Criminal Defense Attorney in Pensacola, Florida
The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights grant specific rights to any one of the members of our society charged with committing a crime. We represent and protect those rights of our clients accused in County, State, and Federal Courts. Whether you need representation in traffic court, defense for DUI, crimes involving drug violations or of a sexual nature, violation of probation, "white-collar" crime or any other violation of the complex state or federal laws, David Lee Sellers is highly knowledgeable and experienced in providing you a comprehensive defense.
David Lee Sellers served as an Assistant State Attorney when first beginning his career and is intimately familiar with the formal and informal systems of justice and he knows how to get results.
We are very aware of how complex and sensitive this area of law can be. We make ourselves available to our clients. We respond to their needs and handle each case efficiently, professionally, and discreetly.
David Lee Sellars serves the legal needs of individuals charged with crimes in Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Milton, and the greater Pensacola, Florida area.
Every Defendant is entitled to a "First Appearance" hearing in Court usually within 24-48 hours of the arrest. At this hearing, the Judge has three matters for consideration. The first concern is probable cause. Under the Florida rules, the Judge must consider a sworn affidavit made by the arresting officer to determine if there is sufficient probable cause to hold the Defendant for further proceedings. This probable cause finding is what is called a non-adversary hearing meaning that legal rules of evidence do not apply and the attorneys for each side do not argue the matter. The Judge simply considers the affidavit presented.
After this is considered, the Judge will usually inquire to see if the Defendant has or can afford an attorney. If a Defendant is charged with a felony, the court rarely allows the Defendant to proceed without an attorney. If the defendant is considered to be insolvent, then the Public Defender's Office will be appointed.
Third, the Court will consider the Defendant's bond and will hear either the Defendant's attorney or the Defendant if there are any matters concerning bond to come to the Court's attention. Once the bond is determined, the Court will then pass the case for a period of time to give the State Attorney a chance to investigate the charges and decide whether to file formal charges in the form of what is called an Information or take the case to the Grand Jury.
If you are in custody, it is likely that you will be contacted by our investigator for the purpose of completing an initial interview. You will be asked a number of questions, including details of why you were charged with a crime. While our investigator is not an attorney, any information you give him is confidential and will not be repeated, including details of why you were charged with a crime. It is important if you intend to contest or fight the charges against you that you not talk about the facts of your case with anyone, including other inmates, friends or family members, & especially law enforcement officers. We regularly see these people testify against clients in court.
If you are not in custody, we invite you to call our office and make an appointment to talk with me. Because of my schedule, it is often impossible to interview a client who walks in off the street. You do not need to speak to me personally to make an appointment. Simply ask to make an appointment.
You have a right to a bond if you are not charged with a crime that carries a penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty. If you are detained for a violation of probation or an out of state warrant, a bond is normally discretionary with the Judge & is often not granted. If you cannot make the bond set at first appearance, you may request that our office file a formal motion for a bond reduction. Since bonds are almost never granted on a violation of probation warrant, we will not ask for a bond reduction on a violation of probation unless there are exceptional circumstances. Once the Judge has set what he considers a reasonable bond, we will normally not ask that another bond hearing be set.
A Defendant may get out of jail by posting the amount of money set by the Judge or by putting up property worth the amount of the bond. If the Defendant does not have enough property or money, a professional bondsman can be asked to make bond. The bondsman's fee for service is ten percent of the amount of bond.
Pre-trial Intervention/Deferred Prosecution
The Florida Department of Corrections operates a program called the Pre-Trial Intervention Program. The State Probation office operates a program called Deferred Prosecution Program. These programs are generally for first offenders only; they offer an alternative to going to court. These programs are very selective and cannot approve applicants unless the victim, arresting officer, the State Attorney, and the Judge all approve. If you have no prior record, ask me about the pre-trial intervention program or deferred prosecution program. These programs are not available for DUIs or more serious crimes.
Arraignment is usually a Defendant's first court date; the purpose of this proceeding is to provide the Defendant with a copy of the formal charges the State intends to bring. The Defendant can plead not guilty, no contest, or guilty at this stage. If a Defendant pleads not guilty, his case is usually set for what is known as a Docket or Plea Day, usually a month to six weeks after the arraignment. Occasionally, the matter of bond will be considered at the arraignment, and this is usually in the form of a bond reduction.
After the arraignment, the case is usually investigated by the attorney handling the case and by the investigators in our office. First, we undertake certain legal steps to learn more about a case. Generally, we will file what is known as a Demand for Discovery. The purpose of this demand is to compel the State to disclose to us a number of important facts involving the case. These include:
a list of witnesses that the State intends to call
statements of witnesses
reports of experts
the statement of the Defendant
numerous other items
Only when we have this information can we determine just what evidence the State has against the Defendant, and prepare to meet the charge in earnest. We will forward this information to you as soon as we receive it and schedule a review appointment to discuss the information. This appointment is very important.
Once we receive the discovery information, however, we will usually attempt to take what is known as discovery depositions. The witnesses for the State will be subpoenaed to a court reporter's office and we will take their statements under oath. We have the opportunity at that time to question them about all matters that we feel are possibly relevant to the pending case. We must obtain the court's permission to take depositions in misdemeanor cases.
