fingerPrint

$18 Million Down the Drain: Florida’s Malfunctioning Fingerprint System

The past five years have been a series of expensive attempts by the state of Florida to fix their fundamentally flawed fingerprint system. Commissioned in 2007, the state agreed to pay Motorola more than $7 million for a new automatic fingerprint identification system (abbreviated AFIS). Yet, since it’s completion in the summer of 2009, the More »

prison

Prison Deaths In Florida – Do We Know the Whole Story?

Former inmates at Dade Correctional Institution have claimed that a prisoner was killed by guards in a punishment ritual involving a hot shower. According to three former inmates, the guards allegedly locked Darren Rainey, a 50 year old mentally-ill prisoner in a shower as punishment and was left there for at least two hours where More »

gun

A Little About the “Stand your Ground Law”

When a person is faced with a threat of fatal injury, destruction or forceful acquisition of their property, they may resort to using a lethal weapon in self defense. The “Stand Your Ground Law” in the U.S., gives the person a provision that they may be justified in using deadly force, without any obligation to More »

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Understanding the Florida Criminal Process

The Florida criminal process can be quite involved, and it’s important that you understand the basics. Following is a short description of the Federal Criminal Court process: Appointment of Counsel: Any individual who is facing federal criminal charges is entitled to receive assistance from an attorney. If the individual cannot afford to hire their own More »

Florida Police Department Members of Ku Klux Klan

In 2009, W. Elkins was asked to resign from the Fruitland Park, Florida police department. Why? Because he was a high-ranking member and recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan. At the time of the investigation, the police chief guaranteed no other officers were KKK members.

But over the weekend in August of 2014, two more police officers were fired over their alleged membership in the same group Elkins belonged, the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in the overwhelmingly white former citrus town turned retirement community of Fruitland Park. The town had a history of racial violence in the 1940s and 1950s.

The current police chief, Isaacs, says both police officers charged – Deputy Chief David Borst and Officer George Hunnewell – “emphatically deny” being in the Klan.
When Isaacs took the job three years ago, there were 13 full-time police officers at his station. Today, only four of the original thirteen remain. “I either ran them off for disciplinary actions or they quit because they didn’t agree with the direction I wanted to go,” he said.

Isaacs says he’s been very tough when it comes to changing the culture in his department. He’s set very strict ethical guidelines and encourages diversity training for his officers. He says, “I don’t allow any joking, any comments. I’m very strict on that. I was somewhat shocked. I did not expect that in 2014.”

Until this weekend the office has never had any suggestion of further Klan connections and has never had a racial complaint since he’s been chief. The chief reported prosecutors are reviewing the two pending cases regarding the officers and will recommend dropping them ‘if they don’t stand on their own.’

Elkins says that at least four members of the department belonged to the Klan when he worked there five years ago and that “probably 10 out of the 12 fulltime officers were sympathetic to the Klan. He also said that he never used his gun or his badge to “subvert the government” or “for racial profiling or anything of that nature.”

When a photo surfaced of Elkins being sworn into the group while surrounded by other members in the symbolic white hoods of the Klan, he was fired for belonging to a subversive group. Although not illegal it is against the police department’s code of conduct.

Five years later Borst and Hunnewell find themselves in a similar position for their alleged actions. The county rules permit 10 days to appeal their dismissals, but Isaacs has not heard from either whether or not they plan to file an appeal.

 

$18 Million Down the Drain: Florida’s Malfunctioning Fingerprint System

fingerPrint

The past five years have been a series of expensive attempts by the state of Florida to fix their fundamentally flawed fingerprint system. Commissioned in 2007, the state agreed to pay Motorola more than $7 million for a new automatic fingerprint identification system (abbreviated AFIS). Yet, since it’s completion in the summer of 2009, the new AFIS system has cost more to repair, update and maintain then it did to design and build.

However, even with a staggering additional $11.3 million being spent to correct the constant problems, officials have finally thrown in the towel. They recently requested funds to build an entirely new system, scrapping the old one which has cost taxpayers more than $18 million overall. That’s an expensive price tag for a system that has functioned for only five years, and is now being relegated to the trash bin.

Yet, wasted money was not the only issue with this AFIS system, as it has had trouble with both speed and accuracy. The potential for missed matches and false positive identifications is especially troubling, as it could open up a host of legal questions. In fact, Florida’s state attorney is currently trying to get a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee of Motorola dismissed. Experts speculate that the reason for this move is to prevent any convictions which were obtained under the current AFIS system from being called into question.

