WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL RICHARD E GERSTEIN JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG. THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED TO JUSTICE BUILDING RUMOR, HUMOR, AND A DISCUSSION ABOUT AND BETWEEN THE JUDGES, LAWYERS AND THE DEDICATED SUPPORT STAFF, CLERKS, COURT REPORTERS, AND CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS WHO LABOR IN THE WORLD OF MIAMI'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE. THIS BLOG HAS BEEN CALLED "THE DEFINITIVE BLOG ON MIAMI CRIMINAL LAW" BY THE NY TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE POPE, AND DONALD TRUMP WHO ALSO ONCE SAID IT WAS "REALLY GREAT". POST YOUR COMMENTS, OR SEND RUMPOLE A PRIVATE EMAIL AT HOWARDROARK21@GMAIL.COM

Sunday, May 24, 2009

30 YEARS OF SHAME

Florida marks the 30 year anniversary of the re-institution of the death penalty. The title of the post links to the Herald's article. 

John Spenkelink was executed May 25, 1979 for the kind of murder that now-a-days would not come close to meeting the aggravating factors required for the death penalty.

Since that infamous day Florida has executed 64 individuals. Who really believes not one of them was innocent? 

Do we really believe that there is no level of human brutality that merits death as a retribution? No. Indeed Dade has recently convicted several men for a kidnapping, sexual abuse, and execution of a young woman at roadside that by all accounts was so brutal and so terrifying for the victim that execution seems to be a just punishment. 

But we have a legal system that is so flawed, so unjust, so broken, that under no circumstances can   we look  at ourselves in the mirror and say "you guys got it right. You're so good and so careful, and you spend so much money on making sure the accused has adequate and well trained and well funded defense attorneys, that you can take the absolute power of life and death and put it into the hands of the justice system."

No way.  Dozens of people have been exonerated from death row. That doesn't mean life in prison. That means the system got it wrong. That means the supposedly most carefully prosecuted and scrutinized  cases convicted an innocent man. 

Who are we kidding? 

The justice system doesn't work. 

The death penalty doesn't work. 

And we remain the members of a select club of nations, including  North Korea and Iran and China, that executes its citizens. 

See You in Court. This is a shameful day.




32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beyond the innocence issue, which ofcourse is real, there is also the issue of Assistant State Attorney's keeping death on the table just to force a plea out of the case. I've only handled a hand full of death cases, but three fourths of them were obvious waiver cases (D not the shooter, D
young with no violent priors, etc.) wherein the State would only waive death once the Defendant took a plea. And this is in Miami. Imagine what goes on in the rest of Florida.

abe laeser said...

Can we agree to disagree?

I cite to one Thomas Knight a/k/a Abdullah Askari Mohammed.

Knight was in prison and was released under a special program in which an employer could sponsor someone for parole. Sidney Gans hired Thomas Knight. Nine days later, Knight had decided that his hourly wage was too little and came up with a plan.

Knight waited for Gans to arrive at work and kidnapped him at gunpoint. Knowing that he would have a limited amount of funds with him, Gans was forced to return home and his wife Lillian was then forced into their car. Both were driven to the bank - to withdraw the $50,000 that Knight had demanded as ransom.

Sidney went into the bank to get the money while Knight and Lillian waited in the car. The bank notified the FBI and local police, before Sidney returned with the monies.

Knight forced them to drive him to the far southwest, near the Everglades. Perhaps Knight realized that there were police choppers in the air. Both Sidney and Lillian were nearly decapitated by the shotgun blasts that killed them, after four hours of the horros of the kidnapping. Knight was found lying on the shotgun and the money, in a shallow mound that he had dug to avoid capture. MANY people identified him, as both civilians and police had seen him over the hours of the chase.

He was tried and received the death penalty.

