To be represented by a Public Defender in Pensacola and elsewhere in Florida, a person must complete an “affidavit of indigency.”
Anyone who has taken middle school civics, or who has ever seen a cop show on TV, knows the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees those who are accused of a crime have the right to be represented by a lawyer in all critical phases of their criminal case. It’s one of the basic principles of the American justice system.

If a citizen of Pensacola, Milton, Okaloosa County or Walton County is charged with a crime but doesn’t have the resources to hire a private attorney, they will most likely need to use the services of the Public Defender’s Office

Often people are confused about whether Public Defenders in Florida, who represent indigent people, are in fact lawyers. They are definitely lawyers. They passed the Bar examination like the rest of us and many of them are damn fine lawyers.

Some people arrested in Pensacola on drug charges may avoid jail time my opting for Drug Court.
Thankfully, the criminal justice system recognizes that crimes related to drugs and alcohol are oftentimes rooted in the disease of addiction and offers a respite in a program called Drug Court. If successfully completed, Drug Court helps offenders avoid jail time and, in some cases, can keep a felony conviction off their record.

Eligibility for post-adjudicatory drug courts is set out in Florida Statute § 948.08 and varies widely, as these drug courts operate at the county and circuit level throughout Florida. We owe the genesis of our Drug Court Program to the Honorable John T. Parnham, a retired Escambia County Circuit Judge, who helped begin and set up Pensacola’s drug court program based on other models in use around the country.

This article is designed only to give you a basic outline of how drug court is used in Northwest Florida and Escambia County or Pensacola. Please see the statute for a more complete explanation of how “drug court program” actually works or give our office a call and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Pre-trial diversion and pre-trial intervention can help offenders avoid getting convictions on their record in Pensacola and Northwest Florida.Everybody makes mistakes.

For some people, those mistakes bring them into conflict with the law. Thankfully, Florida law recognizes that, in some cases, offenders deserve a second chance.

In Pensacola, Milton, Fort Walton, Destin, and all over Northwest Florida, our State courts offer two programs that defer some offenders away from the criminal justice system who have never been in trouble with the law, generally for certain types of first offenders.

Keeping a gun in your car in Pensacola, Milton, Navarre and Gulf Breeze, Florida.As most of us are aware, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every American’s right to own a gun. That right doesn’t stop when you get into your vehicle.

In fact, in communities like Pensacola, Navarre, Milton and Fort Walton Beach – really, anywhere in this part of Florida — it is quite common for drivers to keep firearms in vehicles. Who hasn’t seen trucks with gun racks in their windows, sporting one or more hunting guns?

In fact, it’s just as legal to keep your handgun in your car depending on how and where you keep it.  Making sure your gun is in plain sight – that is, not concealed – is the key to its legality. The legal definition of “concealed firearm” is contained in Fla. Stat. §790.001. This statute defines a “concealed firearm as any firearm carried on or about a person (or car) in such a manner as to conceal the firearm from the ordinary sight of another person.” (Emphasis added).

no contest plea, pensacola, florida, Gulf BreezeMany of us have heard the term “no contest,” or in Latin “nolo contendere,” which means “I do not wish to contend,” on television or maybe during a trip to court here in Pensacola, but what does that mean and what is the difference between a plea of no contest and a plea of guilty in Florida?

Sometimes there is, effectively, no difference and sometimes there is a considerable difference.

If someone pleads guilty, they are admitting to the facts and legal consequences of those facts.  However, by entering a no contest plea, a person is not admitting their guilt but is admitting there are facts the prosecution can prove that would result in a conviction.  Specifically, by entering a plea of no contest a person is neither denying their guilt or admitting it. Rather, they are admitting that it is in their best interest to enter the plea.  The sentencing consequences can be, and usually are, the same.

plea agreement, Pensacola, attorney, crimeA plea agreement is a negotiated contract between a defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor that spells out the sentence that is acceptable to both parties. That sentence is then recommended to the court; it is then up to the court to accept or deny the terms of the plea agreement.

