Articles Posted in Breaking News

OVERVIEW

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several months, you now know about the extremely controversial plea deal that Jeffrey Epstein was afforded. He received 13 months in county jail, had to register as a sex offender, and was ordered to pay restitution to his numerous victims. Many are outraged at the result, finding it way too lenient. Whether you think that was a fair outcome likely hinges on whether you believe what former Labor Secretary/Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta said during his recent press conference, held just days before he resigned from Trump’s cabinet. If you believe him, then you subscribe to the notion that it was the best deal prosecutors could get under challenging circumstances and that both he, the career prosecutors who also worked on the case, and law enforcement agents, all acted in good faith in order to obtain for the victims the best possible resolution they could negotiate. If you believe Acosta, then you factor into the equation the things that he mentioned, like how the Government’s case wasn’t a slam dunk and that the climate for these types of cases was very different both in and out of court in 2008 than it is now. If you don’t believe Acosta, then you think something very different. Many have even gone as far as to suggest that Acosta intentionally tanked his case for personal benefit.

Whether Acosta was being honest and/or whether prosecutors did the right thing back then is not the focus of this article. There’s already plenty of those articles out there. You’re free to feel how you’d like. I have no agenda. What I want to focus on is what will most likely happen as a result of this uproar. One thing is for sure, there will be significant changes in the criminal arena as a result of the Epstein case controversy.

As you’ve likely heard by now, all charges against former Empire Star Jussie Smollett were dropped by Cook County prosecutors in a Chicago criminal courtroom yesterday. You’ve probably heard the facts, however, just in case, here’s an article from yesterday to get you caught up to speed: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/arts/television/jussie-smollett-charges-dropped.html

I want to discuss what we learned today and why I am feeling pissed, angered, livid, upset and/or frustrated. During an interview with First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who lead the investigation, he said “I do not believe he (Smollett) is innocent.” In explaining why they dropped charges, Magats said, “Based on all the facts and circumstances, based on his life and criminal background. I mean, we defer and do alternative prosecutions. In the last two years, we’ve done 5,700 other felony cases.” What he didn’t say was that they had any problems with proving their case. So why the heck did Smollett get the deal of the century?

To Mr. Magats, I passionately state in response, “THIS ISN’T YOUR TYPICAL CASE, MR. MAGATS!!!!!! There is nothing typical or average or ordinary about this case Mr. Magats!!!! MR. MAGATS, THE CHARGES IN THIS CASE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN DROPPED!!!!!!! YOU SCREWED UP, SIR!!!”

INTRODUCTION

It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re driving along the highway feeling wonderful. Then it happens. You look in your rear view mirror and see flashing police lights. Your heart starts pumping faster as you quickly pull over, trying to determine why Officer Friendly wants to have this encounter. The officer who approaches your car will later inform you that he stopped you for having dark window tint. Before that, he approaches your car and sees a large open plastic bag. He immediately seizes it believing it contains drugs. You immediately inform the officer that the blue substance is cotton candy. The cop thinks it’s Methamphetamine, also known as “Meth” and/or “Crystal Meth”. Can you be arrested under these circumstances?

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

You’re driving in your car somewhere in Broward County, Florida and Officer (Un)Friendly stops you. He alleges that you violated some traffic infraction. Let’s say he claims you were speeding. Then, he alleges he has probable cause to believe you committed a criminal offense, let’s say drunk driving (DUI). He then points to your cell phone that’s charging in your vehicle. He says, “I’d like to look through that.” For some reason, you say, “Sure, you seem nice and I have nothing to hide.” He then takes hold of your phone and attempts to look through it. At that moment, I happen to drive up to the scene. After you explain to me what occurred up to that point, I passionately provide you with some legal advice. Based on that, you say to the officer, I want my phone back. He fires back with, “I’m not giving your phone back until you give me the passcode to your phone so I can see what is in there.” Do you legally have to give him your passcode under these circumstances?

ANALYSIS

WHAT HAPPENED?

