Florida Supreme Court Considers New Juvenile Sentencing Law

The Florida Supreme Court has asked attorneys how a new state law might affect cases dealing with inmates who were sentenced to long prison terms for committing murders or other major crimes when they were juveniles.
The new law went into effect July 1 and was designed to carry out two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings based on the idea that juveniles are different from adults and function at different stages of brain development. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court held, juvenile sentencing guidelines must offer young offenders the chance to have their cases reviewed after serving a certain number of years.
Now the question is whether the state law or the U.S. Supreme Court rulings are retroactive to sentences imposed on juveniles in the past.
Last month the Florida Supreme Court asked attorneys in cases that might be affected by the new sentencing guidelines to submit briefs on the issue. That included cases from Bay and Duval counties, where juveniles were sentenced to 70 years or more. The attorney general’s office also is expected to weigh in.
One of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in a 2010 case known as Graham v. Florida, banned life sentences without a “meaningful opportunity” for release for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes. The other ruling, in a 2012 case known as Miller v. Alabama, banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder. Juveniles can still face life sentences in such cases, but judges must weigh criteria such as the offenders’ maturity and the nature of the crimes before imposing that sentence.
That’s why the Florida Legislature this spring passed HB 7035, calling for judicial hearings and sentencing standards that vary depending on the nature of the crimes. Under the law, a juvenile convicted of a murder classified as a capital felony could be sentenced to life in prison after a hearing to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate. If a judge finds that a life sentence is not appropriate, the juvenile would be sentenced to at least 35 years. Also, juveniles convicted in such cases would be entitled to reviews after 25 years.
But while the new law tries to bring Florida into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings, it doesn’t mention retroactivity. Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, the law’s Senate sponsor, said it was not intended to address that issue.
“We were simply looking at a statutory scheme that was clearly unconstitutional,” the Fleming Island Republican said. “We were looking at two United States Supreme Court decisions that set forth certain parameters, and we developed a sentencing framework that complied with those two decisions. As far as how that applied individually to individual defendants, we’ll leave that to the court system.”
In the years between the U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the new law taking effect, juvenile sentencing cases have landed at the Florida Supreme Court.
As an example, one of the pending cases concerns Rebecca Falcon, who is serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in Bay County in the course of a botched robbery in 1997, when she was 15 years old. Another, from Duval County, involves Shimeeka Gridine, who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for crimes—attempted first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and aggravated battery—committed during an attempt to rob a gas station in 2009, when Gridine was 14 years old.
“We believe that (the) Miller (ruling) itself is retroactive,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida office. She said Falcon and Gridine should be entitled to re-sentencing hearings.
Falcon’s attorneys are seeking to have her mandatory sentence—life without parole—vacated under the Miller ruling, arguing that as a new rule of constitutional law, it is retroactive for the courts.
“I’m not arguing that the new (state) law should be applied retroactively,” said Karen M. Gottlieb, an attorney for Falcon. “I’m arguing that the court has an inherent power and obligation to enforce constitutional rules of law that are retroactive. … That’s an important distinction.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said the Florida Supreme Court faces a balancing act. On one hand, the justices must comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings; on the other, he said, juveniles who commit serious felonies are a threat to public safety.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has already clearly said you can’t give them what amounts to a life sentence,” Judd said. “But we’re dealing with an extremely small percentage of people who are extremely violent, and the overwhelming majority of them would be again when set free upon society.”
But Galloni of the Southern Poverty Law Center said juveniles who commit crimes are still capable of changing the course of their lives.
“I think everyone involved in policymaking should be basing their decisions not on emotion or visceral reaction but on the science, on the facts,” she said. “And we know from the science of brain development that children are going to change.”
Original article found here.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws

Distracted Driving Laws

This chart details state cellular phone use and texting while driving laws.

  • Hand-held Cell Phone Use: 13 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. All are primary enforcement laws—an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.
  • All Cell Phone Use: No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers.
  • Text Messaging: Washington was the first state to pass a texting ban in 2007. Currently, 44 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 5 have primary enforcement. Of the 6 states without an all driver texting ban:
    • 4 prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.
    • 3 restrict school bus drivers from texting.

