Monthly Archives: January 2020

Another Florida Man Arrested for Striking a Dog

Dwayne Croker Jr.

This time in Naples, a man was arrested and charged with striking a police dog. As in the case we reported this morning, a man named Dwayne Croker Jr. was running from the cops for other alleged crimes and got the K-9 released on him. Like our friend from North Fort Myers, he was probably fending off the dog when he hit it. So, instead of getting a misdemeanor paraphernalia charge- he ended up getting three! One for resisting for running from the cops, another for striking the K-9, and he still got the paraphernalia charge. As is so often the case, the cover up is worse than the crime!

I also not the CCSO sent up a helicopter. That’s quite an expense for a couple of misdemeanors, and it was a dog that eventually located and led to his detention. No indications of any injuries on this one.

Florida Man Bites Dog?

Robert Lawrence

A North Fort Myers man was arrested and charged with attacking a police dog, according to NBC-2. I have to say the NBC headline (and mine) are a little misleading… the allegation isn’t that he attacked the police dog per se, but that he forcefully grabbed it. This was after the police had let the dog loose on him, and the dog had bitten his shoulder: sounds like he was trying to stop the dog from attacking him. He had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for his injuries, including the hole in his shoulder and the deputy punching him to let get him to let go of the dog.

NBC-2 Headline

It is a felony to injure a police animal, but a misdemeanor to strike one. This guy, Robert Dean Lawrence, was only charged with the misdemeanor for his actions toward the K-9, “Koa”. However, he’s got bigger problems, as the deputies were after him in the first place for a felony battery charge. He faces charges for felony domestic battery by strangulation, striking a police dog and resisting arrest.

At least he didn’t punch a horse.

Exclusive: Ashley Toye Sentence Overturned, She’s Entitled to a New Sentencing in the Cash Feenz case

Ashley Toye

Ashley Toye mug shot

Ashley Toye was sentenced to life in prison at 17-years old for her involvement in the double murder of Jeffrey and Alexis Sosa in 2006. The facts of the case were troubling; one of the prosecutors who worked on the case told me it was the most troubling and disturbing cases she had worked on in a career of criminal law work. The Sosa’s were kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately killed by a would be rap group/gang under ringleader Kemar Johnston. Johnston allegedly forced Toye and others to participate in the torture, before the victims were taken to a remote area, shot, and their bodies set on fire. The State pursued the death penalty against Johnston, but he was given life in prison. Several other co-defendants agreed to cooperation plea deals to avoid mandatory life sentences on First Degree Felony Murder Charges.

Ms. Toye elected to take her chances at trial. She was pregnant with Johnston’s baby at the time of trial, and claimed that she only participated for fear of what he might have done to her. While she was acquitted of premeditated murder, she was convicted of first degree felony murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Life means life in Florida, and Ms. Toye was sentenced without the possibility of parole, in spite of the fact that she was a minor at the time of the offense: she got the same sentence as Mr. Johnston. The case garnered national attention, even a segment on the “Dr. Phil Show” discussing Ms. Toye’s case, specifically. I recommend checking out the episode, specifically for Dr. Phil’s discussion of the purpose and theory regarding juvenile sentencing.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miller v. Alabama, which found that mandatory life sentences are not permissible against minors under the Constitution. This entitled Toye to a new sentencing hearing. Florida subsequently passed a law governing sentences for minors, indicating that if they killed or intended the death of the victim, they still could be sentenced to life, with a 40 year minimum, albeit with the possibility of review after 25 years. Florida law also provided that if they did not kill or intend the death, there is no minimum sentence and that they are entitled to have their sentence reviewed after 15 years.

Ashley Toye’s most recent prison photo from DOC

Local attorney Stu Pepper took up the case for Toye, and represented her at the new sentencing. Pepper argued that the jury did not find that Toye had intended the death of the victims, in fact, she was acquitted of the premeditated murder charge. That would have required her to have a review after 15 years. Further he, he presented evidence of Toye’s efforts toward rehabilitation in prison and argued for a significantly reduced sentence. Also, the state conceded that it appeared that a term of years with a 15-year review was appropriate. However, the court chose to disregard those arguments, and sentenced Toye to life in prison, without the possibility of review for 25 years.

