Monthly Archives: April 2014

It’s a Bad Week for Local Law Enforcement

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s news of longtime SAO employee Warren Hamilton being arrested for 20 counts of possession of child pornography, a Cape Coral police officer has been arrested for sexual activity with a minor 16 or 17 years old. Officer Casey Ortiz, who got in trouble a few years ago in the raise for educational credits he never completed scandal (there were several Cape officers involved in that scandal a few years ago), allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-0ld.

First: I used to work at the SAO, and knew Mr. Hamilton, and am shocked, as are other employees I’ve talked to. Obviously nobody there had any idea. The State has already announced that they will ask the governor to appoint a prosecutor from another circuit to handle the prosecution. The SAO has already moved to terminate his eomployment. This should not affect any prosecutions handled by the office.

Secondly: the correct charge is Unlawful Sexual Activity with  Minor, a second degree felony and one that could subject the accused to sex-offender sanctions… and up to 15 years in prison. I don’t know why LCSO has the charge listed as a sexual assault, it’s a different section of the statutes.

Both individuals are innocent until proven guilty.

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Knox Verdict Papers Released by Italian Courts

Knox Verdict Papers Released by Italian Courts

Just a short post for those very curious. I will try to do a full reaction post as soon as possible…

Another Arrest for Video Taping Police

It happened a few weeks ago, but the story just broke yesterday. Miami resident Lazaro Estrada video taped an arrest, and was arrested on an obstruction of justice charge. The officer went so far as to write that he felt threatened by Estrada. The benefit of having things on tape, is the event is fully recorded, and we can all review the video to see exactly what happened. The police say the report speaks for itself, and unfortunately for them, it doesn’t jibe with the video. The best part, if when Estrada asks what he is being arrested for, and the cop audibly stutters as he tries to come up with an offense.

Let me reiterate here, it is absolutely NOT against the law to record officers. An officer who arrests someone for recording him is violating that person’s rights. Frankly, it is even more concerning when the officer tries to trump up a charge to justify his actions: it’s akin to lying to cover up doing something wrong. And the only way officers will stop violating people’s rights in this way is if they are held accountable: both by their departments, and potentially through lawsuits.

http://miami.cbslocal.com/2014/04/28/man-arrested-after-taping-arrest-with-cell-phone/

Thoughts on NBC-2’s Drug Sentencing Story

  • Michael B. Edwards was sentenced to 60 years in prison for cocaine charges in 1993
  • He has already served more than 20 years behind bars, so far
Michael Edwards in DOC

Michael Edwards in DOC

If you didn’t get a chance to check out the NBC-2 story, spend a few minutes reading or watching it. Mr. Edwards was a drug addict, who got arrested for his involvement, and then hammered by the courts with an extremely harsh sentence. According to the story, the state will pay over $1,000,000 to pay for his incarceration, as he faces decades more than the 20 years he has already served. A review of the file discloses that even the sentencing judge found his efforts at reforming his life while incarcerated to be commendable.

The story does sugar coat the story, or gloss over some of the bad facts. Mr. Edwards didn’t merely possess cocaine, he was convicted of selling it, on two separate occasions. His prior record was terrible; he’d already been to prison multiple times for many charges, including a prior cocaine trafficking conviction. His plea offer was for 15 years, and that was due to his substantial record.

I stated in my previous article that the sentence was more than he could get in state court for a possession charge. To extend his sentence out to 60 years, he really had to get hammered. First, it wasn’t merely possession: it was two counts of sale. Secondly, he was classified as a Habitual Felony Offender, which double the potential penalty on each of the sale counts. Finally, he had to be completely maxed out. The court double him up under the habitual statue, and then ran the sentences concurrent. Basically, he got doubled up twice. Since there were two sale charges on different days, the sentences are legal. As I’ve said before, Florida has an extremely harsh sentencing regime. He is not slated for release until 2044.

According to the article and the case file, Mr. Edwards has one of the harshest sentences in Florida for sales of such small amounts of drugs. In addition to punitive value, harsh sentences are intended to serve as a deterrent to others who might sell. However, there comes a point where the punishment, when extended to its fullest limit, may not fit with the actual facts of the crime. That’s a pretty basic principle of law: the punishment should fit the crime. Either way, you, me, and the other taxpayers of Florida are footing the bill for the million dollar cost of the case, for an individual who never was given a shot at rehab.

