Monthly Archives: December 2012

More Thoughts on Our Mental Illness Crisis

I shared some of my thoughts on the need to act on our systematic failings regarding mental illness a few days ago.  The NY Times recently featured this article, which I wanted to share as it is a good read and a call to action. Something that I had not realized, is that psychiatrists are not allowed to discuss someone’s mental state without having examined him or her (and then, only after receiving permission to discuss the case). This means that doctors who are most competent to address the crisis of untreated, or under-treated, mentally ill persons who go on shooting sprees, aren’t allowed to talk about their mental illnesses.  They cannot say, I think this person was sick, and lives could have been saved if we had gotten them treatment, or made treatment more available.  Treatment can be effective in many cases, but we must have avenues to deliver treatment before tragedy happens.

Most Wanted Fugitive Caught in Fort Myers

Felix Torrealba

Felix Torrealba

The US Marshalls service had been trying to track down Felix Torrealba for a while, and finally caught up to him today in Fort Myers.  He was on the Marshall’s most wanted list, and notably dodged a couple of sting operations to catch him in Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral earlier this yet.  Torrealba is wanted for questioning in a murder out of Broward County.

Matt Bush Enterred a Plea on his DUI Case: Opted for More Jail

As Deadspin reports: “Matt Bush Chose An Extra Year In Prison Because He Can’t Trust Himself To Stay Clean.”  The alternative to that extra year of incarceration was 7 years of probation.  That’s a long time.  Seeing so many reoffenders in the system (and Mr. Bush has a prior record due to his substance abuse issues,) most defendants are better off taking jail in lieu of probation, especially such a long period.  On probation, even a little slip up could send him back to prison for much more than that year.

I spoke to the prosecutor on the case, who said that Bush was lucky the motorcyclist he hit survived, as he would’ve gotten more time.  What made the case worse, was that Bush fled the scene.  Florida treats leaving the scene with injuries more seriously than the DUI itself.  He made the situation much worse by trying to flee.  Mr. Bush was not able to post bond, his baseball money is long gone, and has been in custody since the arrest, so he does have some credit toward his sentence already.

Florida State Senator Chris Smith Has Filed a Bill to Amend Stand Your Ground


Florida Senator Chris Smith
Florida Senator Chris Smith

Florida State Senator Christopher Smith has been an outspoken critic of the Stand Your Ground law as written.  When Governor Scott created the Task Force to review the law earlier this year, Smith created his own task force which returned with several recommendations regarding the law.  I have spoken more in-depth about the task force findings earlier on this blog.  I have seen the law used to protect people from being wrongly prosecuted for their exercise of self-defense, and know the value of the law, but there is room to tailor the language of the law for more clarity.  Smith has recently filed a bill recommending some revisions of the Stand Your Ground law.  I haven’t seen the text of Senator Smith’s proposal, but his intent sounds solid for making clear some appropriate parameters.  As always, Crimcourts will be following the developments in the Stand Your Ground law. Definitely check out my earlier post on both the task force recommendations:

It’s Time to Commit to Providing Mental Health Treatment

The tragedy in Newtown, and other recent shootings such as at the Batman theater, the shooting involving Congresswoman Giffords, and the mass shooting in Norway have all involved individuals with severe mental illnesses.  All deeply disturbed individuals, whose corrupted minds lead them down a horrible path of destruction.  There must be a way to address this.

This incident also brought to mind the killing by Mario Lopez in Cape Coral.  The killing happened in 2002, before I moved to Florida, but the trial and retrials occurred during my practice here.  Lopez was accused of stabbing his close friend 145 times.  He snapped.  He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a mental institution until he’s cured, which will probably never happen.  There are echoes of that case again with the patricide that recently ocurred in Cape Coral: the young man recently ran away from the mental health crisis center.  There must be a way to keep this from going so far.

It appears that often the only way to get help is to wait until somebody enters the criminal system, and only then after the most serious of charges.  Frequently, the criminal system ends in a cycle of incarceration followed by brief freedom without treatment, only to offend again.  Local crazy person Victor Casiano was only out of custody after his last jail stint for a few days before he was confronted by an officer, started an altercation, was rearrested, and got sentenced to 3 more years.  The man walks around yelling at inanimate objects.  Everybody in town knows he’s crazy, yet the cycle continues to turn.  There must be a better solution than the revolving-door criminal justice system.

