Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Big Win! Florida Gov. signs law repealing min/man sentencing for Aggravated Assault

This year, criminal-justice reform has been high on the to-do list for state lawmakers. And it’s about time.

We commend Gov. Rick Scott for signing a bill that will bring a touch of humanity and common sense to the state’s courtrooms: The new law repeals Florida’s “10-20-Life” law — the guideline that now sets mandatory-minimum sentences for crimes involving guns.

On Wednesday, Gov. Scott signed Senate Bill 228 repealing the too-rigid sentencing mandate. It’s welcome recognition that the law removed judicial discretion in sentencing both hardcore offenders and young, more-naive offenders who might deserve a second chance.

A tip of the hat, too, goes to bill sponsors House Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, and Neil Combee, R-Polk; and Sens. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, and Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.
This is the first real reversal of the state’s tough-on-crime initiatives of the late 1990s, coming on the heels of several tourist murders and a booming homicide rate.

With a stroke of the governor’s pen, here’s what changes: The new law gives judges across the state flexibility when sentencing people convicted of gun-involved crimes. Under the 10-20-Life law, judges’ hands were tied and they had to hand down a 10-year sentence if someone displayed a gun and a 20-year sentence if someone fired a gun — including cases where the weapon was fired as a warning and not at an individual — and 25 years or more is someone were wounded. There were no exceptions; now there are.

“This is a major victory for common-sense sentencing reform in Florida,” Greg Newburn, state policy director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums said on Thursday.
It’s also a path away from arbitrary sentences that overcrowd our prisons. And it allows judges to be judges by giving them discretion to consider mitigating circumstances, not just a blank decision that may ruin a life — and there’s no denying that many of those lives have been black lives.

The bill takes effect July 1, but it does not affect anyone currently incarcerated. But the sad cases of some of those imprisoned under this law led to its repeal.

Since 10-20-Life was enacted, more than 15,000 people have been sentenced under the law. Many bad people have been taken off the streets. But, “Unintended consequences are inherent to mandatory minimums,” Mr. Newburn said. “No one anticipated 10-20-Life would be used to put citizens in prison for 20 years for warning shots, but that’s exactly what happened.”

The 2008 case of Orville Lee Wollard III, of Davenport, is often cited by those who pushed for repeal. Mr. Wollard is serving 20 years in a state prison for firing a warning shot inside his home to scare away his teenage daughter’s unwelcome 17-year-old boyfriend; the shot was meant to scare the teen, and no one was hurt. But the use of the gun triggered the state’s mandatory-minimum sentencing. Mr. Wollard was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm, and a judge had no choice but to throw the book at him.

The governor rejected Mr. Wollard’s request for clemency last year and offered no reason for the denial. But he did later follow the recommendation of his Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which called on the Legislature to fix the unintended results of Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

Gov. Scott has helped give Floridians a fairer criminal-justice system.
*originally posted in the Miami Herald.

Read more here:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open carry bill resurfaces in Florida Legislature

By Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News

TALLAHASSEE - A bill that would allow concealed weapon permit holders to openly carry a handgun in public was brought back to life and will receive a full floor vote Thursday by the state Senate.

The bill, by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will be introduced in the form of a floor amendment to another bill that would remove a maritime instrument known as a slung shot from a list of concealed weapons in state law.

Gaetz's bill faced a roadblock last month after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, decided not to place it on his agenda. He said his plan, known in the Legislature as the "open carry" bill, would inevitably resurface in coming legislative sessions.

"There will be an opportunity time and time again to debate the issue," Gaetz said. "All we have wanted throughout the legislative session was to have the debate."

Gaetz would not say if he had the votes to pass the amendment.

"I'll count the votes when I see the green lights on the board," Gaetz said, referring to large electronic voting boards affixed to two walls of the Senate chamber.

Gaetz's amendment will receive debate and a full floor vote, but the bill it is attached to, SB 612, will only receive questions. The full bill by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, will still require a full floor vote.

