Thursday, July 07, 2016


Over the past few hours there have been two more police induced homicides caught on video. It's now more or less impossible to not view the videos as they're everywhere. The typical scenario goes something like this: minority man is stopped for little or no reason by an officer, the suspect is shot six times and dies. The police force regrets what happened yet happily explains that there's more evidence than just the video, there's also the reliable testimony of the officers who should never be found at fault.
Just One Bullet 

What is it about this day and age that is different? Why are people suddenly being shot and killed by officers? Is there something in the water at police stations? Are police officers now inadvertently taking some drug, vitamin or supplement that has laid waste to their capacity to make informed decisions in a manner that does not result in death? No, the police haven't changed nor have the suspects.

The only unusual quality about these killings is that they're now routinely recorded whereas before the killings were hidden in a mirage of statistics. Most people, even poor people, have access to cell phones with cameras. Rampant uncontrolled police killings have been going on unnoticed for years except by the friends and families - the mourning fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and fellow parishioners in minority neighborhoods.  The pictures of the missing dead lining the walls of their homes. But the new videos speak if American injustice louder than their families accumulated tears.

The time has come for change in police strategy and tactics. The goal should be to protect the safety of not only the officer, but the public and the suspect. Too many officer engage in conduct such as needless high speed chases that endanger lives or firing a gun for low level crime investigation that escalates the probabilities of violence endangering innocent people as well as themselves. Why should officers be armed when they're eating at a restaurant? When a violent crime is being investigated why not simply retrieve the firearms from the police cruiser? 

Most of the time the cop on the street has no need to be carrying a gun or taser. In fact a strong argument can be made that the intimidation caused by wearing a gun backfires by making people wary of dealing with officers and making them feel as though they're living in occupied territory. 

For many years local police departments have protected the worst officers who use violence. When any officer harms or kills someone that officer should be indicted, tried and if found guilty punished. The integrity of local police departments should be a federal prosecution priority for indictments in the Middle District of Florida and throughout America. When the FBI conducts federal criminal investigations these deaths will the tears of the families finally run dry?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


America's beleaguered criminal justice system claims to deter future crime by giving proportionally greater prison time for crimes that harm people or cause significant economic loss. In fact the Federal Sentencing Guidelines base most punishment on this criteria. 
Volkswagen's Cost-Benefit analysis for Gold
should result in prison time for executives.

Yet the truth is that significant economic crimes or crimes that bring physical harm to vast numbers of people rarely result in prison. This is true because the criminals who commit these crimes often benefit from being shielded as mere workers of corporations. But it's important to remember that when a corporation commits a crime one or more members of that company made the decision to commit fraud after weighing a cost-benefit analysis.

Let's look at the cost-benefit analysis of Volkswagen as an example.  The company admits that it long-term committed fraud in Europe and in America by rigging the anti-polution software on eleven million diesel vehicles causing approximately one million tons of additional toxic air pollution. Further, the addition pollution is estimated to have caused the deaths of 40 people per year for 8 years for a total of 320 deaths in the United States alone. Beyond these numbers of dead countless men, women and children suffered physical harm because of Volkswagen's greed including most anyone who walked outside in any urban area.

Volkswagen has agreed to pay substantial penalties. But is that enough to deter future companies from doing similar crimes?Should the leaders of Volkswagen be allowed to escape prison time just because they're part of a corporation? The Justice Department should make a criminal investigation of the leaders of Volkswagen a top priority. Let's see how well Volkswagen can avoid the victim loss calculations of economic crimes or reduce the valuation of goods under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

If the Justice Department finds that the leaders of Volkswagen committed fraud they should be indicted, shamed, extradited to America, tried and sent to long terms of prison if found guilty. 

Monday, June 27, 2016


If you've been arrested or have a warrant for your arrest or if you're under investigation for a crime in Pinellas County, Florida you need to find the best way to parachute to safety from Florida's harsh criminal justice system. It's important to find timely help from a criminal defense attorney who will guide you thru the complicated criminal justice system so that you can land with the best possible outcome for your situation. 
How to Parachute to safety from Florida's
Harsh Criminal Justice System

When someone waits to hire an attorney, it only makes it more likely that their side of the story will never be heard or be heard too late to make a significant difference in the outcome of the case. That's because in most cases the criminal justice process works in the following way:

The police initiate an investigation of a possible criminal act. Their primary goal is find the perpetrator without regard to whether there exists sufficient evidence to successfully bring that perpetrator to justice at trial with a guilty conviction. The police either make an arrest or defer arrest for further investigation. 

