Florida Convict Appealing 162 Year Sentence Over Warrantless GPS Evidence

from the tumbling-down dept

A couple of months back, Tim Cushing wrote about a Massachusetts court finding that warrants are indeed required in order for law enforcement to get cell phone GPS data for use in a criminal case. That victory for the Fourth Amendment rights of US citizens was bound to have wide-ranging repercussions within the legal and penal systems. We didn't have to wait long, as one Florida man is appealing his 162 year prison sentence because prosecutors relied in part on locations data obtained without a warrant in his trial.

Lawyers for a south Florida man serving almost 162 years in prison for his role in a string of armed robberies told a U.S. appeals court that prosecutors had no right to use cell phone location data during his trial and the double life sentence without parole was cruel and unusual punishment. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that authorities should have had to show probable cause and obtain a search warrant before seeing cellphone records for 22-year-old Quartavious Davis. The case comes as federal circuit and appeals courts around the country have been wrestling with cellphone privacy issues.
Now, it should be noted that the prosecution also had the testimony of several alleged accomplices of Davis', who all received shorter sentences for their cooperation, and this post isn't intended to proclaim his innocence. In fact, he may very well be guilty, which is what makes the government's cavalier attitude towards gathering evidence all the more egregious. If this guy is guilty and walks on a technicality, when better police work could have kept him behind bars, that's on the government.

That said, regardless of his guilt, the sentencing aspect of this case is insane.
The unusually long sentence stemmed from a controversial practice known as "stacking," in which each charge in an indictment is counted as a separate crime. The policy transforms a first-time offender into a "habitual criminal" subject to multiple sentences and mandatory sentencing guidelines.

The district court judge said if he had been able to make the decision himself, "he would have given him 40 years with parole," said Shapiro.
Nothing like a little prosecutorial trick to simultaneously make a name for one's self and ensure that justice takes a backseat to politicizing the life-sentence of a man prosecuted with warrantless GPS data.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:33pm

    The unusually long sentence stemmed from a controversial practice known as "stacking," in which each charge in an indictment is counted as a separate crime. The policy transforms a first-time offender into a "habitual criminal" subject to multiple sentences and mandatory sentencing guidelines.

    I must be missing something. Isn't each charge, by definition, a separate (alleged) crime? If you get charged with three counts of murder, for example, that means that you are accused of having murdered three people, right? And doesn't this make a person guilty of these multiple offenses not a first time offender, again by definition?

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:48pm

    I think the "first time offender" versus "repeat offender" idea is popularly believed to refer to the number of times the defendant has been released from prison, only to go commit more crimes and wind up back in court for a new slate of offenses. In that context, saying someone is a repeat offender because you proved he committed multiple crimes before he was ever caught once violates the common definition of "repeat offender." Now, for some classes of crimes, it may make sense to argue that even a first time offender is too dangerous to be let out early, but the technique described is a way to avoid that debate and jump straight to high mandatory minimums.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Re:

    No. What the prosecution is saying, is that the defendant had already been arrested in the past, and is charging him as a "hibitual offender", when in fact this is the first time in his life he's ever been in front of a judge.

    So the prosecution is attempting to say he's been arrested and charged with crimes in the past, and already has a criminal history. When in fact, this is the first time in his life that he's ever been arrested.

    So he should have been charged as a first time offender, not a "hibitual offender". It's true they're charging his with multiple charges, but it's still his first time in front of the justice system. Making him a first time offender.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:54pm

    Re:

    They are separate charges committed during the same one act, hence the punishment for all of the ones you are convicted of come at the same time.

    Where as in this case, since these armed robberies were distinctly separate acts, it gave the prosecutor leeway to "stack" them. One trial, but each is counted as a separate crime thereby triggering automatic mandatory sentencing.



    EG: A person commits multiple assaults and are convicted of all of them. Say the first conviction they get 5 years, then second is counted as strike two, and says he must get no less then 10, then third is counted strike three and mandatory minimum is 25, etc. Even though there was only one trial, they count individually and the person get's screwed with the mandatory minimum.

    (NOTE: no idea what the mandatory minimums are, that was just an example :) )

     

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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 4:24pm

    Re: Re:

    So the number of trials is more important than the number of crimes? I'm not sure I follow, because it just sort of seems that if that logic is carried to its conclusion, a serial killer with 10 dead bodies buried in the backyard but no previous record deserves leniency due to being a first-time offender.

     

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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 5:19pm

    Maybe class action suits should be made legal so a community can destroy destructive prosecutors.

     

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  7.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The number of trials/convictions matters when it comes to the sentencing. In your example, there's nothing that would keep a judge from finding them guilty of 10 counts of murder.

    However, for lighter crimes, as the AC noted, the number, rather than severity, can have a much higher impact, making it so even if it's a more minor crime, the judge is forced, due to mandatory sentencing, to increase the penalty.

    The 'logic', if you can call it that, is that if someone is breaking the law multiple times, even after being punished, the punishment needs to be 'upped' to discourage further lawbreaking(ignoring for the moment the fact that if discouragements like that worked they wouldn't have committed the crime in the first place, and the fact that US prisons are atrocious at treatment and crime prevention, and focus entirely on punishment and revenge).

