By Greg Jackson, Esq.
Can someone please tell me what the heck is going on with state prosecutors in Central Florida! In one corner, we have a State Attorney who refuses to seek the death penalty in any first-degree murder case no matter the facts – presumably due to the influences of outside anti-death penalty groups. In the other corner, we have a State Attorney offering plea deals to a man who nearly killed someone, but refused to cooperate with authorities.
In case you have been buried under a rock, known as the “Markeith Loyd-murder-case”, you may have missed that the embattled, former City Manager for Apopka, Richard Anderson, escaped some serious prison time, most likely due to his boyish good looks and charming smile. At least that's the best explanation I can give after having read the memorandum from the Lake County State Attorney, which gave some lame excuse for not throwing the Encyclopedia Britannica-sized book at Anderson for causing serve bodily harm to a person, then leaving the scene of the accident.
To prevent rehashing a case that many of you are familiar with, let me give you the "Cliff Notes" version: Anderson was involved in a serious car crash that nearly killed Michael Falcon, when the vehicle carrying Anderson crossed over lanes on SR46 and collided with Falcon’s vehicle, which was travelling in the proper lane. Witnesses on the scene only saw Anderson in and around his vehicle. Anderson made 10 calls from his cell phone at the scene of the accident, none of which were to 911. Anderson refused to provide any information to law enforcement officers investigating the accident and from my understanding never mentioned there being anyone in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash.
Interestingly, in an attempt to establish a reasonable doubt as to his causing serious bodily injury to Falcon, Anderson had an expert witness say there was evidence that implied there was another person in the vehicle at the time of the accident. This expert even said he could not determine if Anderson was the driver or passenger of the vehicle.
Obviously, if Anderson was the driver he would have been in a lot of trouble, but, if he were the passenger, not so much. According to the State Attorney assigned to the case, this slight bit of doubt presented by Anderson’s expert, though controversial, allowed Anderson to argue that he was not driving the vehicle. This, in turn, allowed Anderson to get a plea deal for three years of felony probation (no jail time) and one year of “general” probation (no jail time) to run concurrently. But here is the problem: Anderson was given these deals to avoid jail time without him giving a single bit of information about who was driving the vehicle, if not him, on the night of the accident.
So, why is it that Anderson was given a plea deal? At the very least he should have been required to provide the name of the alleged driver even to start the conversation about a plea agreement; but, he offered nothing. The State Attorney should have considered the family's pleas for a stricter sentence, but they have turned away with more questions than answers. Why were there no photographs taken at the accident scene? Why was the vehicle’s data recorder never examined? Why were the airbags in Anderson’s vehicle never collected or submitted for DNA analysis to determine if someone else was really in the car with him that night, and if so who? Why didn’t the State Attorney consult with its own expert to confirm or refute Anderson’s expert?
The reason for this may be simpler than most people think: most state attorneys are overly consumed with having and maintaining a favorable prosecution rate, so much so that it appears that many are afraid to try challenging cases or even ask pressing questions (i.e., if you did not do it, who did and where can we find them?). Based on the facts as I know them, Anderson should not have received any plea deal without giving pertinent information to prosecute the person responsible for causing Falcon’s injuries. But, when we have overly cautious, skittish state prosecutors who are more concerned about looking good and “winning”, our system of justice suffers. When we have state prosecutors who are leery about going up against “paid” attorneys who have no problem pushing the envelope to represent their clients zealously, our judicial system is marred by questionable decisions and plea deals, such as in this case.
It is interesting that persons who perpetrate crimes can have paid lawyers assigned to them and actually paid for by taxpayer dollars if a public defender will not suffice (e.g., Casey Anthony’s attorney, Jose Baez, was reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend her instead of appointing public defender or having her pay her own attorney’s fees). If suspected criminals can by afforded the best legal representation on taxpayer dollars, should Florida taxpayers be given the same courtesy of having private lawyers to represent the State of Florida where state prosecutors will not suffice? I believe that the cases involving Loyd, Anderson, and others that we are not aware of, have exposed Florida prosecutors to being questioned. Is it time for the State of Florida to start looking to bring in private attorneys, who are not looking to pad their trial records with wins and plea deals, to seek justice on behalf of victims of crimes in our state? I believe that a serious inquiry as to the effects of this approach will yield some interesting results entirely different from what we have seen – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a past Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.
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