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Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

This one is outrageous. A 16 year old boy was arrested and charged as an adult in criminal court and prosecuted for sexually exploiting a minor, under the federal pornography laws. Who was the minor? He was! Yes, North Carolina federal prosecutors prosecuted him for having nude pictures of himself on his cell phone and for sending naked photos of himself to his 15 year old girlfriend. She sent nude photos of herself to him as well. While the photos were never disclosed to anyone else, the two were both charged with four felony counts. The photos were discovered solely because investigators were looking into a bigger problem at the school concerning sexual images being shared without the victims’ consent. These teens weren’t involved in that scandal in any way.

The teens were forced to take a plea deal in order to avoid jail time and being forced to register as sex offenders. In addition to having to agree to be subjected to warrantless searches by law enforcement for a year, the male teen suffered numerous other penalties. Additionally, he was suspended as quarterback of the high school football team while the case was resolved. Additionally, his name was all over the media.

I’m still blown away by this one. In North Carolina, the state in which they were prosecuted, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16. So, while they could legally have actual sex, and take mental pictures of each of their teen bodies, they just couldn’t legally memorialize it with a photo to be shared with the other. Ludicrous!

If I’m being intellectually honest, I must concede that technically, what they did was a crime. That in no way means that prosecutors had to move forward with these cases. It’s called prosecutorial discretion. Use it!!! I’ve done some research and found zero examples where teen lovers were ever prosecuted for consensually sharing naked photos with each other. It makes no sense that prosecutors deemed both teens predators and also the victims, who needed the law’s protection. “Alex, I’ll take gross overreach for a thousand.” When the U.S. Supreme Court made child pornography illegal in 1983, they were determined to protect children from adult predators. I’m certain that they never envisioned that the law would be used to arrest and prosecute teens for taking naked selfies and sending them on cell phones.

While the federal laws apply throughout the U.S., I applaud the 20 states who have enacted laws that make these same acts lawful. Typically known as “Romeo and Juliet laws,” they are absolutely necessary to prevent this type of prosecution when there is no victim.

With an estimated 30% of teens “sexting” each other these days, law enforcement needs to use their discretion and common sense when dealing with these types of cases. If not, let’s just keep building lots of jails and get ready to turn tons of our teens into registered sex offenders.

…says my friend Whoopi Goldberg. In defending Bill Cosby, she stated, “The bottom line is, that’s the law.” She added,”Innocent until proven guilty.” In illustrating the importance of due process, Whoopi highlighted the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, where three Duke lacrosse team members were falsely accused of rape.

In response, I say, “Whoopi, you are right.” Legally, every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. That includes Bill Cosby. The question is whether every person who is “legally innocent” is actually/factually innocent. The answer is “no.” There are numerous reasons why someone who committed an offense may never be brought to criminal court and/or convicted. One reason is that the evidence is insufficient, in spite of the person’s guilt. As we have all learned from many high profile cases resulting in acquittals, the Criminal Justice System is less about truth and more about what can be proven. “Proof beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt” is a very high burden for prosecutors to reach. As a result, many cases aren’t brought by prosecutors due to proof problems and not because of a person’s innocence. Additionally, some cases aren’t brought in the criminal arena because of problems with the Statue of Limitations. That’s the only reason why Cosby hasn’t been yet stripped of his liberty, in spite of approximately 40 separate accusers and his admission in sworn testimony from his 2005 civil suit. Prosecutors believe he is guilty and most folks who are being intellectually honest also believe he isn’t Snow White innocent.

Regarding her opinion about Cosby, Whoopi has also stated, “So, don’t come after me like that, ’cause I’m sick of this bull.” She added: “Here’s the bottom line, for me: It’s my opinion. And the American courts agree with me, because still he has not been taken to jail or trial on anything. So, back off me!” To those remarks, I say, “Well Whoopi, you are right, in part.” People should back off if they are personally attacking you or threatening to do violence to you. What makes this country great is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. As a free society, we should encourage a free flow of ideas and agree to respectfully disagree with those whose opinions differ from ours. However, what I do disagree with is the portion of her remarks which seem to erroneously suggest that Cosby is actually innocent because he was never taken to jail or placed on trial. That hasn’t happened solely because of the Statute of Limitations.