Crash Data Collection: Nearly all states include at least one category for distraction on police crash report forms, although the specific data collected varies. The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC) guideline provides best practices on distraction data collection.

Preemption Laws: Some states have preemption laws that prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting their own distracted driving bans. States with such laws include – but may not be limited to – Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Carolina.

Original article found here with a chart that outlines state distracted driving laws.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Family awarded $11 million in Okeechobee County DUI hit-and-run

Okeechobee County, Fla. – $11 Million was awarded to the family of a motorcyclist who was dragged 200 ft. under the wheel of a drunk driver.

Rodney Wilde still has trouble walking and speaking after a wreck that nearly killed him and caused serious brain damage four years ago.

Rodney was the victim of a DUI hit and run with Leroy Felt behind the wheel. Felt had been served alcohol for nine hours prior to the wreck at the Eagles Lodge on 441 where he was a member.

Felt also left the scene of the accident leaving the victim seriously injured on the road. Police later caught Felt who was three times over the legal alcohol limit.

A new bill moving through the legislature would mandate at least a four year minimum sentence for hit and run drivers. Currently, there is no minimum.

The jury found the Lodge negligent for serving Felt so much alcohol.

Felt was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Original article found here.

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Posted in Motorcycle Accidents

Texting Teen Found Guilty of Vehicular Homicide

A recent survey reported that American drivers texted more while driving than drivers of other countries.  Approximately 69 percent of American drivers aged 18-64 admitted talking and texting on their cell phones in the previous month when surveyed.

Distracted driving contributes up to 8,000 crashes every day, and using a cell phone quadruples your risk of crashing.

Even with such serious statistics, drivers continue to not only talk on their cell phones, but to text, as well.  Many states are placing anti-texting laws in place, and those who break these laws are beginning to suffer the consequences, as one teen in Massachusetts discovered recently.

On February 20, 2011, Aaron Deveau crashed his car into a vehicle driven by Donald Bowley.  Bowley was killed in the collision and his girlfriend was seriously injured.

The teenaged Deveau claimed not only was he tired from working that day, but be was also distracted by thoughts of his homework.  Unfortunately for Deveau, the prosecution produced phone records at his trial that showed the young man was texting moments before he crashed his car into that of Bowley, so his excuse did not fly in court.

Deveau, who is now 18 years-old, was found guilty of vehicular homicide and texting while driving.  He was sentenced by Judge Abany to four-and-a-half years imprisonment on the two charges.  Deveau’s sentence was eventually reduced to one year in jail, three years probation and the loss of his driver’s license for fifteen years. 

Although drivers have been cited for driving while texting in the state, this is the first time in Massachusetts’ history that an individual has been charged with vehicular homicide while texting. 

Many experts believe those who take lives and cause injuries while texting and driving, will be dealt with in the same way that Deveau was in the state of Massachusetts. 

Currently, there are thirty-five states with bans on texting and driving.  Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous activities to do while driving; when you are looking at the keyboard on your phone, you are not looking at the road.  Become part of the solution to this problem by vowing to change your behavior and refuse to text while driving. 

Original article found here.

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Posted in car accident

Florida Man Cannot Adopt His Girlfriend

The Third District Court of Appeals ruled that a multi-millionaire could not assume parental custody of his girlfriend.  The appellate court ruled the “adoption constituted a fraud on the court” because the man intentionally concealed the adoption from his ex-wife, who should have been notified because the adoption “directly, immediately, and financially impacted the children.”

The ruling overturned John Goodman’s 2011 court approved adoption of his girlfriend, Heather Hutchins, which changed his biological children’s entitlement of their $300 million trust fund from one-half to one-third. 

John Goodman is the founder of the Wellington Polo Club and was convicted of DUI manslaughter in March 2012 for running a stop sign and colliding with another car, killing the driver, 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson in February 2010.  The impact of Goodman’s BMW colliding with Wilson’s car, flipped the vehicle  into a canal, drowning the young man.  Sobriety tests after the fatal crash showed that Goodman had a blood alcohol level of .20, more than twice the state of Florida’s legal limit.  Goodman was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for Wilson’s death.

