A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Break From Criminal Defense For Some Thoughts On Hurricane Katrina

Miami is paradise.

Born here, never want to leave here.

Except after a hurricane. Even a Category 1 Hurricane like Katrina (which at the time of this writing is a Category 5 Hurricane on it's way to level New Orleans, and there's not even enough alcohol in the French Quarter to soften the blow they are about to take.) My heart is sick for the people there, including my friend Howard - hope you're OK bud.

There has not been an official announcement yet, but we in South Florida wlll never categorize a hurricane again. A hurricane is a hurricane. Category 1 Katrina did not cause structural damage that people see and experience with large hurricanes, but the power system was devastated. We were shocked and unprepared.

My power was turned on a hour ago, after 4 days of watching my home reach a temperature of 89 degrees. Others will wait another week in sweltering South Florida to enjoy breathable air, ice, and livable conditions.

A few people even died. Many will die in New Orleans, many. Those that live may never return, and if so, not until weeks or months of waiting to hear that they can drink the water.

I'll be back in court tomorrow. Should be lots of exciting stuff to discuss, like who's back living in their house.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My client gets bond, like everyone else

Accused killer of foster child Rilya Wilson granted bond

By Curt Anderson
Associated Press Writer
Posted August 23 2005, 5:44 PM EDT

MIAMI -- A judge ruled Tuesday that Geralyn Graham, the woman accused of murdering foster child Rilya Wilson, deserved to be released on bond after the key witness against her refused to testify.

Although Graham, 59, will remain behind bars until May at the earliest because she is serving a sentence for an unrelated motor vehicle fraud conviction, her attorney said the decision by Circuit Judge Andrew Hague to grant bond in Rilya's killing suggested the prosecution's case is weak.

``This additional murder charge is based on nothing _ absolutely nothing,'' said the lawyer, Brian Tannebaum. Bond on a first-degree murder charge in Florida is rare, but allowable.

Hague announced his decision after Robin Lunceford, 42, repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked questions about Graham and the Wilson case. Graham was indicted for the child's murder after Lunceford told investigators that Graham confessed to her in jail of killing Rilya.

Lunceford, who has a lengthy criminal record, has since been convicted of armed robbery and could get life in prison when sentenced Sept. 9. Her lawyer, Ellis Rubin, said he advised Lunceford against testifying Tuesday because he intends to ask for a new trial in her robbery case.

``I don't want her to give any testimony that might jeopardize my arguments for a new trial,'' Rubin told reporters Tuesday.

Tannebaum, however, said Lunceford's refusal to answer any questions Tuesday indicates that she no longer is interested in testifying against Graham, now that she has less to gain because of the robbery conviction.

``I think that says a lot about this case,'' he said.

Hague set bond for Graham on the murder charge at $100,000, which would be added to the $150,000 bond previously set on a kidnapping charge for a total of $250,000. Graham, who sat passively in court in a maroon jail jumpsuit during the hearing, also would be subjected to electronic monitoring and other restrictions.

Assistant State Attorney Sally Weintraub argued against bond, pointing out that Graham had a list of 45 aliases with matching false Social Security numbers and should be considered both a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Hague showed some sympathy for that argument but ultimately decided the evidence was not strong enough to justify holding her without bond.

Also appearing at Tuesday's hearing was Pamela Graham, who described herself as Geralyn Graham's ex-lover and who is cooperating with prosecutors in the murder case. Pamela Graham, who is not related to Geralyn, was asked briefly about Geralyn Graham's ties to the community and whether she appeared likely to flee if released.

Police believe Rilya, whose body has never been found, was dead more than 15 months before the state Department of Children & Families realized in April 2002 that the girl was missing despite a requirement for monthly home visits. She was supposed to be under state supervision after being taken from a drug-addicted mother.

The Grahams claimed she had been removed from the home by a state worker in January or February 2001. The discovery that Rilya was missing triggered a search that extended nationally and to the Bahamas, but police claim the Grahams lied about the girl's disappearance to cover up her slaying.

The girl's unnoticed disappearance triggered a review of the state's child protection system and led to resignations by the DCF chief, some Miami administrators and caseworkers.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The American Definition of Justice: A Guilty Verdict

When a defendant is found "not guilty," the first thing moronic pundits and reporters like to say is that there is "still no justice" in the case.

I'm sorry, I thought justice was served when jurors deliberated evidence and came to a verdict, whether that verdict is guilty or not guilty.

But that's not true, and the harsh truth is that most of us do not believe that "justice" has been done unless that justice includes a guilty verdict.

I can understand that the family of a victim believes there is no justice for them when a trial ends and the defendant is adjudged not guilty, but is there not justice for the defendant on trial? Is it not justice that a jury of her peers determined that the government did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt?



Because we expect jurors to find people GUILTY! We may say we believe in the presumption of innocence but did you know that 80% of all jurors that appear for jury duty are pre-disposed to guilt?

That's the way we like it though.