So, are we wrong for saying or even thinking that Cosby is guilty absent a conviction or even an arrest? After all, as Whoopi points out, shouldn’t we keep our, “He’s guilty” remarks until after he has been brought into court and convicted. My answer may surprise you, especially since it’s coming from a veteran criminal defense attorney. Most defense lawyers would scorn you for declaring someone guilty before it’s proven in court. I don’t feel that way. I do believe that people should keep an open mind, keeping in their recent memories cases like the Duke lacrosse case and the countless innocent prisoners released after being exonerated. I also encourage people to realize that the media doesn’t always accurately report the evidence in a case and/or they don’t have the complete story. However, the “Court of Public Opinion” is always in session and folks are free to formulate their own opinions, in spite of whether or not a case ever makes it to criminal court. Legally guilty and factually guilty may be two separate things. In other words, just because a person has never been brought to court or, after they were yet they were not convicted, does not mean that they are factually innocent.

So, is Bill Cosby innocent? Yes and no. Whoopi is correct that he is legally innocent because he’s never been proven guilty in a court of law. However, to suggest that he’s factually innocent, in spite of his admission in the civil case and the fact that there are more than three dozen accusers, seems to be a bit off base.


On Tuesday July 14th, Whoopi changed her stance concerning Bill Cosby. She stated on “The View” that she can no longer say “innocent until proven guilty.” She further stated during a conversation with ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams., “If this is to be tried in the court of public opinion, I got to say all of the information that’s out there kind of points to guilt.”

It has just been revealed that all six of the criminally charged Baltimore police officers, who were involved in the arrest of now deceased Freddie Gray, provided statements to law enforcement investigators. At the time of this posting, the contents of each of the officers’ statements is unknown. It’s possible that everything that flowed from each of the officers’ lips assists their defense. On the other hand, what is also possible is that some of the statements made by some or all of the officers will be words that prosecutors will seek to introduce against them at trial. The question that many are asking is, “Can the officers’ statements be used against them?”

Whether their statements can be introduced against them at trial hinges upon the facts and circumstances surrounding how the statements were obtained. Let’s assume that all six officers were questioned while an investigation into the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray was being conducted. Assuming that investigators read every officer their Miranda Rights. If that were the case, then I don’t believe their attorneys could prevent prosecutors from introducing their statements. If their rights were read to them, they would know that anything they said could be used against them in a court of law.
Let’s now suppose that Miranda Rights were not read. Let’s also assume each of the six officers were told by law enforcement investigators that they were conducting a criminal investigation. My conclusion would be that the statements would still be admissible at a criminal trial. The prosecutors will argue that when the officers were questioned, they were not under arrest. They will further argue that the officers were free to leave and could have walked out of the interrogation room at any time. Therefore, because they weren’t “in custody,” no Miranda rights had to be afforded.
Let’s change the facts one more time. Let’s say the officers were placed under arrest and then asked to give statements. If they weren’t read their Miranda Rights, then the statements should be suppressed (thrown out of court). There’s no “Police Officer Exception” to the Constitution. Every citizen who is in custody and not free to leave, including police officers, must be informed of their Miranda Rights prior to being interrogated.

So, can the officers’ statements be admitted against them in their criminal trials? The answer is, “It depends.” Like most legal decisions, the facts determine whether evidence should be admitted. In this case, assuming the officers were not under arrest and/or not free to leave when being questioned, I believe their statements will be admissible against them. Whether prosecutors want to introduce their statements is an entirely different issue.

