Category Archives: Criminal Law

Supreme Court Oral Arguments on Two Ballot Issues start this afternoon at 2:00 PM

Florida Supreme CourtProposed Amendment 6 and proposed Amendment 8 were both found to be misleading, and circuit courts in Leon county enjoined the state from including either on the ballot. This afternoon, starting at 2:00 pm with Amendment 8, followed by arguments on Amendment 6 at about 2:40, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on both issues. You can watch live on their video feed at gavel-to-gavel.

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Woman Accused of Killing her Husband with Eye Drops

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Lana Clayton

This is the first case I’ve ever seen of murder with Visine. When Steven Clayton was found dead in his home in July, it had appeared that he had suffered a fall. The funeral was held in the backyard of the South Carolina home he shared with his wife, itself a re-creation of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. It wasn’t until an autopsy was completed with toxicology that determined the cause of death was a high amount of¬†tetrahydrozoline in his system, a chemical commonly found in over-the-counter eye drops. His wife Lana Clayton, 52, later admitted to authorities that she had spiked her husband’s water with eye drops over a three-day period prior to his death. No motive has been revealed, but it appears she had posted about his infidelity a few years back on social media. It appears she was in nursing for the VA, so she likely would have known the toxic properties of the eye drop chemical.

 

Another Florida Constitutional Amendment Proposal has been Ordered off the Ballot

This week, a Leon County judge enjoined the State from including proposed Amendment 6 from appearing on the ballot. There have already been a couple provisions stricken, and now the court has found a third violates the “truth in packaging” requirement the the description accurately inform the public of the contents and effect of the proposed amendment. As we discussed on the last one, there is a pattern apparent that the CRC decided to try to cram the amendments through by hiding the ball, as well as bundling multiple issues into several of the proposals. The courts have been unimpressed, as challengers are now 3 for 3 in their attempts to strike the amendments.

Amdendment 6 was problematic not just because it combined disparate subjects: victim’s rights, term limits for judges, and de novo review of administrative hearings. Amendment 6 was also flying under the banner of “victim’s rights”, (as it’s being pushed by a special interest group promoting ‘Marsy’s Law’), however, it was misleading because Florida already has a Victim’s Rights component to its Constitution, and this amendment would not only create additional victim’s rights, but it would likely infringe upon due process rights of the accused, as required under the federal Constitution. The court found multiple reasons that the title and summary of the proposal are incomplete or outright misleading, and has ordered that it not appear on the ballot.

The issue has been appealed, and it appears the Supreme Court of Florida will hear argument on it September 5, which I believe to be the same day they will hear argument on proposed Amendment 8.

Congrats to Amira Fox on her Primary Vicgtory

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Amira Fox

Amira Fox won the Republican primary in the race for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. That effectively means she will win the seat. This is a relief for everyone working in the criminal justice system in Southwest Florida, as things tend to run pretty well at the State here, and the kind of wholesale changes her opponent planned could have started chaos in our justice system. Ms. Fox was clearly the best candidate, and has the smarts and experience to do the job well.

I hope that when Ms. Fox takes over, she does look to improve some of the things about the State Attorney’s office: it would be nice to see more consistency from county to county, a reduction in jail time for non-violent crimes, especially misdemeanors like marijuana possession, and being willing to admit when a case is bad. Generally, the office has been pretty well run since Ms. Fox took over as chief assistant, and it probably will continue to be so. Ms. Fox ran a good, honest campaign and did not stoop to the dishonesty and mudslinging of her opponent. Hopefully this will show that races can be won the right way, by the best candidate. I wish her luck.

Amira Fox is the Clear Choice for State Attorney

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Chris Crowley and Amira Fox

The primary election is tomorrow, and Republican voters will be presented a clear choice for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. The standout choice is Amira Fox, currently the chief assistant State Attorney under current State Attorney Stephen Russell. Ms. Fox is a smart, talented prosecutor whose experience clearly makes her the most qualified candidate for the job. She has the support of law enforcement, including outgoing prosecutor Russell, and the sheriffs of all five counties in the 20th Judicial Circuit. Moreover, she has the overwhelming support of the attorneys who practice in Lee County, who are in the best position to evaluate the qualifications of the chief law enforcement officer for Southwest Florida.

The campaign leading up to the primary, which will be dispositive as there is only a token write-in candidate remaining in the general election, has been extremely heated. Her opponent, Christopher Crowley has attacked her with deceit and obfuscation because his actual qualifications are woefully lacking. Crowley is a twice-failed prosecutor who cannot gain the support of law enforcement.

Crowley was asked to resign from the office of the Statewide Prosecutor after detectives informed his supervisor that they did not have faith in his abilities as a prosecutor. He returned the the State Attorney’s office, where he was soon fired for incompetence. Crowley then demonstrated his stunningly poor judgment by illegally promoting a raffle at a campaign fund raising event. He then posted video of the criminal act on his Facebook page, which ultimately resulted in his felony arrest for the illegal lottery and illegal campaign fundraising. Crowley had to get a retired democrat attorney to represent him, because he has so much trouble finding a defense attorney. His attorney did a great job by getting him into the felony diversion program after he admitted to his wrongdoing. While the charge may have been an inadvertent infraction that did not involve much money, the lack of oversight and judgment demonstrate that Crowley cannot be trusted run the State Attorney’s Office.

Crowley has tried to mislead the electorate to distract from his lack of qualifications. One of his favorite claims is that the office is corrupt- basically accusing Ms. Fox of ordering his arrest. This is patently false, as the local State Attorney’s office notified the governor of the possible conflict, and the State Attorney for the 10th Circuit handled the case. If Crowley is suggesting corruption, he is accusing Governor Scott and multiple law enforcement agencies. This is not a case of corruption: incompetent Crowley committed a felony, published the evidence, and got charged by an independent prosecutor. He does not deserve to be the chief law enforcement officer for our circuit.