Goodman, who remains on house arrest at his Wellington mansion on a $7 million bond, reached a $46 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Scott Wilson’s parents.  Wilson’s family’s attorney have stated Goodman’s adoption attempt was a “brazen bid to shield his assets from the grieving parents.”

The International Polo Club Palm Beach founder quietly adopted his girlfriend in 2011, thus making her eligible for a share of the $300 million trust he had established for his biological children.  When the adoption became known to his former wife and children, a guardian for the teenage children filed a lawsuit contesting the adoption.

The court’s decision to void Goodman’s adoption of the 43-year-old Hutchins was based on Goodman’s failure to notify his ex-wife, which gave her no opportunity to protect her children’s financial interests from Hutchin’s encroachment.

Goodman’s attorney declined to comment on the ruling, saying “I have no comment, that’s all I can say right now.”

Original story found here.

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Posted in Wrongful Death

Shopper Cards Can Save Your Life

Local health departments, as well as state and federal health investigators, have discovered a new way to track down outbreaks of food borne illnesses. 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shopper cards are  now being used to track down outbreaks of food poisoning and other food borne illnesses.  The cards give detailed information – the product, the flavor, the lot code, the best by date – of all products that enter a consumer’s shopping cart.

The CDC states identifying exactly which products were purchased by victims of food poisoning has become a standard tool for public health investigators, and the agency supports the use of shopper cards during outbreak investigations.

According to the CDC, an estimated 48 million Americans contract food borne illnesses every years, with 128,000 needing hospitalization, and 3,000 dying. 

An article in NBCNews.com cites an example of two women in the same household who were struck with gastrointestinal symptoms.  The younger woman had been sick for nine days when her mother-in-law became ill with the same symptoms.  Unfortunately, the older woman’s symptoms were so severe she required hospitalization.  Both women had contracted E.coli from contaminated organic spinach and spring mix salad greens.

Health department officials were able to, with the women’s shopper card numbers, discover exactly where the contaminated greens were sold and grown, and have the contaminated product pulled from grocery store’s shelves.

Experts state that identifying the source of an outbreak early and accurately can not only result in the contaminated product being pulled from store’s shelves more quickly, but can assist doctors in prescribing the proper treatment for victims, as well. 

According to a report by the Food Marketing Institute, approximately sixty percent of retail grocery stores offer shopper cards and approximately eighty percent of consumers in this country belong to a shopper loyalty card program, with the average household participating in six shopper programs.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Texting and Driving: U.S. Number One

A recent study has shown that Americans drivers are ranked number one!  Although usually a ranking at the top is an honor, in this case, quite the opposite is true.

A survey was taken of American and European drivers to see which country’s drivers texted while driving.  Unfortunately, federal government researchers reported Americans came out on top, with approximately two-thirds of drivers admitting they texted while driving.

The countries surveyed by researchers included Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.  The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) used data from 5,000 people surveyed by Porter Novelli, a marketing and public relations firm, for the study.

The survey showed there is a big difference across both the United States and Europe in the number of drivers who admitted they get distracted by cell phones, but U.S. drivers scored the worst.

Approximately 69 percent of American drivers aged 18-64 admitted talking on a cell phone while driving in the past month.  In Britain, only 21 percent of drivers admitted to this, while in France 40 percent of adult drivers admitted to driving and talking on a cell phone. 

In Europe, most countries have hand-held cell phone bans in place.  What was surprising to researchers was the vast variation in European driver percentages across the seven countries in the survey.

Talking on a cell phone even when it is hands free is distracting, but experts agree that texting is not only enormously distracting, but dangerous as well.  Experts believe people should not use phones at all when they drive.

The University of North Texas Health Science Center in 2010 reported  those drivers distracted by cell phone use killed an estimated 16,000 people from 2001-2007, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. 

CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement, “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix.  If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cell phone.”

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Posted in Uncategorized

Giant Screen Collapses on Miami Music Festival Stage

Ultra Music Festival is an annual outdoor electronic music festival held in Downtown Miami in Bayfront Park every March.  The 2013 festival will be held over two weekends, March 15 to 17 and March 22 to 24,  with an estimated attendance of 250,000.

