Category Archives: Criminal Law

Diana Alvarez Suspect Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison, Faces More Charges

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Diana Alvarez, still missing

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office has filed additional charges against Jorge Guerrero, but not yet for her disappearance. LCSO has filed additional sexual felony offenses against Mr. Guerrero, which are based on the charges for child pornography for which he was convicted in Federal court. Undersheriff Carmine Marceno spoke at a press conference this afternoon, and stated that investigators feel confident that Guerrero was involved in her disappearance, but they are going to continue to investigate. There are two very good reasons for them not to rush kidnapping or murder charges: First, Guerrero was tried and convicted in Federal Court, and has now been sentenced to 40 years in prison. He’s not going anywhere, there’s no need to rush. Second, once he is arrested, the clock starts running for his speedy trial right, and LCSO does not want to give him an out. LCSO indicates they are still investigating the disappearance of Diana Alvarez, and Marceno says he expects more charges to be filed.

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Jorge Guerrero

The search still continues for Diana Alvarez, but as time goes, it is increasingly unlikely that she will be safely returned. At this point, it is not clear if kidnapping or murder charges are appropriate, and hope remains. Meanwhile, the investigation continues. Marceno indicated the LCSO Detectives are going to speak to Guerrero this afternoon, potentially finding a loophole in that since his Federal case is closed, that he does not currently have an attorney appointed. Whether or not he says anything actionable, remains to be seen.

 

FHP Troopers told to Write More Tickets – Allegations of Quotas

DUI Operation in Lee County Friday

The Tampa Bay Times has uncovered an email from an FHP supervisor instructing his troopers to write more tickets. “The patrol wants to see two citations each our…” reads the email from Major Mark Welch. He and FHP deny this is a quota, which would be in violation of state law: but this is a quota. He sets a minimum number of tickets he expects his underlings to write per hour. That’s exactly a quota. The fact that he says “This is not a quota” does not redefine what a quota is.

 

To make matters worse, there may be benefits tied to the number of tickets officers write. Troopers in Miami-Dade were given additional weekend passes when they met ticket-writing goals earlier this year. FHP ended that policy when it was exposed. It seems this new quota is tied to ‘SOAR’, an overtime program, though that program appears to incentivize them to work more hours, not to inflate their ticket numbers. Big brother is most definitely watching.

UPDATE: TRIAL POSTPONED – Jury Selection to Begin in Lavaya May Trial

Tuesday morning update: the trial has been postponed. As of this morning, the State is asking to stay the trial to appeal the court’s ruling yesterday that the notebook written by Lavaya May would not be admissible. The problem with that is, the Defendant had demanded a speedy trial, so the state is asking the judge to stay the speedy trial until the appeal can be ruled on. That’s extraordinary relief. WINK news is reporting that the trial will be put off up to 90 days, but it sounds like things are very much in flux, at this point.

  • May Accused of 2nd Degree Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder and other charges
  • May Allegedly got persuaded 2 of her friend to kill 58-year-old Ted Lee
  • May, who is still a minor, claims Lee started molesting her when she was 8-years-old
lavaya may

Lavaya May

The trial and jury selection for the murder trial of Lavaya May is scheduled to start Tuesday morning, the trial could take 2 or even 3 weeks to complete, according to the attorneys handling the case. Although May was 16 at the time, she has been charged as an adult, and is facing life in prison on the murder charge.

The prosecution just found out that they lost some of their evidence after a day-long suppression hearing. The judge heard evidence and argument on Friday, and just Monday afternoon ruled that the state cannot introduce evidence from a journal that Ms. May was keeping in custody.

That’s the second suppression loss for the state, as the court previously ruled that the statement Ms. May made when she was arrested was illegally obtained in violation her rights. After the killing, May and the others fled out of state. When they were arrested, an attorney ad-litem who had been appointed to May contacted the Sheriff’s office and indicated she was invoking Ms. May’s right to have her attorney present. Detectives, recognized the issue, and contacted the State Attorney’s office, who incorrectly advised them to proceed with the interrogation of the juvenile May without her attorney. It was a clear violation of her right to counsel, and now they will not get to use her statement, either.

Jonathan Ruffini

Jonathan Ruffini

The State’s star witness will likely be the co-defendant, Jonathan Ruffini. Ruffini, who was 18-years-old at the time of the offense, a year ago, has already entered a guilty plea, and agreed to accept 25 years in prison for his role, in exchange for agreeing to testify. The other defendant, then-23-year-old Hunter Tyson, has also accepted a plea agreement for 40 years in prison, and there is no indication in his court file that he was given consideration for cooperation. It’s anticipated that Ruffini will testify that he and Tyson committed the murder at the behest of his friend/girlfriend May, due to her complaints about being molested by Lee. (Lee doesn’t have a DOC photo yet, as he’s being held in the Lee County Jail in anticipation of his being called to testify in the May case. There have been some changes in his story, and only recently did the state list him as a witness, so he may not be that reliable for them.

