Avoiding a Harsh Federal Minimum Mandatory Sentence in The Middle District of Florida in Tampa

Sentencing in Federal Court for drug trafficking and other federal crimes often require federal judges to give minimum mandatory sentences. This is because federal judges do not have as much discretion as federal prosecutors.

Prosecutor Yes: No Judge & No Defense Lawyer

Prosecutor Yes: No Judge & No Defense Lawyer

The very process of how federal criminal cases proceed allows the federal prosecutor often shapes the final sentencing results long before the federal judge is even assigned to the case. In grand jury proceedings prosecutors are permitted but not judges nor defense attorneys. Prosecutors mold the grand jury deliberations by defining for the grand jury the nature of criminal violations charged in the indictment. Prosecutors decide very early if the grand jury should trigger the minimum mandatory sentencing provisions of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. That early decision will effect how the case will later be decided.

Once the federal indictment is unsealed and an arrest of the defendant is made, then the defendant is confronted with a stark choice. Should the defendant co-operate and plead guilty to the charge or should the charge be tested thru a trial by jury. Should the defendant choose to fight the charges he will likely be forced to wait in jail for his trial because by definition any drug or weapons charge that triggers a minimum mandatory sentence forces a federal magistrate to make a finding under the law that the defendant is not only a threat to the community but a flight risk.

If the defendant decides to plead guilty again a federal prosecutor with help from a federal agency such as the FBI or the DEA, will have the ultimate decision as to whether the case justifies going under the minimum mandatory sentence.

The defendant is given an opportunity to give a proffer. In the proffer he must answer truthfully in assisting the prosecutor in making further indictments and arrests. The prosecutor has sole discretion as to whether the defendant was truthful, honest and useful. Ultimately the prosecutor must file a motion for substantial assistance known as a 5k motion (or known as a Rule 35 motion if made after the initial sentencing). The federal judge can not entertain a motion for substantial assistance unless the prosecutor files the appropriate motion because under federal law the judge only has jurisdiction when and if the federal prosecutors file.

Clearly, federal judges should be given much more discretion to give fair sentences under the strict minimum mandatory requirements and under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. But until that happens your criminal defense lawyer must understand how to adjust, attack and benefit from the framework of the guidelines to achieve the best results. It’s important to find an attorney who understands the grand jury process, how prosecutorial decisions are made and the criteria for sentencing among federal district court judges in the Middle District of Florida to find the best ways to avoid the guideline ranges and provide the judge with better sentencing options.

Don’t let the threat of a federal indictment or the possibility of a long federal prison sentence ruin your life. Attorney Robert Hambrick has handled many successful federal criminal cases in the Middle District of Florida. Robert can help you make the most important decisions of your life in dealing with the federal criminal justice system to achieve a result that will let you move forward with your life.


Just as one leery Clearwater criminal defense attorney will look over his shoulder wondering if that police cruiser with the flashing lights is after him or (crossing my fingers) someone else, anyone who is the target of an aggressive law enforcement investigation will live in dread until the ordeal is over. Once that cruiser passes, I’ll keep typing.

Even if Cupid creates a Federal Target Letter you shouldn't talk to Tampa Bay investigators unless your lawyer is present.
Cupid Creates Target Letter

Unlike being stopped for speeding, Federal and state investigators have no obligation to immediately notify someone that he or she is a target of an investigation. The more complex the alleged misconduct the more likely it will be that an investigation will be initiated without the knowledge of the target. As more evidence is accumulated the target may be confronted with information about the alleged crime or with an opportunity to make a statement of admission or denial of criminal conduct.

Law enforcement officers either have sufficient evidence to make an arrest or they don’t. So why provide them with more evidence? Even a denial may help an investigation if the denial comes with an explanation that is implausible or factual incoherent. 

Sometimes officers may threaten to make an arrest if there is no cooperation, which is the best signal they could give that they haven’t arrested you only because they want more evidence. The objective of a target must be to keep in mind that the process of an investigation is controlled by law enforcement. 

