Monthly Archives - August 2018

United States Supreme Court

How Do The Federal Criminal Courts Work?

Why Do Federal Courts Exist?

The federal courts exist in order to decide disputes concerning the United States Constitution, as well as to handle cases that involve laws passed by the United States Congress, which are called federal statutes.

Federal Statutes

Federal criminal laws, also known as federal criminal statutes, are organized in the United States Code Annotated.

What is Federalism?

Federalism is a system in which governmental power is shared by both the federal government and the state governments.

When they wrote the U.S. Constitution, the framers of the Constitution gave a limited number of governmental powers to the federal government and reserved the vast majority of governmental powers to the state governments.

However, since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes based on Congress’s desire for more power, the federal government’s powers have expanded.

How Does Federalism Affect Federal Criminal Law?

In order for the U.S. Congress to write a federal criminal law, the U.S. Constitution must authorize Congress power over that subject matter.

For example, it’s clear that the U.S. Congress can pass criminal laws punishing counterfeiting or piracy on the high seas because the U.S. Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to do so.

However, Congress passes laws about things that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly mention.  For example, Congress has passed laws that punish persons for distributing illegal drugs, but drugs are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Federal law prohibits the unlawful distribution of cocaine.

The federal courts have justified federal criminal laws punishing the distribution of illegal drugs based on a clause in the Constitution that gives the Congress power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the States. “Commerce” can be defined as the activity of buying and selling goods.  Because cocaine is produced outside of the United States, Congress claims the right to punish its distribution based on this commerce clause.

Sometimes, however, federal criminal laws appear to stretch the meaning of the U.S. Constitution beyond reason.  For example, there is a federal law that makes it a crime for a person that has been convicted of a felony to possess a firearm or bullet.  Because there is no explicit power in the Constitution giving the Congress the power to prohibit persons convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm, the Congress has relied on the commerce clause as a basis for the law.  Therefore, in order to prove a person is guilty of felon in a possession of a firearm in federal courts, the federal prosecutor must prove that the firearm, or the bullet, traveled from one state to another, or from another country to the United States.

In theory then, if the gun and bullets were all made in the State in which the Defendant possessed the firearm, the Federal Government would not have jurisdiction over the case and only the State Government could prosecute the Defendant.

What Are The Different Types Of Federal Courts

The federal courts have three levels: the District Courts, the Circuit Courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Levels of Federal Courts

What Are the Federal District Courts?

The Federal District Courts are the courts in which federal trials take place. There are 94 federal district courts in the United States.  One of those federal district courts is located in Tampa, Florida.

Federal district Court Judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a life term.

Federal Magistrate Judges handle some of the work in the Federal District Courts. Federal Magistrate Judges are not appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  Rather, the District Court Judges appoint the Magistrate Judges to help them handle their caseload.

In criminal cases, Magistrate Judges can handle federal misdemeanor criminal cases, issue search warrants and arrest warrants, conduct initial hearings, set bail, conduct a change of plea hearings, and hear motions to suppress evidence.

What Are The Federal Circuit Courts?

In the federal court system, the Federal Circuit Courts are the first level of appeal.  In an appeal, a defense attorney may complain to the Appellate Judges that a Federal District Court Judge made a mistake during a trial or at sentencing that prejudiced a Defendant.

A panel of three Circuit Court judges decides appeals to the circuit courts. Attorneys on both sides of a case will file briefs with the judges, arguing why the trial court’s decision should be affirmed or reversed.

There are 13 Federal Circuit Courts in the United States.  

There are 13 Federal Circuit Courts in the United States.

Twelve of the Federal Circuits divide the country into different regions. The Eleventh Circuit, for example, includes the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.  Cases from the District Courts of those states are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, there is a 13th federal circuit court called the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  That court has nationwide jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as patent cases.

What is the United States Supreme Court?

The United States Supreme Court is the final level of appeal in the federal system. It is based in Washington, D.C.

The Justices on the Supreme Court are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The Justices of the United States Supreme Court in 2018.

The Justices of the United States Supreme Court in 2018.

In the Federalist Papers, which were a series of newspaper articles designed to argue for the various States to ratify, or adopt, the United States Constitution, Alexander Hamilton called the United States Supreme Court  “The Least Dangerous Branch”, perhaps because at the time, the Supreme Court was seen as the least powerful of the 3 proposed branches of Government.

However, the United States Supreme Court has developed into an extremely powerful and co-equal branch of Government.  The Supreme Court has the power to declare both presidential and congressional actions unconstitutional and therefore void.

The number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court is set by Congress and has varied over time. In 1789 there were six Justices; in 1863 there were 10 Justices; in 1869 the number of Justices was set at nine, where it stands today.

The Supreme Court is the most important court in the United States because it has the final say on legal questions.

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Robert Jackson

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Robert Jackson.

As Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Robert Jackson once said, “We [the Supreme Court] are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.

If You Or A Loved One Has Been Charged With  A Federal Crime in Tampa, Florida, Contact The Hardy Law Firm, P.A.

Tampa federal attorney David C. Hardy began his work in the federal courts when he served as an intern with the United States Department of Justice in 1999.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a federal crime in Tampa, Florida, contact federal criminal defense attorney David C. Hardy.  Attorney Hardy is board certified as an expert in criminal trial law.  He began his work in the federal courts when he served as an intern with the United States Department of Justice in 1999.

In the federal courts, Attorney Hardy has handled a wide variety of cases including international extradition, drug trafficking, bank fraud and healthcare fraud, immigration offenses, identity theft, the misbranding of drugs, and firearms offenses.  Attorney Hardy has represented clients in federal trial and appellate courts in Florida, Texas, and Georgia. Contact The Hardy Law Firm today!