It's important to understand that whatever decision is made by the relevant police agency, that decision will later be reviewed by prosecutors at the State Attorney's Office. Prosecutors may elect to file no charges or to file different charges or to file the same charges. But prosecutors aren't merely determining if a defendant committed the alleged criminal act, prosecutors use the higher standard of whether whatever charges may be filed can be won at trial. This makes sense in that the prosecutors are the ones who will try the case and must be reasonably certain of success to file a criminal charge.

If prosecutors elect not to pursue any charges, the case will end. Should prosecutors elect to file criminal charges then the criminal case will move forward thru the criminal court. A judge will set a day of trial before which the defendant will either plead guilty to a negotiated outcome or finally have his day in court before a jury of his peers - those unspeakable folks who occasionally ram your cart at Walmart. If convicted a defendant not only faces the frowning judge but the harsh Florida sentencing guidelines and scoresheets that determine sentences in Pinellas Courts from which even the most lenient judge has little room for judicial discretion to reduce a severe sentence.

Having immediate help and legal representation is essential to navigate the difficult and confusing criminal justice process from investigation by the police, to a possible arrest, to investigation of the facts and circumstances of the incident by the prosecutors and possible trial. At every stage your advocate will do everything possible to have the charges dismissed or reduced and to gain the best possible outcome in your case.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


A new report from the Justice Department's Inspector General finds that federal prisoners are routinely held for months, and for a few unfortunate inmates, even years passed the release dates of the sentences handed out by federal judges. In effect the incompetence of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is arbitrarily lengthening prison sentences for those caught within the web of the criminal justice system. Every defense lawyer and every federal judge should be angered by the report. 

Federal Prisoners Singing
for Freedom
At federal sentencing hearings prosecutors and defense counsel often argue over minute details of how to apply the infamous sentencing grid of the federal sentencing guidelines in which the number of levels given to the defendant may add months or years of imprisonment. Despite numerous Supreme Court decisions stating that Federal Judges have sentencing discretion, the truth is that the sentencing guidelines dictate most federal sentencing decisions and that federal judges have limited discretion in sentencing

Prisons must inform federal judges in some circumstances of early releases of inmates, but there's no set procedure by BOP for informing judges of late releases that may require prisoner compensation and that randomly circumvent the federal judge's sentence. In fact neither the judge, the defense lawyer nor the prosecutor may ever find out. The report notes that the federal prison system does "not have a process to consider whether to notify the sentencing court of an untimely release." Yet the report also specifies that the prison system does have a process to timely notify the relevant federal probation office, despite making no effort to notify the federal sentencing judge, the prosecutor nor the defense counsel. This makes no sense. If all the parties were notified at least defense counsel would have an opportunity to file an emergency motion for a renewed sentencing hearing. 

Clearly BOP has been given too much arbitrary power. No wonder so many federal defendants refuse jury trials because they believe the game of justice is rigged for guilt. Everyone involved in the criminal justice system needs to rein BOP in by first requiring BOP to give notice of any unilateral enhanced sentencing to all of the parties involved and second to establish judicial review even if limited in scope of BOP release date procedures. Another important step would be for BOP to send its release date schedule to all concerned parties within ten days of an inmate's arrival into the prison system and to require any subsequent amendment of that date to be given to all parties within ten days of the change with an explanation of why the date was changed and how the new date is consistent with the federal judge's original sentencing order.

The report is another blow to the notion of fair sentencing in America. At federal sentencing defense counsel should ask the judge to include in the sentencing order time limits for BOP action on release dates with demands that the federal judge, defense counsel and prosecutor be notified should the release date be changed with an explanation as to why it was changed. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Judge Susan Schaeffer with those who enabled her during her long career might have hoped time would erase her history of abusive behavior as a Circuit Judge, but I'm obliged in decency to take up the task of reassessing her judicial career. She was not as one local paper put it "the best of the best" rather she embodied the worst qualities any judge could have. She was, for those of us who actually practiced before her not a judge worthy of the praise and respect we held for Judge Mark McGarry

Long Sentences for an appointment to the
Supreme Court of Florida
Good judges are people who value justice laced with a keen sense of fairness. They're humbled by the aspects of their work that compels them to daily make god-like decisions on the fate of other people. That uncomfortableness of judgment naturally comes from an awareness that no amount of knowledge is ever complete. Those who don't possess an inkling of the limits of self awareness are unfit to wear the black robe of judgment. 