Unfortunately on Thursday night, four members of the crew setting up the stage for the festival were injured when a giant video screen collapsed on them, trapping the men underneath.  The accident apparently happened when the screen was hoisted up in the air to be part of the stage.  Tragically, instead it came tumbling down on top of the workers.

According to a Miami fire official, two people suffered  life-threatening injuries, including serious head injuries and other fractures and were transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital for treatment.  The fire official reported the two other stage workers injured sustained minor injuries in the collapse, with one receiving treatment at the scene of the accident and another being transported to a local hospital.

A section of the concert area at Bayfront Park will be closed off to concert-goers because of the accident.  However, the event has six other stages and the event will begin as scheduled at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.

Both OSHA and  Miami Fire Rescue investigators returned to Bayfront Park on Friday to determine the cause of the accident.  In a news release late Thursday night, festival officials said, “Festival organizers are working with and supporting authorities as they investigate the details behind the accident.”

When you are injured at work, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney.  Even though workers compensation laws provide financial protection for employees who have been injured at work, making a successful claim is not easy and may require the assistance of a skilled, experienced attorney.  A knowledgeable Florida personal injury lawyer will carefully examine your case and pursue the compensation you deserve.

Original story found here.

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Posted in Brain Injuries, Common Injuries, Personal Injury

March: Brain Injury Awareness Month

March has been designated as brain injury awareness month, and the Brain Injury Association of America’s message for its 2013 awareness campaign is “Brain Injuries do not discriminate.” 

  A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.  A TBI can range in severity from “mild” to “severe”.  The majority of TBI’s that occur each are concussions.

The association reports the following facts:

  • 1.7 million people, including 475,000 children, sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in this country every year.  Of those who sustain a TBI, 52,000 die, 275,000 will require hospitalization and 1.3 million will be treated and released from an emergency room.
  • TBI contributes to one-third of all injury-related deaths in the U.S. each year.
  • 3.1 million people live with lifelong disability as a result of TBI.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that TBI costs this country $76.3 billion each year in direct medical costs and indirect costs.
  • Causes of TBI include falls (35 percent), car crashes (17 percent), work place accidents (16 percent), and assaults (10 percent).

According to the Brain Injury Association of America, for many Americans a  TBI is the start of a lifelong neurological disability, which is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.  When a TBI is sustained, immediate access to specialized trauma care, followed by specialized rehabilitation and lifelong disease management are some of the elements needed to restore and maintain an individual’s quality of life.

More information on TBI can be found at www.cdc.gov or www.biausa.org.

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Posted in Brain Injuries

Fans Hurt at Daytona Speedway

Fans at Daytona International Speedway were injured when one racer’s car collided with another’s car and became airborne,  sending tires and other debris flying  into the grandstands.

The crash that injured fans happened in the last lap of the race, a race that had already been stopped for twenty minutes by a thirteen car pile-up five laps from the finish.  In that crash, driver Michael Annett was transported to a local hospital with, according to his Richard Petty Motorsports team, chest bruising.

The final lap collision occurred when the leader of the race, Regan Smith,  tried to block Brad Keselowski in an attempt to keep the lead.  Cars began crashing all around these two driver’s cars, and when rookie Kyle Larson collided with Keselowski’s car, his car went airborne and crashed into the fence dividing the race track from the grandstands, a fence that tragically was lined with fans.  The entire front end of Larson’s car was sheared off, and large pieces of the car landed in the grandstands injuring fans in the upper deck.

Dave Byron, Volusia County spokesman, said there were six seriously injured people who were transported by ambulance to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach.  He added that two people with minor injuries were transported to other local hospitals.

NASCAR President Mike Helton said  it was fortunate there were many emergency workers around at the time of the crash, and added the workers took care of the injured very quickly.

Tony Stewart won the race for the nineteenth time, but was in no mood for celebrating.  Stewart said, “We’ve always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport.  But it’s hard.  We assume that risk, but it’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.”

Original article can be read here.

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Posted in car accident, Uncategorized