     

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  8.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 6:29pm

    Re:

    'Statutory sentencing' is right alongside 'plea deals' at 'perversions of justice', as they destroy the judge's ability to vary sentencing depending on the circumstances of the crime, and reduce it to a simple equation, where action A, no matter the circumstances, get's punishment A. Action B, punishment B, and so on.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 10:37pm

    Re: Re:

    The biggest problem is that the current system effectively gives control of the sentence to the prosecutor, who can "game" the rules to either drastically increase or decrease the threatened sentence. This lets the prosecutor create unbearable pressure on a defendant to "cut a deal", despite the viability of a defense or in the worst cases actual innocence.

     

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  10.  
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    Bergman (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 12:22am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Under Florida's three strikes law, three convictions for jaywalking could result in a life sentence.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 7:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Number of trials versus number of unique offenses

    So the number of trials is more important than the number of crimes?
    The number of trials is a proxy for the number of times the defendant has been sent to prison, served a sentence, been released, and then committed another crime. A "repeat offender" is supposed to be one who has shown no interest in pursuing a non-criminal lifestyle, despite having been through prison and ostensibly having the opportunity to repent - possibly even multiple times. As noted in the second comment, some crimes, such as your multiple homicide serial killer, are so abhorrent that even a first time offender ought to be subject to a long sentence.

    On the other hand, consider a previously-clean-record accomplice who was present at multiple burglaries of unoccupied homes all on a single day, and is caught the next week. Is this hypothetical accomplice just as bad as a burglar who serves a sentence, contacts his old crew, robs a house, gets convicted, serves that sentence, and repeats it until he has hit the same number of houses as the "first time offender" accomplice who hit all the houses on the same day, possibly before appreciating the severity of the crime and its sentence? Both ought to be convicted and serve time, but to me, the second one is a far greater menace to society because his actions show that he will rob houses every time he goes free. The first timer might be the same way or he might learn from his time in prison and reform. Repeat offender rules were designed to cover unrepentant criminals who will keep offending until they die (possibly of old age in prison).

    I grant that some crimes deserve a high first time sentence and that there may exist crimes where the sentence is either too high or too low for the severity of the crime, but the solution to that imbalance is to change the law to adjust the penalty, not to abuse a poorly constructed automatic minimum sentence formula in a way that causes a sentence substantially out of line with what the law says the sentence for that crime should be.

     

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  12.  
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    Rekrul, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:38am

    The unusually long sentence stemmed from a controversial practice known as "stacking," in which each charge in an indictment is counted as a separate crime.

    More like "stacking" the deck against the suspect.

     

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  13.  
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    Rekrul, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So the number of trials is more important than the number of crimes? I'm not sure I follow, because it just sort of seems that if that logic is carried to its conclusion, a serial killer with 10 dead bodies buried in the backyard but no previous record deserves leniency due to being a first-time offender.

    Common sense should be used. A serial killer is a much bigger danger than most other criminals.

    Let's say that you live in a state with a three strikes law and mandatory life sentencing for people who get three strikes. You fall on hard times and decide to break in and rob a corner store after hours. On the way out, the cops show up, and you run.

    You committed breaking and entering, strike one, you stole money, strike two, and you resisted arrest by running, strike three. Even though this is the first time you ever broke the law, you're sentenced to life in prison.

    Is that fair?

     

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    Josh, Jun 7th, 2014 @ 11:00am

    Re: Re: Re:

    In that case the punishment for a first time offender would not be any different. In Florida murder is a capital crime, so there's not really any way to make that worse. But Florida, and a number of other states, have laws regarding multiple re-offenders, particularly when it involves the same crime.

    For instance if you are convicted of jaywalking 3 times, and you are charged a fourth time the fourth charge is upgraded to a 3rd degree felony and you can be sentenced to up to a year in jail. This is known as "habitualization". It is intended to punish repeat offender of relatively minor crimes more severely for the fact that they don't learn the lesson.

    However in this case, the convictions were stacked in such a way so that the accused was habitualized for his "First Offense". Whereas his crimes would have resulted in along prison sentence regardless, there would have remained the potential that, with good behavior, he could have one day been released.

    Unfortunately for the cause of justice, the prosecutor was more interested in making a name for themselves than actually executing they law properly. The consequence of this malfeasance is that there is a reasonable chance that a criminal, who for all intents should be in prison for the next few decades, will walk free without having to demonstrate any remorse or rehabilitation whatsoever.

    The fact is that the law is not perfect, and sometimes people are not punished for crimes that are clearly guilty of. But the possibility of that is not justification for trampling the rights of the accused. As Sir Blackstone stated "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer". Because the first purpose of law is to protect. That includes everyone, not just the law abiding. Even criminals have the right to be protected. And when they are the victims of over aggressive political prosecution and that prosecution crosses the line drawn by the law itself, those who are charged with upholding that most sacred trust, the enforcement of law, are guilty of a most heinous crime. The crime of perverting the law itself for mere personal gain.

    So I ask you: what is the difference between a man who robs a store to put money in his pocket and a prosecutor robs that same man of his rights, his dignity, and his very life in the name of "Justice" to gain political capital he can use in the next election?

    The answer, in my opinion, is precious little!

     

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