July 2012 Archives

July 19, 2012

Bailiff in Hot Water Amid Allegations of Misconduct

Last week, a veteran bailiff of the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court was arrested for her alleged involvement in accepting cash payments from defendants and passing the proceeds on to a local criminal lawyer who represented the same defendants. The bailiff is one of the best known and well-liked of the court staff that supports the Metro-Justice Building. According to investigators, they were able to obtain audio and video surveillance of the bailiff accepting cash payments from a defendant charged with several traffic infractions. According to court documents including the arrest affidavit and warrant, the cash was then passed onto a local criminal attorney.

The bailiff, a county employee, has been charged with three felonies including uttering a forged instrument, official misconduct, and receiving illegal compensation. She is also charged with a misdemeanor, more specifically, for violating the county's ethics code. The code does not permit county employees from recommending the services of any particular lawyer. The criminal attorney involved in the allegations has not been charged in the matter. Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle was quoted as saying, "For the courts, and all of us that work in the judicial system, it's very sad. The system depends on the confidence in the employees, and when you see a video like that, it certainly undermines that confidence."

The bailiff, although charged, remains innocent until proven guilty at trial or voluntarily enters a plea. Another option for her may be the pre-trial intervention program. The program is run by the state attorney's office. If a defendant stays out of trouble for six months, including no new arrests or other violations, and completes the conditions set forth by the prosecutor, the case will be dismissed. While the bailiff is certainly eligible for such a program, the current political situation and upcoming election may make that option unlikely, as the current state attorneys has been accused by her counter-part of not being tough enough on public corruption.

The veteran bailiff is represented by a private lawyer will defend the case on behalf of his client. She posted a $7,000 bond, but had no other conditions set by the bond hearing judge. The case was referred to the state attorney's office by another criminal lawyer who met one of the defendants after deciding not to continue doing business with the bailiff. Once the state attorney's office received this information, an undercover officer was sent in to deal with the bailiff as a defendant. During the dealings, the undercover official took video and audio surveillance of the transactions. While the penalties after trial or a plea are unknown at this point, it is almost certain that the bailiff will lose her government job and any retirement benefits that may have accompanied it.

Miami-Dade Bailiff Arrested on Allegation of Misconduct, Miami Herald.com, July 19, 2012.

July 13, 2012

Supreme Court Rules Drug Laws Are Constitutional

For all those charged under the "Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act" who anxiously awaited for the Supreme Court of Florida to rule on the constitutionality of Florida's drug laws finally have their answer. Criminal lawyers in Miami, Florida have expressed their disappointment in the ruling. In a 5 to 2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution need not prove that a particular defendant had knowledge about the "illicit nature" of the narcotics found in their actual or constructive possession. Criminal attorneys, as well as defendants charged with drug offenses have been waiting for the opinion in which if the law would have been unconstitutional would have led to the dismissal of thousands of cases with thousands of closed cases being vacated and then dismissed.

One of the Supreme Court Justices opined, "Nor is their a protected right to be ignorant of the nature of the property in one's possession." The majority opinion also reflected that is highly unusual for an innocent person to be unaware that he or she is carrying an illegal substance. The law regarding illegal drugs was changed in 2002 when the legislation no longer required prosecutors to prove that a defendant had "knowledge" of the illegal nature of the drugs. Bear in mind that just because knowledge is not a required element to prove a drug offense, a lack of knowledge could be presented to the prosecution prior to jury in effort to favorably resolve a case. Furthermore, the defense of a lack of knowledge could be presented to a jury, which if believed by the trier of fact would lead to an acquittal in the case.

The constitutionality of Florida's drug laws became an issue when a Middle District of Florida judge wrote in an opinion that the laws were unconstitutional and "Draconian". Once that opinion came down, defense attorneys filed thousands of motion to dismiss and motions to vacate cases where defendants had already been convicted and sentenced. Only two judges in the State of Florida ruled the laws unconstitutional and granted motions to dismiss and motions to vacate. A Miami-Dade County judge dismissed 39 felony cases. A Manatee County judge dismissed 46 criminal cases, one of which was sent to the Supreme Court that led to the ruling. All of the cases have been re-filed and will be prosecuted accordingly.

One of justices found that the potential sentences one faces under the Florida drug trafficking laws are staggering, but ultimately held that the law did not violate the constitution. One of the dissenting justices pointed out several examples of how an innocent person could be ensnared in the justice system. Two of the examples are individuals who rent automobiles being arrested for drugs left behind by the prior renter or individuals in airports who mistakenly pick up the wrong bag later found to be carrying illegal substances. The president of Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) Miami branch expressed his displeasure with the ruling. None the less, the Supreme Court has ruled against defendants charged and/or convicted with drug crimes. With that being said, criminal defense lawyers will have to continue defend their clients charged with drug possession, drug sales and drug trafficking the old fashioned way, hard work and preparation.

State's Drug Law Constitutional, Florida Supreme Court Rules, Miami Herald.com July 12, 2012.

July 5, 2012

Local Cops Arrested

Three Homestead police officers were placed under arrest Monday night for their alleged involvement in a series of beatings that occurred outside a local bar last year. All of the officers have each retained a Miami criminal lawyer to defend the charges. The first officer accused of committing a criminal offense is Sergeant Jeffrey Rome. He is alleged to have beaten and/or pepper-sprayed three men outside Celio's Latin Quarter Bar. According to court documents and the arrest warrant, two of the incident were recording on surveillance tapes. The odd part is that the video was taken by undercover officers investigating human trafficking that was occurring at the bar. Rome is charged with the offense of battery, false imprisonment and abuse of the elderly.

Two other officers, Sergeant Lizanne Deegan and Officer Giovanni Soto are also accused of being involved in separate beatings that occurred outside the same bar. Deegan is charged with official misconduct, while Soto is charged with simple battery and official misconduct. All of the officers have been suspended with pay since the allegations came to light in April 2011. All of the defendants were arrested and were released from the Miami-Dade County Jail after posting bond. All of the officers exited the jail by hopping a fence and climbing into a black SUV to avoid and confrontation with the press who were waiting outside the facility.

According to the arrest warrants which are now public record, Rome is accused pepper-spraying a man three times outside the bar. The bar is frequented by Hispanic migrant workers. According to the victim, he had been robbed outside the bar and went to Rome for help. Instead of helping the victim, the warrant alleged that he used his pepper-spray. The warrant further alleges that in 2011, Rome dragged an elderly man out of the bar and kicked him in the head. The video purportedly shows Rome trying to revive the man by pouring water on him.

Deegan and Soto were charged with another beating that occurred outside of the bar. The victim told investigators that Soto repeatedly beat him outside the bar and then dropped him off at his home. The victim requested medical treatment, but was refused. However, according to the warrant, Soto called 911 and the victim was transported to Homestead Hospital. Deegan allegedly followed the ambulance to the hospital, took crime scene photos and provided the victim with a police case number. She is charged with official misconduct for failing to author a report regarding the incident. The attorneys representing the defendants made statements to the effect that each of their clients will be exonerated of all the charges once they are able to avail themselves of the criminal process.

Three Homestead Officers Charged in Beating Case, Miami Herald.com, July 3, 2012.