This one really gets me. Two parents from Florida were arrested for felony child neglect. What did they do? Starve their child? Deprive their child of needed medical care? Leave the child abandoned on the streets for days with no food, clothing or shelter? No, nothing like that. The two parents were stuck in traffic so their 11-year-old son arrived home from school before they did. He went into the back yard of their home and began to play basketball alone. Seeing the boy shooting hoops by himself, a neighbor called the cops.
When the parents arrived home, the police began their interrogation. Claiming the child had no water or shelter, the police arrested both parents. As a result, the 11-year-old boy was removed from their home. Furthermore, child protective workers removed from their home their other son, a four-year-old. The two boys languished in and out of foster care for over a month before they were finally reunited with their parents. The criminal charges are still pending at this time.
OK, first, shame on you neighbor! You called the cops? Look what your choice caused. If you think the kid needed food, water or shelter, offer it to him. Calling the cops is the last resort!
Next, shame on you cops! You didn’t have to arrest these parents. You claim the child didn’t have water, however, the parents had two working sinks and two working hoses in their backyard if the child was thirsty. You claim the child didn’t have shelter, however, they had an open shed in the back yard. You claim he didn’t have food, however, the boy had just eaten his snacks before arriving home. Additionally, you claim he didn’t have a bathroom, however, the responding officer found their yard good enough to relieve himself in while the 11-year-old “neglected” boy sat in the back seat of the patrol car.
From a legal perspective, it’s important to understand that Florida has no minimum age where a child cannot be left alone at home. In my strong legal opinion, these charges should be dropped. I’ll take it one step further, I think this is a miscarriage of justice and I think these parents and kids are owed an apology. These charges undermine the integrity of our Criminal Justice System.

Having practiced criminal law for over two decades as both a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, there’s one question I get asked more than any other, “Should I blow?” Solely for those whose minds tend to travel to unusual places, the “blow” I’m referring to concerns the breath machines police use during drunk driving (DUI) criminal investigations.

For purposes of this post, let me first make clear that you should never drink and drive when you’ve either had too many and/or you feel impaired. What I’m not telling you is, “Don’t drink and drive.” I wouldn’t tell you that because that’s not the law. If it was unlawful to drink and drive, bars wouldn’t have parking lots. The message is, “Don’t drink and drive…if you’re impaired.” If there’s even a question as to whether you’re impaired, then your choice should be to avoid getting behind the wheel.

Now, let’s assume you make the choice to drive after consuming some adult beverages. Let’s further assume that Officer Friendly stops your vehicle, has you perform roadside tests, and then strips you of your liberty, believing that you’re impaired. What now? Should you blow into the machine? (Cops and prosecutors call it an “instrument” and not a “machine” because machines (like toaster ovens) make mistakes)

In making your decision, you must understand a few key facts. First, the officer definitely believes you are impaired. That’s why he arrested you. He’s even going to swear to it under the penalties of perjury in the arrest report. Furthermore, regardless of what your breath reading is, he’s not going to un-arrest you. Yes, you read correctly. Even if you blow under the legal limit, Officer Friendly will not give you back your freedom. The protocol in most departments in South Florida and around the U.S. is to then request a urine sample. Most officers believe they can’t be wrong. They couldn’t possibly have made a mistake. You definitely must be impaired, regardless of what that breath reading shows. Therefore, it must be drugs! So, they will request a urine sample from you, which will detect even that hit of the “Devil’s Grass”/”Maui Wowee” you took from the joint three weeks ago at the Coldplay concert.

Another fact is that if you refuse to blow, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your driving privileges for one year or up to 18 months if you’ve refused to blow previously. Additionally, if you’ve refused before, law enforcement can now charge you with an additional criminal offense.

One other aspect to consider is that your failure to blow into the machine can and will be used against you in court during your DUI prosecution. Prosecutors today, still passionately argue what I did when I prosecuted these cases 20+ years ago: “His/her refusal to blow shows consciousness of guilt! He/she knew he/she was impaired and that’s why he/she refused to blow.” That can be very compelling evidence against you. On the other hand, equally, if not even more compelling evidence against you, would be a breath reading showing that you’re over the legal limit.

