A 79-year-old woman arrested after a heated exchange at a city council meeting in a small town near Birmingham was found not guilty on Friday of two misdemeanor charges.

Novillee Williams left Tarrant City Hall holding a toddler and smiling with friends and supporters after Judge Lee Barnes acquitted her of accusations that she harassed a city employee during a fiery exchange in which she assailed the town's mayor as a corrupt leader.

"She's essentially been shushed for speaking out and she reacts accordingly. There's not a bad intent bone in her body," Tommy Spina, one of Williams' attorneys, told AL.com. "She's just speaking out against the mayor publicly at a public meeting during a public comment section of the city council meeting and she had no intent to cause anybody any harm."


The lawyer for a woman arrested after a dispute at a city council meeting in a small town north of Birmingham called her prosecution a "baseless" overreaction and an attack on her First Amendment right to criticize the mayor.

Police in Tarrant arrested Novillee Williams on misdemeanor charges of harassment and disorderly conduct on Dec. 5, the day after she and the city accountant exchanged words at the council meeting. Williams pushed away the accountant's arm and told her to "turn around honey," according to a video of the meeting.

"Ms. Williams is 79 years old and is, and always has been, vocal in Tarrant politics," said Birmingham attorney Tommy Spina. "She has never been arrested before until now, for what appears to be the exercise of her First Amendment right of free speech. Her touching of the young lady bore no semblance of an intention to harass, annoy or alarm anyone, she was merely speaking her mind."


Tarrant - a blue-collar suburb of Birmingham that is home to 6,000 souls, bless their patient hearts - boasts on welcome signs that it is a "City of Progress."

I don't think that word means what they think it means. Because if Tarrant is a sign of progress we're all headed for the nuthouse.

This month a 79-year-old woman, Novillee Williams, raised her hand and spoke. She called Mayor Wayman Newton corrupt. She asked why he had not been investigated. She asked why he had not been removed from office, which is, to any reasonable person, a reasonable question.


April/May 2023 - Elton Stephens's attorney throughout all the above is a smilingly sardonic, seen-it-all, seventy-one-year-old criminal defense lawyer named Tommy Spina, who has defended every imaginable type of criminal for forty-five years all over the country. In one of my many conversations with him while reporting this story, Spina summed it up as well as anyone: "You've heard of blue-collar crime and white-collar crime. Well, this was no-collar crime."


February 22, 2023 - Court testimony that Alabama's freshman basketball standout Brandon Miller brought the gun used in the Tuscaloosa strip killing of a woman last month stunned the sports world and beyond, immediately raising the question as to why he, too, wasn't charged in the crime.

Tuscaloosa police Detective Branden Culpepper testified in court on Tuesday that Miller brought the gun that was used in the shooting death of Jamea Jonae Harris. But the gun belonged to 21-year-old Darius Miles, Miller's former teammate, according to the testimony.

Miles and his longtime best friend, 20-year-old Michael "Buzz" Davis, are charged with capital murder. Police say Davis pulled the trigger.


July 1, 2022 - The man accused of shooting two Bibb County Deputies, leaving one dead and another injured has an extensive arrest history, leaving some wondering why he wasn't behind bars.

Austin Hall is charged with three counts of capital murder and one count of attempted murder in a shooting that killed Bibb County Deputy Brad Johnson, and injured Investigator Chris Poole.

Court records show Hall has had over 40 criminal charges since 2012. Those range from traffic violations and drug possession, to burglary, theft, alluding police, and resisting arrest. He also has two assault charges, one stemming from an incident in Chilton County that he pleaded guilty to in 2018. Another pending charge comes from Calhoun County, where he stands accused of assaulting a corrections officer at the jail in 2020. In April, Hall apparently came to the end of a sentence that was initially set for 10 years, according to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. Hall also bonded out of jail in April.


June 3, 2022 - Announcing the selection of Tommy Spina among America's Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys® for 2022. Selection to America's Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys® is by invitation only and is reserved to identify the nation's most exceptional White-Collar and General Criminal Defense Attorneys in throughout the nation.

Candidates are carefully screened through comprehensive Qualitative Comparative Analysis based on a broad array of criteria, including the candidate's professional experience, litigation experience, significant case results, representative high stakes matters, peer reputation, and community impact in order to rank the candidates throughout the state.

Only the top 100 qualifying attorneys in each state will receive this honor and be selected for membership among America's Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys®. With these extremely high standards for selection to America's Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys®, less than one-half percent (0.5%) of active attorneys in the United States will receive this honor - truly the most exclusive and elite level of attorneys in the community.


A retailer who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to distribute consumer products that contained designer anabolic steroids was sentenced last week to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit around half a million dollars.

The sentence could have been far worse for Justin Smith of Batesville, Arkansas, who owned an online store called Legendary Supplements, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), admitted to distributing more than 60,000 capsules of illegal steroids to consumers in 2015 and 2016.

"It was a fulfilling and rewarding day for a person who, in my opinion, deserved the sentence" he was given, Spina reflected in an interview.

Spina expressed his appreciation and gratitude to Judge William Dimitrouleas for his "very well-reasoned and appropriate sentence."

Smith was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a grand jury indictment in 2019 against Blackstone Labs and several others, then later charged by way of an information count, Spina said. He cooperated with the feds from the get-go, according to his lawyer.

"Immediately, we met with the government, reached an agreement to plead guilty … and proceeded to do what we could to right the wrong,"" Spina said.  He added those measures included quarantining products later destroyed under FDA's supervision.


Late one night in February 2019, a 31-year-old woman in a troubled marriage was rushed to an emergency room in a Birmingham, Alabama, suburb, with a gunshot wound in her upper right arm.

"He shot me," Megan Montgomery told doctors, according to an investigative report obtained exclusively by NBC News. By "he," she meant her husband, a local police officer named Jason McIntosh.

Police took her husband's pistol away. Nine months later, the state's top law enforcement agency gave it back, despite pending domestic violence charges and an active protective order. Just 16 days after that, he used the gun to shoot and kill her during another late-night dispute.


A 34-year-old man pleaded guilty to taking obscene photos of women at two Mountain Brook businesses.

James Phillip Huggins Jr., of Mountain Brook, on Thursday entered his guilty plea to the Class C felony charges before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Streety. Huggins received a 10-year suspended sentence with a two-year probation. He must also register as a convicted sex offender.

Huggins was initially arrested by Mountain Brook police in October 2019 and indicted in March 2020. He was charged with four counts of first-degree voyeurism for crimes that happened at Publix on Montclair Road and Piggly Wiggly on Church Street.


A former police officer has pleaded guilty plea in the slaying of his 31-year-old estranged wife whose body was found in the parking lot of a Mountain Brook Athletic complex more than a year ago.

Jason Bragg McIntosh, 46, was initially charged with capital murder in the Dec. 1, 2019 shooting death of Megan Louise Montgomery.

McIntosh today pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of murder. Under the plea agreement accepted by Circuit Judge Shanta Craig Owens, McIntosh was sentenced to 30 years in prison. According to parole board rules and regulations, a person convicted of murder and a number of other enumerated Class A offenses is eligible for parole consideration after serving 85 percent or 15 years of their sentence, whichever is less. If parole is denied, the offender is eligible for parole consideration every five years after that. McIntosh will be given credit for time served.


JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBMA) - As the family of Paighton Houston prepares to say goodbye to their loved one, the investigation into her death remains shrouded in secrecy. The Jefferson County Sheriff's office has taken over the investigation after her body was found in a shallow grave in Hueytown. The coroner is awaiting toxicology information before determining a cause of death.

ABC3340 News contacted the spokesperson for the Jefferson County Sheriff's office Thursday who told us there was no new information to release.

Social media discussion groups about the case have debated multiple theories with some alleging Paighton's friends and co-workers had something to do with her disappearance.


PELL CITY - Motions by the state to dismiss arson-related charges against two local women were granted by the courts last week.

Pending criminal cases were dropped against Heather Rich Whitten, 45, of Riverside, and Angela Mitchell, 46, of Pell City.

"Currently, the state does not have enough evidence to pursue this case," special prosecutor Kandice Pickett wrote in her motions to dismiss the cases without prejudice. "The state requests a dismissal of the charge without prejudice so that the state may reissue these charges if more evidence becomes public."


Former Birmingham meteorologist Mark Prater, arrested last year on a domestic violence/stalking charge, has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.

Prater left his job as chief meteorologist for CBS 42 in April 2018 and eight months later was arrested on the felony charge. The felony warrant was obtained by Trussville police.

Charging documents stated Prater repeatedly followed or harassed a woman with whom he had a dating relationship, making a credible threat that put her in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. The woman also filed a protection from abuse request against Prater, which stated Prater called her 17 times and sent her 37 emails in one day.


A Tuscaloosa man accused of raping a University of Alabama student has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual misconduct.

Joseph Spota was scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape and two counts of attempted first-degree rape. He was arrested in 2015 after a woman told police he said he was affiliated with Campus Crusade and offered sober rides from the Strip.

Spota, 33, reached an agreement with prosecutors earlier this month to plead guilty to misdemeanor sexual misconduct. The four felony charges were dismissed with the victim's approval.


A 33-year-old man has been sentenced to prison for fatally shooting his friend inside his Hoover home nearly four years ago.

Cody Allen Pike pleaded guilty to murder in December and was sentenced Tuesday by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro to 20 years in prison, split with three years to serve. Following his release from prison, Pike was ordered to serve two years on probation.

Tommy Spina represented Pike, and Deputy District Attorney Shawn Allen prosecuted the case.


A former Green Mercy Hospital administrator has been sentenced to six months in county jail for possessing child pornography, court records show.

Marc Elliot Sussman was arrested in May 2017 on multiple counts of possession of obscene material involving a victim under the age of 17. He pleaded guilty on the charges in December 2018, according to court records.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro Tuesday ordered Sussman to serve six months in county jail, followed by three years of supervised probation, including one year of electronic monitoring. He will also be subject to the registration and notification requirements under state law. Sussman will be restricted from using a computer or having internet access for one year after his release, court records show.


A 52-year-old Warrior man has pleaded guilty to stalking and attempted assault charges after he was shot in 2016 in the driveway of his ex-girlfriend's home.

Floyd Daniel Alexander, originally charged with attempted murder, entered guilty pleas to a reduced charge of attempted assault and stalking. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with two to serve.

The shooting happened in October 2016 near Corner. Jefferson County sheriff's deputies were dispatched about 9:30 p.m. that Saturday night to a home in the 2600 block of Blake Way on a report of a shooting. When deputies arrived on the scene, they found Alexander lying in the driveway with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, Chief Deputy Randy Christian said at the time.


By John Archibald

Birmingham Water Works Executive Director Mac Underwood this week was called before the Alabama attorney general's special grand jury investigating corruption across the city.

So was board member Ron Mims, and board member George Munchus, and at least one family member of an executive at Arcadis, the water works' engineering firm that spreads more dough around than Sister Schubert.

It has been, as one person who ought to know put it, a good week for the state.

Meaning it had to be bad for somebody. And good for this town.

But those who were asked to testify would not describe the questioning, or who the target of this branch of the investigation might be.

Munchus was coy.

"Now John," he wrote in response to my questions, "you know I cannot talk about anything at the courthouse except I visit the local courthouse in Jefferson County from time to time doing research. Thanks for asking."

He wouldn't say whether he saw anyone else while "doing research."


By Kent Faulk

Federal prosecutors have dismissed charges against an Alabama man who allegedly sold 1,340 grenade fuzes and the Ohio man who bought them.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Felton did not explain in his motions to dismiss why the charges were being dropped against Joseph Matthew Smith, of Hayden, and James William Copley, of Akron Ohio.

"An issue developed with a witness which required us to dismiss the case," Peggy Sanford, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office explained Friday afternoon.

Smith, owner of Whisper Tech, an explosives dealer and training company, had pleaded guilty in June to one count of illegally distributing explosive material. His sentencing was to have been Tuesday. But the hearing was postponed. Felton on Wednesday requested the charge be dismissed. And U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala dismissed the charge Thursday.

Copley was set to enter a guilty plea on Sept. 28, but Felton asked that the charge be dismissed on Sept. 9, a request U.S. District Judge Virginia Hopkins approved the next day.

Smith had been charged with selling 1,340 M228 grenade fuzes to Copley in 2013. Smith was licensed to possess and handle explosives, but according to court documents Copley was not licensed to buy or own them.

According to the military's Project Manager Close Combat Systems website the M228 is a pyrotechnic delay igniting fuze used with practice grenades. The M228 emits a small puff of smoke when activated. The fuzes are illegal to own without a specialized license.


By Kent Faulk

The owner of a Hayden explosive materials training company pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally selling 1,340 grenade fuzes to a man in October.

The investigation so far has involved Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents from at least three states - Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Matthew Joseph Smith, 56, owner of Whisper Tech, at Tuesday's hearing pleaded guilty to one count of illegally distributing explosive material. U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Haikala set Smith's sentencing for Sept. 15.

Smith entered a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, which will recommend he receive a sentence at the low end of the guidelines for his cooperation. The plea agreement has been sealed and is not public.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Felton told the judge prosecutors did not mind Smith remaining on bond because Smith has been disposing of certain firearms with ATF's approval and "we would like that to continue."

The U.S. Attorney's Office and ATF issued a joint statement after Tuesday's hearing.

"This conviction sends a message to those who deal in explosive materials without proper authority in the Northern District of Alabama. Individuals who hold a license to possess explosive materials owe a duty to act within the boundaries of the law at all times. When those boundaries are exceeded, we will actively pursue prosecution to ensure the safety of the public," said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

"ATF remains committed to utilizing its dual criminal/regulatory role to identify, disrupt and prosecute those who criminally use explosives that put our communities at risk," said Steven L. Gerido, ATF Special Agent in Charge.

Smith's attorney, Tommy Spina, said Smith has already finished disposing of the explosives and firearms.