The open carry amendment will likely face a tough fight on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, had said the bill and other concealed carry-related bills likely required more work to promote public safety as advertised.

"I'm just not sure if we're there yet," Galavno said.

The House version of Gaetz's open carry plan cleared the House floor Feb. 3 with a vote of 80-38.
Gaetz's bill was one of three relating to concealed weapon permit holders that Diaz de la Portilla refused to hear in his committee. Bills that would have allowed permit holders to carry a handgun on campus and in an airport terminal currently remain in flux as the Legislature heads toward its last week of this year's lawmaking season.

Contact Daily News reporter or 850-559-7620

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Proposed Law Change Would Limit Non-Driving Related Reasons State Can Suspend Your License

By: Brian Doherty for Reasons Magazine

Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes of District 22 has offered a very helpful bill to ease the problem—a problem reported about by me here at Reason back in February 2014 for Florida specifically, and in December 2014 nationally —of less well-to-do citizens losing their ability to drive (and thus often to work with any sort of convenience without breaking the law) over offenses that have nothing to do with their demonstrated ability to safely manage a motor vehicle.

Key part of the bill, (SB 7046):

Notwithstanding any other law, a person’s driver
  534  license may not be suspended solely for failure to pay a penalty
  535  or court obligation if the person demonstrates to the court,
  536  after receiving the penalty and prior to the suspension taking
  537  place, that he or she is unable to pay the penalty or court
  538  obligation. A person is considered unable to pay if the person
  539  provides documentation to the appropriate clerk of court
  540  evidencing that:
  541         (a) The person receives reemployment assistance or
  542  unemployment compensation pursuant to chapter 443;
  543         (b) The person is disabled and incapable of self-support or
  544  receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income
  545  program or Social Security Disability Insurance program;
  546         (c) The person receives temporary cash assistance pursuant
  547  to chapter 414;
  548         (d) The person is making payments in accordance with a
  549  confirmed bankruptcy plan under chapter 11, chapter 12, or
  550  chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. ss.
  551  101 et seq.;
  552         (e) The person has been placed on a payment plan or payment
  553  plans with the clerk of court which in total exceed what is
  554  determined to be a reasonable payment plan pursuant to s.
  555  28.246(4); or
  556         (f) The person has been determined to be indigent after
  557  filing an application with the clerk in accordance with s. 27.52
  558  or s. 57.082.

It's a start, though frankly even with those restrictions many people will doubtless be unjustly forced into penury or inability to work by silly license suspensions, given the paperwork hurdles inherent in all the above. Still, it's a start, as are the slight limitations from one year to 6-month suspension for certain drug related crimes. (Which should, justly, have zero effect on one's being licensed to drive, steps, I suppose.)

Some other details of the bill, from Brandes' office press release:
 “This legislation will help thousands of Floridians who are caught in a relentless cycle of debt within the legal system. This bill will reduce a major burden on our courts from license suspensions, and it will give many Floridians a means to get back to work.”
...The bill establishes an alternative system for sanctions for the more than 1.2 million driver license suspensions annually.
SPB 7046 removes suspension and revocation penalties for certain non-driving-related offenses. Individuals who would have their licenses suspended today for many financial related issues will instead be issued a hardship license. The reform package also reforms a controversial surcharge in law for fines or fees which are sent to collections, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to enter into community service as an alternative method of payment. Finally, the bill eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent driving while license is suspended or revoked resulting from a defendant’s inability to pay a fine or fee.
Fox13News out of Tampa with a report on the bill, and three stories of people's livelihoods unjustly screwed up by casual license suspension. Florida suspended 578,000 licenses last year just over unpaid fees.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Florida Senate may consider ‘stand your ground’ changes in 2016

Proposed changes that strengthen Florida’s “stand your ground” law are headed to the full Florida Senate in January, after passing a third and final committee hearing Thursday.
But the new version of Senate Bill 344, which was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Rules Committee, is more tempered than previous drafts because of a sweeping amendment offered by chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

The compromise is intended to make the proposal more palatable to critics. Gun-rights advocates — such as the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry — said they “can live with” the changes but preferred the original version, which offered defendants even greater protection from prosecution.
The original bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, shifted the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing to prosecutors, requiring them to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” why a defendant is not entitled to a stand-your-ground defense.