Provided the court accepts the terms agreed to, there will be no need for a trial. If the court does not accept the conditions, the defendant is generally allowed to withdraw the plea and choose to either plea without a plea agreement “straight up” to the court or go to trial.

Plea agreements have the advantage of certainty for the defendant. Almost always, the sentence agreed upon in the plea agreement is something less severe that the maximum allowable punishment under the law – otherwise there would be no reason to enter into a plea agreement.

Like anyone doing their job, law enforcement officers should be treated with kindness and courtesy. They put their lives on the line every day in the name of public safety. The role police officers play in our society deserves a high degree of respect.

However federal and state law enforcement officers, which include Pensacola Police Officers, Escambia Sheriff’s Deputies, and other law enforcement officials operate under certain limitations enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s 4th amendment protections, other federal and state laws and court cases interpreting those laws of how they can search your person and your property — and that includes your car!

Fourth Amendment Protections Applies to Your Car

expungement sealing arrest attorney
If you’ve ever been arrested but you were not convicted, you may think you have a clean criminal record. A prosecutor, defense attorney or perhaps even a judge may have told you that.

However, your criminal record may not be as clear as you think it is. But an attorney can help that arrest virtually disappear through processes called expungement and sealing allowed in Florida under Fla. Stat. §943 (2015).

In most cases, being arrested for a crime will result in a permanent record of the arrest regardless of the charge being dismissed or adjudication being withheld.  In some situations, expungement and sealing can keep an arrest from showing up on background checks.

spring break partyFew things can put a damper on a spring break trip to Pensacola Beach, Navarre, Ft. Walton Beach or Destin like getting arrested.

As disheartening as that can be, the right attorney may be able to help you avoid a mandatory court appearance or, possibly, even having a blemish on your record. Here are some common reasons – and remedies – for spring break arrests:

Minor in possession of alcohol or marijuana: Although those arrested for being a minor in possession are not usually taken to jail, they are issued what’s called a “Notice to Appear.” That is a legal requirement to appear in court on a particular date, usually a few weeks later. In Florida,  it has the same effect as an arrest, unfortunately. The defendant must appear at that court date unless he or she hires an attorney who can waive the requirement to appear.  Sometimes an agreement can be reached with the prosecutor eliminating the need to appear or even come back to Pensacola.

traffic stop
Often times a police officer will ask someone who they have stopped to issue a traffic citation to if the officer can search their car. It surprises me sometimes how often a person consents to allowing the officer to search when the officer has no grounds to do so and when the person has drugs or something illegal in their car!

Generally the only time an officer can search a person’s car without consent is if they have probable cause to believe that the car contains drugs or contraband or if an individual in the car is arrested and the car is searched “incident to that arrest.” I think most of the time people who consent to their car being searched knowing that there are drugs or contraband in the car do so because they believe if they didn’t consent the officer will search it anyway. This is not true. In the situation where the officer can search pursuant to probable cause, there must be some indication that drugs or contraband are in the car, e.g. they smell marijuana or drugs or contraband is in plain or open view. “Plain view” means that the drugs or contraband must be visible from the position the officer is in outside of the vehicle.

So what do you do if an officer asks you for consent to search your car? The best thing to do is to politely refuse. You may want to say something like this, “Officer, I know you are only doing your job, but a friend of mine who is a lawyer told me that I don’t have to give consent and I don’t really want to be inconvenienced by staying here while you search through my car, so I respectfully decline,” or, more simply, “No sir, I don’t give consent. Now may I be on my way?” The officer may be disgruntled or upset about not allowing him to search your car but so be it. The officer, if he or she is finished writing you a citation cannot legally keep you at the scene of the stop any longer. It is better to be on your way than to be held up by an officer going on a fishing expedition inside your vehicle and probably calling a canine unit to perform a dog sniff on the interior or your car as well. Although you may not have any drugs or contraband in your car and you don’t think anyone who has been a passenger ever has had drugs if the prior owner used drugs or if a passenger unbeknownst to you has had drugs in their possession, something could be found or a drug sniffing dog could alert.