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.
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.
Posted in Bonita Springs / Southwest Florida, Criminal Law, Florida, Sievers Murders
Tagged 1st degree murder, curtis wayne wright, death penalty, hammer, jimmy rodgers, mark sievers, murder, theresa sievers
As always, be safe and don’t drink and drive this holiday. FHP wants to make everyone aware of the dangers, and are running a DUI enforcement operation for New Year’s Eve. Other agencies know it’s a big party night, and are generally out in force. AAA is doing a free tow and go service, and Uber/Lyft/Cabs are way cheaper than getting a DUI! Be safe!
Posted in DUI, Florida
Tagged dui, wolfpack
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.
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.
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.
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida, punta gorda / port charlotte / charlotte / southwest florida, Whimsy
Tagged alice's restaurant, ccso, charlotte county, deion sanders, fishing, fort myers, lee county, littering, Officer Obie
Lois Riess, dubbed ‘Losing Streak Lois’ by the media and who was the subject of a multi-state manhunt that saw her gambling in casinos as she avoided justice in two states, entered a plea today in Lee County Circuit court. She had been facing the death penalty for the murder of Pamela Hutchinson on Fort Myers beach. Authorities believe she targeted Hutchinson for the resemblance between the two women, and then killed Hutchinson to assume her identity. Riess stole Hutchinson’s car and identity to finance her flight halfway across the country, before she was captured in South Padre Island, TX.
Riess was already a suspect for the murder of her husband some time before that in Minnesota. Riess is believed to have fled to Fort Myers where she committed the Hutchinson murder to further evade capture. That’s an aggravating factor that could have contributed to the State’s death penalty case. As it is, she accepted a plea to life in prison to avoid the risk of the death penalty. Florida has no parole, so life means life, and she will not have the possibility for release. Also, she will be extradited back to Minnesota to face charges for the murder of her husband, though that’s unlikely to go to trial as she’s already been given a life sentence. It is unclear if she will serve her time in Minnesota, or be transferred back to Florida to serve out her time, here.
This deal is a good resolution for the state of Florida, as the state will not have to incur the expense of a trial and the necessary appeals and post-conviction motions necessary for a death penalty case. Due to her age, it’s unlikely she would have ever ended up being executed (Kevin Foster still awaits execution, and his conviction was for charges that occurred in 1996). Perhaps the benefit or her is avoiding having to serve her time on Death Row, and getting her case done so she can serve her prison time and not sit in the local jail. She will likely have to Minnesota to deal with her charges up there before she sees a state prison.
Posted in 10-20-Life, Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Gray Menace
Tagged david riess, fort myers beach, fugitive, lois riess, minnesota, murder, pamela hutchinson, serial killer, swfl, texas
Holiday shopping brings out the worst in people. And it wasn’t even Black Friday!
Henry Harvey, a 69-year-old from Cape Coral, Florida, is accused of striking a fellow Walmart customer. They apparently got in an argument in line, and Harvey was frustrated the other customer was taking too long. The argument escalated and Harvey ended up punching the other customer in the head.
It’s crazy for sure. I know that particular Walmart, I was there within a day of the incident, and there are multiple self-checkout lines with quite a few terminals. There certainly would have been options that didn’t require attacking another customer.