Monthly Archives: August 2012

Catch him if you can conviction

Matthew Scheidt

A Florida teen was just found guilty of impersonating a physician’s assistant for two weeks.  Always in Florida.  Matthew Scheidt gave a full confession (never talk to the cops) and was found guilty of 4 out of 5 charges.  I’m guessing that the case went to trial to preserve the issue for appeal of whether or not the confessional was admissible; his attorneys had attempted to exclude his statements from the trial.  The only way to preserve that issue of appeal would be to go to trial (and lose).  If the appellate court finds the statements were improperly taken, it could be remanded for another trial.  The young man is facing up to 20 years in prison when he gets sentenced.

He was only 17 at the time.  I wonder if this case was initially charged in juvenile court.  The state would likely have moved the case to adult court when he got arrested for additional charges, anyway.  The judge can take his age into consideration when he hands down sentence.  I can’t help but think of DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me if You Can, though this kid clearly doesn’t have the knack for pulling things off.

Fort Myers Police plan DUI Checkpoint this weekend

FMPD plans a “sobriety checkpoint,” a DUI checkpoint, this weekend.  Location not announced- but somewhere in the city- usually near downtown.  Be safe out there, don’t drink and drive and ruin your Labor Day Weekend with a night in jail!

LCSO did a checkpoint a few weeks ago.  They stopped over 1,000 cars, and got 6 DUIs.  It’s easy to point out the irony (or the lack of need) of running a DUI checkpoint when the rate of impaired drivers is >1%.  Instead I’ll point out that if a dozen or more officers had been patrolling instead of harassing 900+ innocent drivers, they likely would’ve caught more DUI offenders! It’s good for business for us criminal defense attorneys…

Judge ordered off George Zimmerman’s case

The appellate court has granted the Petition for Writ of Prohibition filed by George Zimmerman’s defense team.  Florida has a very low standard for recusal of a judge: if a judge does or says something that would make an average person think they wouldn’t get a fair hearing, the judge must recuse himself.  The judge doesn’t get the option of weighing the allegations, even if they are made up.  In this case, the statements leading to the motion are all on the record.  The judge pretty much hammered Zimmerman at the bond reconsideration hearings, as I’ve discussed before on this blog.  See more from the ABA Journal, with links.

The impartiality of the judge is particularly important in this case.  Since the judge has previously commented on the credibility of Mr. Zimmerman, the Defense team decided they had to make this move.  At trial, the witnesses credibility will be determined by a jury, who generally will not be made aware of statements (or Mr. Zimmerman’s silence) at the bond proceedings.  However, the Defense has indicated they plan a stand your ground motion, which will be decided by the judge.  The primary factor in the judge’s deliberation will be the credibility of George Zimmerman, as he’s the only surviving direct witness to the shooting itself, and whether he had been attacked beforehand, or if he attacked Trayvon Martin.  The question to be decided at that hearing will be “who provoked the physical altercation,” for which Zimmerman’s defense relies on the judge believing him.

There is always a consideration to be made at Stand Your Ground immunity hearings as to whether the defense attorney is willing to put the client on the stand, and expose him to cross-examination and to tip the prosecutor as to what he will say at trial.  As Zimmerman previously gave an extensive statement to police, the Defense would like to use that, but the court said in the McDaniel case that hearsay is not admissible.  Ironically, in McDaniel, the state was trying to rely on hearsay to proceed against Mr. McDaniel, but the ruling bars defendants from admitting their own statements.  And to further the irony, the state is allowed to use a defendant’s statements against him/her, but the defendant is not allowed to introduce his own prior statements in his defense!  It will be interesting to see how Zimmerman’s attorney’s proceed, but I anticipate they will probably put Mr. Zimmerman on the stand.

Drew Peterson Update: Divorce lawyers says Stacy threatened to accuse Drew of the Savio murder

Update from the ABA journal:  Drew Peterson defense attorneys put on testimony from a divorce attorney that 4th wife Stacy Peterson spoke to.  He testified that she considered using the threat of accusing him of murder to gain an advantage in her potential divorce proceeding.  Of course, she disappeared before any divorce proceeding could be commenced.  Does this testimony help Peterson… or suggest more of a motive to have murdered Stacy? (He has not been charged in Stacy’s disappearance… yet.)

Jeff Ruby offers $100,000 reward for Stacy Peterson information: Drew Peterson updates

This won’t immediately affect Drew Peterson’s trial for allegedly murdering 3rd wife, Kathleen Savio, but Jeff Ruby has offered a major reward for help finding Stacy Peterson’s body; his 4th wife whose disappearance sparked the reopening of the investigation into Savio’s death.  A few days ago, Ruby made news for being barred from the courtroom for making faces at Drew Peterson during the trial.  He’s adding to the circus atmosphere, while simultaneously complaining about the lawyers antics. 

In other news, the prosecution rested, and the defense has begun their case.  Several witnesses have been called to cast doubt on the State’s witnesses.  Again, the Tribune has running updates.

And finally, the jury has been coordinating their clothes for the duration of the trial, possibly taking their lead off a couple of defense attorneys (a husband and wife). It culminated in all of them wearing sports jerseys today (I see an Urlacher in the back row).  Quirky and fun, and I’m sure a tension breaker for the long, hard work of sitting on this many-weeks trial.

Thanks to @kendallherold for the heads up on the Jeff Ruby story.

Open letter to Lee County Court Admin: Update

I know that it is complicated and probably expensive to close the courthouse, but several parts of the county are under a hurricane warning.  With today’s advanced forecasting, we cn say with great certainty that the hurricane will be off our coast on Monday, and that we will be experiencing high, tropical storm level winds, perhaps much more.  The schools are closed, government offices are closed, and I think you can safely determine there’s no way the courthouse will be open on monday, so that those of us who work there can plan accordingly.

