Tag Archives: federal

Jail Mistreatment Suit from Charlotte County is Underway

The civil rights trial of a jail mistreatment suit from Charlotte County got started in Federal Court in Fort Myers, today. Amy Bennett Williams is covering the case for the News-Press.

Former Deputy Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Robbery

michael ronga 1st app

Michael Ronga

Former Lee County Deputy Michael Ronga was sentenced this week to six years in Federal prison (he also worked for Fort Myers PD, at an earlier time). He was convicted at trial a few weeks ago for beating an robbing man he had given a ride while he was on duty in his patrol vehicle. Prosecutors pushed for 10 years, which was in line with sentencing guidelines, though the court opted to go below the guideline sentence and he was only given the six years. His attorneys argued for home confinement. The sentence was surprisingly forgiving, in light of the breach of trust to the community for it to happen by an on-duty officer.

Federal Judge Helps Reduce a Sentence he was Forced to Impose

I’ve complained about the inequities of mandatory sentences, and the problems inherent in removing all judicial discretion from sentencing. When you impose blanket rules, you will end up with unjust results. The Federal system has already moved to roll back some of the mandatory sentences that have been imposed on drug offenses. Now, one federal judge took it upon himself to push the prosecutor’s office to drop some charges to allow a re-sentencing of an offender the judge had been forced to impose an extremely harsh sentence. Some might not have any sympathy for Francois Holloway, as he was undoubtedly guilty of the crimes, but the required stacking provisions meant he got sentences several times longer than his codefendants, and he wasn’t even the one carrying the firearm.

Mandatory sentences that eliminate discretion spawn cases like Marissa Alexander, who may be facing 60 years for firing a warning shot that harmed nobody. Very rarely to violent offenders have sympathetic stories with a chance of swaying the legislature, but hers is the rare exception that may affect positive change. There are not many judges like Judge Gleeson, who took it on his own initiative to push for a just sentence. Gleeson criticized the system further, blaming prosecutorial abuse for a “significant number of federal inmates who are serving grotesquely severe sentences.” I counter that the prosecutors are not abusing their power, merely exercising the power granted to them through harsh sentencing schemes. The legislators have told them, both on the federal level and in states like Florida, that they want harsh sentences: it’s literally mandated by law. Those draconian rules should be the ultimate focus of our concern: they merely provide the framework under which the criminal justice system operates.

Also, the buildup in lengthy incarceration is wildly expensive and taxing on our system. Ironically, crime rates have been dropping just as incarceration rates are finally coming down. Harsh sentences are probably not the most effective crime deterrent, and certainly not the most cost effective.

NBC-2 to do a Story Tonight on Sentence Reform

Well, I guess the story is on sentence reform: it’s about a man who was apparently arrested for possession of a half-an-ounce of cocaine and who was then sentenced to 60 years incarceration. The NBC teaser doesn’t give much in the way of details: what were the aggravating factors, was it a state or federal case? I expect it must have been federal charges, because state charges would not allow that great of a sentence for such a small amount. Even if it was possession with intent to sell, that wouldn’t be sufficient to warrant a 60 year sentence without other charges in Florida state court.

The teaser talks about the war on drugs, and shows a clip of President Clinton talking tough, but it also shows a clip of Governor Scott, so I don’t know if the situation deals with federal or state charges. While the state does have some severe sanctions: minimum mandatory sentences for an ounce or more of cocaine, for instance, federal laws are generally more harsh. The federal government has actually looked to recede from some of their overly-harsh, drug war-era initiatives, including the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced disproportionate sentences for cocaine offenses that involved crack cocaine. Even Florida, which has an extremely harsh sentencing structure, is considering some exceptions to its sentencing policy.

Hopefully I’ll have time to do a follow up post after the story! It’s on tonight, around 6 pm: http://youtu.be/WXCB0VlDHWE

 

Warrants Required for GPS Tracking : 3rd Circuit

  • Major Appellate Court Ruling: the 3rd Circuit Rules that a warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Jones, (132 S.Ct. 945, 2012,) that placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle does constitute a search. The Supreme Court declined to rule whether such a search required a warrant, or if such searches are therefore unreasonable under the Constitution. The lower courts had punted on the issue since then, allowing good faith exceptions for GPS devices placed prior to the Jones ruling. This week, the 3rd Circuit issued a ruling that declared that not only does the placement of a GPS tracking device on someone’s vehicle constitute a search, such searches do require a warrant. United States v. Harry Katzin, et. al. (Docket No. 12-2548, Fed. 3rd Cir, 2013). [Case text included in linked Wired story.]

This does not prevent the government from using GPS tracking devices, it merely requires that the Constitutional warrant requirement be adhered to before they do so. The agents and prosecutors in the Katzin case knew about the Jones ruling, but did not bother to even ask for a warrant, even though they probably could have gotten one. Now, the evidence obtained as a result of the search will be excluded from any future trial, due to the government’s willful disregard for the Defendants’ Constitutional rights. This case will likely set a strong precedent, as it is in line with recent Supreme Court holdings.

In Florida, the Jones case has been followed in appellate cases refuting warrantless searches of cell phones [Smallwood v. State, 113 So.3d 724 (Fla. 2013)], and limiting officers who come onto property without warrants for investigatory purposes [Powell v. State, 120 So.3d 577 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)].

via drudge: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/10/warrant-required-gps-trackers/

Manning’s Transgender Case : BU Law Represents

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, has announced that she is transgender, and intends to begin the sex reassignment process to become a woman. USA Today did a thorough and thoughtful article on the issue, and quoted Neal Minahan, my friend from Boston University School of Law.

I’m proud of my classmates, in addition to Mr. Minahan’s work on this important and delicate issue, Jenn Rolnick Borchetta worked on the NYPD Stop and Frisk case, helping prove that NYC police have been systematically violating people’s rights for years. It’s great to see my colleagues on the right side of good things happening in the law, and great for the profile of BU Law! BU Law, as you may know, prides itself on being on of the first law schools to admit students regardless of race or gender.

Feds Prosecute Telephone Prank

In what is perhaps the stupidest use of limited Federal resources, Federal charges have been filed against two men for a phone prank that was laughed about all over the internet, after it got picked up by Deadspin.com. Now, each of the men are facing up to five years in prison on federal felony charges.

Now, it would be one thing if trade secrets ended up causing harm to either of their businesses. But that didn’t happen… it was a harmless prank that may have caused some embarrassment to the victims of the prank, but they didn’t have to make a federal case of out it. A felony in fact. With all the issues going on in the Justice Department right now, you wouldn’t think that prank phone calls would be a high priority.

Frequently, there is a strong defense to charges relating to phone calls, because it is difficult to prove who actually made the calls. Even knowing who owns the phone is insufficient to prove the guilt of whoever actually made the call. Things may be more difficult for the gentlemen in this case, as they posted their exploits on the internet.

However, I can’t get past the question of whether it makes sense to prosecute this case. We are paying for it, it’s our tax dollars that pay the prosecutor who filed on it, and in turn, the judge and all the courtroom personnel that will be involved in the case as it moves through the system. That’s a lot of our money to punish a little prank- and as a felony no less (several states make it a misdemeanor). Lucky for these guys, they didn’t pat anyone on the butt