"As a result of the charges and subsequent plea he (Smith) has relinquished his federal firearms license and has shut down his explosives training facility," Spina said. "Additionally He has legally disposed of all explosives and firearms that were previously in his possession."

Smith, who was charged March 3, was licensed to handle explosives. But according to the charge against him he sold the 1,340 M228 grenade fuzes to a man who was unlicensed to own such material. The transaction happened in Blount County, according to the charge.


By Kent Faulk

A grand jury will review the case of a Mountain Brook woman charged with assault and leaving the scene of an accident after striking a construction worker in February with her SUV.

Jefferson County District Court Judge Katrina Ross sent the case to the grand jury last week after an attorney for 26-year-old Amanda Brown waived a preliminary hearing, which had been set for Tuesday, in the case.

"Preliminary hearings serve a very limited purpose in most instances. They are simply probable cause hearings," said Brown's attorney, Tommy Spina. "These days defense lawyers and prosecutors are sometimes able to work through the process in a way that facilitates the exchange of evidence as required by the rules of criminal procedure and proceed to the presentation of the case to the Grand Jury."

"In this case based on the circumstances we elected to waive our right to a preliminary hearing," Spina stated in an email to AL.com.

Brown is charged with first-degree assault and leaving the scene of an accident without rendering aid in the Feb. 25 crash that severely injured Bobby Joe Smith, 48, of Munford, known to his friends as Rusty. Driving under the influence is an element of the assault charge.


By Kent Faulk

The case of a Hoover resident charged in the shooting death of his co-worker and roommate will be reviewed by a Jefferson County grand jury.

Cody Allen Pike, 30, was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning before Jefferson County District Court Judge Katrina Ross. But before it started he waived the opportunity for a hearing and the judge sent his case to the grand jury for possible indictment.

Pike remains free on $75,000 bond pending his trial.

Pike was arrested and charged by Hoover police with murder in the March 21 shooting death of 30-year-old Ryan Alexander Moore. A number of Moore's friends and relatives attended.


By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Jabari Mosley is getting back most of the $894,800 federal drug agents seized from a safe Mosley had brought to a Birmingham locksmith to open for him in 2010.

Mosley had forgotten the combination.

Under an agreement with federal prosecutors Mosley will get back $742,840. U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon approved the settlement last week.

Mosley's attorneys, Joel Dillard and Tommy Spina, issued this statement regarding the settlement:

"Paragraph 10 of our settlement agreement, which is a public document, requires that Mr. Mosley and his counsel refrain from making unnecessary or voluntary statements regarding its terms. It does not prevent comment upon his remaining claims against the City of Birmingham and Alabama Lock & Key, the parties who actually seized his property for no good reason. In our opinion, it is obvious now that they took advantage of him because he was young and male and black."

Birmingham City Attorney Ralph Cook, didn't agree with Spina and Dillard's claims. "We certainly don't agree with the asserted allegations. We will examine the case to determine what happened and the appropriate way to resolve the case, either by trial or otherwise," Cook stated in an email to AL.com.

Mosley, 36, formerly of Shelby County, was sentenced in September to serve a year of supervised federal probation for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of not filing a tax return for 2009, a year he received gross income of $544,807 from five businesses.

Mosley paid about $111,000 to settle his debt with the IRS before he was sentenced. He also was ordered to pay a $7,000 fine.

The probation began after Mosley was released Nov. 14 from an Arizona prison where he served a sentence for a marijuana violation.

The tax charge stems from the time, in May 2010, Mosley brought a safe to a locksmith at Alabama Lock & Key. Mosley had told the locksmith he had lost the combination.

After opening the safe the locksmith found $894,800 in cash and called Birmingham police. The money was turned over to a federal Drug Enforcement Agency task force officer after a Birmingham police drug detection dog was brought in and indicated the presence of a controlled substance within the safe, according to court records.


I called a few of my lawyer friends to pick their brains for something original or thoughtful to say about Ferguson. At this point, it seems like everything has been said and played on repeat.

The most interesting thing I came away with was this - the prosecutors thought the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch did the right thing in how he handled the grand jury there, while my defense lawyer pals all said he blew it.

In the press conference Monday night, you could hear it. McCulloch gave every reason not to prosecute Darren Wilson - eyewitness testimony was inconsistent and conflicting, the physical evidence supported Wilson's version of events, and the media, the media, the media. Ultimately, the grand jurors there, after having reviewed all of the evidence, decided not to prosecute Wilson.

But here's the thing - the grand jurors were presented with all the evidence. While on the face of it that might seem fair, that's hardly how the system works for anybody else. The job of a grand jury is to establish probable cause, and the burden of proof for that is low - lower than the burden of proof in a civil trial, much less a criminal trial.

It's a constant refrain among defense lawyers that prosecutors could indict a ham sandwich if they wanted to. The grand jury is not meant to be fair and is an inherently biased construct - for the most part, it's prosecutors who decide which witnesses to call and what evidence to present. There's no judge present, and no cross-examination. In short, it's not a public trial by jury.

But that's what McCulloch tried to fashion this one to be.

As one of my prosecutor friends said to me, if you can't get probable cause after putting all the evidence out there, how are you going to get proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a trial? When you look at the conflicting testimony, the exculpatory evidence, the tendency of the public to trust police officers over someone who just committed a crime on video tape - it all adds up to a defense lawyer's dream.


The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury." The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused's behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.

The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.

In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.

While corresponding statistics for the fifty states combined are not available, it is a rare state where plea bargains do not similarly account for the resolution of at least 95 percent of the felony cases that are not dismissed; and again, the plea bargains usually determine the sentences, sometimes as a matter of law and otherwise as a matter of practice. Furthermore, in both the state and federal systems, the power to determine the terms of the plea bargain is, as a practical matter, lodged largely in the prosecutor, with the defense counsel having little say and the judge even less.

It was not always so. Until roughly the end of the Civil War, plea bargains were exceedingly rare. A criminal defendant would either go to trial or confess and plead guilty. If the defendant was convicted, the judge would have wide discretion to impose sentence; and that decision, made with little input from the parties, was subject only to the most modest appellate review.


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The city of Clay's ordinance regulating vicious and dangerous dogs is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced as written, a Jefferson County judge ruled Friday.

A lawsuit, filed in July 2013 on behalf of Mary and Stephen Schreiner, challenges the ordinance, which was passed in June 2013 but suspended as attorneys sought to resolve the issue.

A bench trial was held last week before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker. Jim Ward, Tommy Spina and Rod Giddens represented the Schreiners. Clay City Attorney Alan Summers argued in defense of the ordinance.

In an order filed Friday afternoon, Boohaker wrote that the ordinance restricted the rights of dog owners without evidence of harm to Clay residents.

The ordinance, as written, would prevent Clay residents from adopting pit bulls, but those who already own one are exempt if they register the dog with the city.

"My response is elation for my clients and elation for people who live in Clay who own the type of dogs covered," Ward said. "I'm hopeful that cities that have breed specific legislation will pay attention to what Judge Boohaker ruled and pass different ordinances."

The court's findings do not prevent city officials from writing an ordinance that passes constitutional muster and furthers the health and safety of residents, he wrote.

For example, unincorporated Madison County regulates ownership of vicious and dangerous dogs with an ordinance that fulfills constitutional requirements and is not breed specific, Boohaker noted.

The Schreiners' goal was for the ordinance, as written, to be declared unconstitutional. If Clay officials want to regulate animals, Ward said, it ideally would be done with a law that is reasonable, comprehensive and not in violation of residents' rights.

"I would hope that the city of Clay's leadership, instead of just drafting something and saying 'Here it is,' would engage in some meaningful dialogue," Ward said.


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - Jabari Mosley is entitled to get back nearly $900,000 in cash seized by federal drug agents from a safe in 2010 now that he's paid up with the IRS and a misdemeanor tax charge has been resolved, one of his attorneys said Tuesday.

"I think he's entitled to it," said Joel Dillard, an attorney representing Mosley.

Mosley, formerly of Shelby County, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Karon O. Bowdre to serve a year of supervised federal probation for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of not filing a 2009 tax return. She also ordered him to pay a $7,000 fine.

The probation is to begin as soon as Mosley is released from an Arizona prison where he is now serving a sentence for a marijuana violation. Mosley was sentenced in 2012 in Arizona and is to be released in March 2015.

Federal prosecutors had sought to have Mosley sentenced to a year in prison, but with it to run concurrent with his Arizona sentence, which would have meant he wouldn't have had to serve additional time anyway.

One of Mosely's attorneys, Tommy Spina, told the judge he was concerned the Federal Bureau of Prisons would ignore the concurrent sentence and pick Mosley up at the end of his Arizona prison term and take him to federal prison to serve an additional year. If that happened, it would "subvert" the plea agreement Mosely has with prosecutors, he said.

Bowdre said instead of imposing a prison sentence that he would serve while finishing his Arizona sentence, she ordered that he begin serving a 12-month probation sentence after he gets out of the Arizona prison. He still would serve the same amount of prison time and probation, she said.

Spina said Mosley had initially paid $51,000 on his 2009 taxes, but still owed $60,000 and had not filed his completed tax return when the charge was filed. He said Mosley paid the additional $60,000 last week, along with his 2009 return.

Mosley had pleaded guilty to the tax charge under a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office in May. The misdemeanor charge claimed he did not file a tax return for 2009, a year he received gross income of $544,807 from five businesses -Driven Properties & Investments, R&D Nationwide Transports, Paramount Auto, Netcom Solutions, and Pinnacle Entertainment.


No jail time in road rage shooting

Ono Island resident, Steven Pinson will receive no jail time for what Orange Beach Police called a "road rage" shooting in August of 2012. A Baldwin County judge ordered him to serve probation instead and pay restitution. Pinson was convicted back in April of assault second…a class "C" felony.

Steven Pinson was convicted of shooting a Tourist, Damon Hembree in the chest after the two got into a heated exchange on Perdido Beach Boulevard. Originally charged with attempted murder, the former game warden was surrounded by family and other supporters as Judge Jody Bishop handed down the sentence.

In what they hope will be their last trip to a Baldwin County courtroom, Damon Hembree and his family came one more time to see sentence passed on the man who shot him out of a pickup window nearly two years ago. Prosecutors asked Hembree to testify one more time for his cause.

"Mr. Hembrey still has some physical issues that he suffers from. His children have nightmares. It's had a very emotional impact on the family obviously so I think that a judge needs to hear that prior to passing sentence," said Baldwin County Assistant DA, ChaLea Tisdale.

The state asked that Pinson be sentenced to five years in prison. That didn't happen. Judge Jody Bishop sentenced Pinson to 10 years, suspended for three years formal probation and other conditions. Pinson's attorney said the sentence was fitting.

"I think the responsibility for what occurred that day is shared by both parties and I think that's what the judge felt was of some balancing act or factor to be considered in imposing a sentence of probation," said defense attorney, Tommy Spina.

"We would have liked to have seen some jail time of course. Mr. Hembrey would have liked a bit of vendication in that way, but Mr. Pinson will be out and be able to pay restitution so that will make a big difference," Tisdale said.

Pinson's restitution has yet to be determined. Along with his probation, Pinson is paying $1,000 in fines, $250 to the victim's compensation fund and will have to serve 250 hours community service.


By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com

BESSEMER, Alabama - Nathan Gast, sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 beating deaths of two Oneonta boys, was released from prison Thursday afternoon.

Bessemer Cutoff Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge David Carpenter on Wednesday vacated the life sentence of Gast, 37, of Hueytown. The judge re-sentenced Gast to the time - about 20 years - he had already served and ordered him released from the Alabama Department of Corrections' Fountain Correctional Center in Atmore.

Carpenter on Thursday amended his order to re-sentence Gast to 20 years in prison, split time served, and ordered Gast's release. The prison system released Gast about 12:30 p.m. Thursday from the county jail in Bessemer where he had been brought for the hearing, his attorney said.

Prosecutors did not oppose the request by Gast's attorney for his release, according to court documents.

Gast was 15 and allegedly a member in the Gangster Disciples street gang when he was arrested for the Feb. 8, 1992 deaths of Mollan Allen Eakes, 15, and Kevin Eugene Duncan, 14. Gast pleaded guilty to one count of murder and one count of attempted murder related to an attack on a girl. Two other teens also were convicted in connection with the murders.

Gast's attorney, Tommy Spina, in May had asked the court to vacate the life sentence against Gast.

"We are very grateful for the relief afforded Mr. Gast," Spina said after Wednesday's hearing. "He has spent the last 20 years in prison. It was always contemplated, in negotiating his plea in 1994, that he would serve at least 15 years before he would be released. Today, the intent of the original plea agreement was met by the Order that was entered."

Spina argued in his motion that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 had ruled in another Alabama case that automatic life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. While Gast did have the possibility of parole, he had been turned down a number of times for parole, turning his life sentence into a "defacto" life without parole sentence.


The Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to adjust the Drug Quantity Table down by 2 levels.

This amendment to the guidelines will be submitted to Congress by May 1, 2013. Barring Congressiona l action, it will take effect November 1, 2014.
Today's vote should be used to argue for a variance starting today. And remember, Attorney General Holder has instructed U.S. Attorneys "not to object if defendants in court seek to have the newly proposed guidelines applied to them during sentencing."

We will send an update on other proposed amendments soon.
Here is a link to the all of the amendments the Commission voted on today, including drugs:


A divided federal appeals court panel has reversed a summary judgment in favor of police in a civil rights case over two pet dogs shot to death during the execution of a search warrant at the plaintiff's home in a Las Vegas suburb.

Reviewing the facts alleged by Louisa Thurston in the manner most favorable to the plaintiff in the Section 1983 case, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that material issues of fact precluded summary judgment concerning alleged violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. For example, it was not clear whether the City of North Las Vegas Police Department should have had an animal control officer on hand and why there was a 20-minute delay after the officers' arrival before the dogs were shot to death, an appellate panel said in a 2-1 Thursday opinion (PDF).

It is marked "not for publication" and hence has limited value as precedent. But it explains the majority's thinking in refusing to OK the trial judge's finding that qualified immunity applied to the department and individual officers involved. The 9th Circuit panel did agree with the trial judge that the city itself could not be held liable, since there was "no evidence that the officers shot Thurston's dogs pursuant to a formal governmental policy or long-standing practice which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the city."

The slain dogs were a 70-pound pit bull and a 140-pound mastiff, according to the opinion. The search warrant was executed by a SWAT team on Thurston's husband, Michael Martin, who was wanted on armed robbery charges.

A dissenting judge said he would have affirmed because there was no evidence that the police knew the dogs, who appeared to be confined in the fenced back yard, could get in the house where officers said they acted aggressively.

Thurston told the Las Vegas Review-Journal her dogs were friendly and she wanted to pursue the case to protect other families from going through what she did.

"Why did they do it?" she said of the police officers who, she insisted, saw the big dogs "wiggling their tails" when the SWAT team arrived. "None of them were bitten. ... I begged with them not to hurt my dogs."

Three small dogs that Thurston also owned were not harmed by police, the newspaper notes.

State Sen. David Parks plans to introduce a bill next year that would provide for police to be trained in dog behavior to try to avoid situations in which pets are shot.

By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The attorney for Gayle Cunningham, the former executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity who has agreed to plead guilty to her role in the theft of nearly $500,000 from the group, said that the theft stemmed from her being deceived by another person.

"Ms. Cunningham is a delightful, gracious person who has devoted her entire adult life to JCCEO from its infancy," said Cunningham's attorney, Tommy Spina. "Her accomplishments are many and her life should not be defined by this act of misappropriation."

"This case arises out of her misplaced trust in an unscrupulous individual (in some real estate transactions) who essentially took advantage of her and left her saddled with debt," Spina said.

Spina later identified the individual who he says took advantage of Cunningham as the Rev. Robert Paul Hollman, 48, formerly of Dothan. Hollman, mortgage broker Brad Bozeman, 34, of Hoover, and Cunningham's daughter also also were charged and have entered plea agreements related to an FBI mortgage fraud investigation, federal authorities announced Friday.

In an effort to continue paying these debts she misappropriated non-federal funds from a JCCEO project, the home revival project, Spina said.

"It was never her intent to do harm to the agency she did so much to develop," Spina said. "It was always her intent to sell the properties and to deposit those dollars into the home revival project account. Regretfully, only one property sold and those sales proceeds were deposited with JCCEO."

To date, Cunningham has repaid approximately $296,000 and plans to pay the balance in full soon, Spina said. "She deeply regrets tarnishing JCCEO because of her actions and breaching the trust that had been given to her," he said.

By Kent Faulk | kfaulk@al.com

BIRMINGHAM -- Believe you're about to be handcuffed and hauled to jail and need a lawyer real quick?

Birmingham defense lawyer Tommy Spina has an app for that.

Spina last week began offering a free app for iPhones _ available through the iTunes store _ that allows users to quickly contact him and a friend or loved one if they've been arrested or think trouble is headed their way.

Downloading the app puts a caricature of Spina on your iPhone. When the app is opened, a screen with a large red button in the center appears with the phrase "Unlucky Strike? It Happens _ Press this Button to call Tommy Spina."

Pressing the button dials Spina's pager.

The pager voice message is also converted into a text message and email to Spina. Users also can press "setup" to save a friend or loved-one's cell phone number so when Spina is contacted, it sends a pre-written text to that friend or loved-one.

The pre-written text states: "Hey - I'm texting you automatically from Tommy Spina's app and I probably can't talk right now. I need your help _ please call Tommy at (pager number)"

The other person also gets a link to a Google Map of your location so they can figure out where you were in trouble.

"If they have the wherewithal ... In less than 10 seconds they can notify me and contact a friend," Spina said. "If nothing else, it would allow a loved one to know when and where things went bad."

"It was intended to be a quick, efficient way for a client, or potential client, to be able to reach me in a way that is culturally relevant," Spina said.

You don't have to have a prior relationship with Spina in order to get and use the app, Spina said.

Having a lawyer isn't usually the first thing you need to worry about if headed to jail.

Spina also has a "know your rights" tab at the bottom of his app where people can find a one paragraph statement he calls his "Reverse Miranda" rights. That statement begins: "My lawyer has told me not to talk to anyone about my case, to not answer questions..."

Another tab includes information about the types of bond usually available and his recommendation and contact number for a bond company.

Two other tabs at the bottom of the app include information about Spina, more contact information, and a link to his website.

So far the app is only available for the iPhone. But if it's successful, Spina says he may have one developed for the Droid.

An app isn't the first unusual or off-beat advertising avenue Spina has explored.

He sponsors the radio segment "Trash on the Table" on sports talk station WJOX. He's had a bobble-head of himself. And he's given out items including "keep your lips sealed" lip balm, "there's a light at the end of the tunnel" flashlights, and "don't get burned" matchsticks that was part of his Unlucky Strike ad campaign.

The idea for the app came up while talking to a local TV station executive, Spina said. "She suggested an app to be culturally relevant," he said.

At the TV executive's suggestion, Spina said he contacted Jay Brandrup, principal at Kinetic Communications in Birmingham, to develop the app.

Spina said that he and Brandrup looked to develop an app that was novel, convenient, and effective.

Brandrup said he enjoyed working with Spina on the unorthodox and novel approach. He said they couldn't find an app, at least around the Birmingham area, that did the same thing.

"The uniqueness kind of fits Tommy," Brandrup said. "We tried to make the app fit his own personality and uniqueness."

One example of incorporating that personality into the app is inside the tab to learn more about Spina. When you tap Spina's photo, the caricature of Spina used for his bobble-head appears in its place.

Statements shed 'new light' in Orange Beach shooting

by Paige Malone

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (WALA) - The attorneys for an Orange Beach man accused of shooting a tourist in what police said was road rage are telling a different story.

Steven Pinson is charged with attempted murder. In August, District Judge Michelle Thomason set his bond at $500,000 and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device.

"Mr. Pinson, based on the circumstances of the case, I believe that there is a risk in you having a lower bond. I believe that you are a danger to this community," said Thomason.

Since this hearing, Pinson has been released on bond and his ankle bracelet has been removed.

Pinson is accused of shooting Damon Hembree of McCalla, Ala. after an argument on Perdido Beach Boulevard.

Pinson is represented by Tommy Spina and Steve Salter. They said the events that unfolded that day in August speak more to self defense, rather than attempted murder.

"What happened; happened. It's an unfortunate event. He's happy Mr. Hembree is progressing with his recovery but Mr. Pinson is not a danger to society," said Spina.

Pinson's attorneys said witness statements taken at the crime scene claim Hembree approached Pinson's car and that Pinson made it clear he had a weapon.

"He had asked Mr. Hembree to get back in the vehicle and Mr. Hembree continued to curse him, to make disparaging remarks about him. (Hembree) told him he was going to place that gun in a place where the sun don't shine for lack of a better term. He wasn't afraid of that gun and ultimately left Mr. Pinson with no alternative at that point but to do what he did because he was afraid of being seriously injured," said Spina.

The attorneys said these statements are not just from Pinson.

"Other than just a few minor nuances, the facts don't vary from what Mr. Hembree says versus what Mr. Pinson says versus what witnesses say," said Spina.

Pinson is a retired conservation officer. This is another key fact for his defense team.

"He knows the vital spots in the body and had a fully loaded seven shot semi automatic pistol. He fired a single shot into a non lethal part of the body. And that doesn't make it not serious, but I think it represents there was no intent to kill," said Salter.

All of this will be considered by a Grand Jury. Pinson's attorneys are considering a rare move; asking the district attorney to let Pinson speak to the grand jury members face-to-face.

"My opinion is fact driven. In this instance, there are facts that we believe the grand jury should consider before it's determined."

The defense team said the grand jury only needs prove there is probable cause to go forward. They said the possibility they won't is slim.

Written by
Sebastian Kitchen

Montgomery Advertiser

A federal judge sentenced Jennifer Pouncy, the last of three people who pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers to pass gambling legislation, to a much lighter sentence than those who worked alongside her.

Chief Judge Keith Watkins sentenced the former casino lobbyist Wednesday to three years probation. The Montgomery woman, who was the first target in the investigation to cooperate and to plead guilty, could have served as much as five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy. Prosecutors requested a sentence of two years in prison.

Pouncy, 36, admitted offering one state senator $2 million in exchange for his vote on pro-gambling legislation and to working with a casino developer to authorize $100,000 for another state senator in exchange for his vote.

Watkins said her actions undermined government and people's confidence in government in this state, and he was not minimizing the seriousness of her crimes, but he said she has suffered humiliation, lost earnings, was the first to cooperate with federal investigators, and provided substantial assistance that helped lead to the guilty pleas of two other defendants, lobbyist Jarrod Massey and Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley.

Pouncy declined comment as she left the federal courthouse Wednesday.

Pouncy, who briefly addressed the judge in the courtroom, fought back tears as she said she was sorry for her crimes and knew they were wrong when she did them. She apologized to her husband, who was in the courtroom, and her 3-year-old son for putting them through the situation.

"I wish I was stronger," said Pouncy, who said she wishes she had initially just told people no.

Pouncy's defense attorney, Tommy Spina, said Pouncy was not a ring leader in the conspiracy and acted on the orders of others.

"She was just a puppet and an attractive young lady they used," he said to the judge.

Spina said she was the mother of a young son in a double-earner family where she was the "bread winner" and was trying to keep a $60,000-a-year job. She currently works for an agency that deals with veterinary products, he added.
The attorney also said that other than those 30 days in 2010 she had lived an exemplary life.

Spina said they were relieved she received probation, said that chapter of her life was over, and said "she'll just go back to work being a mother and the hard-working person that she always was before this and has been since this."

Pouncy has not been asked for assistance in any other investigations, Spina said.

Attorneys said during sentencing for Massey and Gilley that they had cooperated with a state investigation.

Watkins said there was no benefit to society in sending Pouncy to prison. Spina agreed.

"I don't find she had any involvement in planning" the corrupt activities, Watkins said and added that she had a minor role in the activities. Pouncy said on the witness stand during one of the trials that she did not have the authority to approve campaign contributions.

Federal prosecutor Emily Rae Woods of the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section said it is clear Pouncy regrets her crimes, but the punishment must reflect the seriousness of her crimes. She said Pouncy's actions undermined the system of government in Alabama and said she offered bribes of more than $1 million.

The judge also ordered Pouncy to pay a $4,000 fine, but did not order her to pay restitution, saying no one suffered a financial loss because of her crimes.

He also ordered her to perform 100 hours of community service.

Pouncy pleaded guilty in September 2010, days before federal agents arrested 11 other people including VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, Gilley, Massey, other lobbyists, and four state senators for their alleged role in a conspiracy in which, according to federal authorities, casino interests offered millions in bribes to lawmakers in exchange for their votes on pro-gambling legislation.

Other than those who pleaded guilty, none of the other defendants were found guilty in the two federal corruption trials related to gambling in the state.

Massey, who was Pouncy's boss and the chief lobbyist for Country Crossing, and Gilley were among those arrested in October 2010 and they later pleaded guilty. Pouncy testified that, as a young mother, she acted on their orders out of fear she could lose her job.
Spina said that there was "not one act Jennifer committed that she initiated."

Prosecutors credited Pouncy with being responsible for Massey pleading guilty and partially responsible for Gilley pleading guilty.

Another federal judge sentenced Massey to five years and five months in prison and Gilley to more than six and a half years in prison. Massey is serving his sentence and Gilley is scheduled to begin his early next month after his term was delayed so he could undergo surgery and recovery.

Pouncy testified that she offered then-state Sen. Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega, $2 million in exchange for his vote on the gambling legislation being considered by the Senate in the 2010 legislative session. Preuitt was a defendant in the case, but was found not guilty of all of the charges.

She also said that then-state Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, told her at that time that he was going through a tough re-election fight and needed $100,000.

Pouncy testified that she went to Massey, who called Gilley and told the developer they were getting a "shakedown" from Means. Gilley approved contributing the money to Means, although there was never any transfer of money to either senator. Means, also a defendant, was found not guilty of the charges against him.

Prosecutors portrayed the gambling interests as desperate as they tried to pass the gambling legislation in 2009 and 2010 to try to protect their financial future and keep their casinos open.

"She stood to gain nothing financially," Spina said.

Pouncy, whose first job in lobbying was working for McGregor lobbyist Milo Dakin, said on the witness stand that in her 12 or 13 years of lobbying she had never talked before about votes in exchange for contributions.

Defense attorneys attacked what they said were credibility issues with Pouncy and inconsistencies in her testimony.

Pouncy testified at both of the federal corruption trials, where she was emotional at times as she underwent heavy questioning from defense attorneys during a total of seven days on the witness stand.
She also had to answer questions concerning demeaning conversations about her and about Massey telling her to tell Preuitt she could lose her job if the bill did not pass. She said she never told him.

Spina said Pouncy had to endure personal attacks on her morality based on what men said behind her back while she was working. Federal agents secretly recorded phone lines used by Gilley, Massey and McGregor. The conversations about her that were played in court were between Gilley and Massey.

Massey and Pouncy testified that he placed her on administrative leave and then fired her in 2010. Massey said she was often sick, was emotional and that he was concerned about her cooperating with authorities because of her behavior.

Woods said the trial experience was a "particularly taxing one for the government witnesses," noting the number of defendants and countless defense attorneys. She also said, because of the media attention on the case, that the witnesses were under an unusual level of exposure.

An FBI agent and an agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation approached Pouncy on her way to work the day after the Senate approved the gambling legislation in 2010. She immediately went with them to an office where they began questioning her. Pouncy began cooperating in April 2010.

"She has done everything that has been asked of her," Woods said, adding that Pouncy's testimony was truthful, that she was respectful on the witness stand, and that she appeared remorseful and humbled by the situation.

Spina said the cooperation was timely and was provided as the investigation continued and as the grand jury was meeting to consider charges.