The revised bill keeps that shift but requires prosecutors to prove only “clear and convincing evidence” — a lower threshold.

Read more here:
“There are reasons a prosecutor shouldn’t have to bear the burden beyond all reasonable doubt in a preliminary hearing because there are unforeseen and complicated circumstances of doing that,” Simmons said, citing double-jeopardy implications as one example.

One of the biggest complaints from state attorneys was that Bradley’s original plan would force them to conduct two trials: one before a judge at that pre-trial hearing and another before a jury during the trial itself. Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, was unavailable to comment immediately after the hearing.

Simmons’ changes to the bill also removed controversial financial penalties and civil liability prosecutors could have faced if they lost in the pre-trial hearing. Bradley agreed such measures would be “unprecedented” to include in the law; he supported Simmons’ amendment as “reasonable.”
Also gone: Wording describing the Legislature’s desire to “correct misinterpretations” of legislative intent by the courts — remarks that Simmons said would be more “appropriate” somewhere else, like “a press conference,” but not in the bill itself.

The bill is contrary to what Florida courts — culminating in a Supreme Court decision last summer — have ruled. Justices stated that defendants who claim a stand-your-ground defense have to prove before trial why they’re entitled to that immunity.

Bradley and other conservative lawmakers were infuriated by that ruling and want to change the legal standard through the 2016 legislation.

Undaunted by the stalling of a similar bill last month in a House committee, Bradley said he hopes the full Senate will approve his amended proposal during the first couple weeks of session in January.
If it does, the bill would then be sent over to the House, where Bradley said he hopes Speaker Steve Crisafulli will put it directly before the full House for a vote.

When asked whether Crisafulli would entertain that option for Bradley’s bill, his spokesman Michael Williams told the Herald/Times: “The House rules certainly allow us to take up the Senate bill.”

Such a move would bypass last month’s deadlocked vote in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, where Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined with the panel’s four Democrats to oppose Bradley’s companion legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Florida’s 10-year-old “stand your ground” law allows residents to use deadly force in defense of their lives or property in certain circumstances, with no requirement to retreat.

After lengthy discussion and debate Thursday, Simmons also successfully added an amendment to “clean up” the stand-your-ground law, related to other changes lawmakers made in 2013. It clarifies that individuals don’t have to first be “attacked” in their homes in order to stand their ground.
“We knew this needed to be corrected, and this is the perfect opportunity to correct it,” Simmons said.

Read more here:

Friday, December 18, 2015

The killing of Laquan McDonald: The dashcam video vs. police accounts

This article is exactly why ALL Police Officers should be required to wear body cams. When technology like this is available, there is just not any reason to guess anymore.

The killing of Laquan McDonald: The dashcam video vs. police accounts

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stop the Insanity- Mental Health Awareness and Current Inadequate Policies Should be Our Biggest Concern

Accused White House fence jumper to get mental health screening
By Evan Perez, CNN

Washington (CNN) -- A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a full mental competency screening for Omar Gonzalez, who is accused of jumping the White House fence, after a disputed initial examination found him not competent for trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer expressed concern that the initial mental exam, ordered by a magistrate judge, was done before she had a chance to hear a legal motion by the defense disputing whether the magistrate had the authority to order it. David Bos, the federal public defender representing Gonzalez, objected to any examination in the first place because he says Gonzalez is fit for trial.

The 60-minute initial mental examination of Gonzalez at the District of Columbia jail came as a surprise to the judge and to both the government and defense. But the result, finding Gonzalez not competent, can't be ignored, Collyer said in court Tuesday.