At the same time, we will begin to locate and contact the witnesses, including those whose names and addresses you have given us. If you have not given us the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses, send us a letter as soon as you can with this information. Witnesses need not be only eyewitnesses to any alleged acts or happenings, but they may be persons who could testify to any circumstances which may tend to show absence of guilt, or which may tend to show that the crime actually committed was not as serious as the Prosecutor alleges. If you do not have accurate names, addresses, and telephone numbers, you may have family or friends who are familiar enough with these people to get the information for you. You should make every effort to contact these people and ask them if they will speak with me as soon as they can since family and friends can often be more helpful in obtaining this information than our investigators.
In addition to the regular investigation done on a case, it is our policy to discuss the case with the Prosecutor who is handling it. The State Attorney may be willing to "plea bargain", that is, agree to a particular sentence in return for a plea of guilty or no contest; the State may decide to drop some of the charges against the Defendant if the evidence is weak and they don't believe they can prove their case or amend the charges. In addition, the trial judge will often indicate that he will find the Defendant guilty of a lesser offense than the one charged if the Defendant enters a guilty plea, or the judge may withhold a finding of guilt. I will often investigate the possibility of a plea regardless of whether or not the Defendant has expressed interest in a plea as I feel it is important to preserve and establish as many options as possible.
At sometime before the plea or docket day, the attorney and Defendant will have a thorough discussion involving the facts and strategy of the case. The attorney may talk to the Defendant before the discovery deposition if it is felt there is certain information needed before talking to the witnesses; however, this depends on the individual case. It is important that you be honest with your attorney and completely truthful about the case.
Often facts that a Defendant feels hurt his or her chances actually can be helpful to the defense. Remember, all communications between a lawyer and client are private. At the conference, we will place all the facts in front of you and explain what defenses are available, including what the chances of success are. We will also explain to you possible sentences that might be received if a plea of guilty or no contest is entered or if you are found guilty at trial. The decision to plead guilty or no contest is strictly up to you, but we will give advice if requested. A Defendant in a criminal case has the following rights:
The right to plead not guilty
The right to trial by jury
The right to be represented or helped at trial by a lawyer.
The right to compel or make any witnesses come to trial.
The right to be present when witnesses testify against you.
The right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you.
The right to remain silent and not testify against yourself.
The right to present any and all defenses you may have.
The right to appeal all matters relating to the judgment, including the issue of guilt or innocence.
Docket /Plea Day
The purpose of the docket/plea day is to advise the Court whether or not the Defendant wishes to go to trial. By the docket or plea day, I will be thoroughly familiar with the facts of the case and able to make tactical decisions involving the case. Discussions with the State Attorney and investigation of the case will usually take place before the docket day. If the Defendant wishes to plead guilty, or no contest, or if there has been a negotiation involving the plea with the Court (or if the State Attorney has indicated that some of the charges will be dropped due to lack of evidence) the plea will be offered at the docket/plea day. Otherwise, the case will be set for trial. We will ask for a trial by jury unless it is felt that it would be to the Defendant's advantage to ask for a trial before the Judge and give up the right to a jury trial. Your presence at docket/plea day is strictly required. Judges regularly issue no bond warrants for Defendants who do not appear at docket/plea day (unless excused by the court).
A Jury Trial is a trial in which six or more citizens, called from the community, hear evidence presented by the Prosecutor and Defense lawyer, and then determine (1) the facts of what happened and (2) guilt or innocence. A Judge Trial is a trial where the judge decides guilt or innocence instead of a jury, and weights all facts as well.
If your case goes to trial, you will be fully advised as to what to expect during trial.
Before the speedy trial rule was amended, it was a potent tool that assisted us in resolving cases. Every Defendant has a right to a speedy trial. Defendants charged with misdemeanors have an automatic right to a speedy trial within 90 days from the date of arrest. A special speedy trial rule applies to Defendants charged with felonies. If a misdemeanor trial does not begin within 90 days or a felony trial does not begin within 175 days from the date of a defendant's arrest, a motion can be filed to discharge the case. If the trial does not begin within 15 days from the date the motion to discharge is filed, then the case will be dismissed. A formal demand for speedy trial is considered a drastic step because it means that the Judge could order the case to be tried the very next day whether or not the Defendant and attorney were prepared for trial. A formal demand for a speedy trial should never be made without consultation with your attorney. Speedy trial is generally not demanded and is generally a non-issue in a criminal case.
Changing of Plea
If, at the day of trial or at any other time before trial, the Defendant and the attorney wish to change the plea of "not guilty" to "guilty" or " no contest", or if there is a negotiation, the attorney will explain to the Court that the Defendant desires to change his plea. Before the Judge will accept your plea, the Court will ask certain questions to make sure you understand all of your rights, that you are in fact guilty, and that no one has pressured you into pleading guilty. The decision to plead guilty must be entirely your own and the Court wants to make sure that it is. Some of the questions the Judge may ask are:
Do you understand the offense with which you are charged is:_____________?
Do you know the sentence the Court can give you?