So what’s the answer? Here it is, “It depends.” If you’ve only had one drink (not the size of a fish bowl), that contains about one shot of alcohol, you should be fine. Two drinks? Maybe, depending on your size and how much you’ve had to eat, and when you drank them. Anything more, I’d be concerned.
While there’s no study that I’m aware of, I believe that drunk driving cases without a reading are won a lot more often than those with a reading over the limit. In the countless DUI cases that I’ve defended over the years, I find that jurors can accept many of the reasons why someone chooses not to blow, other than being impaired. For example, some don’t blow because cops refuse them the opportunity to speak to their lawyers first to determine what they should do. Many of my clients are afraid and don’t trust the breath machines. They simply want some guidance before making the decision. Absent the ability to speak to an attorney, many will choose not to cooperate any further, even if that means the officer will consider their actions a “refusal.”

I have been very successful over the years in challenging the license suspensions that get issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles for failures to blow. The suspension isn’t a definite. There are many ways to successfully challenge that suspension at a hearing conducted at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In conclusion, “Don’t drink and drive if you’re impaired.” However, if you make that poor choice and you know you are impaired, your chances of prevailing in the criminal arena are greater absent a breath reading showing that you are over the legal limit.

Two of the six officers charged in Baltimore, Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller, are alleged to have committed the crime of false imprisonment against Freddie Gray. The prosecutor’s theory is that Gray’s arrest was unlawful because the knife that police seized from Gray’s pants pocket is allegedly legal under Maryland law. In charging documents, prosecutors allege, “The knife was not a switchblade knife.” Rather, the knife was allegedly one that folded into the handle, and thus, perfectly legal to possess.

The defendants argue that, contrary to what prosecutors maintain, there is no false arrest here because the knife was illegal to conceal. Nero’s attorney has requested to inspect the weapon. He wants to show that while not a switchblade, the pocket knife does have spring action, which would make it unlawful under Baltimore law. If that’s correct, then there is no case here and the only one who arguably committed a false arrest would be prosecutor Marilyn Mosby.

I don’t believe this case should hinge on whether the knife was lawful or not. The issue for me was whether the officers intended to falsely arrest Freddie Gray. In other words, if prosecutors can show that the officers knew the knife was lawful and that Gray had committed no crime, yet chose to arrest him anyway, then there may be merit to the prosecutor’s case. However, that’s not what was alleged by the prosecutor at the press conference when the charges were first announced. I have no reason to believe the prosecutor chose not to reveal her best evidence when addressing the metaphorically mostly blood thirsty, pitchfork carrying crowd.

Let’s assume then that the officers made a mistake in good faith. Therefore, to me it appears that the officers were stripped of their liberty because they weren’t perfect. It appears that the prosecutor has zero tolerance for officers making mistakes. She must expect all officers to be familiar with the literally hundreds of different makes and models of pocket knives that are on the street and to be able to conclude definitively within a matter of minutes with 100% accuracy whether a pocket knife is lawful or not. So many pocket knives, so little time. There’s the Spyderco Delica, the Kershaw Ken Onion Blur, Buck 110 Folding Hunter, Victorinox Champion Plus and countless more. Dare you make a mistake. You will pay for it with your livelihood and your liberty.

Having practiced in the criminal arena for over two decades, I’ve seen more than a dozen cases where officers in good faith arrest someone erroneously believing a knife was unlawful. I suspect there’s countless other officers around the U.S. who make that same type of mistake every year. What has happened in every one of those cases is that the charges are eventually dropped by prosecutors who research the weapon to determine its legality. What always happens to the cop? Nothing. He certainly isn’t arrested for an honest and/or possibly negligent mistake. I’m outraged that these cops are being treated any differently than the numerous cops who have made the same honest mistake before or after them. Aristotle defined justice as, “Like cases being treated alike.” “Justice for Freddie Gray” sounds good. “Justice for all” sounds even better.

