Stand Your Ground Needs Transparency

The other day at an event I was speaking at the issue of Stand Your Ground was asked. I wanted to share with you a recent piece I wrote and was published in the Seminole Chronicle on this topic. You can view the piece on the Seminole Chronicle website BY CLICKING HERE. Here is the entire text of the piece.

Stand Your Ground Needs Transparency

By Ryan Vescio | August 22, 2012

Six months ago, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was something that we prosecutors argued and debated in courtrooms across this state, and most citizens knew about it only if they were the victim of or alleged to have committed a crime of violence. Due to everything that has occurred here in Seminole County, discussion of this law has reached from our dinner tables to the highest levels of government.

The concept of self-defense has been an important and necessary legal principle since the creation of our criminal justice system. Whether on a playground, in a dark alley or in an argument with a sibling, all persons should be allowed to protect themselves against imminent harm. The question we now face is whether the law of good intention passed by the legislature has led to unattended consequences.

At its essence, questions about self-defense and whether Stand Your Ground applies comes down to credibility. The current law requires investigating law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and if asked, judges to decide whether a potential suspect “reasonably believe[d] that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” according to Section 776.012(1) of the Florida Statutes.

The determination of reasonable fear is something that a criminal jury has decided in self-defense trials prior to the Stand Your Ground law. Juries sit as neutral representatives of our community to determine cases and controversies. What is important is that juries have been presented this information in the light of a courtroom, with all parties and the public present to ensure the fairness of the presentation of information. I have trusted juries throughout my career as a prosecutor to make the right decision and I trust juries to make the right decision about Stand Your Ground and self-defense issues.

The application of the Stand Your Ground law has taken this presentation of information and evidence out of the light of the courtroom and placed it within the closed doors of the police or sheriff’s station. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors across our state work hard to seek justice fairly.

However, this change has led to a decline of the public’s trust that these decisions are being made based upon all the known facts and without the intervention of inappropriate influence.

If a law enforcement agency decides that Stand Your Ground applies in a case and does not make an arrest, there is no requirement that the investigation be submitted to the State Attorney’s Office for a second review, as is done in other types of cases. In these cases, a second review by the State Attorney’s Office would establish a layer of transparency so that everyone understands why decisions are made and to preserve the public trust in government, law and justice.

When decisions are made in the dark and not subject to review, the potential for an incomplete decision or review is present. It is near impossible to ever determine if these decisions are based upon something other than the facts and law. However, the perception of fairness of our criminal justice system is even more important than whether our system is actually fair. We have an obligation to rebuild public trust in our criminal justice. By requiring a second review of these cases, we will increase public trust in the fairness and equality of our criminal justice system.

Support Comes In Many Forms

Last night, I had the privilege to address the Space Coast League of Cities along with some fellow candidates. I was proud to talk about my vision of community building and economic development through the fighting of financial fraud. However, the best argument on why I should be elected our next State Attorney came from Republican Sheriff candidate Wayne Ivey.

During his presentation, Wayne shared the following facts:

-  Brevard County ranks number 106 nationwide in the number of financial fraud cases committed;

-  Federally, more child exploitation cases are prosecuted in Central Florida, and the number one agency that refers these child exploitation cases for federal prosecution is the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office;

-  Murder cases have increased in Brevard County approximately 300 percent this past year.

Statistics this clear illustrate that those currently leading our fight against crime are not getting the job done. This election comes down to an issue of accountability, and who should be held accountable for Brevard county having more victims than the previous year.

To borrow the words of Donald Trump, “In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish.” It is time to measure what the State Attorney’s Office has accomplished and measure their leaders for their results.

Not only do the statistics that Wayne speaks about above show a lack of accomplishment, but according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, crime is up in Brevard county, especially violent crime. That means that this past year more Brevard county residence were raped, robbed, beaten, and burglarized. The next 27 days, and voters on election day will answer the question of who should be held accountable.