UPDATE: Link to NBC fixed: http://www.nbc-2.com/story/25371390/should-a-tablespoon-of-cocaine-equate-to-life-in-prison

NBC-2 to do a Story Tonight on Sentence Reform

Well, I guess the story is on sentence reform: it’s about a man who was apparently arrested for possession of a half-an-ounce of cocaine and who was then sentenced to 60 years incarceration. The NBC teaser doesn’t give much in the way of details: what were the aggravating factors, was it a state or federal case? I expect it must have been federal charges, because state charges would not allow that great of a sentence for such a small amount. Even if it was possession with intent to sell, that wouldn’t be sufficient to warrant a 60 year sentence without other charges in Florida state court.

The teaser talks about the war on drugs, and shows a clip of President Clinton talking tough, but it also shows a clip of Governor Scott, so I don’t know if the situation deals with federal or state charges. While the state does have some severe sanctions: minimum mandatory sentences for an ounce or more of cocaine, for instance, federal laws are generally more harsh. The federal government has actually looked to recede from some of their overly-harsh, drug war-era initiatives, including the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced disproportionate sentences for cocaine offenses that involved crack cocaine. Even Florida, which has an extremely harsh sentencing structure, is considering some exceptions to its sentencing policy.

Hopefully I’ll have time to do a follow up post after the story! It’s on tonight, around 6 pm: http://youtu.be/WXCB0VlDHWE

 

What’s the Difference Between the Arrests of Dane Eagle and Trey Radel

  • State Rep. Dane Eagle was arrested for DUI last week in Tallahassee
  • Frmr Congressman Trey Radel was arrested for purchasing cocaine last year in Washington, D.C.
  • Radel resigned his position in Congress and spent time in rehab
Dane Eagle Mugshot

Dane Eagle Mugshot

Another arrest of a local politician brings criminal matters to the coffee shops around Southwest Florida. People I talk to generally agree that Trey Radel’s resignation from Congress was the right thing to do, but there doesn’t seem to be the level of anger regarding Dane Eagle’s DUI arrest. Though it doesn’t help that Eagle was recently quoted as saying that elected officials need to be held “to a higher standard”.

Legally, the offenses are not greatly different in terms of severity. Both charges are classified as misdemeanors, which are generally considered minor type offenses. Neither of them have been charged with felonies, as was former Lee County commissioner Tammy Hall. Neither offense would affect their civil rights, and neither has mandatory incarceration, though it could be a possibility, as they are criminal offenses. In fact, both charges carry a maximum 180 days in jail as a potential penalty in their respective jurisdictions. They are technically equivalent offenses. However, the nature of the offenses give people different reactions.

Many people feel more strongly about the cocaine charge, because the stigma of hard drugs, and the potential professional implications on a user, especially if abuse becomes a problem. That said, alcohol abuse can become a problem. There was information that Radel’s use had been ongoing, but at this time there is no evidence that the allegations against Eagle, which are still just allegations, are anything more than a one-time incident. In Florida, Radel’s charge would have been taken much more seriously. Any controlled substance possession is a felony, with exception of a small amount of marijuana. Purchase is actually an enhanced charge, and as a second degree felony, could be subject to 15 years in prison. Washington, D.C. does not consider a personal amount to be so serious.

Ironically, Eagle’s DUI in Florida could be considered more serious, as there are more mandatory minimum obligations for DUI offenses, including higher fines, community service, driver’s license suspensions, and classes that have to be taken if he is convicted. Radel will avoid even receiving a conviction if he completes his probation: that’s not available if Eagle ends up pleading or being found guilty of DUI. Also, many people consider DUI more serious because it puts other people at risk. He could have killed someone if he was driving under the influence, while personal use drug possession does not have the disregard for others associated with DUI.

Possible Eagle Photo on Instagram

Possible Eagle Photo on Instagram

Also worth noting is the way each conducted himself when detained by cops. Radle was completely cooperative and apologetic, immediately taking responsibility for his actions. Eagle denied having anything to drink, despite the officers description of an odor of alcohol, stumbling, and a bad driving pattern. Also, a picture has surfaced on social media that appears to be Eagle drinking from an oversized beer stein, and shark-tank.com estimates was posted Sunday evening before the arrest. That would not prove he was impaired, which he is still entitled to have heard in court before judgment is passed. Frankly, any misdemeanor charge is unlikely to reflect such a serious offense as to end someone’s career: their ability to do their job should be decided on actual merit.

More reading, with details on arrest: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/dane-eagle-arrested-charged-with-dui/

Remember: DUI Checkpoint in Lee County Tonight

Sobriety checkpoint in Lee County somewhere tonight- be safe, and don’t drink and drive!

http://www.sheriffleefl.org/main/index.php?r=news/index&id=12140