Judge Schaeffer, a graduate of Stetson Law School, often scorned all the fools she had to endure in hearings or trials, even belittling one particularly earnest Harvard Law graduate soon after the shell-shocked lawyer walked out of her courtroom. Her unlimited hatred and scorn was clearly roused by that Harvard degree, something she neither had the intelligence, wit, nor grit to acquire

Yet there was never a moment in her courtroom when she did not endeavor to prove she was the smartest person there. Judge Schaeffer was the star of every motion, the center of every hearing and the brilliant decision maker for every trial in her courtroom. The facts, the lawyers, the defendants were of little consequence - it was her story that counted. To get the best possible results sharp lawyers expressed every argument within the limited framework of her self perceived brilliance showering their presiding judge with the false praises that only made the malignancy of her megalomania grow. 

It is now universally understood that millions of lives were needlessly ruined during America's failed drug war. Countless nonviolent defendants had their freedom and dignity needlessly taken. During that time every Florida judge's moral center was tested. Judge Susan Schaeffer failed that test. She often made it clear in drug minimum mandatory cases that she wished she could give even more prison time. 

At the time even attorneys with the prosecutor's office were shocked at the level of her ugly ruthlessness. Yet this was a judge who believed in the political necessity of giving maximum sentences. Judge Schaeffer, a former agent of the Internal Revenue Service, abused her new power to sentence harshly as a battering ram to further her career in the hope of being appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. In her view thoughtful, deliberate and fair sentences were given only by judges who were fools.

One judge noted that at a judicial conference Judge Schaeffer clearly labored under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs as she bragged that the Governor would appoint her to the Supreme Court, "it's in the bag, damn it...yea... in the bag." The appointment instead went to someone who graduated from a better law school,  displayed better judicial temperament, had greater experience and who apparently managed to keep a sober disposition at judicial conferences, restaurants and golf courses.

Sadly she still possessed the Circuit bench and her failure to win the appointment only made her more hostile and unpredictable. As she bullied and blindsided lawyers they'd mutter - Why is she so angry? Is she mentally unstable? Is she under the influence of drugs and alcohol? 

Shrug your shoulders and wonder why as you walk into the darkness; all I can think about are the hundreds of people convicted of nonviolent crimes in her courtroom who still wait out their lives imprisoned in needless misery.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Officers in Tampa Bay Florida are making far too many unnecessary arrests. Proper policing should result in the arrest of a suspect only when the officer has reason to believe that the defendant is either a danger to the community or is likely to fail to appear for court. An arrest may not be unreasonable for investigations of violent crimes such as domestic violence, aggravated battery or aggravated assault.
Making an arrest
is always risky.

It's not unusual for officers to abuse the very process of making an arrest. Often an arrest for nonviolent crimes is an overblown tribute to the arresting officer's ego. The confrontation and resulting confusion of making an arrest places both the officer and the defendant in imminent danger of harm. Many inconsequential incidents snowball rapidly because of an arrest or mere threat of an arrest. Smart officers take a step back before making an arrest decision to unemotionally determine whether the defendant is a threat to the community or a threat to abscond.

Why do officers really make so many needless arrests?Unfortunately officers are often rewarded by their supervisors for making foolish arrest decisions. In fact rising thru the ranks is facilitated by a mentality of "us versus them" rather than by a love of the community they serve with respect for every person in it. Rather than being reprimanded for having a high rate of making arrests the officers are praised as being especially competent or brave. Clearly, it's helpful to have effective leadership that makes it clear to every officer that the number of arrests an officer makes should never be a factor in advancement. In fact the act of making an arrest should be the least performed action of any good officer.

Yet when you look at the statistics it's the same troublesome officers who arrest too often who also make themselves the victim of crimes by arresting defendants for crimes such as Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer or Resisting Arrest with Violence. In fact in most police agencies the majority of police officers are reasonable, looking for the best way to resolve volatile situations without escalating violence. That small percentage of psychologically damaged officers who enjoy arresting and intimidating defendants for nonviolent crimes should be drummed out of policing. 

No wonder Florida jails such as the scandalous jail in Pinellas County, Florida are over-crowded and unsafe. The sheriff should immediately make it clear to every deputy that arrests should be reserved only for those who are violent or when the giving of a notice to appear to a defendant is unlikely to succeed.