DOC photo of Debra LaFave
You may remember the story of Debra LaFave, the Tampa area teacher who got busted for sexual relations with a 14-year-old boy. She made a lot of headlines in part for being awfully attractive. Even her probation photos look good. She ultimately pled out to a couple of counts, convicted as a sex offender, and was sentenced to 10 years of supervision: 3 years of Community Control followed by 7 years of sex offender probation.
In her plea deal, she had stipulated that she would not apply for early termination of her probation. Yet, with several years remaining, she filed a motion to ask the judge to terminate her supervision early. In spite of the stipulation, the judge agreed to terminate her, and the state appealed.
Debra LaFave, via DOC
The Second District Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s order, but certified the question to the Supreme Court of Florida: which means they asked the Supreme Court to review it. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, 5-2, in an opinion released yesterday. The Court’s reasoning relied on jurisdiction: basically that the State does not have the right to ask for a review of a judge’s decision to terminate probation. While it seems incongruous to allow an early termination when it has been bargained away, that is not inconsistent with case law that that grants great deference to judges on how to handle probationers in front of them. The will end Ms. LaFave’s legal case, but she will still be required to report as a sex-offender for many years.
Florida Supreme Court Opinion: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc12-2232.pdf
The second jury came back and found Michael Dunn guilty of first degree murder. Michael Dunn, known as the Loud Music Shooter, for because his complaints about the victims playing music too loudly precipitated his shooting of a car full of teenagers. Dunn and Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old he shot, apparently exchanged heated words at a gas station when Dunn pulled out a firearm and began firing. He killed Davis and was charged with first degree murder, and attempted murder for the other three individuals in the car with Davis.
Michael Dunn mug shot
Dunn argued self-defense at trial, saying he thought Davis had a weapon. No weapon was recovered, and Dunn, instead of calling law enforcement, continued on his trip to another city where he stayed in a hotel room. The jury hung on the first degree murder count in the first trial, but convicted him of three counts of attempted murder, which he was sentenced to 20 years each, consecutively, as required by 10/20/Life. The second jury found him guilty at the retrial, and the first degree murder charge mandates a sentence of life in prison without parole under Florida law.
Dunn will assuredly appeal, but it will be difficult to overturn, as the appellate courts do not usually like to disturb a jury’s findings about the credibility of a justifiable use of force defense. All areas of the trial will be examined to determine if there are errors that warrant a new trial.
This opinion article in the New York Times suggests that they are. Even if there is not direct inducement, there are no ramifications for officers if they lie, and the system encourages numbers and, as we’ve discussed recently on Crimcourts, forfeitures of property. The system is set up to encourage arrests, and not as the old adage implies, to protect and serve. While I don’t think the majority of cops are liars, you see it with some frequency in a criminal practice. It’s not just drug cases, but even little things like traffic tickets. And misjudged priorities and a lack of accountability can compound the problem. Again, more cameras will help demonstrate the truth and be better for everybody.
Convicted Judge Tracie Hunter
The jury in the trial of Judge Tracie Hunter has found her guilty on one count, but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other counts, resulting in a hung jury. The count she was found guilty of was for Having an Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract: essentially for getting public employees to get restricted documents to help her brother, a juvenile court employee who was facing termination from his job. The charge is a felony, which means Hunter is suspended without pay, and will effectively cause her to be removed from the bench, pending the appeal in the case. The charge carries a presumption of probation, but she could be facing up to 18 months in prison.
The hung jury on the other counts means that she could be tried again. That decision will probably be announced by prosecutors some time in the future. Obviously she will appeal the conviction, which will take some time: sentencing on the guilty count is set for Dec. 2.
For more coverage, see Cincinnati.com’s @KimballPerry
Blogger Steve Lehto, an attorney from Michigan shares some pointers in his latest column: http://oppositelock.jalopnik.com/how-to-reduce-the-odds-of-being-ticketed-during-a-traff-1645604557
I would add, be exceedingly polite. I doubt anything makes as big a difference on whether you are getting ticket, and what deal you get at court, than how you treat the cop.
Yesterday I discussed the growing practice of property forfeitures by law enforcement- even when there is not evidence to support an arrest, and how those seizures can be challenged. I was inspired by a video from John Oliver’s This Week, Tonight, that posted on Huffington Post. Yesterday, Forbes.com and Yahoo did their own article, also referencing the John Oliver video. Their article is worth a read, as well. And here is a link to the John Oliver bit, if you’ve got 15 minutes: