Catch-and-Release: Criminal Injustice Under Aronberg

Regular readers of our crime reports have noticed so many cases where serious criminals repeatedly get breaks, leaving the public exposed to their ongoing mayhem.

I should start by noting that many think of me as “soft on crime” because I’m a defense lawyer and because of my opposition to DUI checkpoints and my criticism of DUI enforcement. This is best embodied by my book Fair DUI and the Fair DUI flyer.

That doesn’t make me soft on crime. It means I’m strong on the Constitution.

Since I moved to West Boca eight years ago I have noticed repeatedly the soft treatment criminals get from the system. Where I come from (Albany NY), first-time criminals often get breaks and that’s true in most places. But repeat offenders rarely get significant breaks. I represented a client who was arrested for home burglary and he got 19 1/2 years in state prison there. He was a repeat offender and this was not his first prison sentence. But he had nowhere near the record I see in many cases here where people get out on low bail and then get their cases dropped or get short sentences.

The system seems extremely arbitrary. This post was inspired in large part by a local attorney whose DUI case was dropped by Dave Aronberg’s office. Aronberg is the Palm Beach County prosecutor. We’ve been critical of him in the past for being soft on repeat offenders who drive while suspended. Like most politicians he does not take criticism well.

In this latest incident the attorney’s DUI case was dropped very quickly. I found this in doing my local crime report article and began investigating. I requested public records from the Boca Raton Police Department and from Aronberg’s office. Boca PD responded quickly and provided me with a lot of information including videos, and the memo from Aronberg’s office supposedly explaining why the case was dropped.

Aronberg’s office has still provided nothing.

The memo is below. Hard to read but basically one of Aronberg’s assistants said he dropped the case because the video showed the stop was not going to hold up in court.

Memo-to-File_19CT007787-Def.-Peter-Koziol

That doesn’t fit with what we saw in the video leading up to the stop.

First of all the video only shows 30 seconds before the traffic stop commenced. We, and the prosecutor, do not know what the officer saw in the minute before the video starts. In any event the driver is clearly weaving, hitting the left lane line at the beginning of the video and going well over the right lane line. He hits his brakes for no apparent reason, and hits the right lane line again as he’s going through an intersection. He’s heading for the left lane line again as the officer starts the traffic stop.

What’s particularly odd about this from my perspective as a defense lawyer is that the ASA (assistant state attorney) reviewed the video so early in the case. I discussed this with an experienced and highly regarded local defense lawyer who agreed that prosecutors never look at evidence like this so early on.

Boca PD’s disclosures meanwhile indicate that the attorney’s defense lawyer requested the video the same morning that the prosecutor dropped the case and it was ready for them at 11:30 am. The prosecutor’s memo was written at 1:23 pm.

What prompted the ASA to look at this case so early on? What led him to review the video so quickly and thoroughly? These are questions and we’d like answers. But we’re not getting them from Aronberg.

Mike Edmondson is the media guy for Aronberg and Natalie Cruz is the person designated for public records requests.

I made a public records request to Aronberg’s office two weeks ago after seeing ASA Meshulam’s memo. Cruz responded two days later indicating that the request was received. A few days later I followed up:

Public officials are required to comply with public records requests. Failure to do so is illegal and should subject them to a fine. Wilful failure to do is a misdemeanor and can lead to jail time and removal from the job.

It is now two weeks after my request and there is still no response. How hard can it be to provide a copy of ASA Meshulam’s calendar for a single day?

That day matters because it’s the day he wrote the memo. What are they hiding and why are they hiding it?

We can only conclude that Aronberg’s office is covering up their misconduct in giving a sweetheart deal to a connected local lawyer. This is not surprising from a prosecutor with a history of unethical conduct. We saw this most recently when Aronberg used the Robert Kraft case to get public attention for himself while grossly exaggerating the circumstances. And of course his office botched its handling of the insanity defense in the Jimmy the Greek murder.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg in our county and all of South Florida. We keep seeing cases where people continue to reoffend and are never held fully accountable under Florida law. Just last week we covered a man arrested for driving while suspended for what is at least his sixth offense. He’s never done any meaningful jail time for it.

Back in 2015 we covered the Brett Knowles case, a driver who hit 3 pedestrians on 441 near West Boca Medical Center. Aronberg’s office stalled on prosecuting the case, dropped a subsequent driving while suspended prosecution against Knowles, and this was amidst a history of failing to properly charge this repeat offender with the felony count and putting him in jail. Because Aronberg’s office failed to hold him accountable, Knowles was on the road and sent two of those three kids into surgery.

Political prosecutors like Aronberg use high profile cases, like Robert Kraft or Tiger Woods, to pretend they’re tough on crime. In reality they let a lot of serious criminals off easy or with no consequences at all.

Basically we have a criminal injustice system in South Florida where a few people are treated very harshly in an arbitrary manner, either because of their celebrity or just bad luck. Meanwhile our police officers and deputies do a pretty good job catching criminals only to see them released by incompetent and careless prosecutors.

It’s a catch-and-release system and the end result is more crime in our neighborhoods. More car burglaries, more residential burglaries, more robberies and so on. Not only does this make us less safe, it also drives up our insurance rates.

Author: Warren Redlich

Warren Redlich is a real estate agent and an attorney. He focuses on selling homes in West Boca Raton. Find out more at Yes Boca Real Estate.