By now, you’ve heard the “King of Pudding” was convicted of three felony rape counts. His first trial ended in a hung jury. That means that jurors couldn’t agree to a unanimous verdict. So what changed from the first to the second trial that led to his conviction? It’s a simple formula: 5 is better than 2…as in 5 victims testifying for the prosecution is better than only two victims. For reasons the judge failed to articulate, he allowed five of Cosby’s prior rape victims to testify in the second trial while previously only allowing two. That certainly aided the prosecutions’ efforts of tipping the scales of evidence to “proof beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”

As persuasive as the five testifying victims were, what jurors found equally, if not more compelling, were Cosby’s own words. No, he didn’t take the witness stand. That was a good strategic decision as he would have been obliterated on cross examination. His words were those he spoke to civil lawyers in a prior civil suit. In that deposition, which was read to jurors, Cosby admitted under oath a number of disturbing things, which jurors found to be proof of guilt. The most compelling admission was his use of Quaaludes which he liked to provide to young women in order to induce them to have sex with him. He gave them out to women like non rapists give out drinks to their dates. He also admitted that he went to great lengths to conceal these affairs from his wife, who he calls, “Mrs. Cosby.”

INTRODUCTION

Based upon what happened in a bond hearing today in Broward criminal court, you would have thought that prosecutors uncovered evidence proving that Zachary Cruz, brother of Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz, actually conspired with, and assisted his brother carry out his abhorrent crimes. Well, that didn’t happen. In case you haven’t heard, Zachary Cruz, who is the 18-year-old younger brother of shooter Nikolas Cruz, was arrested yesterday for trespassing at Stoneman Douglas High School. At his bond hearing today, prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy passionately requested that Judge Kim Mollica raise his bond for the misdemeanor charge from the standard amount of $25.00 to $750,000. While the judge didn’t go along with the State’s request, she did impose a bond in the amount of $500,000, along with many other significant additional non-monetary bond conditions. After today’s bond hearing, many are asking the question, “Was the $500,000 bond imposed for Nikolas Cruz justified?”

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

The irony is that the Florida International University pedestrian bridge that collapsed last week was built with the intention that it would provide students a safer way to cross a canal and six lanes of traffic. It didn’t quite work out that way. As a result of the catastrophe, six people tragically lost their lives. Many investigations are currently underway to determine the cause of the collapse. Regardless of the cause, there will definitely be a number of civil suits filed, likely soon. The question that many are asking is, “How likely are criminal charges?”

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

For years, one of the arguments that we’ve heard about cigarettes is that they are filled with nicotine, which is addictive, which causes health problems and even death. That argument has been successfully made in lawsuits against “Big Tobacco,” the companies responsible for putting those “cancer sticks” into the stream of commerce. The argument is that those companies knew, or should have known, that their product would cause harm, and thus, they have to pay. A similar argument has been made against the companies that manufacture harmful asbestos. Would that same argument likely work against gun manufacturers? The argument being, “You knew, or should have known, that your product would end up in the hands of a shooter like Nicolas Cruz and that it was reasonably foreseeable that he would use your product for a criminal act. Thus, you should have to pay damages to the many that were harmed.”

ANALYSIS

Three women were cited with a violation of a criminal ordinance in Laconia, New Hampshire for displaying their nipples on a beach. They are challenging the ordinance, claiming it is unconstitutional. First, they argue that there is no state law that prohibits their actions. Additionally, they claim the ordinance is discriminatory since men are allowed to go topless. Finally, they contend that their freedom of expression rights are being violated.

There’s some precedent for the New Hampshire State Supreme Court to consider when deciding this issue on Feb 1st of this year. In October, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a public indecency ordinance in Missouri was not unconstitutional even though it allowed men to show their nipples but not women. In February, however, a U.S. District Court judge ruled differently, blocking the city of Fort Collins, Colorado from enforcing a law criminalizing women from going topless. The city is appealing the decision.

Those who support the ordinance banning women from going topless argue that unless this behavior is deemed criminal, then women will show up bare breasted to little league games and libraries. They argue that they are simply trying to protect children and families.

While the “Not guilty” verdict in the Steinle murder trial wasn’t what most people expected and/or desired, it doesn’t mean that the verdict was unjust, unfair, and/or “disgraceful.” Having practiced in state and federal criminal courts for the past 25 years, serving as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and adjunct law professor, I can say, without reservation, that the only thing unjust, unfair, and/or “disgraceful” is to insult and demean the jurors who worked hard to arrive at what they believed was a fair verdict. I’m not suggesting that you have to like the outcome. You’re free to think and/or say whatever you want, per the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, before you criticize the jurors’ decision concerning their verdict on the murder charge, give some thought to the following points below that may assist you:

1. Like many, I was surprised by the verdict. Based exclusively on what I was reading and hearing in media reports, I was expecting a guilty verdict on the murder charge.

2. Like almost everyone, I wasn’t in that courtroom to hear any of the evidence first hand. Therefore, it would be inaccurate and unfair for me (and almost all members of the public) to say that I knew all the evidence that was presented and, more importantly, how it was being received by those in the courtroom.