The Florida Bar - Board Certified Badge
Martindale-Hubbell - AV Preeminent Badge
Super Lawyers - Michael B Cohen Badge

Capital Crimes

A Capital Crime is defined as a crime for which the punishment of death may be imposed.

In the United States, *thirty-two states have the death penalty available and *eighteen, as well as the District of Columbia have legally abolished the death penalty. There are forty-one capital offenses punishable by death listed by the US government of which thirty-nine need to result in a death to warrant a sentence of death. The two others are treason and espionage.

If someone you care about is under investigation or has been charged with a capital offense, hiring a Fort Lauderdale Capital Crime Attorney at the earliest possible opportunity is essential.

Personal Experience

In United States v Jonathan Gonzalez case number 09-CR80091 CR MAARRA; The United States Government sought the death penalty against the defendant; a "Torch" or gang leader of the Crazy Locos Gang in Palm Beach County.

It was alleged that Gonzalez was the leader and organizer of a gang related conspiracy. As the "torch" of the organization it was alleged that he supervised the activities of approximately 40 gang members, several of which were minors, recruited two gang members to assault one victim, ordered the robbery of a stash house which resulted in the murder of another victim and gunshot wounds to another victim as well. In addition it was alleged he ordered the murder of another individual and actively sold firearms and drugs out of his home. Finally the government alleged he was also responsible for the distribution of cocaine, crack cocaine, Oxycodone and other drugs.

After he was initially incarcerated, the government alleged that he initiated an escape plan from custody and planned to flee the country, but this attempt was thwarted by authorities. The government also said he conspired with his other co-defendants to have witnesses intimidated and silenced and have evidence concealed.

In addition to the drugs crimes alleged, Gonzalez was charged with violent crimes in aid of racketeering and possession of firearms in connection with a crime of violence.

After being faced with the daunting task of trying to avoid the death penalty with his co-counsel, and after having thoroughly reviewed the case against his client, a meeting was conducted with the Department of Justice committee charged with the ultimate decision of whether to seek the death penalty or forego this recommendation (part of every federal death penalty case). Together with his co-counsel (who is now a federal magistrate judge) we were able to convince the United States Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Florida to forego the death penalty recommendation as result of their advocacy.

Gonzalez pled to life in a plea agreement crafted to protect other members of his family (co-defendants) by helping them reduce their sentences and assuring Gonzalez that he would receive the needed medical care for his deteriorating health brought about by physical problems that had nothing to do with his charges.

Although Gonzalez is presently incarcerated his plea agreement was also structured to avoid any future death penalty prosecutions he may have faced for other crimes.

To read a sampling of other capital cases I was a part of where favorable results were achieved click here and scroll midway down the page.

The Two Phase Process

All capital cases move on to a second phase if the decision of the primary case against a defendant returns a guilty verdict. The main trial must have a unanimous finding of guilt by all jury members to continue to the penalty phase. In a federal death penalty case as well as a capital case tried in (*the now) thirty of the thirty-one states which still have capital punishment laws, a unanimous decision is also warranted to sentence a person to death after an individual is convicted of a capital crime in the penalty phase. The sole exception to this imperative is the State of Florida where a simple majority of seven out of twelve jurors recommending the penalty of death to the presiding judge is enough for the sentence to be administered.

For this reason as well as many others it is imperative to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who has experience defending capital crimes as your advocate throughout the process.

As your attorney, if an arrangement cannot be worked out with the prosecution or the committee charged with the final decision to move to a penalty phase of a capital conviction seeking the death penalty, my chief pursuit is to demonstrate to the jury as many mitigating circumstances that can be established and described. Providing satisfying, sufficient mitigating evidence to a jury can make the difference in the weight of their opinions for reaching a positive final decision. Of course my first course of action is to present evidence and testimony in the primary trial to prove innocence and have charges dismissed.

Some examples of mitigating conditions that a jury may consider can be the lack of a previous criminal record, the convicted individual having only a minor role in the crime, the victim having a culpable role in the incident, explanations as to why the offense occurred such as provocation, or emotional problems as well as stress, and mental illness. A jury may also heavily weigh an expression of sincere remorse.

Conversely, the prosecution will try to prove aggravating factors of the crime. These may include an intensive prior criminal record, the brutality of a crime, the vulnerability of the victim such as the elderly, handicapped or a child, to name a few. To counter the prosecution's proposals I would need to debunk their assertions through the findings of my investigation or use the many other legal tools at my disposal. The prosecution usually must prove at least one aggravator as a reason for the jury to find the death penalty appropriate.

With close to four decades in the legal field working as an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting cases for the government as well as a former Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, my law office focuses on criminal defense and is the proper choice to fight all allegations of charges when accused by the State of Florida or the federal government.