Category Archives: Criminal Law

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.

Scientists are working on Cannabis testing for Impaired Drivers

weed reefer

Marijuana

States across the country have set a testable limit on the level of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream as a threshold in lieu of demonstrating impairment. While .08 has been established as a baseline legal limit for alcohol, there is no test available to readily measure the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that is present in someone’s system. CNN.com took a long look at the issue, and at ongoing efforts to create a test similar to the breathalyzers that measure alcohol for purposes of prosecuting DUIs.

It is against the law for anyone to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even if the drugs have been prescribed. Florida defines under the influence as “under the influence to the extent that normal faculties are impaired,” and other states use similar definitions. That’s why law enforcement use field sobriety exercises: they are meant to give the officers a chance to observe a driver to see if their faculties appear to be impaired. The shortcoming of those tests is their unreliability and that they are subjective: an officer will see impairment if they are looking for it. The breath and blood alcohol tests at least provide some consistency, though they are not impairment based. Time will tell if science can come up with something comparable for THC and other controlled substances.

Reliance on impairment based tests is challenging for law enforcement when a case goes to trial. Unless the impairment is clear, a jury may be reluctant to find it beyond a reasonable doubt. The subjectivity may matter more in a DUI than any other, and the outcome of a DUI is more dependent on the skill of the attorneys trying the case. The ambiguity cuts both ways, because the subjectivity of the field sobriety testing may lead to an arrest, and there is no dispositive scientific test to disprove the allegation. If a cop thinks you are impaired, you can be arrested, and the case may have to go to a jury trial. It will be interesting as this field becomes more important with the expansion of recreational and medicinal marijuana.

Man wanted for Punching out a Dancin’ Santa and Ripping Off its Head

detail from security footage

The scene: Cowboy Up Saloon, Fort Myers, Florida. Police are seeking information on a man who was caught on camera punching a Dancin’ Santa that was on display at the popular Cowboy Up Saloon downtown in the Fort Myers River District. A man standing at the bar suddenly turns, punches the Santa display to the ground, knocking off its head. The footage is shocking, except its just a robot, so nobody gets hurt!

It’s not the first attack we’ve had on a holiday icon in Fort Myers… several years ago the Easter Bunny was attacked at the Edison Mall. That character was played by a real person, who was fortunately ok. Um… I guess ‘don’t punch holiday characters’ needs to be said.

CCSO had to Fish a Truck out of the Pond at the Jail

One of the officers working at the Charlotte County Jail spotted a pickup truck floating in the pond in front of the jail Tuesday night. He approached a man standing there watching it, but the man was uncooperative and walked awawy. Deputies were afraid that someone might have been in the truck, and jumped in the pond, but it had sunk too deep for them to reach. A dive team was called, the truck fished out, and fortunately there was nobody inside.

Tristin Murphy

Deputies located the man who walked away, Tristin Murphy. Murphy denied any knowledge of the truck, but was arrested for Littering of Over 500 Pounds of Hazardous Material. I think they will have a proof problem charging him with dumping just because he was watching it sink, unless they can find some more evidence to link him to the truck. (It’s unclear if the truck was his, maybe there was an envelope with his name on it.) And while the truck contains oil, gas, and other fluids… I’m not sure if it meets the statutory definition of ‘Hazardous Waste‘. While it looks bad, the dude has some defenses an attorney can work with. Either way, he is facing a felony littering charge, which could potentially impair his ability to serve in the army and get his fingerprints sent to Washington, provided Officer Obie took the 27 glossy colored photographs to convict him.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that CCSO describes the pond as a ‘catfish pond,’ which begs the question… how is the fishing? Do the inmates get to give it a whirl? Do they stock it. The pond outside the Lee County airport reportedly has excellent fishing, but you don’t have to take my word for it.