Judge directs not guilty verdict against Bailey, Teels

Gadsden Times Staff Writer

Three men on trial in Etowah County for extortion have been acquitted on all charges.

Circuit Judge Howard F. Bryan IV ruled Wednesday afternoon that there was insufficient evidence for the trial to continue in the case against Gadsden attorney Frank Bailey, Coosa County Assistant District Attorney Frank Teel and Teel's son, Ryan McVay Teel.

The three were indicted in June 2010 for second-degree extortion.

The ruling means neither Bailey nor the Teels can be retried on the charges.

Legal counsel representing the three made a motion Wednesday afternoon at the close of the prosecution's case, and asked for a judgment of acquittal.

Roy McCord, Rod Giddens and Catherine McCord Bailey represent Frank Teel. Tommy Spina represents Ryan Teel and Morgan Cunningham and Eddy Cunningham represent Bailey.

Etowah County judges recused themselves from the case, and Bryan was appointed to hear it.

Bryan wrote in his order after the ruling Wednesday in open court, "After considering the argument of counsel, the charges as alleged in the indictment and all the evidence presented, the Court is of the opinion that the motions are to be granted."

The Attorney General's office and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation. Bailey and Frank Teel were arrested in May 2010 after they allegedly accepted a check for $1 million during a meeting with an attorney for Carl Weaver, a Gadsden businessman named in a lawsuit involving a 1995 murder in Coosa County in which two Etowah County men died and another was injured. Both attorneys and Ryan Teel were indicted the following month.

The trial got under way on Sept. 10 and was expected to last for several days.

"We're tickled to death for him (Frank Teel) and his family," McCord said.

Prosecutors said the men were arrested after they allegedly tried to extort $5 million from Weaver with the threat of a capital murder indictment to settle a civil lawsuit against him.

Bailey allegedly contacted the attorney to initiate the plot to extort money from Weaver.

Mickie Wayne Collins, L.C. Collins Jr. and Charles Richard Tooley pleaded guilty in the Coosa County murder investigation after Bailey's and the Teels' arrests.

A survivor in the incidents, Roger Darrell Firestone, sued Weaver, along the Collinses and Tooley, in 2010 for their alleged roles in the incidents. The Collinses and Tooley had pleaded guilty to two counts of murder.

Mickie Wayne Collins later died in prison. Weaver has not been charged in the slayings.

The three were charged in 2009 in the deaths of Charles Thomas Amberson Jr., 41, and Darrell Thomas Coleman, 39, both of Gadsden. They were charged with the attempted murder of Firestone of Hokes Bluff.

The injured men suffered severe burns in a fire and explosion in the Unity community of Coosa County.

The victims told law enforcement officers they had been tied up, robbed and set on fire by people they did not know.

All three immediately were transported to nearby hospitals, and Amberson and Coleman died within a few days. Firestone, 45 at the time, survived.

In a written statement from Bailey late Wednesday, he explained his involvement.

"At trial, evidence was presented that (Frank Bailey) was representing Firestone for injuries sustained when three assailants killed two men and set fire to Mr. Firestone in 1995 in Coosa County. Bailey began attempting to settle this lawsuit in 2009 once the three assailants were indicted in 2009 and two of which gave statements confessing that Carl Weaver had hired them to undertake this killing and horrible maiming," according to the statement. "Weaver's attorney, Jay Stover, then began secretly recording Bailey at these negotiations and by his own testimony began negotiating in bad faith with Bailey. Stover then contacted authorities who arrested Bailey and his co-defendants and brought these charges through the Attorney General's Office."

Bailey's statement said Firestone hired new attorneys who have filed a civil lawsuit against Weaver and it is pending in Coosa County.

Bailey has filed a civil lawsuit against Stove for interference with his business relationship with Firestone, according to the statement.

The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is tragic, but whether Mr. Zimmerman is guilty of having committed a murder is an issue to be determined in a court of law - not in a pretrial press conference by special prosecutor Angela Corey.

 An ethical rule adopted in Florida forbids a prosecutor to make a public statement if she should know that her statement will substantially increase the likelihood of prejudicing jurors before the trial has begun. Specifically identified as unethically prejudicial is for the prosecutor to express her opinion about the strength of her case against the defendant.  No potential juror, hearing Ms. Corey's press conference, could avoid believing that the prosecution has an overwhelming case against Mr. Zimmerman based on a thorough investigation that established "the facts" and "the truth" of his guilt.

Ms. Corey stressed how highly professional her team's investigation had been and claimed that the prosecution is engaged in a "never-ending search for truth and a quest to always do the right thing for the right reason."  Prosecutors are not only a "ministers of justice," she said, but they are "seekers of the truth" and she will "stay true to that mission."

 Having established that she is dedicated to pursuing and establishing the truth, Ms. Corey went on to say that the decision to charge Mr. Zimmerman with murder was not reached lightly.  Only after she was able to establish "the facts" and "the truth" through an "extensive and full investigation" did the "search for justice" for Mr. Martin lead her to charge Mr. Zimmerman with murder.  In addition, her pursuit of truth and justice required Ms. Corey to make sure that Mr. Zimmerman had no viable defenses, such as the Stand Your Ground law or self-defense.

 Florida ethical rules also recognize that the purpose of the criminal law is to vindicate public interests, not private ones.  Specifically, the ethical rule says that "the prosecutor's client is not the victim," but members of the public generally.  Yet Ms. Corey" said that she knows only one category of persons, her "precious victims."   Indeed, she added that "all we know"is justice for our victims.  Accordingly, her first act as special prosecutor was to pray with Trayvon Martin's family.  She also thanked "all those people across this country who have sent positive energy and prayers our way," and she asked them to continue to pray for Trayvon's family and for the prosecution.

 In passing, Ms. Corey acknowledged her obligation to do justice also for Mr.Zimmerman.  But with Ms. Corey's single-minded dedication to "our precious victims," her repeated assertions that truth and justice are on the prosecution's side in this case, and with positive energy and prayers from all over the country supporting her never-ending quest to always do the right thing for the right reason, George Zimmerman has all but been convicted already, without the need for the due process of a courtroom.

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey used her press conference to establish three things.

First, her investigative team is highly professional,  and "worked tirelessly" in a "never-ending search for the truth and a quest to always do the right thing for the right reason."  We are "not only ministers of justice," we are "seekers of the truth," and we "stay true to that mission."

Second, Ms. Corey and her team "did not come to this decision lightly."  Only after they were able to establish "the facts" and "the truth" through an "extensive" and "full investigation"  has "the search for justice for Trayvon ... brought us to this night" (i.e., the press conference announcing the filing of charges).

Third, Ms. Corey would not have filed charges until her team had established beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman is guilty, and they had eliminated all affirmative defenses, including excusable or justifiably homicide.

Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8, cmt.: "Florida has adopted the American Bar Association Standards of Criminal Justice Relating to the Prosecution Function. This is the product of prolonged and careful deliberation by lawyers experienced in criminal prosecution and defense and should be consulted for further guidance."