Has anyone made any promises of special treatment, leniency, light sentence, or anything else to get you to plead guilty?
Has anyone threatened you, coerced you, or otherwise forced you to plead guilty?
Do you understand that the sentence the Court decides to give you is solely up to the Court-- ? and the Court is not bound by any recommendation for special treatment?
Are you, in fact, guilty — or are you pleading guilty, or no contest because you feel it is in your best interest to do so?
Effect of Plea of Nolo Contendere or "Guilty"
A Defendant can only plead one of three ways-- (1) Not Guilty, (2) Guilty, or (3) Nolo Contendere. "Nolo Contendere" is Latin for "No Contest". It means, "Judge, I'm not saying I'm guilty and I'm not saying I'm innocent, but I realize that the State Attorney has sufficient evidence so that a Judge or a Jury could find me guilty; therefore, this plea would be in my best interest". A Judge will not treat you differently for sentencing purposes if you enter a plea of "Nolo Contendere". A plea of Nolo contendere cannot be used against you in a civil action, whereas a plea of guilty can be used against you.
The Court has many legal rules by which to determine the sentence to be imposed when the time of sentencing comes, depending upon the statutes, laws & rules in effect at the time the crime is alleged to have been committed.
The Court sometimes needs additional information about the offenses and about the Defendant, particular circumstances, in order to fairly and correctly impose sentence. On occasion, the Judge will order a pre-sentence investigation. An investigator for the State of Florida will question you, members of your family, your acquaintances, and witnesses in the case in order to make a report to the Judge.
It is important to remember that all information you give to this person will be considered by the Judge in determining what sentence to impose. All statements may be investigated, and untruthful statements are reported to the Judge. The investigative findings include the cause and the circumstances of the crime. The report also summarizes the Defendant's prior criminal record, if any, surveys the Defendant's reputation in the community, includes information on employment, the Defendant's family and background, and plans for the future if the Defendant is placed on probation. The report also prints out certain things such as the Defendant's lifestyle, behavior pattern, and general attitude.
You will be given an opportunity to review this report before sentencing. Your lawyer will discuss the pre-sentence investigation with you in detail both before you speak to the probation officer and after the pre-sentence investigation is completed.
After the pre-sentence investigation is completed, you will be brought to Court for sentencing. At this time, the Judge will ask if there is any reason why sentence should not be imposed, and your attorney will have an opportunity to speak on your behalf.
The Court will sometimes permit other persons to speak on behalf of the Defendant at sentencing. If the Defendant has an employer, minister, or another person who he would like to speak on his behalf at sentencing, he should advise his attorney before the morning of sentencing. The law requires the State Attorney to notify alleged victims of crimes of their right to appear at sentencing to speak to the Court.
Once a Judge has sentenced the Defendant, he will not change or reduce the sentence unless he is given important information that he did not know at sentencing and which changes his mind. This must be done within 60 days of sentencing unless initiated by your probation officer.
Recommendations to the Court or Negotiations
As mentioned earlier, there may be a negotiation with the Court as to why the sentence might be if the plea of guilty or no contest is entered. When the Judge asks the Defendant if there were any promises made that would cause a "guilty" or "no contest", if there is a negotiation or plea bargain, it will be stated at that time. The Judge may or may not be bound by the negotiation, and will say at that time whether or not he or she will be bound by it. If the Judge desires not to be bound by the recommendations and states that desire, the recommendations can be ignored completely with full legal authority.
Every Defendant has the right to appeal a Jury's or a Judge's decision that he or she is guilty, or the denial of defense motions. A Defendant has the right to an attorney to take the appeal if he or she has no money to hire one.
The appeal must be filed within thirty days after sentencing. A Defendant must write to the Court to appoint an attorney if he or she wishes to appeal, or if an attorney has been engaged, that an appeal is wanted.
An appeal will only help the Defendant if the Court did not follow the law or if the proceedings prevented the Defendant from having all legal rights. In all other cases, the Appeal Court will "affirm". You have to tell the Appeal Court exactly how the Judge did not follow the law or what rights you were denied before it will reverse a conviction.
Because of limited staff and the great number of cases, it is impossible to see a Defendant unless there is an important purpose to be accomplished by a personal interview. Requests for jail visits should be made only when it is urgently important that the attorney and client have a personal interview. Since telephones are now readily available at the County Jail, a simple phone call will often be as effective as a personal interview.
Visitation of a Defendant in confinement by friends and relatives is solely within the discretion of the Jailer. Questions about food, clothing, and medicine should be directed to the Jailer. If no satisfaction can be obtained from the Jailer, then you should communicate with the County Corrections Office, if you're being held in Escambia County, or with the Judge.
Although correspondence between attorney and client must not be censored, it is wise to put on the envelope:
DO NOT CENSOR
Be sure to put your full name and where you are being held in the letter as well as the envelope. Also, include in your letter the date that you are writing the letter. Simply give the letter to one of the Jailers with instructions to mail it to our office.
David Lee Sellers provides criminal defense representation to clients in Pensacola, Milton, Crestview, Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties including Gulf Breeze, Ft. Walton, Navarre, and Destin. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding finding a criminal defense attorney, contact David Lee Sellers today.