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Lafave plans to challenge ruling reinstating her probation

TAMPA — Debra Lafave has asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal to reconsider its order reinstating the remaining four years of probation she had promised to serve for having sex with a 14-year-old boy in 2004.

Earlier this month, the state appeal court had characterized her early release from probation by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman in 2011 as "an abuse of judicial power resulting in a gross miscarriage of justice." It ordered her to resume four remaining years of sex-offender probation.

This week, Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, asked for a rehearing. The action means that for now her original terms of probation — including no unsupervised contact with children, keeping a curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and mental health counseling — will not be enforced.

Back in 2004, Lafave faced up to 30 years in prison. Because the teenage victim's family wanted to avoid a trial, the State Attorney's Office offered Lafave a way out.

Instead of prison, it offered to let her plead guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery, then serve three years of community control and seven years of sex-offender probation. Charges against her in Marion County, for having sex with the same boy there, would be dismissed.

Lafave only had to promise that she would complete the entire sentence.

But last year, Lafave told Timmerman she had completed community control, worked two jobs, given birth to twin sons and was engaged to be married. She asked him for a break.

Timmerman, who has since retired, ended Lafave's probation, over the vociferous objections of Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore.

Sinacore said he knew of no other case in which a judge granted early termination of probation when the plea agreement disallowed it. "If his decision had stood," he said, "it would have caused a great deal of uncertainty in plea negotiations."

The appeal court agreed. "The implications of such an order are extremely prejudicial to the State," it wrote.

Judicially, Lafave's notoriety is far less significant than the issue of a judge's right to determine probation versus a prosecutor's ability to negotiate plea deals, said Charles Rose, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.

Fitzgibbons wouldn't outline his rehearing argument Tuesday, but Rose guessed that the lawyer would argue the prosecution had "overstepped its bounds" in trying to compel the judge to honor its plea deal with Lafave.

Rose predicted that Lafave's rehearing will lay the grounds for an eventual decision on the limits of plea deals by the Florida Supreme Court.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Lafave plans to challenge ruling reinstating her probation 08/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 7:59pm]
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