Robin Fuson
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Can Prosecutors In Tampa Use Your Criminal History Against You?

Criminal Defense

Even if you are now a model citizen, if you have a criminal past, your life can be quite complicated. A previous conviction, for example, can make it tough to find a job.

And if you are charged with a subsequent crime, an old conviction can be counted against you when the charge is filed and when – if you’re convicted – the sentence is handed down.

If you’re charged with a second crime, it will be imperative for you to have the advice and representation of an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney.

CAN A PROSECUTOR USE A PRIOR CONVICTION AGAINST YOU AT TRIAL?

Although the state of Florida limits the ways that a prosecutor can use a prior conviction against you if you are charged with a second crime, there are some exceptions. If you have a criminal conviction, you must do everything that you can to avoid another criminal charge.

Here, for example, is one way that a prior conviction can really hurt you in Florida. A prosecutor can use an old conviction to cast doubt on your testimony if you’re charged with a subsequent crime.

Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal has determined that a criminal record can be used by prosecutors to impeach the testimony of a defendant in a Florida criminal case.

In the case before the court, a defendant was charged with aggravated assault. When he testified in his own defense at trial, prosecutors attempted to discredit him by asking about three previous convictions.

The defendant answered accurately the questions about his previous convictions. But after he was convicted of aggravated assault, the defendant filed an appeal. He claimed the prosecutors phrased the questions to make him look like a liar in front of the jury.

WHAT DID THE COURTS SAY IN THAT CASE?

The Fifth District Court disagreed with the defendant and rejected the appeal. So did the United States Supreme Court (in Murphy v. Florida, 1975).

The Fifth District Court said, “it does not appear that the prosecutors intended to mislead the jury” and that prosecutors committed no “fundamental error.”

In Florida and in most other states, a person who is facing a second criminal charge after a conviction will be punished more severely, if convicted for the same crime, than a first-time offender.

ARE YOU REALLY INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY?

And despite the “innocent until proven guilty” presumption, the criminal justice system is still influenced by a defendant’s criminal history, so that defendants who have records will usually face a harsher charge, for the same crime, than a first-time offender.

Here in Florida, from the start to the finish of a criminal case with a defendant who has a prior conviction, that prior conviction will have a considerable influence.

And that’s one reason why, if you are charged with a crime in central Florida, and if you have a previous conviction, you must reach out for the advice and representation of a criminal defense attorney, and you must do it as soon as possible after the arrest.

IN WHAT OTHER WAYS CAN A PREVIOUS CONVICTION HURT YOU?

Information about prior convictions is available in Florida even to police officers who stop you in traffic, and that knowledge can influence the officer’s report, the way the officer deals with you, and even whether you end up being cited for a violation or arrested on a criminal charge.

While only “the evidence in the case” should be considered in a criminal trial, the reality is that information – and sometimes even details – about prior convictions is slipped in and “accidentally” mentioned frequently in many criminal trials. New York has different laws, so a Bronx County assault lawyer may be able to help.

The bottom line? If you are charged with another crime after a first conviction, and if your case goes to trial, the jury will probably have at least a vague idea regarding your criminal past.

IS COMPLETE DISCLOSURE TO YOUR DEFENSE ATTORNEY IMPERATIVE?

If you are facing any criminal charge, your defense attorney needs to know all of the details, even if your criminal conviction was decades ago. Do not let a previous conviction come as a surprise to your attorney.

Nothing is guaranteed in the criminal justice process, but in any criminal case, the right defense lawyer can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

If you are arrested and charged with a crime in central Florida, and especially if you have a previous criminal conviction on your record, you will have two immediate priorities.

IF YOU ARE ARRESTED IN FLORIDA, WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES?

First, exercise your right to remain silent. Be polite and cooperative with the police, but if they ask you questions, just say something like, “I would prefer to exercise my right to remain silent.”

Your second priority will be to contact a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

If the police want to conduct a search of your home, property, vehicle, or person, do not resist the officers in any way, but politely inform them that you do not consent to a search.

HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER HELP?

Your defense attorney will investigate the charge or charges against you, protect your legal rights, and fight aggressively for justice on your behalf.

If the police violated your rights during an investigation, interrogation, search, or arrest, your lawyer may be able to have the charge against you reduced or even entirely dismissed.

Your attorney will review the evidence against you and question the witnesses. If there is a flaw in the state’s case against you, a good defense lawyer will find that flaw and expose it to the judge and jury.

WHAT IF A CONVICTION IS INEVITABLE?

But even if the evidence against you is persuasive and a conviction is certain, you’ll need a defense attorney to fight for reduced or alternative sentencing on your behalf.

Talk with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest. Explain everything – don’t fail to disclose any details.

If there’s any way to avoid a conviction – especially a second conviction – a good defense attorney will find it.

Get the legal help you need immediately if you are arrested and accused of any crime in Florida. Don’t accept any offer or plea deal – or even answer any questions – until you have a criminal defense attorney’s advice.

Your future and your freedom could depend on it.

Robin Fuson
By Robin Fuson