Imagine that the police allege that you committed an extremely “high profile” violent act against someone. The victim’s attorney and the public are demanding that you are immediately stripped of your liberty and charged with the crime. Because you believe that you are innocent, you don’t want the charges filed by the prosecutor evaluating the case. You are praying that the screening process is fair. Immediately after the prosecutor’s alleged “thorough and independent investigation,” she decides to file charges against you. While questioning the fairness of the process, you then learn that the victim’s attorney donated thousands of dollars to the prosecutor’s campaign. He even served on her transition committee. Additionally, it comes to light that your prosecutor is married to a high profile councilman who represents the people from the jurisdiction where the crime allegedly occurred and from where the victim resides. Does this process seem fair? Does the prosecutor give off the image of impropriety?

The facts presented in the hypothetical above mirror those present in the high profile Baltimore criminal case involving six police officers, each charged with offenses relating to their alleged mistreatment of Freddie Gray. The prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, who made the decision to file serious criminal charges against the officers, did accept $5,000 in campaign donations from the victim’s family attorney William Murphy. He also worked with her on her transition committee. Her husband, Nick Mosby is a city councilman who represents the people from the jurisdiction where the crimes allegedly occurred. Additionally, the victim was one of his constituents.

Anyone who doesn’t think that, at a minimum, there’s the image of impropriety is either naive or being intellectually dishonest. If you, or someone you love were faced with similar facts, you’d be passionately crying foul. If the same allegations were made about a judge presiding over these defendants’ criminal case, the judge would most certainly have to recuse him/herself. I’m not suggesting that the charges weren’t warranted. They may have been, however, see some of my concerns: http://www.floridacriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/2015/05/baltimore-criminal-case-not-a-slam-dunk.html I’m also not suggesting that Mrs. Mosby can’t be fair. What I’m simply pointing out is that if there was another prosecutor who was more “independent” and free from the above described relationships, the process would have to be perceived as more fair. I still don’t see the down side in bringing in an independent prosecutor to review Mrs. Mosby’s charging decisions.

I’ve learned from first hand experience that prosecuting cases is not an easy job. What’s extremely challenging is determining what conduct is and isn’t criminal. Also difficult is determining what specific charges, if any, should be levied that fairly and appropriately reflect the crime(s) committed. Filing decisions made by prosecutors are almost always scrutinized and often criticized. Because of that, it’s imperative to ensure that the process is as free from the image of impropriety as possible. Unfortunately, in the Baltimore case, the process appears to be tainted. An independent prosecutor reviewing the charges would go a long way towards eliminating that cloud of impropriety that currently hangs over this case.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I was channel surfing and stopped on one of the major news channels. A well respected analyst passionately stated that the criminal case against the six Baltimore police officers was a ‘slam dunk.’ I immediately shook my head in disbelief. I know one thing is certain about this case. It’s not a slam dunk and convictions for all the officers is not a certainty. I join many of my colleagues in questioning whether the charges brought can be legally proven. Because all of the facts have not been released, I’m not suggesting that the charges aren’t warranted. I’m simply suggesting that based upon what has been released to date, there’s good reason to question whether the charges can be proven beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.

Let’s start with the second degree murder charge brought against officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. He was the driver of the van that transported Freddie Gray after his arrest. To secure a conviction for second degree murder in Maryland, prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed the offense with a “depraved heart.” That means that they must show that Goodson had a willful and wanton disregard for the life of Freddie Gray. Another way to put it is the prosecution must show the act was so dangerous, it evidenced a complete indifference to Freddie Gray’s life. If the evidence proved that Goodson intentionally took sharp turns at a high rate of speed, knowing that Gray’s head would be slamming into the side of the van while he lay vulnerably hog tied on his stomach, then I believe there’s a strong likelihood of conviction. However, the prosecutor isn’t alleging that the driver engaged in any of that conduct. Rather, the prosecutor’s theory is that Goodson drove the van without properly seat belting Gray and, also, failed to seek medical attention upon Gray’s repeated requests. I disagree with some of my legal colleagues who call this one a “slam dunk.” If given a fair trial, Goodson has a great chance of avoiding conviction on that charge. I’m in no way suggesting that Goodson didn’t screw up. He may have. The defense will explain why he did what he did that day and jurors will determine whether his actions were reasonable or criminal. The issue is whether there’s sufficient evidence to prove that his conduct was reckless as opposed to merely negligent (failing to use reasonable care). Based upon what was stated at the press conference, which one can assume is the best evidence they have, I anticipate significant challenges securing a conviction for second degree murder.

