Stephanie Ragusa: OK class, who can spell PREDATOR?

I have got to do it. I need to have a special bLAWgger category for Stephanie Ragusa, a.k.a. Debra LaFave on steriods. Or quadruple estrogen shots.

At first, I laughed about this lady like everyone else, lumping her in with the seemingly constant wave of other teachers who apparently don’t have TV and internet and know that you can actually go to prison for having sex with underage students. Then, oops, she did it again. And again. Then she mugged for the jailhouse camera. Then she went back to the scene of the crime for some mo’. Then she talked to the kid on the phone about the situation. And the word on the street is that when talking to attorneys about the case, she wanted to hire a publicist as a part of her defense team.

Wow, I slowly came to realize, she’s not just stupid, she has serious mental issues. Let’s see, what’s the math here? One sociopatic teacher, plus a lesson not learned, plus being free on bail, plus doing the same criminal act repeatedly, equals . . . . a sexual predator. Yo, teach, I think I get extra credit for this one.

Sexual predators take on all different shapes. By the Ragusa standard, Debra LaFave and Jaymee Wallace are not predators, they are simply offenders (the Florida Statutes may say different, but common sense screams that neither of those ladies was anything like Ragusa). And both LaFave and Wallace showed remorse and evidenced that remorse by changin their lives and not repeating the behavior. Ragusa is in a class by herself.

Why the publicist? That is classic hearsay, but it is consistent with her grinning for the booking photos and her running to the reporters upon her release on bond. That plan backfired, eh, Stephanie? You’re still in jail this time, and you can’t ignore the law, the conditions of a bond, or common decency while you’re in the hoosgow.

So now what for Ragusa? Her tape with the victim is out there, showing her deviousness and planning. She has umpteen SERIOUS charges coming her way. By the way, are there more boys out there? I’ll take the over on that bet. And she ain’t gettin’ outta jail. Good job, Steph. Way to try to make the State look like buffoons. I’m also betting that they have the last laugh in this . . .

JB

Nick Bollea: a judicial tapout

A judge in Clearwater, Florida has sentenced the 17-year-old son of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan to eight months in jail for reckless driving. He will also be on five years’ probation and lose his driving privileges for three years.

Authorities say Bollea was racing a friend in his father’s sports car when he clipped a curb, spun out of control and slammed into a palm tree in downtown Clearwater, Florida, in August.

Bollea pleaded no contest to the reckless driving charge. The verdict was announced Friday, and Bollea was led off to begin his sentence immediately after Friday’s ruling.

This is the first time this young man has been charged with a felony. His driving record is not “bad” by any stretch of the imagination; I have seen traffic violators with page after page of DUIs, suspended license charges, unpaid tickets, and the like. Bollea only had a few citations, mostly for speeding.

Bollea has apparently been upset and remorseful for the accident. It is his best friend that is now permanently brain damaged, a fact that he will live with for the rest of his life. Bollea is not a callous, uncaring individual, so obviously the accident itself will have a tremendous impact on him – for the good. No one would think that he’s going to be street racing again, so the community is pretty safe.

What good is a jail sentence going to do young Nick? Jail is a form of punishment, not rehabilitaion. In fact, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code starts with the statement that punishment is the primary goal of the Code, with rehabilitation a desired, but secondary, goal. So we know that there is no logic to senencing this kid to jail and having it magically change his ways behind the wheel. But, had the judge wanted to, he could have sentenced him to five years in prison for this crime.

From a judicial standpoint, the sentence looks tough. There are those that will say that this judge is a “law and order” judge that is making an example of him. And, as judges are elected officials, that’s good publicity for the robe.

But does the sentence make any sense? If it was bad enough for incarceration, why not throw the book at him and send him to big-boy prison for three to five years? That is punishment. Or, if the goal is rehabilitation, then why send him to the county jail for eight months, where he will get no driving lessons, make no useful speeches about the evils of street racing, and basically just languish doing nothing.

While it appears to be a happy medium, it’s really a judicial tapout (to borrow the term from wrestling – sorry Hootie). The sentence was to be a probation sentence with a suspended driver license. The jail part was thrown in to appease the court-watching voters who may actually remember this case come election time. The idea is that the defense gets what it wants and the kid is on probation, but the State and the people get a little skin off of his nose with a jail sentence. The judicial justificaiton is that hey, he’s young and a few months won’t kill him. (*bLAWgger note: a review of the Florida Division of Elections website indicates that the judge in Bollea’s case is NOT up for election this term.)

But the question is, was it really necessary, or could be be using him on the outside to speak pubically about the case, and use that jail space for a real criminal? Resoundingly, yes.

JB

UPDATE: Justin Cox "sleepwalking" to acquittal

The bLAWgger stands corrected. Apparently there WAS expert testimony in the case, and the jurors had opinioins from both the State and the defense. As I always say, “good prosecution, good defense, and let the jury sort it out.”

But don’t try this at home, folks. You can’t just commit a crime (or any act) and expext to have a jury (or your parents, or spouse) excuse you because you say you were sleepwalking. As exemplified here, you have to be able to put your money (in the form of expert witness fees) where your mouth is, and be able to back it up.

