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

Friday, March 04, 2011

I Got To Meet Melvin Richardson

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.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter


  1. Perfectly cooked steaks at the Pensacola annual dinner? Sorry, but you just lost all credibility.

  2. Key Lime Pie wasn't bad either

  3. I wonder if undercover cops were present to snatch his water glass and test it. I'd bet $20 dollars that he's good for at least three unsolved homicides.

  4. Jackie Carpenter3:56 PM

    I know that I am not "good for any unsolved murders" per se, however, I would also object to being forced to give my dna. Why is it when someone observes and enforces a constitutional right (to remain silent and/or not provide evidence to be used against them) people automatically assume they have some criminal history to hide?

  5. Jackie,

    It was a joke. Maybe not a funny one, but still a joke.

  6. Aaron G11:37 PM

    Kudos to Melvyn for doing what every citizen who takes his government seriously should do.

    I'm glad he was recognized, not because he should be, but because someone recognized the value of it. Hopefully it leads to more of the same.

    As for the lawyers, I'm not the least bit surprised. The overwhelming majority of my law school classmates unquestionably and thankfully accept authority. That is, unless it's authority that doesn't actually affect them — they're happy to protest something like Guantanamo Bay (it's not to say that's right, and it's not to say that it doesn't affect them in the broad sense, but rather that it doesn't affect them through authority exercised upon them).