Tuesday, August 19, 2014

FIVE THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU SEE POLICE MISCONDUCT IN FLORIDA

If that noise in the cellar is just another officer drinking some of your best wine, then maybe it's time to consider some aspects of officer misconduct. In Florida we don't have many wine cellars at least not located under the floor mat  but we do have plenty of law enforcement officers who abuse their trust. 

We have officers who lie under oath to get search warrants, officers who search thru official databanks to learn private information, officers who commit felonies to gain access to private property and officers who run tags from those parked at legitimate businesses to later make marijuana arrests. One reason for misconduct by police in Florida is that they are under no duty to tell the truth or be honest when dealing with defendants and this dishonesty may become a habit.

All of these acts of police misconduct have recently been committed in Pinellas County, Florida. Clearly, there is an ongoing problem of repeated police misconduct among police agencies. Even if it's only a few bad cops are ruining the reputation of the majority of good cops, there's still a very real possibility that an interaction with an officer could turn ugly.

What should you do if you have an interaction with a corrupt police officer? 

  1. The most important issue must always be your safety. Don't do or say anything that will make the situation worse. 
  2. Your goal should be to later be able to find witnesses or evidence to establish that you were victimized. 
  3. If criminal charges were filed against you, then you should tell your criminal defense lawyer all of the facts including whatever the officer did that was inappropriate. It's important to let your lawyer know everything that happened and why.
  4. Officer misconduct is not the same as a Get Out of Jail Free Card. The goal of prosecutors will still be to prosecute any crime. But if the officer's actions undermine the probable cause that a crime was committed then the charge may be dismissed or reduced. For example, in one notorious recent case DUI charges were dropped in the Tampa Bay area when it was shown that officers helped to set up a honey pot trap of a DUI arrest for an unsuspecting man. The officer was fired and the FBI is still investigating the facts for a possible federal indictment.
  5. Your criminal defense attorney may consider filing a grievance with the police department or asking another agency with jurisdiction to look at any possible unlawful activity by the police department. It's very unlikely that prosecutors will initiate an investigation of a local police department as most cases prosecutors receive are generated from arrests and investigations made by the police department. But this should only be done after a full discussion of how it may effect your criminal case.
As you can see it's important to have an understanding of the criminal justice system and knowledge of the interaction of the various police agencies and prosecutors in dealing with police misconduct. If you have reason to believe you have been the victim of police misconduct in Clearwater, St. Petersburg or anywhere in Tampa Bay feel free to call criminal defense lawyer Robert Hambrick any time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why American Law Enforcement Wages War Against Us



The current crisis of police violence, gamesmanship and civil rights violations in Ferguson, Missouri - of all places - brings to light the guiding militaristic 'win at all costs' operational guidepost of American law enforcement. Clearly law enforcement in the United States has lost its way. 
Police in Tampa Bay, Florida have no need for armored vehicles, nor tanks, nor other military equipment.
But Officer, I wasn't speeding!

One of the unfortunate consequences from the winding down of America's foreign wars has been the marshaling of militaristic slogans from veterans into the police community. But not only have ideas of war from the Middle East infiltrated the police community - the used armaments from those wars have made their way to middle America. Now the smallest police forces in America can boast of having tanks, rocket launchers, armor piercing equipment and many other battlefield tested weapons. No wonder there's a war mentality in American law enforcement. Since they have the equipment of war what are they suppose to do, simply sit on it? Who are these armaments to be used against?

Our federal and state governments share blame for periodically declaring war against various segments of American society. In the late fifties and sixties civil rights marchers were arrested in the South even as they fought police to protect their basic constitutional rights such as the right to vote. Later as the Supreme Court defended the defenseless by finally protecting civil rights, other wars emerged against Americans. Again these wars were waged by law enforcement. Among the most bitter fights is the war on drugs conducted for two generations which has successfully incarcerated millions of otherwise law abiding citizens, destroying lives without pity nor mercy while making a mockery of justice. 

Yet lost in the shameful statistics of waste and decay from harsh drug minimum mandatory sentencing found in federal and state prisons is an interesting question. What have these corrupt sentences from wars waged against our own citizens done to prosecutors and law enforcement? It has made them cynical, base, immoral and free from the burdens of conscience. It has empowered the untrustworthy with the ability to imprison those whom they hate thereby imperiling the very rule of law upon which our republic was founded.