Regarding the officers charged with involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove that the officers’ actions constituted “gross negligence.” The prosecution’s theory is that officers ignored Freddie Gray’s repeated request for medical treatment. At trial, the defense will explain why they don’t always rush to provide medical assistance every time an arrestee requests it. Perhaps they will say that like a “Boy who cried wolf,” many arrestees request medical attention when it’s not needed. Jurors will evaluate their explanations and determine if the officers acted reasonably. Prosecutors may have enough evidence to secure convictions. On the other hand, it’s possible that jurors find, at worst, that the officers’ actions constituted mere negligence and not gross negligence. Negligence occurs when a person fails to use reasonable care. Negligence is sufficient to win a civil lawsuit and recover money damages, however, it’s not sufficient to secure a conviction in the criminal arena.

Prosecutors may also face challenges securing convictions against the three officers who were charged with false imprisonment. The prosecutor announced that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Freddie Gray for unlawfully possessing a switchblade found in his pants at the time of his apprehension. Apparently the knife Gray was carrying was lawful to possess in Maryland. If the officers simply made an honest mistake, erroneously believing at the time of arrest that Gray was committing a crime by possessing the knife, then jurors may choose to acquit. Most reasonable people don’t expect officers to be perfect. Cops don’t always know what constitutes a crime under every single statute. In my over two decades in the criminal arena as both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, I’ve seen approximately a dozen cases where cops in good faith make arrests believing a particular knife is unlawful only to learn otherwise by a prosecutor who took the time to research the issue. Jurors may be hesitant to label officers’ conduct criminal if they find that they made an honest mistake.

A ‘slam dunk,’ this case is not. The prosecutor chose to levee charges that may be challenging to prove. That’s not to suggest that the officers didn’t commit criminal wrong doing. They may have. What’s also possible is that jurors find that while mistakes were made, they aren’t going to require that the officers be perfect. They may likely find that some or all were negligent for failing to use reasonable care, however, under the law, more is required for criminal convictions.

Imagine that a brutal rape and murder is committed. Shortly thereafter, an arrest is made. At the accused’s trial, the most significant piece of evidence comes from the prosecutor’s expert, who testifies, “The hair found at the murder crime scene matches perfectly to the hair sample taken from the defendant’s head.” Based primarily on that trial testimony, the accused is convicted and sent to death row. What if the testimony was later found to be “junk science?” What if that same expert provided similar testimony in numerous other trials involving defendants accused of similar violent offenses? Worse, what if numerous other “experts” provided similar flawed testimony in hundreds of other cases?

Unfortunately, the hypothetical described above is a reality. It was just revealed by both the FBI and Justice Department that for more than a two decade period before 2000, almost every “expert” in their forensic unit provided flawed testimony in just about every trial in which they provided evidence in criminal cases. They would systematically come into court and claim that they were certain that hairs found at the crime scene matched that of the defendants’. Additionally they bolstered their claims in front of the juries by citing incomplete or misleading statistics. 26 out of 28 FBI microscopic hair comparison “experts” are involved in this appalling scandal. Those examiners provided flawed testimony in 95% of the 268 criminal trials reviewed to date. The cases being reviewed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project include 32 people sentenced to execution. Of the 32 sentenced to death, 14 of those have already died in prison or have been executed. As many as 2500 cases could have been affected. It’s important to note that the bogus testimony wasn’t the sole evidence of guilt in all of the cases. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are examining each case individually to determine whether they may be dealing with an innocent defendant. Four defendants were already exonerated.

