In her last post she wrote about how mentally ill defendants are treated by the justice system in Broward.
Today she talks about how the deck is stacked against poor defendants in Broward County, and how one of her colleagues leveled the playing field for one client.
LIFE AS A PD: “I went into the hallway and asked every African American woman I saw if they would do me a favor and come sit in my courtroom for a few minutes,” my friend and fellow Public Defender told me.
In this case the Pubic Defender had scheduled a non-jury trial in a driving with a license suspended case. The client was dealing with a high-risk pregnancy and the Prosecutor’s offer was to put the woman in jail for 45 days. Yes for a driving offense. The woman’s crime: She couldn’t find anyone to take her to get food for her children so she took a chance and drove while her license had been suspended.
Putting people in jail for a crime that only impacts the poor is infuriating. People get their licenses suspended all the time because they can’t afford to pay tickets for nonmoving violations, child support, court costs and court fines that have nothing to do with traffic offenses. In Florida if you get caught smoking a joint, even while sitting on the beach, and the court adjudicates you guilty you will pay a few hundred dollars in court courts and lose your driver’s license for 1 year.
When the officer arrived in court to testify at the non-jury trial the PD asked him if he could identify her client. The officer said he didn’t remember what she looked like as he consulted the traffic ticked and replied but she was a black female. The PD then asked the officer if her client had any identifying features. That is when the officer admitted, “I probably wouldn’t be able to identify her if she was standing in front of me.” The Prosecutor aware of this problem tells the officer that the case will have to be dropped since he can’t identify the defendant. The annoyed officer leaves the courtroom.
The case is called up in front of the Judge for the Prosecutor to announce that the charges will be dropped. It was at that point the Prosecutor must have realized that there was only one black woman sitting in the courtroom. Instead of announcing a “nolle prose” the Prosecutor puts the case on recall then goes outside and calls the cop on the phone asking that he return to the courtroom.
The sharp PD realizes what is happening so she goes into the hallway looking for African American women. She finds two women and quickly explains to them what is going on. The women agree to sit in the courtroom next to the client. The officer returns to the courtroom where there are now 3 black ladies sitting together. The Prosecutor says some b.s. about wanting to be certain the officer didn’t remember her by sight. In front of the PD the Prosecutor asks, “which one is she?” The officer replies, “the one on the end.”
Yes the PD’s client was the one on the end only the officer picked the wrong end. The case was finally dropped and the three women ended up as new friends, they even celebrated by going out to lunch together.