Another of his other favorite claims is that the conviction rate in our circuit is only 39%. He fabricated this number based on raw arrest numbers and actual adjudications. However, this number does not take into account charges that are not filed, nor does it take into account cases that are resolved in drug court, mental health court, or other positive dispositions. Ironically, Crowley’s own arrest and diversion program would count against his calculation of a conviction rate. The more appropriate number is calculated by the Office of the State Courts Administrator, and it’s 88% for this circuit, in line with other circuits. And the more important number, the crime rate, is the lowest of all the circuits in Florida. Some of the other claims being promoted by Crowley’s supporters, and often shared by him on social media, are unsupported, untrue, and not worth repeating.

Finally, as a criminal law attorney in town, I have had the opportunity to work with both candidates, and I can say without hesitation that Ms. Fox is more competent, better prepared, and a better attorney that Mr. Crowley. I do not have a dog in the fight and I have not donated to either candidate, but I can say experience has demonstrated that Ms. Fox is the best candidate for the job, and Mr. Crowley could be a train wreck if he were to win.

The choice for voters tomorrow is between an extremely experienced, qualified, and highly recommended candidate in Amira Fox, or a failed prosecutor in Chris Crowley. Crowley failed to lawfully conduct his campaign, and now wants to oversee law enforcement across Southwest Florida. And to do so, he is running a deceitful campaign. He is unqualified, he does not have the support of law enforcement, nor does he have the the competence for the job. The choice is clear, Amira Fox is the best candidate for State Attorney.

Marco Island Man, 75, Arrested for Pulling Weeds

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Rollin Cale

Poor Rocky Cale was arrested this week for pulling aquatic weeds. Rollin ‘Rocky’ Cale, 75, and some other members of the Model Yacht Club removed some aquatic weeds two months ago so they could launch their john boat to maintain some buoys. Apparently, this was the protocol that had been in place for years for maintaining that section of the lake. There is a Florida statute that requires a permit to remove aquatic weeds, Sec. 379.501, and makes it a misdemeanor if the person does it due to “reckless indifference or gross careless disregard,” though that does not seem to be the case for Mr. Cale, as he and his group had apparently believed that they were authorized for the removal. It looks like a bad arrest.

The backstory is that Cale, as head of the Marco Island Community Sailing Center, had earlier disputes with parks manager Samantha Malloy and the city, who had ultimately locked out the Sailing Club during that dispute. So the legal action being taken now smacks of retribution for the earlier dispute, and the city is investigating how it went down. It may have started as a littering complaint for the weeds that had been pulled and were sitting there, as Malloy first contacted code enforcement, who apparently referred her to FWC, and there was a littering charge the State Attorney decided not to pursue. It is all a lot of overzealous enforcement brought on by a pile of weeds… weeds that Cale helped dispose of after he was contacted. This should have been resolved with a phone call, not by involving law enforcement.

The sad thing is, this poor 75-year-old man, who has volunteered countless hours to his community through the sailing club and the model yacht group, etc, had to go to jail over this. It was an inadvertent infraction by a whole group of people, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be the ‘reckless indifference’ necessary to sustain the charge. Mr. Cale was completely cooperative, and had no idea there was a prohibition on the plant removal. And instead of just giving him a summons with a court date, they issued a capias warrant and had him arrested and booked into jail. On top of that, the Marco Eagle reports that the weeds were scheduled to be sprayed and destroyed. He basically did them a favor, but no good deed goes unpunished. Every government official involved in this arrest should be ashamed of themselves. Sad.

Another Proposed Amendment has been Stricken from the Ballot by a Judge

Recently a Leon County judge prevented another proposed amendment from the CRC, the Constitutional Revision Commission (Amendment 8). As we have discussed at length before, the CRC chose to combine amendment proposals, which has led to several lawsuits seeking to strike the amendments due to the language describing them to voters being confusing. The court that ruled on the previous challenge, striking Amendment 13, found that the language in the summary amounted to outright “trickeration.” The judge in this case found that the language “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.” There are additional challenges to other Amendment proposals regarding the summary language still pending. Also, former Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to strike all six of the bundled amendment proposals. And just this week, a group of former legislators, including former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kotkamp and former congressman Connie Mack have announced that they will be working together to fight the CRC proposals, and the process in whole. Their group is called Save My Constitution, and it is comprised of all republicans.

Ultimately, the apparent pattern consistent in the CRC proposals suggests a deliberate intent to get the proposals passed, even at the risk of misleading the public. The CRC’s explanation that they combined the proposals to reduce ballot fatigue don’t ring true: there are just as many issues being propagated, but they are packaged with together to attempt to increase the likelihood of passage with voters. Many of the issues really don’t belong in the Constitution, the CRC is using the Amendment process to skip the hard work of legislating in line with the statutory scheme: they want to cram disparate issues together under a positive sounding title and summary, and hope the voters go for it. Unfortunately, that plan relies on “hiding the ball” from voters, and instigated the numerous challenges now in the court system. These rulings will be appealed, and the Supreme Court will likely be the final arbiter, but the pattern has become apparent. And now the challengers are two-for-two in striking the misleading proposals. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the dog racing proposal next week.

*UPDATE* The 1st DCA has sent the issue regarding proposed Amendment 8 directly to the Supreme Court for review, as well. It appears the Court has accepted jurisdiction, though not set the case for argument yet.