ABA Std. 3-1.4(a): "A prosecutor should not make ... an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication, if the prosecutor ... reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding."  Cmt. to 3.1: "the opinion of the lawyer on the guilt of the defendant, the merits of the case, or the merits of the evidence in the case" is "ordinarily likely to have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing a criminal proceeding."

Corey:  "We know only one category as prosecutors, and that is a 'V.'  It's not a 'B,' it's not a 'W,' it's not an 'H.'  It's 'V,' for victim.  That's who we work tirelessly for.  And that's all we know, is justice for our victims."  Corey also referred to "our precious victims."

ABA Std. 3-2.1, cmt.:  "The idea that the criminal law ... is designed to vindicate public rather than private interests is now firmly established."
ABA Std. 3-3.2, cmt.: "the prosecutor's client is not the victim."

Corey:  The first thing my team and I did upon being appointed was to meet with Trayvon's family and pray with them.  "We opened our meeting with prayer."  Also, Ms. Corey thanked "all those people across this country who have sent positive energy and prayers our way," and she asked them to continue to pray for Trayvon's family and for her team.  "Remember, it is Trayvon's family that are our constitutional victims...."

At this point, do we need the due process of a trial by jury?  Can Zimmerman receive the due process of a trial by an impartial jury?  Why should anyone care?

Does the Nose Know?

Sit. Stay. Speak. These are three examples of commands that a motivated dog

with adequate training could learn to perform at will. Dogs learn at an early age that

certain cues from their handlers are meant to trigger their performance. These cues can

be simple motions or verbal commands. These cues can be intentional or unintentional.

Whatever the cue, dogs become trained to react. In some cases, if not most, these

reactions become reflex.

Positive reactions mean positive reinforcement. In the case of dog training, the

positive reinforcement is often a treat and/or praise. Soon enough, dogs begin to pick

up that performing a trick, whether they are given a cue or not, will earn them treats and

praise. Sometimes, dogs are simply rewarded solely for good behavior. Eventually, the

dog's motivation to act is based on its reliance of treats and praise. This theory presents

a problem in the case of Drug Detection K-9's. These Drug Detection K-9's are not

motivated by the idea of fighting drug crimes and protecting the community as their

handlers are. These Drug Detection K-9's are motivated by approval and rewards.

The job of a Drug Detection K-9 is to alert to the presence of the odor of

narcotics. At the proper age, these dogs attend schools where they are introduced to

the smells of different narcotics and trained to react to these odors. While these dogs

are extensively trained and are able to detect some odors fairly accurately, it does not

always happen consistently. Just as humans, these K-9's make mistakes. However,

unlike humans, K-9's cannot give a reasoning to their reactions. Some argue that these

dogs are merely reacting due to a cue given, whether intentional or unintentional, from

their handler. Some suggest that they are merely reacting for the rewards. In the end,

the reasoning behind the K-9's response is left to be interpreted by its handler. This act

of translating between K-9 and handler begs the question: is it the handler taking cues

from the K-9 or is the K-9 taking cues from the handler? Overall, the primary concern

with Drug Detection K-9's and their motivation to react are the unexplained responses

of a dog enough to establish probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. Jeffrey S.

Weiner, Police K-9's and the Constitution: What Every Lawyer and Judge Should Know.

The Champion. April 2012. Pg. 22.

One of the underlying bases for the use of canines in searches is the Carroll

Doctrine. The Carroll Doctrine refers to, "a principle that permits a police officer to

search an entire motor vehicle and any containers inside it if there is probable cause to

believe the vehicle contains contraband or the fruits, instrumentalities or evidence of

criminal activity." Carroll Doctrine Law and Legal Definition, https://

definitions.uslegal.com/c/carroll-doctrine/. Probable cause is defined as, "a reasonable

ground to suspect that a person has committed or is committing a crime or that a place

contains specific items connected with a crime." Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).

The unresolved question is: "Are K-9 alerts and handler translated responses enough to

establish a reasonable ground to expect that an individual or vehicle contains narcotics?"

Based on precedent set forth by the United States Supreme Court and the

subsequent Alabama Appellate Courts adoption of the principles set forth in that

precedent, trained Drug Detection K-9 alerts are enough to establish probable cause. In

State of Alabama v. David R. Ellis the court cited that, "An alert by a trained drug-sniffing

dog provides probable cause to search without a warrant." State v. Ellis, 71So.3d 41,49

(Ala. Crim. App. 2010). The Alabama court stated, "The Eleventh Circuit has long

recognized that 'probable cause arises when a drug-trained canine alerts to drugs." Id.

Alabama Courts have even upheld the validity of a K-9 search in the presence of

mistake. In Manuel Jesus Ynosencio v. State, the Alabama Supreme Court held that

despite that the K-9 dog in this case made a mis-indentification prior to alerting to the

presence of narcotics in Mr. Ynosencio's car, this was not enough to to "destory the

general reliability of a trained dog's identification of narcotics" and thus probable cause

was present. Ynosencio v. State, 629 So.2d 795, 798 (Ala. Crim. App. 1983). Thus,

despite the fallibility of the Drug Detection K-9's, unless the traffic stop is deemed to be

unjust, the court will likely uphold that a positive alert from the drug dog is enough to

establish probable cause.

A recent study conducted by the Chicago Tribune analyzed three years of data from

police departments in the suburbs of Chicago and found that just 44% of dog alerts

resulted in the discovery of drugs or paraphernalia, and that the average false alert

resulted in a stop lasting almost a half hour. The numbers are even more staggering for

Hispanics drivers - the success rate was a mere 27%. Even accounting for alerts

triggered by drug residue, the numbers suggest that the dogs are either being poorly

trained or are responding to cues from their handlers like leading them too many times

or too slowly around a vehicle.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Davis and published

in January states unequivocally that "handler beliefs affect scent detection dog

outcomes," and that detector dogs are cued by their handlers 85% of the time.

Lawrence Myers, an associate professor of animal behavior at Auburn University's

College of Veterinary Medicine has said that he's "disturbed by the number of doghandler

teams that are not well trained," while Steven D. Nicely an expert at K9

Consultants of America - who started training dogs in 1973 as a military policeman,

became a police officer in Texas, and has been a professional dog trainer since 1989 -

says that he's convinced that "the majority of detector dog trainers are not very


If there is in any silver lining in all this for pot possessors it's that the same glaring

incompetence that's pervasive in false detections can lead to canines being so poorly

trained that they're unable to detect non-trace amounts of illegal substances in the

majority of cases, according to Nicely. In a Japanese university study published in the

Journal of Veterinary Behavior in 2009, researchers state clearly that "a dog's response

to commands is influenced not only by the relationship with its owner, but also the

owner's dog-handling ability." The ability of law-enforcement trainers can seriously be

called into question then when Nicely says that in his review of "approximately 30 drug

detector dogs' field performance ... the average probability of non-trace amounts [of

drugs] being seized is 39%." He says properly training dogs could easily lead to nontrace

amounts being seized 80% of the time.

Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the American Civil

Liberties Union of Illinois asserts that "dog sniffs should be banned absent individualized

reasonable suspicion that a car contains illegal drugs," in other words, evidence besides

a dog's bark.

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