Also, Lee County Government, you probably ought to have your webpage updated with something.  Kudos to Lee schools for excellent notification.

Update: The Courthouse is officially closed Monday. Thank you Admin for not waiting until 4 pm to make the announcement.

Man’s conviction overturned, but he’s still sitting in a California prison

Exonerated Daniel Larsen is still in prison

Thanks to Steve K. for the heads up on this one.  Daniel Larson’s conviction was overturned 2 years ago, but he’s still in prison.  He has served 13 years for it.  Not only that, the state is fighting to keep him there.  I appreciate that they want to follow the letter of the law on appeals and timing and so forth… but, isn’t there a greater miscarriage of justice for an innocent man to be locked up.  It’s bad enough that the 3-strikes laws gave him a 27 year sentence for being in possession of a knife, but since he’s been exonerated, why would anyone wish him to be unjustly incarcerated.

I hope it’s not about money; that the state is afraid of getting sued for wrongful incarceration.  The article doesn’t say it, but it’s gotta be a concern.  If it was, shouldn’t they want him out before he sits there any longer?  Do the crime, you may have to do the time… but, you shouldn’t do the time if you didn’t do the crime.  EVER.  Cases like this hurt prosecutors in the long run, as they undermine society’s faith in the system.  Perhaps the Governor can just pardon him and do some justice.

Stand Your Ground Ruling in Charlotte County

Ernesto Castro mug

Ernesto Castro mug

Ernesto Castro, who was arrested and charged with Aggravated Battery for going after Zon McCoy with a machete, had his charges dismissed in Charlotte County this week.  Castro’s attorney, Casey Clough, successfully argued that he was entitled to immunity under the “Stand Your Ground” law, because evidence showed that he was defending himself.  Apparently, McCoy was chasing him around with an ax (or ax handle) and he claims to have used the machete to defend himself.  His claims were substantial enough to convince the judge, who said it wasn’t “even close”, and granted his motion for immunity on the eve of trial.  Kudos to Judge Duryea for having the courage to do the right thing in light of the evidence.  It takes judicial fortitude to throw out the State’s case instead of punting to the jury, especially since the victim was participatory.

The WINK article claims the case set a precedent for being the first successful stand your ground motion where the alleged “victim” survived and testified- it’s not.  The McDaniel case in Lee county also featured a victim- who lied, and a machete attack.  Perhaps it was the first in Charlotte county.  It’s still a big win for the Defendant, and demonstration why the stand your ground immunity is a good idea.  If the judge found the evidence clearly showed that the defendant had been defending himself, why should the case be allowed to go to trial.  It sounds like another case of one guy got hurt, the other guy got charged.  Stand your ground is a barrier to gut-check moves on the part of law enforcement, and a benefit to the system- the State didn’t have to go to the expense of putting on the trial because the judge had the courage to act on the self-defense.

Norway mass murderer gets only 21 years: Update

That’s only 3.27 months for each of the 77 individuals he killed.  This is this blog’s first foray into foreign criminal law- because I missed the Amanda Knox trial by a few months, but the sentence for Anders Breivik is so contrary to what I am accustomed to with American law.  For instance, in Florida if you shoot someone, and they live, there is a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence.  And a premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence… it only takes one.

Anders Breivik at Sentencing

There is a caveat to that sentence, that the prosecutors can ask to lock him up longer if they feel he is still a threat to society.  That addresses my biggest concern: how do you ever let such a dangerous person to walk free?  The Norwegian justice system stresses rehabilitation over punishment, and there is some evidence to suggest their system works better than our own, but still… this guy is scary.  He remained defiant at sentencing; check out the Nazi salute he threw in court.  He is unremorseful and unrepentant.

I am fascinated by the trial, which occurred contrary to what we’d expect.  The prosecutors were trying to prove that he was insane, in order for him to be committed, while his defense was that he was aware of the wrongness of his evil acts.  I may have to read a book about this trial.

I generally have a concern with mandatory harsh sentences: more so when crimes of violence are not involved.  Any time discretion is taken away, there is likely to be in justice.  Every situation has an exception.  Conversely, when there is no discretion for the punishment to be proportional to the crime, an injustice also occurs.  I doubt this man will ever cease being a threat to society.

Update: here’s a follow up article from

Bizarre addendum to Drew Peterson trial: Cincinnati restauranteur Jeff Ruby barred from courtroom

Famed Cincinnati steakhouse operator Jeff Ruby, who operates several restaurants around Cincinnati and the midwest, was barred from the courtroom in the Drew Peterson trial today.  The Cincinnati Enquirer has had good coverage of this angle.  Apparently Ruby just gets so worked up he can’t help himself on these high-profile murder cases.

I have to say I really get a kick out of the story of him kicking O.J. Simpson out of his restaurant one time.  That’s great, and he’s a private businessman, who’s got a right to refuse service to whoever he wants.  However, I get concerned as he nearly inserts himself into the trial of a case.  He’s attacked the Defense attorneys, who are doing their duty to defend their client.  The system doesn’t work without Defense attorneys advocating zealously for their client: justice does not happen in our adversarial system without strong representation of the accused.

I know I’m not going to convince Mr. Ruby to moderate his views.  The Enquirer article delineates why the issue is so personal to him, and I respect that.  I would just hope that he would reciprocate the decorum and professionalism he decries the defense attorneys for not displaying.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  And he’s well within his rights to decline to let them into his restaurants.