My opponent, who brags about being the current State Attorney’s right hand man, touts his leadership in the development of programs and problem solving. We also hear about programs that used to be in existence, and used to work. Programs to reduce crime should already be in place, but they are not. In addition, we know that crime has increased.

So in closing I want to thank Mr. Ivey for making the case why the programs, initiatives, and leaders currently in place fighting crime are not getting the job done.

Corruption and the Fight Against It

Sunday’s Florida Today editorial page included an editorial entitled “Make a choice on corruption” to highlight the issue of corruption in Brevard County. This is a fundamental issue that defines this election for State Attorney, and sets me apart from my opponent.

My approach to corruption begins with the creation of a new Government Integrity Unit that would have the responsibility to investigate issues of corruption and prosecute those cases when necessary. This unit would include specially trained prosecutors and investigators. As I have seen first hand within the Government Accountability Unit I have worked with in Orange County, these units not only prosecute those who have broken the law, but deter other officials from engaging in this conduct.

In contrast, my opponent has taken a position to support the very institutions that have conducted these questionable practices and has refused to investigate these cases. As he said at the State Attorney debate hosted by Florida Today, “It’s (corruption) not nearly the problem that would justify a whole new unit…” This is the mindset that has failed to protect our community, and an example of why new leadership is necessary to finally get the job done.

How many corruption cases are acceptable to our community? I hope more than anything that my Government Integrity Unit never receives a case to investigate or prosecute. However, given the track record of those in the past in Brevard County, this scenario is unlikely.

Having fought this issue first-hand, I have seen what corruption does to our community. As the editorial stated today:  “Time and time again, those with access to detectives, warrants and subpoenas have shrugged off cases as too small or too hard to prove. Like corruption itself, the cost of those decisions add up.”

As we see time and time again, people do not trust their elected officials. It is time to rebuild trust of our community in the offices and officials that we select to serve us. As our next State Attorney, I will fight this fight.

Women’s Advisory Group Announcement

The Campaign to Elect Ryan J. Vescio for State Attorney of the 18th Judicial Circuit is proud to announce our next campaign event scheduled for Thursday, August 16 from 5:30-7:30 pm at The Gallery at Interlachen, located at 5510 Lake Howell Rd., Winter Park, FL 32792.

This event, hosted by a number of women leaders in our community, will focus on issues important to women and how the State Attorney can work on these problems. The event will include a roundtable discussion at 6:30, and we hope that you can attend.

Click the following link for the event invitation Women’s Advisory Group Invitation, and to RSVP to the event please email Kathryn Rudloff at ksrudloff@gmail.com.

The Fight Against Domestic Violence

Image

photo credit Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel

Last week ended an 18-month case I handled which was an example of domestic violence at its’ worse. To bring awareness to Domestic Violence issues, Christy Martin and I will appear on WFTV Channel 9′s Central Florida Spotlight on Saturday, May 5 at 12:30 pm (Brighthouse Channel 9 and 1090), and will be re-aired Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 pm on WRDQ TV-27 (Brighthouse Channel 10 and 1027) where we will discuss issues involving domestic violence and the case.

The case of the State of Florida vs. James Martin was one where Christy was controlled over a 20 year period. When she tried to leave the relationship, she was stalked, harassed, blackmailed, and attacked. She was stabbed multiple times, shot in the chest, and left for dead. Christy, the first successful female professional boxer ever, drew on her inner strength and desire to live in order to drag herself out of her house and to safety. James Martin was convicted of Attempted 2nd Degree Murder With a Firearm, and is pending sentencing on June 26. Here is the promo from Channel 9′s website (http://www.wftv.com/s/news/centralfloridaspotlight/):

A local professional boxer found herself in the fight of her life outside of the ring when she was brutally attacked by her former husband.

Christy Martin recently had to take the stand against James Martin, coming face to face with the man she says stabbed her repeatedly, before shooting her.

It’s just another example of a frightening epidemic in Central Florida that seems to be getting worse.

This this Central Florida Spotlight we look at domestic violence. It’s something that fills our newscasts all too often.

Professional boxer Christy Martin and attorney Ryan Vescio will be our guests.

