Who remembers the TV game show, "Let's Make a Deal?"
For those too young to remember, "Let's Make a Deal" was a 60s and 70s game show in which studio audience members were given the opportunity to trade a known prize for an unknown prize behind Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3.
So, someone might end up trading $1,000 in cash for a basket of dirty laundry hiding behind Door #1, or, they got lucky, a more valuable prize like a trip to Italy behind Door #3.
The other day, 24-year-old Breon Davis played the criminal courts version of "Let's Make a Deal" at the Broward County Courthouse.
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A warrant was issued for his arrest. Cops found him and put him in handcuffs on July 29.
A month later, on Aug. 29, Davis found himself standing before Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman for a violation-of-probation sentencing hearing.
And just like on "Let's Make a Deal," Davis was offered a deal: Agree to a sentence of 15 years in state prison...or, take the prize behind Door #1 instead.
Davis rejected the plea deal and decided to gamble on what was behind Door #1: Turns out there were three life sentences behind the door.
Yesterday, I posted this story on Facebook and one of my friends responded: "Haha, stupid guy exercising his right to trial and now he'll spend the rest of his life in prison!"
That got me to wondering...did Davis really have a right to a trial or, as a habitual criminal on probation, had he run out of chances?
Today, I asked Miami Beach defense attorney Michael Grieco to weigh-in.
In an email, an attorney who publishes the Justice Building Blog, put it this way:When you accept probation, especially for very serious violent felonies, you are sometimes setting yourself up for failure. We don't know the underlying facts of his original cases, but if a gun was involved, then a 10/20/LIFE min man would have been waived, likely because of his youth.
I also do not know if this is his first violation either. Regardless, the standard of proof on a probation violation is very low (preponderance) and the judge is the fact-finder. Probation is both punitive and a privilege. The sentences are harsh but legal and common. What isn't common is receiving probation on multiple armed robbery cases. You usually don't get a second bite at the apple on Life Felonies.
For new charges he gets one trial with a jury. Some judges do the probation violation hearing first and sentence the defendant as a way of coercing him into pleading guilty and avoiding the work associated with a jury trial. The better/fairer judges will agree to hear the PVH during the trial. I once won a very serious trial but the judge violated his probation anyway and gave him five years. Cannot say the decision there was wrong.
The lesson is that it is very dangerous to be on probation, especially in Broward.
Meanwhile, back on Facebook, my friend offered this: "My heart doesn't bleed for him. I just think it's bad, not good, when sentences make examples out of people who don't take plea deals. He's 24 and likely did not have the best legal representation. I'm just not that gleeful that he'll spend the rest of his life in prison."
Well, when you run around town sticking guns in people's faces, maybe a life sentence is too lenient.
He's lucky one of his victims didn't blow his head off. It does happen.
The two charts below are from the Florida Department of Corrections website.
The top chart shows that Davis had been given just two years of probation for some very serious charges.
The bottom chart shows what Davis is looking at now...on those very same charges.
Any other wanna-be thugs out there want to play "Let's Make a Deal?"
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