Category Archives: 14th Amendment – Due Process

Donald Trump does not Respect the Judicial System

Screenshot_20171101-135912Donald Trump, currently President of the United States, made comments today that make clear he does not respect our constitutionally based justice system. Discussing the process for prosecuting the New York City terrorist, Trump stated at a cabinet meeting, “We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughing stock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.” Fox News, in their online story about the piece, edited the quote to make it sound like he was talking about the immigration system. This quote was not about immigration. This line was about the United States criminal justice system, which Trump has insulted.

This should come as no surprise, as his imperiousness as president has frequently stepped on Constitutional protections. Famously, Trump took out full page ads in NY City papers in 1989 during the prosecution of the “Central Park Five”: 5 young men who were wrongly accused of a brutal beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park. “Muggers and murderers,” he wrote, “should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” “Though he didn’t refer to the teenagers by name, it was clear to anyone in the city that he was referring to them,” said the New York Times. The botched prosecution led to the wrong men being locked up for years, and the actual criminal, serial rapist Matias Reyes, continued to roam the streets attacking women. Even after DNA proved their innocence, and the exonerations are now an exemplar of poor police procedures and wrongful prosecution: a fact the Trump still has not acknowledged. “Quick”, by necessity, has to take a back seat to the more important principle of “justice”.

It’s ironic that he would call the criminal justice system a laughingstock the same week his former campaign chair and other advisers had charges brought against them in Federal court. They are probably happy to be out on bond as their cases are pending, and glad to avail all possible defenses under the Constitution. It’s easy to point at an evil person like the man who drove into a crowd of innocent bikers in New York… but, the Constitution protects us all. The justice system is not one size fits all, and most of the Constitutional protections are to prevent Government overreach, they are to prevent the violations of those rightly and wrongly accused. Our justice system has developed over that last two centuries as a model replicated around the world.

We all want to see justice brought to the New York City terrorist, and all those who would commit crimes against our people. But the system is not a joke. As an attorney, both prosecutor and defense attorney, respect for the Constitution and respect for our individual rights are the starting point for justice, and it is disappointing, albeit not surprising, for Donald Trump to disparage that. This is not a partisan issue… like many Republicans, I believe in our Constitution and our justice system. It’s flawed, and those of us who work in it are always working to better it, but it is not a joke. And I hope that the leaders in this country, on both sides of the aisle, stand up to speak up for it.

-UPDATE-

The White House later tried to walk back Trump’s comments about the justice system. At a briefing later in the day, spokesperson Sarah Sanders denied that Trump said our justice system was a laughingstock, and tried to claim that he was saying the process has people calling us a joke. Video LINK. But that’s not what he said… very clearly he was the one calling it a joke. Here’s his full quote:

“They’ll go through court for years,” he said. “And at the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke, and it’s a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”

The fact that they are trying to reframe the president’s comments shows that they know they are inappropriate. The fact that the White House spokesperson is straight up lying to us about what the president said is embarrassing. I’ll leave it to you to decide who is the joke, here. Sadly, it’s no laughing matter.

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Florida will soon have a Death Penalty Procedure, Once Again

death chamber

Florida’s “Death Chamber”

The Florida Legislature fast-tracked a fix-it bill for the death penalty, which was found to use an unconstitutional procedure because it did not require a unanimous jury finding for a recommendation of the death sentence. That law was an imperfect fix for the previous procedure, and the Florida Supreme Court subsequently made it clear that a unanimous recommendation would be required to meet constitutional muster. Yesterday the Florida Senate approved a new bill that does require unanimity, and today the  Florida House voted for it as well. The bill will head to the Governor’s desk, and he is expected to sign it in short order, effectively re-instituting the death penalty in Florida.

Those sentences to death after 2002 will have to have a new sentencing hearing if the State still wishes to seek the death penalty.

Michael Lambrix

Michael Lambrix

For those death row inmates whose cases were finalized before 2002, it appears the death sentences will not have to be revisited, pursuant to a Florida Supreme Court Decision that came out yesterday. The Court ruled that the legal issue is procedural, which means that it is not retroactive from prior to 2002. The court found that the state can move forward wit the execution of Michael Lambrix, who killed 2 people in Glades County some 30-plus years ago. He will surely seek a federal appeal before his execution goes forward.

Florida’s New Death Penalty Declared Unconstitutional

Florida’s Death Penalty laws are once again in disarray.