We will link the video of the show to our website after the episode airs.

Today Is The Day!!!

Friends,

Today is the last day of this fundraising quarter. I had the chance to talk with an old friend of mine the other day, and through our conversation this is what she had to say:

 
     “I’m so baffled by everything that’s going on in Sanford and I’m so glad you’re stepping up and saying what needs to be said.  I grew up not far from Sanford, in Longwood and it honestly seems like a different world.  I spent time working in Sanford in a medical clinic and the people there didn’t seem to trust the police/law enforcement AT ALL.  The first time I heard someone say “I got robbed, but… didn’t call the police” I was thinking “well, OK, you must have had something to hide”…but no, that wasn’t it at all. They don’t call because nobody actually cared that they got robbed. After about the 3rd time hearing it, that started to sink in. And it was horrifying. 
     What happened in Sanford (no matter how it happened) is a tragedy and what makes it worse, the “salt in the wound”, is that without this media circus giving people a voice to raise concerns, this never would have been investigated. It’s embarrassing, it’s disgusting and above all, it’s sad.  I don’t know what happened that night, I think there might only be one person who really does.  What I do know is that I’m glad I can say that I know and support somebody who can take an objective look at the information presented and realize that yes, we do need to put aside all the noise and the double talk and look more and dig deeper.  I’m happy that people who believe in transparency still exist and want to take a role in my community.”
 
   She then went on to say that she wished that she could make a large financial contribution to our campaign. However, since she is about to graduate medical school, money is very tight. However, she promised to set aside her coffee money for the next few weeks in order to give something to help.
 
     At the end of the day, campaigns are success because people believe in the candidate and the message. This process has been so humbling so far, and I am truly thankful for all the support. Since it is the last day of the fundraising quarter, I will ask for your financial support. If you can give, click on the donate tab on the top of the webpage or go to http://votevescio.com/donate and donate what you can. If you can’t, then send me a message of support either here on the page or to my email at ryan@votevescio.com.
     Thank you for all that you have done, and promised to do over the next 8 months.

Trayvon Martin Case – Incompetence Is Not a Conflict

Ryan’s Press Conference Remarks of March 26, 2012

Today, I am calling on Norm Wolfinger to release any and all correspondence and reveal to the public any conversations he and the State Attorney’s Office of Brevard and Seminole County has had with Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and their staff members as to his reasons for ducking this case and sending those looking for justice elsewhere.

What concerns me greatly, as a citizen of Seminole County, as an Assistant State Attorney, and as a candidate for State Attorney here in the 18th Judicial Circuit, is that Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi have to step in and appoint a Special Prosecutor over this important case that now has national implications. We all must now wait longer and will have to be provided with justice not by the man elected by our community, but from another jurisdiction in Florida.

The letter that Norm Wolfinger signed said he was trying to, “avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” By now, a month has gone by since Trayvon Martin was killed.  What took the State Attorney’s Office three weeks to now claim a potential conflict of interest?

Is the State Attorney related to Mr. Zimmerman or the Martin family?

Has he represented one of them in a previous case?

Is in business relationship with one of both of them?

If so, what took three weeks to discover this?  Our community should demand nothing more than simple justice and the simple truth about this case from all those involved.

Let’s be honest.  Incompetence is not a conflict of interest, and barring some sort of relationship between the State Attorney’s Office and one of the parties here, the truth is that the either the Governor felt the need to step in or the State Attorney’s Office realized they could not fairly bring justice in this case.

After three weeks of inaction by the State Attorney’s Office, the community is left to wonder what the “conflict of interest” could have been and how long this has impacted the pursuit of justice?

The State Attorney’s Office should be transparent with their communications, written or oral, with the Governor, Attorney General and any of their staff members and should release those documents to the public immediately.

We need to know why the State Attorney’s office was bypassed by the Governor in this case.  I say again incompetence is not a conflict of interest. When the public safety of our citizens depends on the disqualification of the State Attorney’s Office, the message is sent that the office has lost the ability to apply equal justice under the law and protect our community.