Six years later, he was denied certain priviliges due his being a terrible management prisoner, even by death row standards. He was so upset by his loss of priviliges that he stole a spoon and sharpened it into a knife. While being escorted to the showers, he stabbed to death the random guard who had come to escort him.

He received an additional death sentence. It is now 35 years since the Gans family was slaughtered. Nearly 30 years since the Bradford County officer was killed.

What is a REASONABLE alternative? After all, he was under the tightest of security when he committed his third murder. What should we tell that officer's widow and orphaned children? Should we promise to put Knight into a smaller cell? Higher security? What value does that put on the officer's life - if all we do is put Knight back into his cell?

I too celebrate Memorial Day. I came to this land of laws because it would rescue my family from the horrors of war. It lived by the rule of laws. For that rare person who commits the unforgiveable act -- and we apply our laws -- the death penalty makes sense.

We have a right of communal self defense.

What would YOU, Mr. Rumpole, do with Thomas Knight?

Anonymous said...

Gail Levine did that to me once. An obvious plan to get a conservative jury, which worked.

Rumpole said...

The answer is simple- I would execute him. I don't think we disagree on much.

Query- Did Spenkelink's crime meet the aggravators as you know them? Did we kill a man then that we would not, in our strange calculus of death, kill now?

We all have faith in many superior and well trained prosecutors to make the correct decisions. Have you met prosecutors who handle these cases who don't measure up? I have. I really don't need to ask the question about Judges do I? Have we seen judges handling death cases that we know are not really competent to handle traffic tickets?

Remember Art Carter? Rest in peace. Nice man. Competent. Was appointed to handle lots of death cases in the 80's. Not really up to measure to handle death penalty defense cases. And yet he did.

The question is not whether the defendant in your case deserves to die. He does. If we captured the people who planned the 9-11 attacks, they should be executed as well, as many of the war criminals for WWII were.

The question is the perfect storm which happens all too frequently- Lets start with the detectives- Some are great. Some are not. Get a bad one. One who just knows the guy he's looking at did it. Then a prosecutor- perhaps they are drinking buddies. He's gonna jump on board this gravy train and get a death notch in his belt.

Now a new judge. One who won a close election. Wants to show he's tough on crime.

Finally add a court appointed attorney who does not have a big practice. He needs this case. He's been a lawyer 30 years. He's not living the high life he expected to be living at this point in his career.
This defendant is just like the others. So he goes through the motions and never really thinks about the case or questions the assumptions the police made.

Throw in an appeals court that issues decisions like the one out of Texas where a defense attorney like the one I described was sleeping through the case, but the appeals court affirmed the conviction because he wasn't sleeping through the important parts- and what you have is our justice system. And this happens a lot. That's why innocent people were put on death row.

Don't ask me about the horrific facts of that case. That's easy. Kill the bastard. Answer me why all those innocent people were sentenced to death? That's the tough question I want to see you handle.

HR

abe laeser said...

The answer, unfortunately, is simple. Very, very few cases deserve the death penalty.

None should be prosecuted by lawyers with poor judgment, bad motives, or marginal ethics. None should ever be defended by the stupid or lazy. The jurist who handles any such case should be highly qualified and trial experienced. The investigators must be skilled, and moral - without improper motives. Perhaps we must develop a cadre of select professionals designated to handle such litigation at each stage.

As you say, we do not disagree on much.

All that being said - there is no reason to abolish the death penalty. Some rare defendants deserve that punishment for the crimes that have brutally committed. I can still hope that the right lawyers, judge, and investigators are involved in such cases.

Are there cases in which the decision on the penalty comes late in the proceedings? Certainly. Perhaps the defense really doing the second phase work rapidly would avoid much of that issue. Do not be angry if the prosecutor has a change of heart late in the game and decides not to seek the death penalty. You may see it as a ploy - your client may be eternally grateful.

Innocent defendants. There is the rub. Bad lawyering? Ambition? Witness error? A panoply of causes. But does that justify never seeking the death penalty? Must society give up the capacity to punish the most brutal?