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Hunter Tyson

The challenge for the state is substantial, as it appears pretty clear that Ruffini and Tyson committed the murder, by baseball bat and knife- with Tyson being the primary killer. To prove a murder, they don’t have to show that May personally took part in the killing, but they can prove that she was a principal to the murder if she aided, abetted, or even encouraged the crime. Under Florida’s principal theory, she is

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Hunter Tyson in DOC

just as guilty as the others if she is found to be a principal. She is also charged with Conspiracy, for plotting the killing with the others. She may garner some sympathy, if the Defense is able to introduce the allegations that Lee had molested her for years. However, that is not legal justification for murder, as the abuse was in the, and would not present an immediate danger for self-defense/justifiable use of deadly force. More likely, the Defense team is going to try to frame the case as an act that was done by Tyson and Ruffini on their own, and not at the instigation of May. Both Tyson and Ruffini have admitted to committing the murder, and plead out to murder charges, but May can only bring that up if they are called in to testify. She can still blame Tyson, even if his admission is not admitted. Ruffini’s statement points the finger primarily at Tyson, and the Defense will try to say he’s blaming May to get a lesser sentence. The trial will be interesting to watch.

 

ACLU to Push for Restoration of Voting Rights in Florida

The ACLU is starting a campaign to get a ballot initiative that would restore felons’ right to vote in Florida. Florida is one of few states that continue to bar voting rights after felons have served their sentences, and the ACLU is prepared to spend $5 million on a campaign to change that. Unfortunately for the felons this initiative would help, they can’t vote on it, and they cannot even sign the petition.

Beauty Queen Exonerated by Stand Your Ground Law

vanessa barcelo.jpgVanessa Barcelo, the 2017 Miss Miami Lakes that competed in the Miss Florida pageant, had been charged with battery from an incident that occurred at a party at her home several months ago. She hosted a party to promote her baking business, One Love Cakes, and her cousin over-indulged. She and other party-goers became concerned that the DJ was going to take advantage of the cousin, and grouped together to escort him out. That’s when the real trouble started…

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Vanessa Barcelo, via facebook

Barcelo said she took an aluminum baseball bat and brandished it to intimidate the DJ, though she never touched him. She says he proceeded to grab the bat out of her hand and swing it around, before he handed it to a community security guard. A friend of Barcelo’s then struck the DJ, knocking him to the ground, at which point Barcelo jumped on top of him and slapped him. She testified in court that she did not know if he still had the bat, and she was afraid for herself and her guests. The court found her actions to be reasonable, and dismissed the battery charges against her.

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law gives the Defendant a chance to have their charges dismissed at a hearing prior to having to go to trial. Governor Scott recently signed a new law that shifts the burden to the State to demonstrate they are justified in going forward at that hearing, a change opposed by prosecutors, for obvious reasons. A judge in Miami found the law change to be unconstitutional, but that won’t affect other cases until it is subject to appellate review.

O.J. Granted Parole

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OJ Simpson

O.J. Simpson was granted parole at his Nevada DOC hearing yesterday. He has to stay in custody until October, and will continue to be supervised when he’s released. Regular readers of this blog were not surprised at the result, as I’ve stated for months that he was likely to be granted parole, based on his past track record. The next big question is where he’s going to go, with some friends speculating he may move here to Southwest Florida. He was a Florida resident for years prior to being incarcerated, as Florida provides homestead protection so it’s difficult to take someone’s house away, for instance when they have a large civil judgment against them, as O.J. does for the civil suit finding him responsible for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Will the Juice get Loose? O.J. up for Parole Hearing Tomorrow…

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OJ Simpson, via NV DOC

Tomorrow the State of Nevada will hold a parole hearing for O.J. Simpson, who’s been incarcerated there since he was convicted of an armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2008. He was previously granted parole on some other charges, but the more serious charges were not eligible until this year. Since he was successful at the last hearing, there is a good chance he will be granted parole this time, which should allow his release in October. He’s apparently even telling friends that he feels good about his chances.

Interstingly, even the victims support his release. One of them already passed away, but his family indicates that the would have supported his release, and the surviving victim indicates he has forgiven Simpson and feels he’s served enough time. In a crazy anecdote, a former prison guard recounts that OJ nearly got written up for an illicit cookie, which could have derailed his parole chances.