Getting help can be the hardest thing.  Unless your family is rich, your options are limited.  I personally had a client who could not control her son.  The facts were eerily similar to the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” essay that has circulated the internet lately.  She could not afford to commit him to a private facility.  The child was so disturbed that it was not safe for him to live in the family home, and the family made the difficult decision to give him up.  Only in the custody of the state would he be safely housed and given counseling… at least until he turns 18.   There must be help available for parents.

There must be a better way.  We must prioritize mental health, both long-term and preventative treatment, as a matter of national security.  Far more Americans are killed by sick people, other Americans who suffer from mental illness, than are killed by terrorists.  Yet, our mental hospitals remain shuttered, and outpatient options remain inadequate to deal with the breadth of mental illness in Florida and across the country.  The system is failing, and we as a society are failing in our inability to help those sick individuals who desperately need the help.  It is a matter of protection and safety not just for those who are affected by mental illness, but for everyone in society who might be touched by their actions.  There must a serious movement to establish a system to work with the mentally ill.  There must be action to prevent the next Newtown.

Lee County Last in Mental Health Dollars, Statewide

I started a post on this earlier when I saw the story on NBC-2 that said that Lee County is last in funding for Mental Health support.  That’s not surprising to any of us working in the Criminal Defense field, as getting treatment is always a challenge, and you can see the cycle repeating in the system.  That post became a longer essay, which I’ll post later today.  Until then, check out the NBC story.

I hope NBC doesn’t mind, but I’m going to repost below some of the resources posted on their site:

NAMI Lee County
(239) 337-9024

Bob Janes Triage Center
(239) 275-3222 Ext. 5243

Lee Mental Health
(239) 275-3222

Park Royal Hospital
(239) 985-2700

Collier Deputies Hold 8th Annual ‘Shop with a Cop’ Event

Collier County deputies took about 40 needy kids Christmas shopping, to give them a Christmas they wouldn’t be able to have, otherwise.  Good for Collier County Sheriff’s Office! #goodcops

Teen Shooting in Jacksonville Has Echoes of Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman Case

Accused killer Michael Dunn mug shot

Accused killer Michael Dunn mug shot

A few weeks ago in Jacksonville, Michael Dunn shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis in a gas station lot.  The shooting was preceded by an argument over loud noise that was being played in the vehicle that Mr. Davis was in with three friends.  Reports indicate Mr. Dunn fired 8 rounds into the vehicle, resulting in Mr. Davis’ death.  Dunn initially left the scene, but called to turn himself in the next day.  He was charged with murder for Mr. Davis, and three counts of attempted murder for the other teens in the car.  Mr. Dunn is white, and Mr. Davis was black.

Recently, the State Attorney’s Office announced that they had sought and received an indictment upping the primary charge to First Degree Murder.  Apparently, they do not intend to seek the death penalty, but First Degree Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  In Florida, life means life: there is no possibility for parole if convicted.  The case is being handled by the 4th Circuit SAO, which is the office of State Attorney Angela Corey, whose aggressive prosecutorial style this blog has previously discussed.  To charge First Degree murder, the State must be able to prove there was premeditation or that there was another specific aggravator.  Based on the facts that have been discussed in the media so far, the State is likely proceeding on a premeditation theory.  The premeditation does not mean “advance-planned” as we often think, but the case certainly sounds like a heat of the moment act as opposed to one of premeditation.

Attorneys for Mr. Dunn have claimed that their client acted in self-defense.  He apparently gave a statement to law enforcement that while he was arguing with Mr. Davis, he was threatened and thought he saw a shotgun being pointed in his direction before shooting.  No weapon has been located in the vehicle, but there are reports the teen’s vehicle initially left the scene before returning.  Mr. Dunn’s first attorney tried to distance his client from the Trayvon Martin situation, but his new attorney, Cory Strolla, has acknowledged that they may try to use Stand Your Ground in his defense.  They better, because Mr. Dunn will need to show that he had a reasonable belief that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm for his actions to be justified.  There are certainly differences between the cases, but they both come back to the simple question of justification.  And that justification does not require a showing of actual danger, merely that a reasonable person in their shoes would have felt the danger.

Thanks to Dan for the heads up on this case.  #standyourground

Dougherty Siblings Sentenced for Georgia Robbery

Three Florida siblings who went on a nationwide crime spree earlier this year were sentenced yesterday for the robbery they conducted in Georgia.  The judge in that case gave them each 35 years.  They had previously plead guilty to charges in Colorado, but did not get as long a sentence, there.  They still face multiple charges in Florida, including charges for shooting a deputy, and they potentially face life in prison.

Another High-Profile Killing of a Black Teenager in North Florida

More details to follow on this story when I do a full post this morning…