What can be done to change the very hearts of law enforcement officers? Law Enforcement officers who want to wage war against us must find other work or face imprisonment themselves. New police leaders must be appointed and elected who will work to hire only those who are truly fit to wear their badges with honor and pride to defend American constitutional rights. In the mean time could someone please ask the cops to lock up the rocket launchers before they accidentally hurt somebody.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Federal Judge Arrested For Second Domestic Battery Should Resign Or Be Impeached

A federal judge on vacation was released on bail after being represented by the public defender's office at his initial appearance for domestic battery this weekend. Beyond the fact that any judge - particularly a federal judge - should have the means and wherewithal to hire his own lawyer; one wonders what special treatment this judge is apt to receive. 


Judge Kicks Justice
Although every accused judge is entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, public records found by the Atlanta Constitution establish that this is not the judge's first time being targeted with the allegation of domestic battery though apparently it is his first battery or assault arrest. Perhaps he is not in the habit of battering each of his Federal Judge Arrested For Second Domestic Battery Should Resign Or Be Impeached wives, but at least one former wife claims he battered her as well. 

I suppose the principle of law here should be that federal judges are more equal than others as the notion that all of us are equal under the law is rather quaint. Is it really possible in the American criminal justice system that a federal judge will be treated no differently than any other defendant charged with domestic battery? Will he be forced to commit himself to psychological counseling? Will he be told to have no communication with the victim, his wife? Well, as a matter of fact, there was no condition in the bail to keep him away from the victim only a condition "to not have violent contact" with her. 

Should the judge spend his next vacation here in Clearwater, Florida as we all hope he will, he'll find that we have a special domestic battery court. But after arrest, first he'll have to deal with the typical Pinellas County bond requirements which include having no contact whatsoever with the victim, meaning no emails to her, no phone conversations and of course no co-habitation even if children are involved. Maybe the law in Georgia is vastly different, but it does make one wonder why the federal judge merely has to have no violent contact with his favorite victim? 

Although the idea of the Pinellas domestic battery court to identify batterers and provide psychological remedies to prevent assaults and batteries is laudable, too often the presumption of innocence is turned on its head when those arrested are presumed guilty and forced to either accept the gentle offer of treatment laced with possible dismissal of the charges or face time in jail if convicted. 

Should the judge choose Florida for his next vacation I am prepared to provide him with a federal judge criminal law discount should he decide to hire a private Clearwater criminal defense attorney rather than depend upon the stressed public defender system. He may need special help as under federal law any domestic battery is counted as a violent offense. Since the discount applies to former federal judges, perhaps he'll take this into consideration for what course his life should take in the future. Clearly this man should resign his position of trust; if not, he should be impeached as he's not fit to sit in judgment of others.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputies Admit To Subverting Justice By Filing False Police Reports & Fabricating Evidence

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Department fired two deputies who belatedly admitted that they schemed to subvert justice by filing false police reports and fabricating evidence. 


One deputy was fired when he falsely noted in a police report of a pending drug case that the defendant has personal possession of the drugs and was observed by an officer throwing the drugs. The other officer denied that he had seen the defendant with any drugs.


A second deputy was fired for filling out part of a health DUI form incident to a DUI arrest although he'd forgotten to ask the defendant about any health issues. Although both of these incidents reflect poorly on PCSO, at least the sheriff should be commended for taking appropriate action to rid the department of the men as an example of the need for reliable police conduct within the department.

Yet firing is not enough. This is far from the first time law enforcement officers in Largo, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa have been caught by the internal affairs unit of undermining criminal justice. In fact there has been a relentless systematic disregard of proper police conduct including officers who not only fabricate evidence but often lie under oath. Why do law enforcement officers continue to break the law by bending facts of possible criminal conduct in police reports and in collection of evidence? 

They lie because the benefits of giving false evidence are greater than the possible detriments. The benefits include fast promotions, excellent reviews from superiors and pay increases. The only detriment is the possibility of being reprimanded or fired when their lies are exposed by credible evidence such as video or other officer's testimony. Any other evidence from defendants or other witnesses are dismissed as unreliable.

More needs to be done than mere firing. The State Attorney's Office should begin an immediate and thorough investigation as to whether to file criminal charges against these deputies. In fact, any officer of the law who is found to have given false evidence should face the full consequences of the criminal law. There is no worse act those sworn under oath to protect Floridians can perpetrate than to subvert the very system of justice they should uphold. Only a realistic risk of criminal consequences will deter future law enforcement officers in Tampa Bay from breaking the law.

Monday, August 04, 2014

How To Stop Prosecutors From Using Leverage To Enhance Battery Penalties In Florida

What happens if someone is arrested for a felony battery on a law enforcement officer after being accused of a simple misdemeanor battery? Despite the fact that one charge is a felony punishable under Florida law for up to five years, sometimes it's just the simple battery that could ruin one's life. Incident to an instant investigation of a very recent simple battery an officer claims that he was struck by the Defendant. 

