Florida Criminal Law FAQs
Below are answers to some of the questions most frequently encountered by Alfredo Izaguirre in his practice as a criminal defense attorney in Miami and Florida statewide. These questions and answers are meant to provide general information regarding state and federal criminal law and procedure, but are not a substitute for legal advice regarding a particular situation. If you have other questions or need advice and representation in a legal matter, contact Alfredo Izaguirre, P.A. for a free consultation.
Q. Can the police search my car for drugs without my permission? Don’t they need a warrant?
A. While a warrant is often required before the police can conduct a search, there are many exceptions to the warrant requirement as well. The police know the law very well, and if they tell you they have the right to search your car, your person or your belongings, trying to obstruct them will likely only get you into more trouble. If their search was illegal, your attorney can deal with that fact later and have the evidence suppressed or get the case dismissed.
You are right not to give the police permission to search, though. In some cases, they may not have any cause to search unless you give them your consent. If the police ask your permission to search your car or your bag, etc. you are within your rights to respectfully decline.
Q. The police haven’t arrested me, but they say they just want to “ask me a few questions” to “clear up a couple of things.” If I refuse to talk to them, won’t it make me look guilty of something?
A. You may think that cooperating will help clear your name with the police or that refusing to cooperate will make you look guilty, but the fact is that the police would not be talking to you in the first place if they didn’t already suspect you of something; their purpose in questioning you is not to clear you as a suspect but to get you to say something incriminating or at least contradictory that they can later use against you at trial or even to obtain an arrest warrant in the first place. Your right to remain silent cannot be used against you, but anything you do say can and will. Why give the police ammunition to use against you later when you don’t have to?
Another important factor to consider is that lying to a federal agent is a federal crime. This law is written very broadly and could even include an innocent contradiction, such as if you said you were at a particular place on a particular day, but later you remember you were somewhere else. Federal agents are experts at getting you to make a contradictory statement, and once they have it, they can use the charge (which carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison) to pressure you into doing what they want.
Q. I was caught with narcotics in my possession. Will I get a lighter sentence if I plead Guilty than if I force the government to go through a trial?
A. Although you may be able to obtain a more lenient sentence if you plead guilty, there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration to determine the appropriate steps to take when defending a criminal case. The outcome of a trial is never certain, and you will want to weigh the risks of a conviction against the best plea deal available. There are several factors to consider in making this determination, including the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case and your own defenses, whether there are mitigating factors in your favor, and whether the police or prosecution mishandled evidence or made other procedural or constitutional errors.
Remember that it is the prosecution’s job to prove that you committed every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury, which is not a simple task, especially if you are well-represented in your defense. Also consider the negative consequences pleading guilty could cause you, even if you avoid jail time. For instance, you could be barred from obtaining a professional license, or if you are an immigrant, you could become subject to deportation or have your application for naturalization denied.
If you do decide to plead guilty, don’t do so until your attorney has had the opportunity to talk with the prosecutors and negotiate the best deal available. You can generally enter a Not Guilty plea at your arraignment and later change your plea before trial if doing so is in your best interests.
Q. Can I refuse to take a breath test?
A. If you do, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for one year, or longer if you have previously refused a test or have prior DUI convictions. Also, your refusal to take a test can be used as evidence against you in court. These consequences may be more severe than if you took the test, unless your blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit or there were other factors present that would enhance the penalty for a DUI.