Isn't it?

Isn't that justice?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Michael Jackson Jurors Disgrace Themselves

On the MSNBC website the Associated Press is reporting that 2 jurors in the Michael Jackson case now admit they thought he was guilty. The story can be found here.

Eleanor Cook and Ray Hultman are making these assertions while also touting their upcoming books entitled "Guilty as Sin," and "The Deliberator" respectively.

You Ms. Cook and Mr. Hultman are disgraceful, shameful people who should be held in contempt and sentenced to jail for perjury.

After each jury verdict in this country, jurors are "polled," or individually asked "is this your verdict?" When asked this question, they are still under oath. Cook and Hultman said "yes" and are now saying they lied.


According to the AP story "Cook and Hultman said they agreed to go along with the other jurors when it became apparent that they would never convict the pop star. The two denied being motivated by money and tried to explain why they were coming forward now."

In a fit of irony, Cook, now admitting that he lied, says "I’m speaking out now because I believe it’s never too late to tell the truth.”

No Mr. Cook, it's much too late you jerk.

The story goes on to say: "Cook and Hultman also alleged that jury foreman Paul Rodriguez threatened to have them kicked off the jury." Cook added "He said if I could not change my mind or go with the group, or be more understanding, that he would have to notify the bailiff, the bailiff would notify the judge, and the judge would have me removed,”

Awwwwwww, they were threatened.

Hultman said he also felt threatened and didn’t want to get kicked off the trial.

I bet Hultman didn't want to get kicked off the trial - then his book would merely be a pamphlet.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Role As A Guardian Ad Litem to a 14 Year-Old Accused of Murder

Fifteen year-old Michael Hernandez sits in the Miami-Dade County Jail facing first-degree murder charges in the stabbing death of his friend Jaime Gough. The crime occurred when Michael was 14, and he was immediately transferred to adult court, and is facing life in prison.

I am not his defense lawyer, but his his court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem. A role that carries with it the responsibility of assuring that Michael's case is being handled properly and that the decisions being made by his defense team and him, are in his best interest.

This week, Miami Herald reporter Fred Tasker wrote an expose entitled "Kids who Kill."

Below is my printed letter to the editor in response:

I thank Fred Tasker for his July 30 Tropical Life piece, Kids who kill. This heart-wrenching and devastating aspect of society affects families of both the victim and defendant in ways that other crimes do not.

What are we to do with kids who kill? And should we charge them as adults? When and how do we determine that a young person who commits an adult offense is now an adult?

Michael Hernandez was 14 when he was arrested and charged with the murder of Jamie Gough at Southwood Middle School. He was transferred to adult court. Later a judge ruled that Michael had a mental illness. He now sits in an adult jail where he receives an hour or two of school a day but no treatment for his mental illness. Now 15, Michael is deteriorating rapidly.

I am Michael's court-appointed guardian ad litem. It is easy to say that he should spend the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted because his crime was "adult." The hearts of everyone on Michael's defense team go out to the Gough family everyday for its unspeakable loss. This is not an issue about Michael as much as it is an issue of determining what we as a society are going to do with kids who kill.


I welcome your thoughts on any aspect of this case or issue.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Innocence after 26 years of "Guilt."

Today, the essence of why I practice criminal defense was achieved by the Innocence Project and a couple of civil lawyers from one of Florida's largest law firms.

A man named Jose Diaz was released from prison after serving 26 years for crimes he did not commit.

The details are in today's Miami Herald.

It is a story everyone should read, and know about, especially the "everyone's guilty" crowd.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Tannebaum Comments To Miami Daily Business Review on Interim S.D. Fla. U.S Attorney

Your author was asked to comment on the interim United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida for the Miami Daily Businesss Review. This story was also cited on the popular Southern District of Florida Blog.


From the Courts: Justice Watch
Little-known U.S. attorney makes the rounds

By: Julie Kay

Who is Alex Acosta?

That’s the question South Florida attorneys are asking about the new acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

“No one knows anything about him,” said Brian Tannebaum, president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. “I haven’t met him yet.”

Kathleen Williams, the top federal public defender in South Florida, said, “I have never met the U.S. attorney. He has not practiced in the area, so none of us knows him.”

Even heavyweight Republican lawyers in town aren’t familiar with Acosta.

“I met him once, but I don’t really know him,” said Thomas Spencer, a top GOP lawyer in Miami and chairman of the Miami-Dade County Judicial Nominating Commission.

But what South Florida attorneys do know is causing them some concern — namely that Acosta has never tried a case and has little experience in criminal law.

“The word on the street is that he has no criminal law experience,” Tannebaum said. “I would like a U.S. attorney who has experience in criminal justice … who has some working knowledge of criminal justice.”

Acosta, who came to Miami after heading the Justice Department’s civil rights division, notes there are 235 prosecutors in his office.

He said his job requires management more than courtroom skills, the ability to interact well with law enforcement and community groups, and high-level contacts to help the region.