Posts Tagged ‘police’

Mistrial Did Not Mean Disrespect

June 7, 2010

Apparently, Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba believes that everyone should always believe the word of a police officer, no matter what.  Perhaps he needs to pay more attention to the news if he wants to understand why not everyone feels the same way.

Jacksonville resident Jacquan Shootes’ second trial recently ended in a mistrial after a hung jury.  He is accused of shooting at Jacksonville police.  His defense was that the officers didn’t identify themselves, so he didn’t realize they were undercover, and therefore he shot in self-defense.

The jury deadlocked, which means that at least one person had some doubt about whether the State had proved the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.  According to the Times-Union, Cuba said “it’s a pretty sad day when people would take the word of a criminal over the word of four officers.”  http://bit.ly/d3GsQo

Should the jurors automatically have believed the police over the defendant, just because they’re cops? I think not.  Jurors are supposed to weigh the evidence, evaluate the testimony of all the witnesses, and decide who is telling the truth.  That’s just what the jury did in this case.  We should respect the jury’s decision, just as Cuba would have if the verdict had been guilty.

The same day that the Times-Union reported on the trial, the paper also featured these headlines: “Officer’s hero-to-handcuffs story continues” and “Lawtey officer held in scheme to solicit bribes for tickets.”  The following day, this headline appeared: “Officer fired for fatal traffic crash.”

If you follow the news in Jacksonville, you’re familiar with these stories, and you know how many times officers have been accused of wrongdoing in the last few years. You can find all kinds of similar stories all over the country.

The point is that cops are people too, just like the rest of us. We should all be held to the same standards.  It’s not “disrespectful” to question the word of a police officer who testifies in court.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that the defense attorney who tried the case, Waffa Hanania, is a close friend of mine.  However, I have not talked to her about the case, either before or after the trial.

Did the Police Really “Mishandle” a Rape Case?

April 8, 2010

The Florida Times-Union reported recently that the Jacksonville Beach Police Department “mishandled” a rape case by releasing a photo of a suspect fingered by an informant to the media. http://bit.ly/9m3tr4

I don’t think the case was mishandled at all—at least in comparison to any other case. It certainly wasn’t unusual for the police to use an informant to try to solve a case. And it wasn’t unusual when the informant identified a suspect from a photo. Publicizing such a photo is actually pretty routine.

This case made headlines because as it turned out, the man in the photo owns a business and two homes. He went to the police station voluntarily, made a statement, and gave a DNA sample. Most named suspects don’t do that.

Apparently the informant misidentified the suspect.  It’s not clear whether the misidentification was intentional or inadvertent, or whether the informant was reliable in the first place.

But just because the suspect in the photo is a businessman with two houses, does that mean per se that he couldn’t be the perpetrator? The point here is that most suspects aren’t cleared simply because they protest their innocence. Why did the police publicly apologize for what is essentially routine police work?

What the police should be doing is questioning their use of informants and re-thinking whether the informants they use really are reliable.  Too many convictions are obtained by relying on the questionable information provided by informants, some of whom are actually paid by the police.

And for that matter, the police should be looking more carefully at the reliability of all eyewitness identifications.  How many people convicted solely on the testimony of an eyewitness identification will have to be exonerated before they admit that it’s just not that reliable, especially without corroborating evidence?

Cops in Jail

February 5, 2010

Kudos to the Jacksonville police officer who had the courage to turn in two fellow officers recently for committing a crime on the job.  Apparently the officers wanted to look for drugs in a house located in a high-crime area, but they didn’t have a search warrant.  So instead of developing the probable cause they would have needed to get a warrant, they decided to take matters into their own hands.  They removed a room air conditioner and went into the house, then made up a story about a lady driving by who reported a burglary so it would look like they were justified in going into the house.

They didn’t find any drugs in the house.  Now they’re in jail.

Sadly, too many officers take shortcuts.  Over the course of the last 18+ years as a criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen it too many times.  I’ve had clients tell me about it again and again.

I guess these officers feel like the ends justify the means, but they never do.  Their actions taint all of the hard-working, dedicated officers who play by the rules while protecting the public.

The criminal justice system is designed to ferret out the truth, and most of the time it works.  Usually, when it fails, it’s because a cop or a prosecutor decides that winning is more important than justice.  It never is.

I’m sure the officers charged in this case will feel entitled to a fair trial, which they are.  I’m sure they’ll want the evidence used against them to be obtained legally, which it should be.  That’s the thing about the Constitution—it covers all of us, in all cases.

You can read more about this story at http://bit.ly/dChmmy.

DUI: Searching Your Blood?

January 20, 2010

I was out of town last week when the Times-Union ran a story about a Jacksonville DUI ruling with huge implications for everyone in the community.  I almost fell off the sofa Sunday afternoon when I saw the headline.

Florida law outlines very limited circumstances in which the police are allowed to force a suspected drunk driver to give a blood sample for testing of the driver’s blood alcohol content.  Basically, unless you’re involved in an accident that causes a death or a serious bodily injury, the law doesn’t give the police the authority to take your blood.

But the State Attorney’s Office, in my opinion, did some legal gymnastics in an effort to circumvent the Florida statutes. In accident cases not involving death or serious bodily injury, the police started seeking search warrants, arguing that a suspected drunk driver’s blood is property that can be seized upon a showing of probable cause.  Some local judges were signing off on these warrants, allowing forced blood draws.

Defense attorneys, of course, contested this practice.  Finally, Jacksonville attorney Scott Mitchell brought a test case.  The trial court judge agreed with Scott that this new practice did not comply with Florida law.  The State appealed, and the case went before a three-judge panel of circuit court judges.  Two out of the three judges ruled against Scott’s client, but I don’t think the case will end there.  We can look forward to another appellate round.

The Florida legislature was very specific in writing the DUI statute. If the public wants the law changed, then legislators should respond by amending the statute.  Unless and until that happens, the police should follow the law just like they expect drivers to do.