I became a prosecutor because I wanted to put bad guys in jail.  All prosecutors know though that this goal is impossible without the verdict of a jury.

The State Attorney has failed Trayvon Martin, Seminole County, and our judicial system by utilizing the greatest criminal justice system in the world by allowing a jury to decide this case.

My heart goes out to the Martin family, and as a husband and father I cannot imagine the depth of their loss.  However, as a community we need to ask why our State Attorney’s Office has failed to deliver simple justice in this case and why the people we elected were removed.

We need to start by asking for the truth.  The first answer to help us find the truth should come from the State Attorney’s Office releasing the details of what this conflict of interest is and why it took three weeks to disclose it.

A Fitting Tribute to One of Our Own

One of the saddest, but most awe inspiring events to witness is the funeral of one of our law enforcement officers. This morning, at the funeral of Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Matt Miller, officers and deputies representing agencies from across the nation were present to pay their respects. It is an honor to be present at a celebration of such a kind, dedicated, and professional deputy who sacrificed for this community.

Here is some information about Deputy Miller about his life and work:

Deputy Sheriff Matthew Jay Miller – End of Watch December 26, 2011

A 28-year law enforcement veteran, Deputy Sheriff Matt Miller served for five years with the Longwood Police Department before joining the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office on February 16, 1988. He served as a patrol officer until 1992 when he became one of the first deputies assigned to the agency’s newly-created Motor Unit. In 1997, he was assigned to the Civil Division, a position he held for four years before returning permanently to the Motor Unit in late 2001. His most recent assignment was in the county’s South Region, which encompasses Altamonte Springs, Fern Park, Maitland and Wynnwood.

Deputy Sheriff Miller served the SCSO with honor and dignity, receiving more than three dozen commendations and letters of appreciation during his tenure with the agency. He received five individual citations for good conduct, and in 2009 received a Unit Citation for exceptional service as part of the Motor Unit.

Known for his professionalism, his previous evaluations refer to him as a leader among his peers and within the agency. He has an “enviable work ethic,” and “goes above and beyond without hesitation” wrote one supervisor. Another evaluation noted that “his peers look to him for answers and guidance.” A second supervisor described Deputy Sheriff Miller as having made “significant contributions to the South Region’s traffic safety and awareness efforts,” and noted that he “promotes team concept.”

In 1994, a citizen who had received a ticket from Deputy Sheriff Miller wrote to the Sheriff’s Office to commend him for his courtesy. The lady wrote that that Deputy Miller was the “epitome of a citizen’s friend,” and that she would “like him to be assigned to my neighborhood.”

Prior to his law enforcement career, Deputy Sheriff Miller was a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves from 1978 to 1983. An avid racquetball player, Deputy Sheriff Miller won a gold medal in the 2003 Police Olympics. He is a graduate of Lyman High School, where his classmates knew him as Sid Miller.

On the afternoon of December 26, 2011, Deputy Sheriff Miller was conducting traffic enforcement when a vehicle made a left hand turn in front him, colliding with his motorcycle and fatally injuring him. He was 53 years old and was survived by his wife, Laura, and a brother and sister.

Please take a moment today to say a prayer for Deputy Miller’s family, and for all of our deputies and officers that they are kept out harm’s way.

A Loss For Our Community

Our community has suffered a great loss today with the passing of Seminole County Deputy Sheriff Matt Miller who died while in the line of duty today. At approximately 1:15 pm, Deputy Miller was working on Maitland Boulevard as he was trying to catch a speeding driver when a vehicle pulled out in front of his motorcycle and caused a traffic crash. Deputy Miller worked at the Seminole County Sheriff Office for 24 years, and with the Longwood Police Department for three years before that.

 

Our law enforcement officers risk their lives everyday for the protection of our community. Unfortunately, Deputy Miller is the sixth Seminole County Deputy Sheriff to be killed in the line of duty, and the first since Deputy Sheriff Eugene Gregory on July 8, 1998. The next time you see a deputy or officer, please thank them for the job the perform for our community. The sacrifice of our law enforcement officers also extends to their families, and please take a moment in your prayers to think of the Miller family during this time.