I suggest that it does not. No more than the fact that a very high percentage of robbers are never caught could justify not prosecuting the ones who are -- and may spend the rest of their lives behind bars. As with the death penalty, these are mutually exclusive problems.

1. What is the "right" punishment for the worst of the worst murderers?

2. How can we insure that the very best trial participants prevent the unthinkable - the conviction of the innocent?

HR, if you do not disagree that Thomas Knight might qualify, then we do not disagree at all. We only need to perfect the method so that we all can be assured that he was properly found guilty and had all of his rights preserved -- then execute him.

The ball is on your side of the net... ABE

Anonymous said...

Abe

You just got spanked. The only arguments you win are slam drunks.

tao of shumie said...

There once was a lawyer named Shumie
His favorite phrase was "so sue me"!
Espying a wench
on a court back bench
his new phrase is "so do me"!!?

fake country dave said...

HEY!!!! Where the hell is everyone??? I had a trial at 8:30. The damn building was locked. I know it's Monday. What's going on?

blog snitch said...

Rump= your whole cast of blog characters has infested the civil blog. From fake Alex michaels to fake blecher and RFB, they're waging a petty war of sorts over there and it's not pretty. It's on the post that was up all weekend, not the one now about the 68 yr old guy.

Anonymous said...

You know what's shameful? Every white person who lives on south beach was, as is the annual case, had to leave their neighborhood and go to a hotel off the beach bc the invasion of the brothers from the north.

Lock up your condos, move your cars, and pray your building didn't get looted. How is it that every memorial day it's so dark and dangerous on the beach that a whitey literallly has to leave their homes every memorial day. Nothng racist here, simply reality

Some groups of people simply cannot act likehumans and literally come to town and destroy a decent neighborhood every year. Hopefully next year these thugs go to Atlanta instead of the beach and trash someone elses backyard for a change. Shameful that every year white people must, for personal safety, get off the beach every memorial day

New York gangsters: glad it rained all weekend. You are not invited. Don't ever come back. Go trash your own hood and stay the fuck out of mine

Anonymous said...

Rumpole, I think this deserves its own post.

Then-federal PD Mary Barzee, along with another federal PD, are accepting responsibility for ineffective assistance of counsel in the case of a woman who got a life sentence by Judge Lenard after turning down a 5 year plea offer for her supporting role in the murder of a witness in the Falcon Magluta case.

Yubi Ramirez, then 21, allowed the hit men (whom she had met in a night club) to stay with her and store their weapons in her townhouse.

In a perverse twist of justice, Ramirez got a life sentence while the actual hit men got 20 years which were later reduced to seven years for testifying against her and others members of the Magluta-Falcon organization. Even Falcon got 20 years.

David O. Markus (with a "k") is representing Ramirez because he feels that no has been able to justify het life sentence.

Judge Lenard twice denied Ramirez relief but was reversed by the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

Reuben Camper Cahn, the former chief assistant in the Miami Federal Public Defender's Office and now the federal public defender in San Diego and Judge Barzee-Flores will testify for Ramirez at the habeas corpus hearing.

Incredibly, though not surprisingly, AUSA Michael Davis is fighting Ramirez's petition.

The whole story is here:
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/story/1063103.html

CAPTAIN said...

MEMORIAL DAY

Regardless of your political leanings, today is a today to spend a few moments thinking about those that have given the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, to extend our ability to be free.

Take a moment and remember that their are husbands/wives without spouses, fathers/mothers without their child, children without daddy or mommy. Most of them will be at a cemetary today, placing an American flag next to the grave of their loves ones.

Take a moment and gives thanks.

Cap Out ...

Anonymous said...

