You don't know Melvin Richardson. Google will tell you nothing about him, he's not on twitter, and he wouldn't draw a crowd at any event.
But I got to meet him last night.
Melvin is a pretty hefty African-American guy with the demeanor of teddy bear. Seems a few months ago he was in traffic court in Pensacola and something important happened.
In Florida, like other states, a defendant is required to provide a DNA sample upon conviction. Here, we run a q-tip around someones mouth, drop it in a ziplock, the whole process taking about 6 seconds.
Melvin wasn't in court to be convicted of a felony, he was there on a matter involving a traffic citation.
This set of circumstances didn't seem to have any effect on the court security officers in the Escambia County Courthouse, who for a long while had been interpreting Florida's law as allowing them to take DNA from anyone sitting around without a nice suit. Yeah, they were taking DNA from anyone and everyone. Defendant's not wanting to rock the boat, and lawyers somehow unaware of the law, defined submissive.
Melvin was approached and instead of opening wide, turned to his lawyer and asked "do I have to?"
His lawyer didn't think so and when the judge took the bench, he inquired. The judge seemed confused that a traffic court defendant would have to give DNA, but also not wanting to usurp the power of the all mighty court security, ordered Melvin to submit to the DNA swab. He then immediately stayed the order to permit Melvin to appeal.
Melvin would now have to pay a $400 filing fee to appeal the order. Hefty price for a traffic ticket.
But there would be no appeal. Court security changed their policy. They changed their policy because Melvin said no.
And so last night at the annual dinner of the Pensacola criminal defense bar, Melvin received the first ever "Person of the Year" Award. Surrounded by giants of the criminal defense bar, donning suits, ties, and glasses of wine and enjoying perfectly cooked steaks, Melvin took the podium in his black pants and untucked black t shirt.
His only words were to recognize that he had a lawyer that helped him bring his objection to the court. He was clearly overwhelmed that someone whose only act was to say "no" would be brought to the center of an event like this to receive an award.
It was just one of the greatest things I've seen in my career.
Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Post to Twitter
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