Friday, November 2, 2012

Crime Is Down In Florida

Crime down statewide in first half of 2012, FDLE stats show.

The semi-annual crime statistics report came out today showing the crime is at the lowest levels in 41 years. The report is released twice a year and annually by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (which is to Florida what the FBI is for the US).

According to FDLE, crime has fallen by 3.8 percent compared to the same period last year. In 2011 there were 373,340 crime victims whereas this year there has been 359,051 victims. However, there was a small increase in homicides compared to last year. Last year there were 472 homicides in Florida; this year there has been 479 to date. Violent crime overall is down 5.3 percent compared to last year.

Domestic violence crimes also saw a decrease according to FDLE but there was a big jump in homicides that are domestic violence related. Domestic violence crime was  down by more than 5 percent but the homicides were up by almost 30 percent.

Robbery crimes saw the biggest decline at 8 percent. Non-violent crime was down 3.6 percent.

Locally, Miami-Dade saw a decline of 3.9 percent compared to the first six months of 2011.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Death Penalty in Florida

     In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 153 (1972) that the death penalty, as it was at the time being applied, was cruel and unusual punishment because it was very arbitrary. In Florida, before the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, there were 314 executions.
      In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court revisited the issue in Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976) and found that the death penalty law that Florida had just enacted was not cruel and usual punishment and thus the death penalty was active.

     Why the reversal? Well it's not so much that they changed their mind but instead it was that Florida passed a new law in 1976 that made the application of the penalty less arbitrary. Under the new law death penalty cases had two trials: a   guilt phase and, if the defendant was found guilty, a sentence phase. During the guilt phase the jury hears the evidence as usual and decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If guilty we move on to the sentence phase where the jury, in a advisory role, hears aggravating and mitigating circumstances. They then recommend to the judge life in prison with no parole or death. With this new law, and the fact that only murder cases are eligible for the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment.

     Since then there have been 73 executions in Florida and there are currently 400 inmates awaiting execution. Including John Ferguson who is scheduled to be executed within days for the murder of 8 people back in 1977/1978.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wayne Treacy Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

Wayne Treacy, the teenager that beat Josie Lou Ratley over a text message she sent him, was sentenced to 20 years in prison today.

Back in 2010, Wayne Treacy was upset that Ratley had sent him a text message about Treacy's dead brother. In a rage he attacked Ratley one day after school. He threw her down, bashed her head into the concrete pavement and then kicked her head with his steel-toed boots. She survived the attack but has permanent brain damage.

A jury convicted him in July of Attempted First Degree Murder and on Monday a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison followed by 10 years of probation.

Sad that both lives were destroyed over a unfortunate incident. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Prosecutorial Misconduct

This is a video report from USA Today discussing prosecutorial misconduct. The video features Nino Lyons, who was wrongfully convicted in 2001 based on testimony from convicted criminals for drug trafficking. In 2004 a judge threw out the conviction based on the fact that the prosecutors on the case hid evidence. The Justice Department ended up paying Mr. Lyons $140,000 for the three years he spend in prison.

I have dealt with a few prosecutors that definitely have the win at all costs mentality. Prosecutors have too much power and some have no respect for the system.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Myths about Prison

Did you know that prisoners in Florida actually work and don't have access to cable TV? For most people when they think about prison they think of a person locked up in their air-conditioned cell watching television. But the reality is that only 10 prison facilities in Florida have air-condition and inmates do not have cable television. The only reception for viewing television is from the old-fashioned antennae. Back in 1994, the Florida Legislature passed a law that prohibited funds from being used to purchase cable television, television sets and any other audio-visual equipment. Televisions in prisons now are donated by the public but still no access to cable only what they can see through old-fashion bunny ears.

Another misconception about prison is that inmates serve only a small portion of their sentence. In reality, inmates must serve at least 85% of their sentence. They do get credit for any time they served prior to sentencing in county jail.

What about work? Do inmates just sit around in their cells all day? As of May 2012, according to the Department of Corrections, there are 100,531 inmates in Florida prisons. Out of this number 80% are involved in manual labor, education or vocational training or some other activity like substance abuse programs. The other 20%, according to the department, are medically unfit to work. I have seen on numerous occasions while driving around Miami-Dade County state prisoners performing landscaping duties in the public right-of-ways. They have a big caution sign on the back of the truck that reads "State Prisoners Working."

So inmates work, have no freedom, have no television and most prisons don't have access to air-conditioning. We all know that prison is not easy but I hope this puts prison life in perspective.

On an interesting side note. When I was a felony prosecutor I remember during summer time getting a case of an inmate in Everglades Correctional Institute that flooded his cell by clogging up the toilet and also damaging the fire sprinkler on the ceiling of his cell. The inmate was serving life in prison for a horrible crime. I offered him the maximum amount of prison he could get for this new crime, which was 5 years state prison, but the time would run at the same time as his life sentence. It wouldn't affect him one bit but you have to close the case to something so we offered 5 years. He declined the offer and I asked my division supervisor what gives. Why does he care if I am offering him 5 years when he is already doing life in prison? He told me that this happens every Summer when an inmate, who has nothing to lose, wants to get out of the hot prison and come to the air conditioned county jail. And because his family is from Miami visitation is a lot easier. He finally took the 5 years but not till the Fall.

Welcome Post

Welcome to my first post. This blog about criminal justice in Florida. We will discuss crime in the news, how the judicial system works (or fails) and criminal law. During the legislature session which runs every Spring we will discuss what new laws the Florida legislature is debating and whether we think this law is good or bad for our state and society. At times we may dwell into U.S. topics related to criminal justice and how it affects us in Florida.

I hope this blog serves as an avenue to discuss crime and justice in our society. Let's get started.