Sleepwalking: a defense to a crime??

28-year old Justin Cox is on trial in Orlando, Florida, for the crime of child molestation (lewd & lascivious act) of a 12-year-old girl. His defense? He was sleepwalking at the time, and as he was not conscious, had no intent to commit the crime.

A defense to any crime requiring specific intent (which is essentially the state of mind to intend that the specific act itself be committed; the opposite is a “general intent” crime, which is intending to do an act and the act itself is illegal – I could write an entire bLAWgger dissertation on that issue) is the lack of intent to commit the specific crime. Insanity is a common defense in that situation: the person lacked the capcity to form the intent due to a menal illness, and either did not know what he or she was doing, or if he or she did, did not know that it was a crime. Jurys rarely buy such a defense unless there is a substantial history of mental illness and the defense expert witnesses are compelling and convincing.

Sleepwalking (known by the white-coat crowd as “somnambulism”) is an interesting defense. From a defense perspective, it could likely be effective if a defendant had a history of sleep problems, especially if there was expert testimony that he or she had been through a sleep study and found to have had documented bouts of sleepwalking. The study of sleep disorders is a highly-evolved field of science, and under the rules governing the admission of expert testimony, would in all liklihood be permitted as a defense and the expert allowed to opine as to the ultimate issue: did the defendant have the intent to commit the crime.

From a prosecution standpoint, if there is no history of sleepwalking and no expert to verify the claim, it would be easy to shoot holes in the defendant’s story. If a defendant simlply comes in to court and makes the claim for the first time, it appears contrived and a jury will likely reject it. On the other hand, if there is an expert to back the defendant up, the prosecutor would have his own expert review the case, the medical history, and the defendant’s story to contradict the defense.

However, the “sleepwalking defense” is not unique. In 1992, the Canadian Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of Kenneth Parks, who said he was sleepwalking when he drove 14 miles, stabbed his mother-in-law to death and seriously injured his father-in-law. In the early 1980s in Arizona, attorneys for Steven Steinberg called psychiatrists who testified he may have been sleepwalking or in a “dissociative mental state” when he stabbed his wife 26 times. Steinberg was found innocent on the ground he was temporarily insane when he killed his wife.

However, there are plenty of cases out there where is has NOT been successful and the defendant has been convicted. In 1999 a Phoenix man, Scott Falater, was convicted of murder for stabbing his wife 44 times, dragging her to the swimming pool and holding her head underwater, then changing his clothes. Falater claimed he was fast asleep and remembered nothing. A Colorado jury rejected the sleepwalking defense of Stephen Reitz and convicted him of first-degree murder, after his claim that he was sleepwalking when he stabbed and beat his married girlfriend to death in a hotel room. Reitz told authorities he woke up to find the woman dead at the foot of his bed in hotel room, and that he didn’t remember what happened, but said he had “flashbacks” in which he recalled that he dreamed of struggling with a male intruder. He also said he figured he killed the girlfriend, because stab wounds on the back of her neck resembled wounds he would inflict to kill sharks he caught. (**bLAWgger NOTE: this is an example of not having good experts, and simply asking a jury to buy a phony defense).

The only case I can find in Florida on sleepwalking is from 1903, and not a criminal case. Probably because the courts are not asked to pass on whether it is a viable defense or not. You see, under Florida law, a judge is pretty much required to allow a defendant to present virtually any defense supported by some evidence. So, unless a judge somewhere had prevented a defendant from presenting such a defense, and the defendant appealed that decision after a conviction, there wouldn’t be any reported case addressing whether it’s viable or not.

From my perspective as a criminal trial lawyer, I could see the “sleepwalking defense” work where there is an act of violence, like a fight or a stabbing. The argument is that the defendant somehow dreamed or imagined that he or she was being attacked and fought back in self-defense. But in a case where a sexual act is performed on a child . . . I am not sure a jury will go for that. Especially when Cox got on the stand yesterday and let the defense fly for the first time, with the only apparent support for the claim coming from his mother, who testified that the disorder runs in the family. Apparently there are no experts to back him up, and he was drinking heavily on the night of the incident. (**bLAWgger note: another example of not having good experts, and simply asking a jury to buy a phony defense. Good luck with that, Justin).

JB

What a way to start the bLAWg: a courthouse shooting.

I just read where a guy pulled a gun and shot at courthouse security deputies in St. Pete earlier today.

What the hell is wrong with people? Why does an innocent deputy, trying to protect the rest of us, have to get injured, and other deputies have to live with the trauma of having to cap this jerk? Thank God there were no civilians hurt by this nutcase.

I go in and out of courthouses every day. I have been in that courthouse many times. I take it for granted that there are deranged whackadoos who can just go nuts at any time out there. The lesson for all of us: be aware of your surroundings. Know where you are at all times, and know what is happening around you. We live in a strange world. Please be careful, and don’t hesitate to tell authorities about anything unusual. Being aloof could cost you your life.