One client recently told me that she confessed to a Grand Theft charge in Tampa Bay only to ‘get out of the room’ after a long, intense interrogation in front of the people who employed her. One of the Detectives seeing her breaking point approaching kept saying louder and louder, “You want it to end? Then confess.” And in an instant against her better judgement she confessed to the crime making it much more difficult to help her get the case dismissed or reduced.  

Federal investigators in Tampa Bay, Florida may generously notify a person that a possible arrest is imminent or grand jury testimony sought by sending what is known as The Target Letter. A Target Letter cajoles the recipient to find a lawyer and begin negotiations to diffuse the possibility of a pending Federal Grand Jury indictment.

Because there is little to be gained by speaking to investigators, if  you do decide to speak with them make sure you have a Tampa Bay criminal lawyer with you to defend your interests and help you avoid arrest. 


Rather than testify under oath a Pinellas Sheriff’s Deputy and Detective of the Narcotics Division resigned in shame yesterday when confronted with thousands of pages of internal affairs evidence of his misconduct and possible criminal actions. Other Deputies are also being investigated by internal affairs for numerous violations of Florida law in Tampa Bay, which leads your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney to wonder who the real criminals are when law enforcement at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department is so corrupt that it investigates itself. This blog noted months ago that undercover detectives were accused of using fake subpoenas and donning the gear of utility men to gain entry into homes as well as committing possible felonies such as armed trespass and burglary. 

Tampa Bay Detective in Clearwater resigns in shame
Goya, Shame, 1814

It shouldn’t take a former prosecutor and Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer to state the obvious: more than internal scrutiny is necessary to clean up this mess. A Grand Jury should be convened to investigate local law enforcement’s failure to abide by Florida law. Indictments should follow for any illegal activity. If the Pinellas State Attorney’s office doesn’t have the stomach to properly investigate crime at PCSO with the guidance of a local Grand Jury, then Governor Scott should convene a Grand Jury that will look into the systematic corruption within the criminal justice system in Pinellas at a higher and presumably more effective level to root out corrupt law enforcement. As citizens of Florida we have the right to expect that our law enforcement officers will abide by the same laws that we must follow because the law applies equally to all of us.


This much is certain – evidence was destroyed in a marijuana grow house case. The Defense believes the evidence would have established that undercover officers broke the law by committing at least a trespass and possibly a burglary to the dwelling of the Defendant before a search warrant was obtained. The case was already controversial in that Deputies obtained warrants by following vehicles parked at a hydrponics store which is likely unconstitutional based on a new Supreme Court decision. Having tried a federal grow house case in which there was insufficient evidence from the Government to convict my client, I believe that the recourses being used as well as the underhanded activities of law enforcement in these cases is unconscionable…

The evidence destroyed was surveillance video on the hard drive of a video recorder installed at the Defendant’s home. After an internal affairs complaint was filed by the defense attorney, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office found that Sgt. Taylor, a supervisor of the narcotics division, ordered the hard drive of the video recorder to be erased. His reason – he claims the video showed the bare faces of undercover Detectives and this could place them in future jeopardy. 
The punishment for the Deputy? Suspension for five days and reassignment to patrol…This blog has noted that there are a large number of morally challenged officers who are not being fired. But my question is – why is he not in jail?

Law enforcement is not the final arbiter of what evidence is of value and what isn’t – the Courts are. It’s only the rule of law as established by the Courts which guards our rights as Americans keeping us from being a police state…No destruction of evidence should occur before the Defense, the Judge and a Jury has had an opportunity to view it. A judge would have ordered the faces of any Detectives to be redacted to preserve their future safety. 

Why is tampering with evidence a felony punishable by up to five years in prison in Florida? Because the purpose of criminal justice is to find the truth. How can we find the truth if the Police tamper with evidence before the Court and a Criminal Defense Lawyer have an opportunity to view the evidence?