10:07 "whitey"

quit your whining. its just a fact of life white people must leave south beach on memorial day or risk being killed, shanked, etc.

its economically good for all those police to be on duty, all the repair men to fix all the damage, all the victims of crime to help keep the SAO in business, and some of the thugs even hire a private attorney. (but i guess mostly they just come down, trash the beach, and use our taxpayers money to defend and house and feed them).

damn, i changed my mind and you are right. lets get a bunch of whiteys to go to harlem every memorial day weekend and trash their neighborhood. its great that it always rains and ruins their trip of crime. haha

Anonymous said...

either you ar for the death penalty or you are not. Once we say that a particular crime deserves death, such as Orlando crew, than we are back to the slippery slope that allows innocent people to go to death row.

Anonymous said...

Carlene Sawyer, president of Miami chapter of ACLU, is quoted in the new times as saying that the "urban" crowds in southbeach over memorial day weekend are " young professionals".

Uh, and I bet the moon is made of cheese, too.

Anonymous said...

Give Miami back. There is nothing here worth salvage. When the worst of the worst in terms of actual crime has gone so soft to not remember the amount of things "no actioned" or "KNP'ed" then go on to complain about how the truly vile are treated. Collect your fees and hope that there are enough good persons left to take the honorable position of prosecutor in Dade county to keep padding your pockets.

Rumpole said...

There's just so far I'm going to let this race crap go. I vehemently disagree with 10:07 AM. S/he has a right to say it. But on their own blog. So lets move on. it was not too long ago Miami beach was infested with "NO Negros or Jews" signs. We have evolved.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to the chatter on the civil blog, I saw Alex Michaels at the Hard Rock this weekend and he does not run around the stage like a spaz screaming suffer jet city. He ends with a medley of Diana Ross hits and finishes with a poignant "Ain't no Mountain High ENough."

Very nice show.

Rumpole said...

The sad fact is Mr. Laeser that you and I both know your ideals for the death penalty do not exist.

As I see it, you choose to punish those who clearly deserve it and hope the rest of wretched refuse of humanity that commit crimes do not get caught up in the web of ill trained prosecutors and judges- and you REALLY hope an innocent person does not get caught up in that web.

But I deal with these people. And my worst nightmare is an innocent client.

I don't have the luxury of hoping innocent people don't get caught up in that web. You ask what do I say to those widows and orphans? I cry with them and I pray for them and with them if asked.

WHat do YOU say to the man who was taken from his child when he was one and returned a stranger after spending a quarter of a century in prison for a crime he did not commit? WHat do you say to his child and wife (who eventually remarried) about a life taken from them?

Eric Matheny said...

The death penalty has done nothing to deter crime. Same thing with those 10-20-Life billboards you see around the county and on the sides of buses. Do you really think someone desperate and detached enough to do serious violence to another is going to be dissuaded by the thought of what might happen to him should he be caught?

The correctional system is flawed, beginning with its name. The system doesn't correct a damn thing. All we do is warehouse people and turn them loose on a society that doesn't want them and refuses to give them employment due to their past records. Crime begets crime as it is easier to stick up a gas station than it is to struggle making minimum wage (if you're lucky to get it. Most major franchises won't hire convicted felons).

The death penalty is good in theory, but so is communism. In the end, it's expensive, time-consuming, and doesn't cause other misfits to think about the consequences of their actions.

Life in prison serves the most sensible purpose. It removes dangerous people from society, which is the most pragmatic goal of the death penalty.

In the back of my mind, I can understand the satisfaction (for lack of a better word) next of kin must feel when the animal who murdered their loved one is given that lethal dose of potassium chloride. But then again, does killing the perpetrator make the victim any less dead? Does a systematic series of somewhat painless injections undo years of anguish and horror for the victim's family?

Personally, I think life in prison is a far more severe punishment. For more inmates who have done considerable time, I'm sure they'd jump at the opportunity to accept a quick, sleep-like death. Life in prison is hell on earth. Why not send our most violent offenders to live among each other, far away from us and the people they would seek to harm?