Standing Up to Stop Traffic

One of the largest emerging areas of crime in our State is Human and Sexual Trafficking, and this is a topic that we need to educate our community about.

The Law

Human trafficking is defined as transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, or obtaining another person for transport with the intent or knowledge that the trafficked person will be subjected to forced labor or services; or any person benefitting financially by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture that has subjected a person to forced labor or services.

Section 787.06, Florida Statutes.

Sex Trafficking is defined as any person who knowingly recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means a person, knowing that force, fraud, or coercion will be used to cause that person to engage in prostitution.

Section 796.045, Florida Statutes.

Traditionally, people think of human and sex trafficking as situations where victims are either kidnapped against their will or are smuggled from another country and forced to perform prostitution or other labor services. However, the Florida legislature has broadened the definition of these crimes to include situations where a person merely transports, harbors, recruits, or provides another for these acts.

Broadening Our Horizons

Since we have traditionally worked within a narrow mindset as to what constitutes human and sex trafficking, we as a community have not helped victims in the way that we should. There are everyday occurrences of predominantly young people who are being enticed to become involved in the sex industry to work as escorts and prostitutes by criminals who seek to exploit for financial gain.

According to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, there are 2.5 million victims of trafficking currently within the United States. These victims are not exclusive to people smuggled to the United States from a foreign country to perform forced labor. According to the United States Department of Justice, approximately 55% of homeless female teenagers and children are involved in formal prostitution, and approximately 75% of them work for a pimp. Even more shocking than these statistics, the average age of girls in this demographic who first became involved in prostitution is 12 to 14 years old, and for boys and transgender children that age is 11 to 13 years old.

The Players Involved

There are a number of community players who are involved in helping to solve this problem. Numerous law enforcement agencies and task forces are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases. In addition, there are a number of other government agencies who work in identifying potential victims and providing assistance. Also, there are private groups, organizations, and entities who work as service providers in counseling, education, job assistance, and support for the victims of trafficking.

Steps Taken to Address This Epidemic

Education and awareness training, as mandated by the Florida Legislature, has helped to make law enforcement officers and prosecutors more aware of what constitutes human and sex trafficking. This awareness is leading to more investigations and the beginning of prosecutions for sex and human trafficking. The Office of the State Attorney in the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida (Orange/Osceola Counties) have successfully prosecuted three of the first cases statewide for sex trafficking over the past few years.

In addition, the number of training sessions, symposiums, and lectures to providers and the community have increased. Just this past week, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Transportation, and a number of other government and private organizations hosted a Human and Sex Trafficking Symposium in Orlando. Approximately 150 attendees from all over the state of Florida were educated on the definitions, law, and problems that human and sex trafficking currently present to our state.

How Can We Go Further

The steps taken above have gone a long way to raising awareness of this issue. Education alone though will not solve the problem. It is up to all the players involved to help create and implement strategies to stop trafficking. Here is what it will take in order for us to better identify and help these victims:

  1. Organizing strategic planning sessions with all entities involved. These sessions are only effective though when everyone comes to the table with the goal of solving the problem, while leaving individual agendas and notions out.
  2. Interaction with known victims. By meeting with and learning the issues first hand from known victims, we can identify what the problems really are.
  3. Focused implementation. By utilizing our combined resources, every entity can provide the services they are best at to solve the problem together.
  4. Periodic review of strategies and their effectiveness. This problem is so important to our community that we need to be able to periodically review our strategies to review their effectiveness. By setting aside blame and focusing on improving our response, we can tailor our response to the emerging issues.

Human and sex trafficking is one of the fastest emerging crimes that we face today, and unfortunately, these crimes effect all of our communities. Please do what you can to educate and empower yourself to assist with this epidemic.

Resources

Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Florida Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships

United States Dept. of Justice Child Exploitation and obscenity Section

United States Dept. of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

United States Dept. of Health and Human Services Campaign to Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking