A Middle District of Florida District Judge in Tampa threw out a firearm conviction in a drug trafficking and conspiracy case against reggae star Buju Banton because one of his jurors apparently used information gleaned from the internet during jury deliberations. Unhappily for everyone involved the source of the juror’s information was not this blog.
|Tampa Bay federal attorneys are often even more frightened of the federal firearm and weapons five year minimum mandatory than we are of wayward jurors in that the five year minimum mandatory sentence by law must be tacked on to the drug sentence to run consecutively.
The judge has no discretion to run the sentences concurrently (at the same time, so a defendant serves two sentences at once) as is often possible in other crimes.
Press reports note that the Judge is weighing what to do with the juror, but has made it clear that the juror could face a contempt of court charge based on an investigation of the juror’s seized computer and conflicting statements from the juror. Googling jurors have been a recurring problem in the Tampa Bay criminal justice system. One of the unfortunate aspects of any criminal case is how complicated jury instructions can be. And the juror may have simply been trying to understand a firearm issue that could even trip up seasoned lawyers and judges.
In this case there was the additional complication of what is known as the Pinkerton Rule which establishes that if a co-defendant has a firearm in a federal offense others my be charged with the firearm and punished with the additional minimum mandatory five year sentence even if there was no proof the others had knowledge of the gun.
This rule allows the federal prosecutors to leverage the firearm minimum mandatory to force a plea of guilty. When Bufu Banton elected to go to the jury on the drug charges, the Government made his sentencing exposure much harsher by adding the firearm count. All of this was given to Banton’s jury in jury instructions composed of arcane legal language that typical Americans could hardly be expected to appreciate or understand.
Yet every Clearwater criminal defense lawyer would agree that American justice demands that a trial must be fair and that means that jurors must not be able to research facts and law during the trial.
Winning legal arguments is one of the more important responsibilities of a Clearwater criminal defense lawyer so a new study showing that the louder one is while making an argument the more believable that argument becomes couldn’t help but make me want to argue with the results.
First, let’s look at the study from press reports, then we’ll find and loudly frame the best arguments against it. The study examined tweets during the Super Bowl. Accuracy was found to be less important in attracting followers and gaining influence than confidence. In fact louder, bolder and more exciting tweets which later proved to be inaccurate were more popular and influential.
So based on this study would a reasonable person raise his voice to win an argument? Another study cited in the same news account noted that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble” whether shouted or not. Pointless babble is the opposite of a well framed argument in that an argument at it’s core is a difference of opinion so to have an argument first one must have an opinion which is directly adverse to another’s opinion.
Does shouting work? Sometimes, but many lawyers abuse the notion by shouting everything when a whisper would be more effective in winning listeners to your cause. I’ve seen at least one lawyer, slightly deaf perhaps, who shouts his arguments to juries and judges with less than stellar results.
My advice for that attorney would be to begin with a whisper, raising it to a heavier than normal tone, then much later for a few moments let it rip in righteous indignation on the one lever of fact that points to innocence and return to the whisper. Why? Because it adds interest, context and variety making it much more likely that the judge and jurors are actually listening. It’s more than shouting confidence, excellent criminal trial lawyers share winning qualities.
The best results not only in the courtroom but in any argument comes from basing your argument on an appeal to the highest principle which everyone can agree is correct, then connecting your arguments to that higher principle. As a Clearwater criminal lawyer I’ve found that the best results come from being confident that the principles I’m fighting for are shared American values including, equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the common good, truth, fairness and justice. These core American values win legal arguments in Tampa Bay courtrooms when clients are confronting the criminal justice system in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Your favorite Clearwater criminal defense lawyer is often asked before sentencing if a particular Judge is human. As it’s remotely possible that some stray Judge will one day read these very words I’m tip tap typing as you glance over this page, I’ll reluctantly decline to answer that question.
|Is this a fair Judge?
Instead I’ll pose a slightly better one – Does your Judge know that you’re human? And if not, why not? If you were on a job interview wouldn’t you do everything possible to persuade the interviewer about all the impressive things you’ve done in your life? You’d also talk about the even better things you plan to accomplish in your future.
It’s true that when it comes to sentencing the most important factor is often how the Florida scoresheets and guidelines apply to a specific set of facts. Yet fair sentencing decisions must always include much more than mere guidelines calculations otherwise our Judges are nothing more than human (or not so human) calculating machines.
The best judges want a firm explanation of more than just the basic sentencing guideline range blended with bland facts and circumstances of a case. The best judges also delve into the motivations, pressures, family life, failures, successes and goals of a defendant.
What if you don’t have the best judge or for that matter what if have a judge you don’t suspect is human? Any judge can be led toward making good decisions that take into account a Defendant’s entire life story. In Federal Court in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, Federal judges have been told by the United States Supreme Court that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are advisory not compulsory and that the Judges must examine in detail the personal characteristics of a defendant before sentencing. Clearly all judges should make an effort toward understanding a defendant before applying any sentence.
A strong, effective Clearwater criminal lawyer will push the judge toward wanting to learn more about the defendant’s entire life history, learning not only what brought the defendant to this point in his life but why the defendant deserves to have a compassionate judge, a judge eager to find the best possible sentencing solutions with as little punishment as possible for a successful outcome.