a withhold, you are less likely to be offered another if charged for a crime in the future
    • You can not be sentenced to prison if you receive a withhold, however you can serve a county jail sentence
    • You will not lose your right to vote
    • You are not a convicted felon

    If You Have Any Questions Regarding A Criminal Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

     
     

  • What is "Safety Valve" in Federal Sentencing?

    Drug Free Zone Sign

    What is "Safety Valve" in Federal Sentencing?

    In short, "safety valve" allows a federal criminal defendant charged with certain drug offenses to be sentenced below a minimum mandatory if the requirements of the statute are met. It is one of the only ways, short of providing cooperation with the federal government, that a defendant can avoid the often life shattering minimum mandatories in the federal system

    18 U.S.C. §§ 3553(f)(1-5) states notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the case of an offense under section 401, 404, or 406 of the Controlled Substances Act or section 1010 or 1013 of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act, the court shall impose a sentence pursuant to guidelines promulgated by the United States Sentencing Commission under section 994 of title 28 without regard to any statutory minimum sentence, if the court finds at sentencing that:

    • the defendant does not have more than 1 criminal history point, as determined under the sentencing guidelines, §3553(f)(1);
    • the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the offense, §3553(f)(2);
    • the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person, §3553(f)(3);
    • the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined in section 408 of the Controlled Substances Act, §3553(f)(4); and
    • not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the Government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the Government is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with this requirement, §3553(f)(5).

    ​If You Have Any Questions Regarding Federal Criminal Defense

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.

     

  • Should I Do Field Sobriety Exercises?

    Guy Balancing At Top Of Very Tall Ladder

    Should I Do Field Sobriety Exercises?

    I know your looking for a simple yes or no, a definite "always refuse fields and always refuse breath test". However, I don't believe that anything in law is definite. There may be a time when giving a breath sample is the smart play, or talking to an officer (with an attorney present) is the right move and there may be a time when performing the ridiculous field sobriety exercises (FSEs) is a good thing. 

    You are not required in Florida to perform FSE!  

    Unlike refusing to provide a blood, breath or urine sample, you will not have your drivers license suspended if you refuse to perform the FSEs. The choice is yours.

    Before you make any decision, you should understand what the officer will be looking for and what information will be provided to the jury in your trial. For starters, if you refuse to perform FSEs, the State will disclose your refusal to the jury.

    Below are a few of the most common FSEs, in addition, click the link to view a sample field sobriety report written up. You can see the different items the officer is looking for and what they believe to be relevant to proving you are intoxicated. 

    HGN Testing

    The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (HGN) is often the first field sobriety test administered. You have probably seen this test before, where the officer holds a pen up straight and request the person to follow the pen with their eyes as the officer moves it side to side and up and down. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball that occurs when there is a disturbance of the vestibular (inner ear) system or the oculomotor control of the eye. Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) refers to a lateral or horizontal jerking when the eye gazes to the side. In the impaired driving context, alcohol consumption or consumption of certain other central nervous system depressants, inhalants or phencyclidine, hinders the ability of the brain to correctly control eye muscles and may cause the jerk or bounce associated with HGN. As the degree of impairment becomes greater, the jerking or bouncing, i.e. the nystagmus, becomes more pronounced. This is assessed in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. 

    The Walk and Turn

    You stand in a heel-to-toe fashion with arms at the sides while a series of instructions are given. Then, the suspect must take nine heel-to-toe steps along a line, turn in a prescribed manner, and take another nine heel-to-toe steps along the line. All of this must be done while counting the steps aloud and keeping the arms at the sides. You should not stop walking until the test is completed. 

    One Leg Stand

    This exercise requires you to stand on one leg. The other leg is to be extended in front of the suspect in a stiff-leg manner, with the foot held approximately six inches above and parralel with the ground. The suspect is to stare at the elevated foot, and count aloud until told to stop, in this fashion "one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three..." 

    You can see from the sample field sobriety report the officer is looking at a number of things, including balance and the ability to follow directions. These exercises are not set up for someone to "pass". Each of the checks or comments of things done incorrectly are supposed to be "indicators of intoxication". As you can see, there are no checks for things that are done correctly, the only options on the report are for "indicators of intoxication", things done wrong. This one sided report is an obvious danger to anyone performing FSEs.

    Things to consider if you are pulled over and asked to do FSEs:

    • Be very clear about any injuries you may have that would hinder your ability to perform FSEs, including any issues with balance, hearing or vision. 
    • Always be polite. You can see on the bottom of page one of the sample, there are several boxes for an officer to check regarding Attitude. It is a tremendous help during trial when I can refer this section and have the officer say you were polite and cooperative. 
    • Ask if the FSEs are going to be videotaped. Videos can be very important in a DUI, because so much of the evidence against a defendant is based upon a police officers observations. As you can imagine sometimes these observations are a bit exaggerated. I had a DUI trial recently where the Arrest and Booking Report described a young woman as off balance, not being able to stand still, not "passing" any of the field sobriety exercises and very clearly trying to paint the picture of a drunk young woman. Upon viewing the video, nothing could have been further from the truth. The video showed a young woman being polite, following all directions and completing all the field exercises (while in high heels) as instructed. Her balance was impeccable. During the trial, the officer kept referring to the "indicators of intoxication" he observed. On cross examination, I slowly went through the entire video with him, having him admit to every positive thing this young woman did and the jury came back in 8 minutes with a not guilty verdict. If we did not have that video, the officer's testimony would have had more credibility and the innocent young woman could have been found guilty. 
    • You are not required to do FSEs, however, your refusal can be used against you at trial. 

    If you have been arrested for a DUI and You Have Questions About Your Case

    Please contact Clifton Law Office, you can reach me at my contact page online or call me directly at 904-209-4883.