Bos told the judge: "There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Gonzalez is competent to stand trial." Nonetheless, he withdrew his objections and agreed to allow his client to undergo a fuller competency examination to try to undo the results of the initial examination.

The judge delayed arraignment for Gonzalez on new charges the government filed against him last week. Gonzalez was arrested in September after he allegedly jumped the White House fence and sprinted into the executive mansion, setting off concerns about Secret Service security procedures.
He was found with a folding knife and told a Secret Service agent "that he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the President of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people," according to an agent's affidavit filed in court. His family has said Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoia.

The incident came amid a series of disclosures about Secret Service lapses that cost the agency's director, Julia Pierson, her job. Collyer said that during the initial examination, the mental health screener found Gonzalez did understand some parts of the proceedings. The judge suggested that Gonzalez's mental issues, which she didn't describe more fully, could be resolved with medication.
The judge also raised concerns that the government's handling of previous unrelated cases could mean it will take some time for Gonzalez to be examined at a federal Bureau of Prisons facility. She gave one example of an unnamed defendant who sat at the District of Columbia jail for months before anyone noticed he hadn't received the tests that were ordered. The problem, she said, was that sequestration has cut resources for the Bureau of Prisons and finding a bed can take time.
Collyer ordered the mental health screening to be done in 30 days and set a new hearing for December 3 at 10:30 a.m.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reality TV Star sentenced to 15m in federal prison for mortgage fraud

Teresa Giudice: Shocked by prison sentence

By Breeanna Hare, CNN

Teresa and Joe Giudice are both headed to prison. On October 2, Joe was sentenced to 41 months in prison by a New Jersey federal judge. Teresa was sentenced to 15 months. The "Real Housewives of New Jersey" couple<a href='' target='_blank'> pleaded guilty March 4 to multiple federal fraud charges,</a> including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and lying on mortgage and loan applications.

(CNN) -- As "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star Teresa Giudice faces a 15-month prison term that's set to start in January, it's no surprise she's also been dealing with "sleepless nights."
The reality star and her husband, Joe Giudice, were sentenced Thursday to serve time after pleading guilty in March to numerous federal fraud charges. Teresa Giudice will serve a 15-month sentence. Joe received a 41-month sentence and also faces the possibility of deportation since he's not a U.S. citizen.

On Monday night, both Giudices sat down with Bravo's Andy Cohen for the first part of an interview featured on Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live." When Teresa Giudice was asked about her reaction to the October 2 sentencing, she could hardly find the words to express how it has affected her, and how she fears it will affect her family.
"I was so nervous. ... At one point, I couldn't even move my fingers," Giudice recalled. "My nerves were shot. I've had sleepless nights. I was shocked. It was very unexpected. I don't even know what to say."

In March, the reality housewife and her husband pleaded guilty to hiding assets from bankruptcy court and conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, among other charges.
In hindsight, Teresa Giudice says, she's learned a lesson.

"I do need to read things before I sign them. I do need to understand things before I sign them," she told Cohen. "I'm a trustworthy person, and sometimes I take what other people say and I just believe them and I trust them. I can't do that anymore; I've got to make sure I fully understand something."
Giudice is expected to begin her sentence on January 5; once she's served her time, her husband is expected to begin his own stretch. The sentences were staggered to ensure the couple's four daughters have a caretaker.

Being away from her kids, Giudice told Cohen, is what scares her most about prison -- more than the lockup itself.

"I just think about my daughters," the 42-year-old said. "That's all I think about. I just want to make sure that my daughters are OK."

According to Giudice, their eldest, Gia, 13, has become her support system.

"She was being strong for me, I could tell," Giudice said. "She was like 'Mommy, don't worry, I'll be there. I'll help Daddy with the girls; that'll prepare me for when I'm a mom.' That broke my heart when she said that."

She said she has only one request of Joe: "All I said to my husband was, 'All you have to do is take care of our daughters,'" she said. "'That's all I ask. You've got to do what I do.'"