After all, defense attorneys could argue that their clients were improperly identified, due to a potentially faulty AFIS system. Reports from a Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney confirms that he has seen this type of argument in his practice.  These sorts of allegations may not be unfounded, as the system failed to meet the accuracy goals specified in Motorola’s contract. In fact, it had the potential to overlook up to 10 fingerprint identifications for every 1,000 prints run. This is a significant number, and the ramifications could be meaningful. How so?

Missed identifications could mean some criminal suspects were not apprehended, or that background checks failed to flag people with a criminal past. Also, during the testing phase before Motorola delivered the final product, they noted one instance of a false positive identification. While the chances are extremely slim that such a scenario could occur again, if it were to transpire an innocent person could be wrongfully convicted on the strength of incorrect fingerprint identification.

The current lawsuit by former Motorola employee Zoltan Barati accuses the company of withholding internal documentation, which detailed that these problems existed. The outcome of the case is still in question, with the state attorney’s motion to have the case dismissed with prejudice is still pending.

This kind of malfunctioning equipment that is so key to the identification of suspects can open up the police departments to civil lawsuits for damages.  In states where there isn’t a provision for compensation for the wrongly accused can sue the State for compensatory damages from being incarcerated or accused.  In Florida the wrong man was arrested for a rape he didn’t commit, he is seeking compensation for the damage to his reputation and loss of freedom during the mix up.  In talking with a South Florida personal injury attorney, we learned that the state could be held liable for the cost of the defense to prove the wrongly accused person’s innocence, damages from lost wages and punitive damages.  These aren’t even included in the $18 million that went down the drain for the system, the costs will continue to rise as these cases stack up.

Prison Deaths In Florida – Do We Know the Whole Story?

prison

Former inmates at Dade Correctional Institution have claimed that a prisoner was killed by guards in a punishment ritual involving a hot shower. According to three former inmates, the guards allegedly locked Darren Rainey, a 50 year old mentally-ill prisoner in a shower as punishment and was left there for at least two hours where he was heard howling for mercy as he was blasted with scalding water.

After the ordeal, the correctional officers allegedly found Rainey lying face up, dead, with his skin separated from his body. According to a written record of the incident, a 911 call made that night showed a 22 minute gap between the time the guards found his body and the time they called the authorities. One of the inmates who blasted the story, Mark Joiner, says in a letter written to the Department of Corrections that he was ordered to clean up the ‘crime scene’ during that 22 minute interval.

He was willing to be interviewed as part of any investigation but after 18 months, there has been no word from the corrections department on the police and no formal charge has been raised on the prison guards.

According to another witness, a nurse who was on duty on the night of the incident, upon examining the body post-mortem, she found the corpse was so hot that it actually exceeded the range on her thermometer. The nurse asked not to be named in fear of retaliation, but she asserted that from the condition of the body Rainey must have been left unattended in the closet-sized shower for a long time.

Harold Hempstead, a second inmate from the same institution raised several grievances in early 2013 in which he claimed that guards tortured Rainey for defecating in his cell and wouldn’t clean it up. In the reports he also said that Rainey pleaded to be let out of the shower as he was scalded. Hempstead contacted the Miami Herald after his grievances were returned by the department without any action taken.

The guards ad Dade Correctional Institution remain on duty and Hempstead has been transferred to another prison. He said during an interview with a Herald journalist that he received threats from the guards mentioned in the incident.

Key evidence, such as witnesses who were never questioned and the 911 call from the prison were not preserved; which indicates that the death was ruled out as a homicide. After contacting at least half a dozen government agencies, including Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, no one at the institution has been held accountable for what happened that night.

This is not the first death in a Florida prison, several others have been reported and are still under investigation.

  • Damion Foster, 36, died following an altercation with corrections officers in the prison’s mental-health unit of the Charlotte Correctional Facilities on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
  • Matthew Walker, 45, died after an altercation with a female officer which brought in several other correctional officers.  This incident was in the inmates cell at the Charlotte Correctional Facility as well.
  • Richard Mair, a mentally-ill inmate of the Dade Correction Institute committed suicide, but left a note explaining the reason for his actions was the mistreatment of the staff of the correctional facility.  He gave detailed accounts of the abuse.
  • Another former cell mate of Richard Mair is deceased, but the cause of death is still unknown.
    Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/22/4132821/after-latest-death-florida-prison.html#storylink=cpy

 

A Little About the “Stand your Ground Law”

gun

When a person is faced with a threat of fatal injury, destruction or forceful acquisition of their property, they may resort to using a lethal weapon in self defense. The “Stand Your Ground Law” in the U.S., gives the person a provision that they may be justified in using deadly force, without any obligation to retreat from the place where they were in the first place. Some statutory and common law precedents have this concept within their scope.

