Seltzer Law, P.A. Fights for Clients’ Right to Change Pleas and Stay in the United States

December 22, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

We’re pleased to announce that our south Florida drug crimes defense lawyers are using a Florida appeals court decision to fight for our client’s right to change his plea. We represent a client who would like to change his plea of no contest to drug charges in Miami-Dade County. Our client admitted to the charges in exchange for a withhold of adjudication and suspended sentence. This is a relatively common situation in Florida, where a withhold of adjudication permits defendants to avoid the negative civil and employment consequences of a criminal conviction, as long as they complete the terms of their sentence -- often probation. However, a withhold of adjudication does trigger an automatic deportation order after one felony withhold or two misdemeanor withholds. That’s why we’re fighting to vacate our client’s plea under a court decision called State v. Galazz.

In that case, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled last year that courts may not sentence defendants only to a suspended sentence after a withhold of adjudication. The defendant, Geseppe Galazz, pleaded to purchasing cocaine or possession with intent to purchase, and was given a suspended sentence with a withhold of adjudication. Under a Florida Supreme Court ruling, trial courts can’t do this, because a suspended sentence alone violates state law unless it arises from a probation matter. Galazz petitioned to the Third District to be allowed to vacate his sentence. The prosecution argued that while the sentence was illegal, the proper thing to do was to change the sentence, not allow Galazz to change his plea and potentially go to trial.

The trial court refused -- properly, in our view as Miami drug crimes defense attorneys -- on the grounds that Galazz never had a chance to agree to the change prosecutors sought. In addition to being unfair, this would violate the Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy. Thus, the appeals court vacated the plea entirely, sending the case back to its start. In our case, the details are similar, and we are asking the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County for the same outcome -- vacating the client’s plea and allowing the case to be reheard. This is unusual, because defendants are rarely allowed to “take back” their pleas unless there’s a serious legal problem underlying them, as there is here. That’s why defendants should always, always get the advice of an experienced Broward County drug crimes criminal defense lawyer before pleading guilty, especially if they are subject to federal immigration law.

If you’re accused of a crime in Miami or anywhere in South Florida, you should talk to Seltzer Law, P.A. right away to discuss your rights and legal options. We’re available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, so you can reach us anytime trouble strikes. To set up a free consultation, call us at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE or send us an email today.