Shared by firm partner, Kenneth Rhoden, Esquire, a death penalty qualified criminal defense attorney, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.112.
*This story uses no names and some of the facts have been changed to protect the privacy of the participants.*
The Defendant had a prior record and he scored mandatory prison under the Criminal Punishment Code’s scoresheet. The State Attorney, feeling justifiably confident in his case, offered only a stiff prison sentence as a plea bargain. Feeling the Defendant had nothing to lose I set this for trial.
Sometimes officers are suddenly unavailable for trial and a case gets dismissed or evidence was lost or another unlikely event happens. In this case, the cocaine had been sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Lab which confirmed it was indeed cocaine. The State Attorney smoothly introduced the cocaine into evidence over my repeated, but correctly overruled, objections. Then the two officers involved were called to testify.
The first officer strutted into the courtroom with a smirk on his face. On direct examination, the officer was arrogant and all but rolled his eyes letting everyone know that this trial was a waste of his precious time. Despite this, the officer competently explained the events to the jury and there was no doubt the Defendant committed the crime. While the officer was disdainful of the State Attorney on direct examination, he was openly hostile to me on cross examination. The second officer was equally disagreeable, but his testimony reinforced the first officer’s testimony.
The officers testified they were on motorcycles when they spotted a car parked behind a closed business. They decided to check and see if any crime was taking place. The officers parked a distance behind the car and approached from behind, one officer on each side of the car, the suspect was engrossed in what he was doing and did not notice the officers approaching.
The officers positioned themselves on each side of the car, looking in the windows. The officers could clearly see the suspect smoking crack cocaine from a pipe. After watching the suspect for a few minutes, the officers knocked on the side of the car. The startled suspect surrendered peacefully and admitted he had been smoking crack cocaine. The officers seized the crack cocaine and pipe and arrested the suspect for possession of cocaine and possession of paraphernalia.
During cross examination the more unpleasant each officer became, the more polite was my demeanor. The more questions I asked the more irritated each officer became as he/she testified. They even showed their disdain for the Judge when she overruled the State Attorney’s objections to some of my questions. Despite my persistent questioning I was unable to cast serious doubt on the facts of the case.
After short closing arguments by the State and Defense the jury left the courtroom to deliberate. I expected a quick guilty verdict. Sure enough in fifteen (15) minutes the jury had a verdict. However, the verdict was Not Guilty.
This event is commonly called a “jury pardon” and it is a rare event. In this case the Defendant was very lucky. A trial is a complex event in which the unexpected can happen. This case shows you should never give up and when you have nothing to lose, always roll the dice. The attorneys of Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley tried thousands of cases and will not hesitate to try your case if that gives you the best chance for a good outcome.
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