Ernesto Miranda

What Are Miranda Rights And Who Was Ernesto Miranda?

Why Was Ernesto Miranda Arrested?

On March 3, 1963, an eighteen-year-old woman had been working in the concession stand at a movie theatre in downtown Phoenix.  After work, she boarded a public bus to go home.  When the bus reached her stop, she started to walk toward her house. She observed a car, which afterward proved to be that of Ernesto Miranda.

Miranda Rights

The car that Ernesto Miranda used to kidnap his victim. 

Mr. Miranda got out of his car, approached the woman, and forced her into the backseat of his car.  The woman had never seen Mr. Miranda before.

Mr. Miranda drove the car for about twenty minutes out to a secluded area in the desert. Mr. Miranda stopped the car, and sexually assaulted the woman.  Mr. Miranda then drove the woman back into the city.  As he dropped her off he told her “pray for me.”  The woman ran home and told her family, who called the police.

The woman met with detectives and told them that the car that her assailant drove was green or gray, and had dark upholstery with stripes. About a week later, a family member of the woman spotted a car in the neighborhood that matched the description and got a partial license plate which he provided to police.  From that partial plate, the detectives determined that Ernesto Miranda was a suspect.

On March 13, 1963, police officers arrested Mr. Miranda and took him to the police station.  Officers placed Mr. Miranda in a lineup, but the woman he had kidnapped and assaulted was not able to positively identify him as her attacker.

Ernesto Miranda Line Uo

Ernesto Miranda was placed in a line up after his arrest.  Miranda is wearing the card labeled #1.

Detectives then questioned Miranda for two hours.  The detectives did not inform Miranda that he had the right to have an attorney present.

Ernesto Miranda's written confession

Ernesto Miranda’s written confession.

Mr. Miranda eventually confessed to kidnapping and assaulting the woman, and his confession was used at his trial. The jury convicted him and the judge sentenced him to 20 to 30 years in prison.

The United States Supreme Court Decides Mr. Miranda’s Case and Establishes the “Miranda Rights”

In 1966 the United States Supreme Court reversed Mr. Miranda’s conviction and ordered that the State of Arizona give him a new trial.

The Supreme Court held that though the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution guaranteed that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” that when police officers take a person into custody and question them, that the unless the police give the person certain warnings, the officers are essentially compelling the person to be a witness against themselves.

Therefore, the Supreme Court held that when an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities and is subjected to questioning, police must warn the person prior to any questioning of the following:

  • that he has the right to remain silent; 

  • that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law; 

  • that he has the right to the presence of an attorney;

  • if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.

Many people misunderstand the Supreme Court’s holding in the Miranda case.  Miranda does not mean that police must read a person his rights after any arrest, nor does Miranda mean that police must read a person his rights before any questioning. 

Since Miranda v. Arizona, When Do Police Have to Read Suspects Their Miranda Rights?

What Miranda Rights means is that police only have to read a suspect his Miranda Rights if police conduct a custodial interrogation.  A suspect is in custody for purposes of receiving Miranda Rights protection when there is a formal arrest or a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest.  Interrogation under Miranda refers not only to express questioning but also to any words or actions on the part of the police that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.

In a custodial interrogation, custody, and interrogation take place at the same time.

Miranda v. Arizona

The United States Supreme Court decided Miranda v. Arizona in 1966.

Sometimes police conduct an interrogation but the suspect is not in custody. For example, detectives will frequently leave their business cards at the homes of persons involved in an investigation.  If the person that received the business card calls the detective and agrees to come to the police station to answer some questions and the detective does not detain or arrest the person during the questioning, there is interrogation but no custody – so the detective is not obligated to read the Miranda Rights.

Sometimes the suspect is in custody but the police don’t conduct an interrogation.  For example, police officers frequently arrest two subjects at the same time and place them in the back of a patrol car.  Unbeknownst to the two subjects, police will leave a recording device on in the vehicle so they can record what the subjects are talking about.  Often, one or both of the suspects will make incriminating statements.  The two subjects are in custody but because no police officer is asking them questions there is no interrogation – so the police officer is not obligated to read the Miranda Rights.

What Did Ernesto Miranda Do After He Was Released From Prison?

As far as Mr. Miranda himself – he did not get away with his crime.  After the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1966, his case was returned to the Arizona trial court.  At his second trial, the prosecutor could not use Mr. Miranda’s confession against him.  However, Mr. Miranda’s ex-common law wife testified at the second trial that shortly after Mr. Miranda had been arrested for the kidnapping, she had gone to visit him in jail and that during that visit Mr. Miranda admitted to kidnapping and assaulting the eighteen-year-old woman.  The jury convicted Miranda, and the judge sentenced him to prison.

Mr. Miranda was paroled in 1973, but his newfound fame made it difficult to get a job.   To make money, he carried autographed Miranda Cards and sold them around Phoenix.

How Did Ernesto Miranda Die?

Miranda Rights

After getting out of prison, Mr. Miranda made money by selling autographed Miranda Rights cards.

Before too long, he was picked up on a parole violation and sent back to prison.  In 1976, he was released but shortly thereafter got into a fight over $2.00 in change during a poker game at a bar.  During the fight, Mr. Miranda was stabbed to death.  Police detained and questioned a suspect that allegedly had handed the murder weapon (a knife) to Miranda’s killer, but the suspect, after receiving his Miranda warnings, declined to make a statement.  The killer fled and was never found.

Know Your Miranda Rights

If police seek to interview you concerning a crime, it’s best to speak with an experienced criminal trial attorney before speaking with them.  Though you may be completely innocent, misunderstandings can occur.   An attorney can guide you through the process, and  safeguard your rights.

If you or a loved one is under investigation in the Tampa Bay area for a Federal Offense or State offense, contact Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney David C. Hardy.