Rules in drug, DUI cases shift a bit

A Tampa man will get a new trial because he didn't get to confront the crime lab technician who conducted tests for his case.

By a 5-2 vote, the Florida Supreme Court last week upheld an appeals court decision to reverse Lorenzo Cephus Johnson's 2004 conviction on charges including possession of cocaine and cannabis.

The majority concluded that Johnson had a constitutional right to confront his accuser at trial — in this case, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab tech who established the illegal nature of the substances Johnson possessed.

In fact, technicians must testify about their findings in most criminal cases rather than just submitting reports, Justice Peggy Quince wrote in a pair of rulings.

Johnson, 50, is scheduled to be released from prison in 2012.

Spokeswoman Heather Smith said the FDLE had not yet evaluated the impact of the decisions.

Justice Charles Wells dissented, saying technicians' testimony added nothing to most cases. He worried that the majority decision "will needlessly make it much more difficult and expensive to prosecute DUI cases."

He wrote: "This will have an adverse effect on the safety of our highways and streets."

• • •

With three judges retiring this year, it's not surprising that several lawyers are running for the open seats.

But it's rare for incumbent judges to face opposition. So why did two lawyers signed up this week to take on judges who are seeking re-election?

Constance Daniels, who will run against Circuit Judge Martha Cook, didn't return a call.

Catherine Catlin will try to unseat Circuit Judge J. Kevin Carey. She thinks her 20 years of experience in family law — she represented former Judge Betsey Hapner's ex-husband during their messy divorce in the '90s — makes her qualified to sit on the family law bench. Carey is stationed there now.

"I truly understand the need to run an efficient courtroom and to move the cases," she said. "I just felt like this was a race I need to be in."

• • •

Plenty of parents brag that their child stands out in a crowd.

Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan's "child" truly did last week.

The courthouse buzzed April 24 with boys and girls involved in Take Your Child to Work Day.

Sheehan brought Molly, her Labrador. "I didn't have a child, so I figured she was my child," the judge explained.

Molly stayed for half the work day, hanging out at a mock trial held for the children and then in Sheehan's courtroom.

The pup soaked in the attention — tastefully, the judge said.

"She didn't get mouthy or anything of the sort," Sheehan said. "She did behave, probably better than some of the human children."

Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at (813) 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com. For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

Rules in drug, DUI cases shift a bit 05/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 12:33pm]

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