I am not morally against the death penalty, I just find it to be a lingering, archaic mechanism that reminds us of our puritan roots. It's a lot of trouble, time, and money to fulfil our collective desire for vengeance.

Scott Saul said...

I can't believe some of you are professional and spew that crap.

Whether you are in private practice or work for the government, the nature of criminal law (or even working in a government building) is that you work with people of all different creeds and ethnicities.

People come in two flavors 1) nice and 2) asshole. A lot of you loser/ nerd/hypocrites fall in the latter category.

Anonymous said...

We have no system of justice. The death penalty corrupts it all.

The defense attorneys are as much to blame as the prosecutors. If there was no attorney there would be no death sentence.

Anyone involved in a death case, the defense attorneys included lack a moral compass

Anonymous said...

Who is Eric Matheny?

Anonymous said...

9:28

Do you include the court reporter in the lacking moral compass?

CAPTAIN said...

THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:

U.S. SUPREME COURT .....

Looks like it's the hispanic female as Pres. B. Obama will announce his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, age 54, to replace David Souter.

She is a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York, to Puerto Rican parents.

Princeton undergrad & Yale Law School 1979; five years as an ADA in New York, then on to private practice for seven years. She was nominated on November 27, 1991, by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

On June 25, 1997, she was nominated by former President Bill Clinton to the seat she now holds.

CAPTAIN OUT ........

Anonymous said...

don't have a problem killing people who are truly guilty of horrific crimes. problem is that the death penalty is too infrequent to really have a deterrent effect since criminals are, by nature, ignorant people generally, and don't really pay attention to any consequences for their actions. other problem is the expense of a death penalty system that, quite naturally, is supposed to be perfect (ie no innocent people executed). That expense simply does not justify the minimal benefit we obtain by it. Lastly, there is an argument that locking someone up, throwing away the key, and giving him an hour of day of sunlight is worse punishment than a quick death. So, from a conservative right winger, I agree with Rump.... time to abolish the system because it just is not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Death penalty? It is as much of a conundrum as death itself.See www.miamifauxlawyers.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

10:35........

If life in prison is worse than the death penalty, why do so many people fight it?

I know there are exceptions, but the vast majority of people would rather live in prison than die by lethal injection.

Anonymous said...

3.14: don't disagree that most people will prefer life over the death penalty. That still does not mean, however, we should retain a hopelessly flawed system given its costs. I make the point only to say that life in prison is a true punishment. It is not a reward for committing murder. It is more cost effective, less controversial, and easier-to-administer punishment. Look at the amount of time and money we spend on the habeas process. That would be highly curtailable were the result of a final conviction not involve death. Yet the result for society -- the permanent and irrevocable removal of that individual from civilized society -- would be the same. So I say, as someone who supports the principle of the death penalty, who believes it is clearly constitutional (since it is referenced by the text itself!) I think it is time to move away from it. Rump thinks so for liberal reasons. I think so based on sound rational conservative principles.

PFM SAO 5 said...

Mr. Matheny....
You postulate that the death penalty does not deter. If Knight had been executed in a timely fashion another husband, father and corrections officer would have lived for at least another day. I have yet to hear of an executed prisoner committing another crime after the sentence was carried out.

Rumpole said...

If you want to call an ASA "snot nosed" then sign your name. The only one who gets to attack people anonymously here is me- and i reserve my vitriol for silent Public Defenders, and as you shall see tomorrow, Justice Scalia.

Anonymous said...

At 9:28, Anonymous asked, “Do you include the court reporter in the lacking moral compass?” In Applegate v. Barnett Bank of Tallahassee, 377 So. 2d 1150 (Fla. 1979), the Supreme Court said that a judgement cannot stand if there is no record. If there is no court reporter, then there can be no death penalty.

Thus, the court reporter who reports a death case is as guilty as anyone else who participates in this evil system. He’s killing people for money; just like the defense attorneys. Stop tinkering with the machinery of death!