The question now is how will judges and prosecutors respond to this, one of our nation’s largest criminal justice scandals. The FBI and Justice Department claims that they are sparing no resources to ensure justice for those defendants affected by this. The FBI revealed that until 2012, there were no written standards governing the proper way for their “experts” to explain results while testifying in court.

My reaction to this is, “Finally!” For decades, defense lawyers have been arguing that microscopic hair analysis used by the FBI to convict defendants was nothing more than junk science. The findings are abhorrent and require a top to bottom review of how these so-called “experts” are trained by federal and state agencies. What is imperative is that this cannot happen again. I don’t blame all prosecutors. I believe most of them erroneously believed the false evidence with the best of intentions and were honestly following the law. Moving forward, I certainly hope that no prosecutors stand in the way of permitting new DNA testing on those cases affected by this debacle. I also hope that prosecutors drop any procedural objections they have on appeals filed based on these grounds.

Those who passionately believe in capital punishment must do so with the belief that a defendant has been given a fair trial prior to being placed on death row. With this latest announcement, one has to question the very foundation of their belief. Without question, this is a colossal scandal with enormous lessons waiting to be learned by many.


Some new interesting developments have come to light concerning one of the jurors (Juror #17) in the most recent Jodi Arias jury trial. It’s being reported by CBS 5, a local television station from Phoenix, that the lone juror who held out for a life sentence, forcing a mistrial, sparing Arias from the death penalty, has an unusual link to Juan Martinez, Jodi Arias’ prosecutor. Apparently, Juror #17 used to be married to a guy who Martinez prosecuted in the late 1990s for murder. For some unknown reason, the charge was dismissed. Additionally, that same ex-husband was prosecuted for Burglary in May of 2000 and was sentenced to four months in jail. It’s alleged that while those criminal cases were pending, Juror #17 and the man being prosecuted by Martinez got married and had two children together.


In an attempt to make sense of the verdict and to explain some of the legal issues involved in the case, I wrote the following article immediately after the verdict, see: http://www.floridacriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/2015/03/making-sense-jodi-arias-hung-jury-decision.html. At the time, the information concerning Juror #17’s connection to Juan Martinez had not yet been made public. In light of how much misinformation has been posted on social media concerning this new revelation, I think it would be helpful to address some of the most common issues being discussed.

Question #1: Does this mean that Juror #17 definitely did something improper?

Answer: No, not necessarily. During jury selection, also known as voir dire, jurors are required to answer only those questions asked of them. The process is very controlled and structured. It’s not a free for all. If, for example, she was asked by prosecutor Juan Martinez a question like, “Do you know anyone who has ever been prosecuted by this (Martinez’s) office” and denied it with the intent to deceive the court, then she did something extremely improper and should be prosecuted. If it was never asked, as I suspect it wasn’t, then she didn’t have a legal obligation to disclose it. Many would argue that she had a moral obligation to do so. That’s up for discussion. Obviously, if as a result of her ex-husband’s prosecutions she developed strong feelings for or against Martinez and/or his office, then it certainly would have been helpful had she volunteered those experiences. It would have afforded the attorneys an opportunity to ask follow up questions designed to determine if she could still be fair to both sides. Again, unless asked directly, she’s not under any legal obligation to disclose it.
Having tried over 125 criminal jury trials as a prosecutor and a defense attorney in both state and federal courts, it’s been my experience that most potential jurors are nervous about having to speak in court. If she wasn’t trying to intentionally conceal her past, then it’s possible that she didn’t bring it up because she feared speaking in public and wanted to say as little as possible. Alternatively and/or in addition to that, it’s possible that she felt that it was something in her past that in no way would affect her in the Arias trial. No one except Juror #17 knows with certainty.

