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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Attack Of The Stupid Warrants

Any criminal defense lawyer in a city with an international airport has dealt with the guy who finds himself in the local lock up after passing through customs and being advised of the presence of an old arrest warrant.

It's mostly the same story. Guy in his late 40's to 60's returns from vacation with his family and while junior and the misses get the "welcome home" from the person behind the glass and computer monitor, he gets a set of shiny silver bracelets.

It's never because of an old murder, or rape, or other violent crime, and it's never because of something that happened in a major city.

It's always a bad check, an old suspended license charge, or some weird "larceny by deceit" charge that no one understands, and it always comes from a place where there is someone referred to as "the local prosecutor." Never is the charge from a couple years ago, it's always at least 10 years old.

So the family is heading through customs with their latest set of overpriced photos from the cruise, or famous food product for grandpa, and Dad has to say good-bye and hire a criminal defense lawyer.

Since 9/11, this scene has become more common, and it's something that needs to stop. I know that we are proud of the new level of communication and cooperation that allows someone to be arrested at the airport in Miami for a warrant out of Mayberry from 1992 due to a $294 bad check, and these types of law enforcement success stories make us "feel safe" from terrorists," but can we just call it a win and try something different?

Or are these types of announcements making you feel safe?


•Michael J. Benjamin, 38, of the 9000 block of 50th Avenue in Oak Lawn—driving while license suspended (2006)
•Lenear B. Bolden, 44, of the 8300 block of Cregier Avenue in Chicago—unlawful use of registration (2001)
•Andrea M. Jackson, 25, of the 18200 block of California Avenue in Homewood—disorderly conduct (2009)
•Umberto Lomeli, 27, of the 1200 block of Galway Road in Joliet—driving while license suspended (2009)
•Joshua P. Mancha, 24, of the Linden Avenue in Monee—theft (2008)

•Lorenzo T. Brandon, 23, of the 21700 block of Peterson Avenue in Sauk Village—driving on a suspended license (2010)
•Freddy Diaz, 48, of the 1800 block of 59th Avenue in Cicero—retail theft (1998)
•Shawn A. Lewis, 44, of the 0-100 block of Messina Court in Tinley Park—retail theft (1997)

•Michael R. Atkins, 31, of the 6500 block of South Hamilton Avenue in Chicago—retail theft (2003)
•Dorese L. Dalla-Costa, 39, of the 4400 block of 152nd Street in Midlothian—retail theft (1994)
•Joseph W. Tritz, 30, of the 300 block of Whitmore Lane in Lake Forest—driving while license suspended (2010)

•Victoria A. Howard, 20, of the 0-100 block of Aegina Drive in Tinley Park—retail theft (2011)

•Yamen I. Youssef, 32, of the 15700 block of Plumtree Drive in Orland Park was arrested during a traffic stop for felony theft warrant (2011) and two others under aliases for criminal trespass to state-supported property (2007) and violation of bond (2009)

•Richard S. Walczak, 34, of the 5600 block of Merrimac Avenue in Chicago—retail theft (2007)

I write this after leaving the jail yesterday and meeting with this type of client. He's traveled in and out of the U.S. many times since the warrant for some small non-payment thing was issued a decade ago. Now, with our new-found system in place, he is finally brought to justice upon returning from vacation. His family continues on to their home - the kids needing to get back to school, and his wife is left to hire lawyers in Miami, and where the warrant was issued. A warrant with no-bond.

Turns out, after the warrant was issued, the small debt was sent to a collection agency - he was notified, and paid the debt.

No one ever told the prosecutor, or the judge.

Luckily, the prosecutor took mercy on him, but that was this prosecutor, who was probably in high school when the warrant was issued.

OK, so these things happen, and this situation is one where the client is the victim of miscommunication. I had another one a few weeks ago where the client simply didn't show up for court on a suspended license charge. Fifteen years later, the warrant "hit" the system, and upon entering paradise, he was arrested. Luckily, that warrant had a bond. The prosecutor realized that he couldn't prove the charge anymore, so he dismissed the case.

Listen, I know not showing up to court is a problem and clients should have to pay a price for that, but can we think about a way to better handle these types of situations? (Author's note: I know everything I'm about to suggest will never happen.)

We now realize the power of government. Violate the law, any law, and we will find you (except for several unsolved murders, rapes, robberies, and other violent crimes.)

Now let's throw in some practicality.

If a warrant is issued for a misdemeanor, anywhere in the country, it should have a bond. Most defendants who fail to appear for misdemeanors do so for lack of notice, or they got the notice and just don't care. Do we really want to have a country where we make clear we deeply care about misdemeanors? So the guy wrote a $75 bad check. Set the bond at $150 and give it to the victim. You can't get interest like that anywhere.

I know we are happy to arrest people and let people know we will find them no matter how long it takes. We will arrest them, pay for them to remain in jail until the bus gets to them, and in the end, spend any amount of money to let the world know that we value out misdemeanor system of justice.

But it's stupid, a waste of money, and no offense, no one cares.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

You Pray For A Conviction While I Pray For These Things:

It was a lone comment on one of the hundreds of stories announcing the arrest of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin:

"Now I pray for a conviction."

That's nice. I pray that there is a conviction as well, as long as it's because there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt for whatever charge the jury considers.

But I don't have all the evidence. Neither does Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's wise choice as counsel. In fact, the evidence won't be fully developed until the witnesses are deposed (in Florida we get to take depositions of witnesses pre-trial), exhibits are produced, experts play expert, and about a few dozen other things happen.

So no one has all the evidence. Not even you, watching your favorite non-practicing lawyer opine on cable TV.

I know the arrest happened yesterday and in your "Law and Order" TV world, you are now outraged that it's the next day and there's no conviction along with some case ending philisophical comment from the prosecutor, but maybe you'll instead join me in prayer for the following:

I pray that:

Lawyers who know nothing about the law say nothing about the law in the media.

Lawyers who know something about the law but nothing about being a criminal lawyer (prosecutor or defense) say nothing about what they "would do" in this case.

Lawyers who know nothing about the lawyers in the case say nothing about "what they know" about the lawyers in the case.

Lawyers who practice criminal defense, don't fall in to the mob mentality and pretend on TV they would handle the case differently.

Lawyers who are on TV or in the media, help explain the system so that people understand, not so they are happy.

Lawyers who don't know what they are talking about, politely decline to be on TV.

Lawyers outside of Florida don't go on TV just to say "I don't know how they do it in Florida, but..."

Lawyers in Florida don't seek publicity for the purpose of trashing their colleagues (I got that request already.)

The media, specifically reporters, only say what they know, not what they think. Report, just report.

The media take every opportunity to educate the public and not make them stupider than they already are as a result of inaccurate TV shows about the criminal justice system.

The media tells the public that the state has 15 days to turn over discovery in Florida and that is extended routinely.

The media calls a "continuance" a continuance and not "another delay."

The media explains that both sides will need to be ready for trial, not just the state (who had a head start.)

The media explains that justice is a decision, a verdict, a conclusion that is just. It may mean the state drops the case, that the defendant gets a good deal for pleading guilty, or that the jury didn't find proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

To add to the above, that the media does not say that "justice was not served" if justice benefits the defendant, meaning he walks out of court when it's over, or that he won't die in prison.

But I probably need to pray much too hard for these things.

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