The most common issue with this law is whether it applies to self defense alone; or whether it also applies to scenarios where the person in question were defending their house or vehicle. All in all, there are two tiers of application of this law: immunity and defense. We shall look at these concepts closely.

Immunity

Suppose the victim of the attack were to react impulsively in self defense, using deadly force on the assailant or assailants. Where the law gives them immunity implies that they are barred from any civil suit, arrest, detention or any other criminal charges.

Defense

The law permits the state, or the plaintiff himself, to seek civil damages, in lieu of the actions of the accused individual. However, they may have to do so under some certain mitigation circumstances.

The “Castle Doctrine”

Some 46 states of the U.S. have adopted the Castle Doctrine. This spells out the law in a manner that permits the plaintiff to react to the aforementioned scenario immediately; without having to retreat from a lawfully occupied space. For instance, if an intruder gains forceful access to a house, the owner does not have to vacate the place before defending it. Rather, they may respond by “shooting first.”

In other words, the person has no duty to go away from a place where they rightfully were. However, there are restrictions that govern the application of this code of conduct: when an individual is carrying permitted weapons such as firearms in public spaces, they have to do so in a lawful manner, regardless of whether they are visible or concealed.

How Has This Law Affected Crime Rates?

In some U.S. states where the law has been put to effect, such as Florida, there has been a drop in crime incidences of such nature. However, people have voiced concerns that the law might be misinterpreted in such a way that may result in use of deadly force, where danger did not even exist.

Others have concerns that criminals may even use this law as a scapegoat for their activities. Moreover, there have been other grey areas like people fearing for their safety, knowing that the use of deadly force may become an option in resolution of conflicts.

Understanding the Florida Criminal Process

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The Florida criminal process can be quite involved, and it’s important that you understand the basics. Following is a short description of the Federal Criminal Court process:

Appointment of Counsel:

Any individual who is facing federal criminal charges is entitled to receive assistance from an attorney. If the individual cannot afford to hire their own attorney, then the court can appoint a Public Defender to represent them. The individual will be ordered to contribute or repay this cost after the case has completed. Any legal advice is limited to only matters related to the offense for which the attorney was appointed.

Time Frames:

Trials are set within 70 days of the arraignment; however, there may be delays caused by a number of factors that include the complexity of the case, the time required to review evidence, and a variety of other tasks necessary to fully prepare for trial. Your attorney should be able to give you an estimate of the time frame for your particular case.

The Florida Criminal Process:

At the commencement of the Florida criminal process, the U.S. Attorney represents the United States, and the grand jury reviews evidence to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

Pre-Trial:

Pretrial services will generally interview the defendant and perform an investigation into the individual’s background; this information helps the judge determine whether to allow the defendant to be released into the community prior to the trial.

Pleas and Plea Bargains:

The defendant will enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty or no contest. When the defendant enters a plea of guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a more lenient sentence the process is referred to as plea bargaining. Remember that during the Florida criminal process, the burden of proof is on the government.

Not Guilty Verdict:

If an individual is found to be not guilty, then they are released and the government cannot appeal – nor can the same individual be charged with the same crime in a federal court.

Guilty Verdict:

Afte a guilty plea, the sentencing generally takes place after reviewing the pre-sentence report prepared by the probation office. After a plea of not guilty, the case will proceed to trial.

Appeals:

To file an appeal, an appellant’ must show that the criminal trial court made a legal error that affected the outcome of the case. The court of appeals will review the findings, but they will generally only overturn a decision if the findings were invalid or erroneous.

The court of appeals generally has the final word in a case; however, they may send the case back to trial or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Writ of Certiorari:

An appellant who loses in the court of appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court can file a petition to obtain a “writ of certiorari.” This is a document requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the case, although they are not required to do so.

Violations and Supervised Release:

Most Florida criminal offenses allow for a term of supervised release, which is similar to probation. Defendants must report to the probation office regularly and comply with the conditions of their release. Offenders should try to establish a good working relationship with their probation officer to avoid further legal troubles.