On May 29, 2014 the Florida Supreme Court amended Florida Criminal Procedural Rule 3.220, the rule governing discovery (the formal exchange of information/evidence between the prosecuting agency and a defendant). The Court moved to amend the discovery rule based on a report from Florida’s Innocence Commission which made the amendment recommendation relating to informant witnesses because many wrongful convictions stem from such witnesses. If you’d like a better understanding on the informant system and its many inherent problems, please take the time to read, “Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.” Alexandra Natapoff, Also visit, Snitching.org.
The Florida Supreme Court stated,
“We agree with the Commission that rule 3.220 should be amended to include more detailed disclosure requirements with respect to informant witnesses, because informant witnesses are not currently specifically treated under the rule and they constitute the basis for many wrongful convictions.”
The Court did so on its own motion after its Criminal Court Steering Committee and Florida’s Criminal Procedure Rules Committee decided, in spite of the Innocence Commission’s report, that the rule did not need any amending. Incredible.
Recently the Tampa Bay Times ran an article titled, “Hillsborough cases delayed over evidence sharing dispute” The article reports that the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office currently has a policy in place which restricts the ability of someone accused of a crime to make full use of discovery per Florida’s discovery rule. Although, the rule allows someone charged with a criminal offense to inspect, copy, test, and photograph discoverable evidence., the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office, at the urging of Tampa Police Department (“TPD”), is now establishing its own “policy”. The article reports that currently the State Attorney’s office does not allow attorneys to copy recordings in drug cases involving confidential informants. The TBT article stated, “When the Tampa Police Department asked the State Attorney’s Office to increase restrictions on who could view the recordings, and on what terms, prosecutors readily agreed.”
The State Attorney’s office justifies its new “policy” by citing to Rachel’s Law . However, Rachel’s law was created in response to the gross police mishandling of an informant recruit (Tallahassee’s finest coerced Rachel Hoffman into becoming an informant after arresting and putting the fear of God in her).
Here are some of the casualties on the war on drugs due to the government enlisting informants as soldiers (some of these soldiers could not dodge the government’s draft on the basis of being conscientious objectors, reluctance of diming out others to save their own skin).
War on Drugs and Snitch System: Casualties
Ms. Kathryn Johnston (elderly woman)
It appears that confidential informants have a special place in the heart of TPD:
Thankfully, Hillsborough’s judiciary is not marching lockstep with a movement seeking to create discovery rule restrictions. The golden gavel award goes to those judges who are able to balance the immense responsibility of rendering decisions that protect society while giving equal weight to the protection of constitutional rights. I tip my hat off to these judges for being sensitive to that delicate balance.
Chief Judge Ronald Ficarotta (he opted out of joining the anti-constitutional conga line when urged by the State Attorney’s office to, via administrative rule, make its new “policy” the policy of the court system in Hillsborough. A win for “we the people”).
Judge Thomas Barber (Judge Barber presides over the pending case discussed in TBT’s article. Judge Barber has ordered the State to reveal the identity of its confidential source. The state has not complied and a motion for sanctions is pending. Stay tunned).
Special mention and kudos to HCACDL and a group of upstanding gents/madams who aren’t willing to give up even an inch of due process and they rose to the occasion to resist such an effort. HCACDL and a significant number of attorneys led the charge (they submitted a letter to Judges Ficarotta and Menendez Jr. compellingly detailing why the State Attorney’s policy should not be implemented as an administrative court rule. Read a copy of the letter here). The citizenry can sleep well at night that these individuals are on guard.