The case was again appealed, and the 2nd District Court eviscerated the lower court’s sentencing. The 2nd DCA found that Toye could not be sentenced to the greater possible sentence because there had not been a jury finding that she had killed or intended the death of the victims. The court overturned the sentence, and remanded it to the lower court for Ms. Toye to get a brand new sentencing hearing, and indicating that she should be sentenced under the subsection of the statute that does not have a mandatory minimum and allowing her a review after 15 years. Further, the DCA found that the court considered improper factors, so that when she comes back for re-sentencing, she will be entitled to have a new judge hold the new sentencing hearing. The State can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court of Florida, but I would posit that is unlikely, when the sentencing prosecutor conceded that a life sentence probably wasn’t appropriate.

This is  huge win for the defense, as Ms. Toye will finally have a meaningful chance to not only avoid a life sentence, but to have her sentence reviewed after 15 years. The DCA opinion almost certainly will persuade the new judge that a life sentence is not appropriate- even the State did not argue for it the last time around. I spoke to Mr. Pepper, who was very happy that Ms. Toye will get a new shot at sentencing. Mr. Pepper says that after 7 years, Ms. Toye will be entitled to an early release from prison, which she deserves. Mr. Pepper complimented the appellate attorneys, Mariko Outman and Chris Altenbernd. Pepper said they, “did a fantastic job prosecuting the appeal. The reversal was made possible by their efforts. This is what lawyering is all about.”

Indeed it is… representing an unpopular defendant against whom the system again and again imposed an unjust result is exactly what lawyering is all about.

Amanda Knox posted a pic in her old Prison Garb

We covered the Amanda Knox case so extensively back in the day that I feel compelled to share when she pops up in the news. Knox was wrongfully convicted in Italy, and later exonerated, and has become an advocate for criminal justice. She’s getting married in a few weeks, and is stressing about the wedding planning.

 

Florida may consider additional Sentence Reductions for Good Behavior

As the Florida legislative session gets underway this month, there is more criminal justice reform potentially up for discussion. Last year, Florida followed the federal government’s lead and passed a major criminal justice reform bill. That bill garnered widespread, bipartisan support and only suffered one ‘no’ vote in the Florida House. One of the issues that passed the Senate but did not make the House bill, nor the final law, was a reduction in the minimum amount of time that must be served on a prison sentence.

Currently, Florida requires that a DOC inmate must serve at least 85% of their sentence, and can only qualify for up to 15% time off for good behavior. The courts do not have any discretion to go any lower, and Florida no longer grants parole. There are some circumstances where inmates are released onto a parole-like ‘supervised release’, but they must first serve out 85% of their sentence. There is a new proposal this year that would potentially allow inmates to have a chance at release after serving 65% of their sentence. That modest reduction would save the state $860 million and remove 9,000 people from prison by 2024.

Also, the bill limits eligible reductions to non-forcible felonies, so murders, rapists and other dangerous individuals will still be subject to the 85% requirement, even if the bill passes. There is an argument to be made that some  sentences for violent offenders are excessive, but the proposed bill does not reach that far and should not bar its consideration. One of the biggest hurdles it faces are that there are private companies that stand to profit from mass incarceration, and will lobby hard to shoot it down again. That’s going to cost Florida taxpayers money, even though both political parties agree sentencing reform makes sense.

The legislature will also be considering changes that would allow judges some discretion for sentencing certain drug offenders below current minimum mandatory requirements. This bill would be even more limited in scope than the gain time provision, and would not give relief to the most serious drug dealers for example. (It sounds similar to the ‘safety valve’ provisions of federal sentencing laws.) The bill contains other provisions limiting personal-use possession type offenses to county jail sentences, as well as requirements that when suspects of some offenses interviewed in a detention facility, that the entirety of the interview be recorded. The bill was already unanimously approved in the Senate committee which speaks to its bipartisan appeal.

