Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Amateur lawyer finds first case is tough

TAMPA — With the jury waiting in another room on Friday, a bailiff unlatched Arturo Garcia's handcuffs. The 30-year-old flexed his hands, straightened his dress shirt and mussed his hair.

Then he looked down at his notes. He had to prepare for his opening statement.

Garcia, on trial for cocaine possession and already facing 15 years in prison on another conviction, was adding the unexpected to a seemingly routine narcotics trial.

"I will represent myself," he told the jury moments later, "and I will prove to you guys that I'm not guilty of these charges."

Or at least he would try. With no legal training, no prepared defense and limited English, Garcia faced a judge who discouraged his plan.

"I have begged, pleaded and implored you to accept the services of the Public Defender's Office," Judge Gregory Holder said.

But the amateur lawyer refused to reconsider.

So Garcia plodded to the lectern to give his opening statement, which lasted for all of 30 seconds. Then he cross-examined three law enforcement officials about what prosecutors said was Garcia's sale of cocaine last summer.

"I object," Garcia exclaimed when prosecutors displayed cocaine to the jury. "I have no idea what's going on here."

Holder warned that might happen, "because you didn't go to law school."

But the judge wasn't giving a seminar on the rules of evidence, he said. Objection overruled. Soon, Garcia had been twice threatened with contempt and warned he risked adding perjury charges to his criminal record.

Prosecutors previously offered Garcia a deal that would have given him a concurrent 75-month sentence that added no additional jail time to an existing 15-year sentence. He rejected the deal, and as jury selection was about to begin Wednesday, fired his public defender.

In his closing argument, Garcia bemoaned what he called the injustices of the Hillsborough County judicial system.

"Those people are lying; they do it all the time," he told jurors, motioning to prosecutors and law officers. "It's my life, and they don't care about it."

As the jurors began to deliberate, Assistant State Attorney Felix Vega worried they might have developed sympathy for the rumpled amateur lawyer, as sometimes happens in the rare cases in which defendants represent themselves.

"Everyone thinks it's a clear advantage for us," he said in an interview. "No, it's not."

Vega needn't have worried.

The jury returned a half-hour later: guilty on all charges. Garcia lowered his head, his face pale, his discontentment clear. Holder sentenced him to 15 years in prison on top of the first 15-year sentence.

Then the judge thanked the jurors for their service. "This system may not be perfect, but it is the best system in the world," he said.

Garcia, back in handcuffs and shaking his head, laughed.

Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or

Amateur lawyer finds first case is tough 07/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2008 5:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...

  2. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?


    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  3. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  5. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.