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SE

The Supreme Court

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the procedure Florida was using to determine when the death penalty should be imposed, in the Hurst case. That meant that there was functionally no death penalty in the state of Florida. The legislature moved quickly to amend the law to establish a new procedure to prosecute the death penalty in Florida, and a new version was signed into law in March. Now, all that work is out the window…

Judge Milton Hirsch, a circuit judge in Miami-Dade, has ruled that the new procedure is also unconstitutionally inadequate. The Florida procedure does not require a unanimous jury verdict before the death penalty can be imposed. Florida and Alabama are the only states that did not require unanimity, and that specific issue was not discussed by the Supreme Court in the Hurst case. Ultimately, the issue is likely to be appealed to the Florida Supreme court, and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court again, but Judge Hirsch’s opinion is the first to address the issue since the new procedure was passed.

Hirsch was critical of the law, finding that the changes were not enough. He wrote, “Arithmetically the difference between twelve and ten is slight, but the question before me is not a question of arithmetic. It is a question of constitutional law. It is a question of justice.”

Timothy Hurst

Timothy Hurst, currently on Death Row

Meanwhile, the other issue up in the air is whether the Hurst decision is retroactive. That is, are all of the Floridians on death row entitled to new sentencing hearings?- 390 of them are currently on death row. While they would still be subject to a new death sentence, a ruling finding that Hurst is retroactive would likely spare a great number of inmates that the state would not wish to retry their sentencing hearings.

While it seems to be a no-brainer that if the procedure used to impose death was unconstitutional that the sentences could not stand, the courts have often held that these types of rulings are procedural, and do not apply retroactively. It will be interesting to see what the Florida Supreme Court does on the issue. Until then, Florida executions will have to be on hold. The Florida Supreme Court recently heard arguments regarding whether Hurst will mandate that he, and many other similarly situated cases will be reduced to life without parole.

You have a right to an Attorney if you can’t afford one, but you still have to pay

John Oliver takes on the overworked, underpaid challenges of the public defenders in our criminal justice system. I know some very good attorneys who are public defenders… or were until they found a job that paid a living wage. Fittingly, several of the examples he uses for this article are from Florida… most disturbing is the guy, on Hospice, who gets arrested for not having a valid driver’s license, and spends too months in jail… and then they spend thousands of dollars trying to recoup the fees and assessments. It’s symptomatic of bigger problems with the system.

Cash Feenz Killers Resentenced to Life in Prison

Ashley Toye and Roderick Washington, who were under 18 at the time they took part in the torture and murder of Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa, were back in court yesterday for resentencing. The Supreme court ruled in 2012 in Miller v. Alabama, that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were not proper under the Constitution. Florida passed a new law providing for new sentences for such criminals, and Toye and Washington are among the first to be sentenced under the new law. The judge could have sentenced them to less time, but declined to do so based on the facts of the case that included false imprisonment and torture before the victims were shot. They will have a chance to have their sentences reviewed after 25 years, another provision of the new law that has yet to be tested.

via News-press.com

Nate Allen Exonerated : Another Failed Eyewitness Identification : UPDATE

Local NFL player Nate Allen was detained for several hours last week, and it was falsely alleged that he had improperly exposed himself driving down US 41. Fortunately, the Fort Myers Police Department figured out that they had a problem, and released Allen before filing charges. Yesterday the State Attorney’s office announced that their review of the evidence shows unequivocally that Mr. Allen did nothing wrong. But that wasn’t until long after he had been held nearly 5 hours, and the press had picked up the story and his image tarnished. Apparently, the girl or girls who made the allegation described a similar vehicle to Allen’s. He says that the initial description was of a middle-aged man with long curly hair, which is not Mr. Allen. How does this happen? How does 27-year-old, short-haired Mr. Allen get misidentified as a middle-aged, long haired man? The most likely culprit is an unduly suggestive identification by law enforcement.

Philadelphia Eagle Nate Allen

Mr. Allen gave an extensive interview with the Fort Myers New-Press, which they have helpfully posted online, in full. We don’t have the police reports yet, but it appears from Mr. Allen’s account, that while he was detained on the side of the road, the police brought the accuser by in the back of a patrol vehicle, and he was apparently identified. The mis-identification almost certainly stemmed from this improper identification procedure by the Fort Myers Police Department. Such a procedure is wildly suggestive, and is disfavored for law enforcement. Any time a one-person show up is utilized for identification purposes, the procedure is inherently suggestive and carries the risk of tainting any identification. For this reason, one-person show ups are disfavored by Florida courts. The circumstances around this show up were particularly suggestive, as he was being held in custody, next to his truck, at the time it appears he was ID’d. Time and again the courts have discouraged law enforcement from doing this type of identification, but here we are, falsely accusing a local hero. It’s well known that eyewitness testimony is among the most unreliable to rely upon in court. Eyewitnesses are even less reliable when law enforcement utilizes inherently suggestive procedures to obtain their testimony or identifications. Clearly, the courts need to continue to discourage these improper techniques, to throw out testimony that is improperly obtained, and our law enforcement must better train its officers. Thank goodness they did their due diligence, and Mr. Allen was exonerated by phone records and surveillance video before they formally pressed charges. The fix is simple, identification needs to be done via lineup, preferably double-blind. This can be easily accomplished with modern technology and a photo lineup (called a six-pack). I am encouraged that FMPD has indicated they are going to do a review of their procedures, so hopefully the cops don’t continue to contribute to false identifications.

UPDATE: Allen and his attorney Sawyer Smith held a press conference today, urging police review of the errors that lead to his improper detention.

UPDATE 2: The News-Press article above confirms the unduly suggestive ID procedure by FMPD that I anticipated in my post. Also, the News-Press has updated their coverage with video from the press conference.

LCSO Ran Another Crappy Sex Sting Operation

  • LCSO ran an internet sex-offender undercover sting operation
  • They call it Operation Safe Summer
  • The last one had a lot of bad arrests
  • Details are scarce so far, but it looks like they arrested more kids than dangerous predators this time around

Ironically, the same day I ran an article decrying sting operations which tend to entrap people who are not looking to commit a crime, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office does a press conference to brag about their undercover sting operation. We can only hope that the investigators working this operation did a better job in their investigation than the last time. Details have not been released yet, other than the names and personal details of the accused, but the last time around, several of the cases had to be dropped, others were acquitted, and one case was thrown out by a judge due to the outrageous behavior on the part of law enforcement in entrapping one of the suspects. Yes, several creepy, bad people may be among those charged, but there are a lot of people who get stung in these operations who are not criminals. Those stories don’t make news, because the people want to put it behind them.

As I stated this morning, one of the tenets of doing undercover sting operations is that the sting should be targeted specifically to known, ongoing criminal activity. These operations, as they are generally run, do the opposite. The undercover agents go fishing, and try to cast as wide a net as possible to ensnare more people and get a better headline after the press conference. Instead of catching actual, dangerous predators, they get a bunch of bored kids who aren’t looking to do anything illegal until the cops entice them to do it.

The last time around, Operation Spider Web, arrested a kid who never agreed to do anything with the cops: he thought he was coming over to hang out with another kid. Other times, the cops didn’t even claim to be a minor until their target was already headed to the house. For almost all of them, the cops initiated contact with the targets, which is absolutely contrary to the way a proper sting should be run. That’s why several people took their cases to trial, and several of them were acquitted, but not before their names had been dragged through the mud. And Spider Web, and probably Operation Safe Summer, follow the set-up textbook operating manual.

If you wanted to draw up a textbook entrapment situation, Operation Spider Web, and many of the similar internet sting operations around the state would follow the blueprint for improper law enforcement conduct. Instead of targeting known suspects, or suspicious chatrooms, or something with ANY indication of ongoing criminal activity, these operations randomly target internet users. Instead of waiting to be contacted, or putting out bait on an online service, agents initiate contact with unsuspecting targets. Instead of letting the suspects lead the discussion, agents frequently bring it around to sexual connotations, at times pushing it, and enticing the targets with sexual gratifications. They deliberately try to walk the line so they don’t get called out on it in court, and it still comes back on them time and again. The First District Appellate court decried their techniques just last fall in the widely noted Gennette case, but here we are again. See Gennette v. State, 124 So.3d 373 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). Gennette was the authority that caused a local judge to throw out one of the arrests last time around, based on the behavior of law enforcement.

Operation Spider Web was overseen by FDLE Special Agent Charles McMullen. He’s basically a government hired gun, who travels around the state setting up these sting operations. He doesn’t care about targeting actual predators: trying to get as many people as possible arrested. The more arrests me makes, the more his job is justified… and the less resources go toward actual dangerous predators. He signed off on most of the arrests last time, which means he was personally responsible for at a good half-dozen bad arrests last time he came to town. Bad arrests hurt innocent people, and the fact that most of the arrestees this time around are 20-somethings suggest that these cases are more set-up than good arrest. Law Enforcement got their big press conference, and will probably lead the evening news, but they probably didn’t do much to make our community safer. Especially not if these are more McMullen specials…

Those charged with these offenses should contact me or another experienced defense attorney to fight. Not only are they facing prison time, they are facing lifelong sex-offender designations. And the more energy law enforcement has to expend fighting these cases, the more likely they are to finally realize the error of their ways.