Pity the Attorney with a Difficult Client

As you may have seen, trial got underway in New York City for producer Harvey Weinstein, charged with several sexual offenses in one of the landmark cases of the #metoo movement. Today, Mr. Weinstein was excoriated by the judge for using his cell phone in court, in spite of the judge’s strict rule against it, and repeated orders not to do so. His poor attorneys end up apologizing to the judge for their client’s behavior, only for the judge to “snarl” at them as well. Apparently, they had made Weinstein turn over his cellphone earlier, but he had multiple additional cell phones and continued to access them in court. He’s literally pulling tricks to confound his own attorneys as they were trying to keep him out of trouble. The judge threatened to revoke his bond for disobeying the order, which he would have been in his power to do.

Weinstein picked a particularly bad day to disobey the judge, because new charges had been filed against him in California, and the prosecution on this case was already arguing to the court for his bond to be revoked. I think the State shot itself in the foot suggesting that they had not been in contact with the Los Angeles prosecution when the indictment was conveniently unveiled to coincide with the start of his New York trial… and that the L.A. prosecutor indicated that they certainly had been in contact with the New York D.A. The defense asked for a continuance and the judge smartly resolved everything to avoid conflict: denying the request for continuance, denying the request to revoke bail on the New York case, and ultimately setting identical bail on the California case so the court can get down to the business of conducting the trial at hand, which is expected to last around two months.

Harvey Weinstein being assisted to court

The challenge for Weinstein’s lawyers, beyond the legal challenge of defending him from the charges, will be to rein in his behavior so he doesn’t end up shooting himself in the foot. He started showing up to court with a walker, and when commentators suggested he was trying to garner sympathy, he had an extensive interview with Page Six without consulting his attorney.  He’s trying to win in the court of public opinion while his attorneys are trying to win in actual court, where the potential penalty is life in prison. He has already gone through multiple prior attorneys, before settling on this team.

The predatory rape charges included in the New York case create a huge challenge for Weinstein’s defense team as they allow the state to introduce evidence of other offenses. This includes offenses that were not charged and that may not have been brought up until after the statute of limitations, and none for which Mr. Weinstein has admitted or been convicted of. He categorically denies all charges, and says that any sexual contact was consensual. However, the State being able to bring in a string of additional accusers presents a damning fact pattern and suggestion of guilt that will be difficult for the defense to overcome, particularly coupled with some potentially humiliating evidence. Compare the case against Bill Cosby, who’s first trial ended in a hung jury. During the second trial, the court permitted evidence from additional accusers and the jury in that case convicted Cosby. On the other hand, the charges only came about after a very public campaign creating political pressure for the prosecutors to bring charges, and one of the lead NYPD investigators was prevented from testifying due to suggestions of witness coaching and withholding evidence. The case will be a hard-fought battle for the next eight weeks. The attorneys have their work cut out for them, but at least they are being well paid.

Mark Sievers Sentenced to Death

Mark Sievers

Mark Sievers was sentenced to death today after being found guilty at trial of first degree murder for planning his wife’s killing. The jury found that Sievers had instigated the plan for his wife, Dr. Theresa Sievers’, murder by asking his friend Curtis Wayne Wright to carry it out. Wright traveled from Missouri with his friend Jimmy Rodgers, and the two bludgeoned Dr. Sievers in her home before travelling back to Missouri.

Curtis Wayne Wright pled guilty to murder, and agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a 25-year sentence. Rodgers was found guilty of second-degree murder in his own trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Mark Sievers was found guilty last month, and the jury recommended death during the sentencing phase. Today, the judge imposed a death sentence.

Sievers testified at the hearing today, still proclaiming his innocence, but asking for mercy. The judge indicated he would leave mercy to God, and that Sievers’ actions warranted the death penalty. As with all death penalty cases in Florida, it will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.