To protect the integrity of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office the following should be done immediately:
1. A grand jury must be convened to determine if laws were broken, and if so by whom including the possible felony of destroying exculpatory evidence with recommendations for proper protection of all evidence. 
2. The FDLE and the FBI should investigate to determine if laws were broken and if so how far up the chain of command this went. Those supervisors with knowledge, those who acquiesced in crime, those who failed to stand up and do the right thing should be fired and prosecuted.
3. The State Attorney’s Office should be given the impartial investigation results and make a public decision on whether direct filing of felonies is warranted with factual explanations.
4. At the same time Federal Prosecutors should investigate to determine if any Federal laws were broken and if the systemic corruption within PCSO and the State Attorney’s Office can be rooted out.

Florida Statutes > Chapter 918 > § 918.13 – Tampering with or fabricating physical evidence

Current as of: 2011

   (1) No person, knowing that a criminal trial or proceeding or an investigation by a duly constituted prosecuting authority, law enforcement agency, grand jury or legislative committee of this state is pending or is about to be instituted, shall:
   (a) Alter, destroy, conceal, or remove any record, document, or thing with the purpose to impair its verity or availability in such proceeding or investigation; or
   (b) Make, present, or use any record, document, or thing, knowing it to be false.
   (2) Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree

The above Florida Statute applies in this case. There is no exception for law enforcement officers and  it is specific that one can not “…alter, destroy, conceal or remove…” evidence in any case “pending or is about to be instituted.” If you believe a law enforcement officer has acted improperly in your case contact a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney for immediate help.

Could this be an inconspicuous undercover Clearwater Detective — about to do a burglary?
Self Portrait - Boris Kustodiev
Boris Kustodiev, Self Portrait, 1905


You’d think Florida Law Enforcement Officers would be held to a higher standard. You’d hope Officers caught doing crimes would not only be prosecuted to the full extent of the law but be drummed out of service.  If that’s what you believe – you’re wrong, as the this recent and ongoing series of articles, How Florida’s Problem Officers Remain on the Job from the Herald Tribune make clear: officers are getting away with every crime under the sun, crimes for which every other citizen is brought before judges and juries and if convicted punished with jail time.

Among the Herald-Tribune’s findings:
One in 20 active law enforcement officers in Florida has committed a moral character violation serious enough to jeopardize his or her career. Nearly 600 have two or more such acts of misconduct on their record and 30 current officers and prison guards continue to wear a badge despite four or more offenses.

Officers in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Sarasota have been accused of violence acts such as aggravated battery, grand theft, possession of drugs and sexual battery enough to keep your favorite Clearwater Defense Attorney busy for years. Five years ago in an earlier blog post I wrote about the systemic corruption in a bargaining sex for drug reduction scandal at the Clearwater State Attorney’s Office, now it appears corruption still exists in many Florida law enforcement agencies as can be seen in case studies of officer corruption.
For the law to be an effective deterrent to crime every citizen especially those sworn under oath to protect us, to defend us and to uphold our law must be subject to the law.

These corrupt officers should immediately be fired. A grand jury should be convened to indict those responsible at the highest levels of each law enforcement agency and each state attorney’s office who coddled these criminals. 
If you believe that you are the victim of a crime at the hands of a Florida law enforcement officer you’ll want to contact a Pinellas Crime Lawyer immediately to determine what action to take including reporting the crime to federal watchdogs such as the FBI Tampa Anti-corruption Squad which can conduct complex undercover operations investigating any corruption in law enforcement agencies in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas.

At least Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife was honest, incorruptible, loyal and kept his one bullet ready to defend – Barney we need you…

Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife
  • Favorite Quotations from Officer Barney Fife:
  • “Floyd, if you would keep your mind outta Washington and stick to your barbering, I might get a better haircut. Now, what did you do with my sideburns?”, paying Floyd, “Here, go buy a barber book!” 
  • “If a chicken hawk is hanging around, a wise rooster doesn’t bury his head…he keeps his eye on the chicken” (advice for Andy on keeping Andy’s girlfriend safe from another man)
  • “I’m sorry about this, but us lawmen can’t take chances!” –Barney (as he frisks an Older Woman at a roadblock, searching for an escaped convict) –“But Barney! I’m your mother!” 