Ali Batters the Beatles

So how could anything be worse than the underlying felony of battery on a law enforcement officer in cases in Clearwater, Florida? Well, if the defendant was accused by the original victim of inappropriately touching her crotch area as she walked along a sidewalk - which is bad enough. But the victim claims the defendant after leaving her alone for a minute or two then continued following her until touching her a second time in the crotch area thru her clothes. In this case if the facts are believed by prosecutors to be provable at trial they could file two criminal counts for each of the inappropriate touchings. In fact the crimes prosecutors would look at based on the totality of the victim's allegations include aggravated stalking, false imprisonment, sexual assault as well as lewd and lascivious conduct. Any of which would be much more difficult to successfully defend than the allegation of any simple battery on which the defendant was arrested. In fact the allegations alone could ruin the defendant's life no matter how the case would be resolved.

When there is any allegation of a crime of a sexual nature, prosecutors may elect to increase their leverage in the case by filing additional felony counts. There's little to stop them from merely limiting themselves to the charges officer's initially filed when making the arrest. In fact there's ample opportunity, motive and incentives for prosecutors to leverage the initial simple battery charge by filing additional charges. Here the charges they would likely consider include but are not limited to stalking, false imprisonment, sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct.

Although facts may be found and summoned to dispute the victim's testimony, the later battery on a law enforcement charge from the officer's case makes disproving the earlier simple battery much more difficult. This is true because successful prosecutors will file the case on one charging document, known in Florida as an information, so that at trial the entire story from both events could be tied together as one narrative for the jury.

If alcohol consumption was a contributing factor, it's important to note that alcohol is not an effective defense to a criminal Battery charge. And even if the defendant would have been a candidate to have the charges dismissed based on pretrial intervention, the sexual nature of the original simple battery arrest would force the State Attorney's Office to decline the PTI application. In fact even achieving a withholding of adjudication would be unlikely. 

Clearly, the best course of action would be to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of the sexual assault as well as the battery on a law enforcement officer to determine if the witnesses are reliable, persuasive and honest. The investigation would include finding other witnesses or video evidence that undermines the simple battery charge as well as any of the felony charges the state of Florida could use as leverage to force a change of plea to guilty. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How Prosecutors Use & Abuse Federal Prisoners' Emails To Defense Lawyers



The New York Times recently reported that federal prosecutors are using federal inmate emails sent to their defense lawyers as evidence of wrongdoing. The evidence is being used as additional leverage to force pleas of guilty for those not yet convicted and during sentencing hearings for those already convicted. 

Although many jurisdictions are divided as to whether this evidence is permissible some federal judges are accepting the notion that defendants in custody waive any rights to private correspondence with their defense lawyers thru email.
In the Middle District of Florida in Tampa most federal prisoners are placed in the Pinellas County Jail in Clearwater while awaiting trial. But if convicted the defendants are hastily sent to Citrus County to await sentencing. Neither the Pinellas nor the Citrus jail offers email for defendants. 

Once federal defendants are transferred to a federal facility under Bureau of Prison guidelines then email is provided. Many defendants may be under the false impression that their email to their defense counsel is protected under attorney-client privilege.

All telephone calls to and from prisoners in Florida prisons are recorded. All traditional mail to and from prisoners is opened not only to stop contraband from entering the jail, but in an effort to make certain that the mail is not used to further any criminal conspiracy or enterprise. Telephone calls and traditional mail are often used as evidence in federal and Florida courts against prisoners. 

So how does a defense lawyer conduct a defense if his client in incarcerated in Florida? It doesn't matter whether the client facing a life sentence is charged with a federal conspiracy to traffic in cocaine with 10,000 pages of evidence or if the client is facing a simple battery misdemeanor charge with two pages of evidence. The evidence will be discussed in the following manner:

Upon entry to the Pinellas County Jail your defense attorney is given access to a small, gray, grim room which is presumably free from eavesdropping or other intrusion. The lawyer and his client work from two metal chairs and an old folding game table. Alleged first degree Murder charge? Game table. This face to face meeting place is the only method of safe communication provided for any alleged offense in Pinellas County. 

Yet much of the correspondence and communication in America today is conducted via email. All prisoners in both federal and Florida prisons should be given unrestricted email access if not to their families and loved ones, at least to their defense lawyers. It would even free up the wait time for the meeting rooms which are often filled.

The most important aspect of the lawyer-client privilege is the ability to communicate. Without a free exchange of ideas between defense counsel and client the lawyer-client privilege is meaningless. Lawyers for prisoners should be able to routinely send and receive emails from those they represent without fear that the emails may compromise clients in the future.