Question #2: In light of the fact that she had this history with Juan Martinez and his office, doesn’t that mean that she shouldn’t have been put on the jury?

Answer: Not necessarily. There’s nothing in the law that precludes someone from sitting on a jury if their loved ones, coincidentally, happened to have been prosecuted by the same office prosecuting the current case. In fact, let’s take it to the extreme and say hypothetically, everyone in her family, every friend she ever knew, everyone she ever loved, and even her own children were prosecuted by Martinez’s office. She can still legally serve as a juror on a case where Martinez and his office are involved as long as she can swear under oath that she can decide the case solely based upon the evidence and law presented.
There are instances where a person legally cannot serve. That list includes, but is not limited to convicted felons, people who can’t speak English, and those who aren’t U.S. citizens above the age of 18. Having a family member prosecuted in the past isn’t on that list of automatic disqualification.
Many may question how someone with that type of history could have the ability to set aside that kind of experience and decide the case solely based on the evidence and the law presented. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t in some way affect their thought process. Only Juror #17 knows. Perhaps she was a “stealth” juror, as many have alleged on social media. Maybe she hid her true disdain for Juan Martinez and/or his office and made sure she got payback by establishing herself as the lone hold out. Another possibility is that whatever her feelings were concerning the past, she was honest when she swore during jury selection that she could set them aside and follow the law in making her decision. Both possibilities are plausible. While many in their anger and frustration claim they know with certainty how she felt, the fact is no one other than Juror #17 knows for sure.

Question #3: Will Juror #17 be prosecuted or sanctioned in some way?

Answer: Probably not. As explained above, there’s no conclusive proof at this time that she lied or violated the law in any way. Additionally, even if it’s suspected that she was a stealth juror and lied her way onto the jury, it most likely can never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as required for a criminal prosecution.

Question #4: Can’t something be done in the future to prevent people with that type of background from serving on a criminal jury?

Answer: Perhaps. First, attorneys always need to ask the right questions to flesh out any jurors who may be biased against their side. If Martinez didn’t ask the right questions, then it’s on him. No finger pointing is needed. If he failed to sufficiently inquire of this juror during jury selection, then he is punishing himself right now more than anyone can. I suspect that prosecutors around the country will learn from this experience if they don’t already ask the types of questions that would have yielded this potential bias. Also, it’s important to note that every juror who serves brings their life experiences to their deliberations. She wasn’t the only Arias juror who had some event in their life that caused them to lean at least slightly to one side. It’s through their own unique lens, filled with their own life experiences, that they make conclusions concerning the evidence presented. The only way to guarantee that a juror won’t bring their bias and life experiences into the jury room is to use robots instead. It’s no different then the rape victim who serves on a rape case. She can serve as long as she can fulfill her promise to follow the law. Similarly, someone who was once falsely accused of a crime may also serve. Again, as long as they can decide the case based on the evidence and the law, they can legally serve. Nothing prevents the prosecutors or defense lawyers from using their peremptory challenges during jury selection in order to remove a potential juror whose past experiences may make them favor one side or another.


For those who are convinced that she lied her way onto that jury and made sure that the prosecution didn’t get the outcome they so desperate sought, you may be right. On the other hand, for those who believe that she was honest when she said she could follow the law and keep an open mind when evaluating the evidence, you may be right as well. Only Juror #17 knows what her true intentions were. For those who condemn her and for those who defend her, each one of you has the constitutional right to express your opinions. Keep in mind however, that unless there’s sufficient credible evidence that she intentionally engaged in misconduct, then she may have just been an honest juror who, as the law permits, held on to her conclusion about the evidence. The process may have worked exactly as it was supposed to. Justice doesn’t mean that everyone everywhere gets the verdict they want. I know first hand that feeling of anger and emptiness when a trial doesn’t go the way I desperately want it to go. Our criminal justice system, while the best in the world, will always be perfectly imperfect.