Imagine a dark Orwellian world where everything you do is on video and everything you do is closely examined in the hope it can be used as evidence against you in the future.

Well, if you live in Pinellas County, Florida you don’t have to imagine that world anymore, as your Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office secretly put hundreds of customers under video surveillance for over a year at a plant store called Simply Hydroponics. Law enforcement then used identifiers of the customers, such as the tags on their vehicles to track them, spy on them and to obtain search warrants which contained at best highly unlikely information.

This should make every American angry and even makes your favorite Clearwater Defense Lawyer despair for the future of our country.
In one case law enforcement officers placed a plant store customer’s home under surveillance then swore under oath in a search warrant that they could smell the marijuana plants and heard the distinct noise of foliage being broken from within what they designated as a suspected marijuana grow house. Our intrepid detectives found a single marijuana plant upon forcing their way into the home.
If there’s one thing all of us as Americans should be against it’s unbridled government surveillance and the destruction of our privacy rights. Yet we should also agree that the inherent corruption which resulted in officer’s telling lies under oath must also be rooted out.
The surveillance, the lies, the misinformation and the failure of law enforcement to abide by basic American standards of Justice should result in the immediate investigations of every law enforcement officer and every prosecutor involved as prosecutors routinely draft, prepare and take the search warrants to Judges for signatures. 
A Grand Jury should immediately be convened by the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate he highest positions at the Sheriff’s Office and at the State Attorney’s Office, to find who was responsible for placing the video equipment near the store, to find what other stores or public areas are secretly under surveillance and to bring to justice all of those who did this or allowed this to be done under their watch.

Here are a few excerpts about smell as possible probable cause from the St. Petersburg Times Article: Young plants don’t emit an odor, but if a person were growing “hundreds” of mature plants in a structure that wasn’t properly sealed, it’s “possible” an officer very close to the home would notice the smell…James Woodford of Chattanooga, Tenn., an expert on the topic of marijuana odor, said a large operation vented directly outdoors could generate an occasional “whiff” of marijuana detectable up to 25 to 30 feet away [i.e., less than half the distance between the sidewalk and Underwood’s “alleged grow room”]….Law enforcement officers commonly use the smell of marijuana to establish probable cause.
Drug Crimes Trial Lawyer & Criminal Defense Attorney in Clearwater, FL
Times Editorial: America shouldn’t be a surveillance society
Video Surveillance – Are Hidden Cameras Legal?
933.07 Issuance of search warrants.
(1) The judge, upon examination of the application and proofs submitted, if satisfied that probable cause exists for the issuing of the search warrant, shall thereupon issue a search warrant signed by him or her with his or her name of office, to any sheriff and the sheriff’s deputies or any police officer or other person authorized by law to execute process, commanding the officer or person forthwith to search the property described in the warrant or the person named, for the property specified, and to bring the property and any person arrested in connection therewith before the judge or some other court having jurisdiction of the offense.

(2) Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, based on grounds specified in s. 933.02(4)(d), may obtain a search warrant authorized by this chapter for an area in size up to and including the full extent of the county in which the search warrant is issued. The judge issuing such search warrant shall conduct a court proceeding prior to the issuance of such search warrant upon reasonable notice and shall receive, hear, and determine any objections by property owners to the issuance of such search warrant. Such search warrant may be served by employees or authorized contractors of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Such search warrant may be made returnable at any time up to 6 months from the date of issuance.

933.04 Affidavits.The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated and no search warrant shall be issued except upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation particularly describing the place to be searched and the person and thing to be seized.

From Orwell’s novel 1984, The three slogans of the Party on the Ministry of Truth Building.