The story about Brevard County Judge John Murphy is all over social media recently. The judge allegedly got into an argument with an assistant public defender during court proceedings which resulted in the judge punching the PD off camera. The video can be seen here:
But what was the fight really about? The news reports state that it happened at a “first appearance” hearing. This is probably inaccurate. The court proceeding appeared to be “Arraignment” hearings and to understand why this lead to the argument, it helps to know the difference between the court proceedings. What is the difference between 1st Appearance and Arraignment?
What happens at 1st appearance?
1st Appearance happens when a person is initially arrested. The person is taken before the judge the next day to determine if there is “probable cause” to hold them in jail while the criminal charge is pending. The judge also determines what (if any) bond or conditions of release shall be set. If the judge finds there is NO PROBABLE cause for the arrest, the person is released on their own recognizance, commonly referred to as R.O.R. This does not mean that the case is dismissed or over because the prosecutor can still file a criminal charge against them, but the person will be released without having to post a bond. If an arrested person bonds out immediately, he would not have a 1st Appearance and would not see the judge. Some crimes, such as Domestic Violence, are not entitled to be set a bond until the person goes before the judge at 1st Appearance. Here is a video from Justin Bieber’s case from when he was arrested for DUI/drag racing that shows what typically happens at a 1st Appearance hearing:
What happens at an Arraignment?
This is an arrested person’s first court date after 1st Appearance. The person is called before the court to answer the charge. In the video, everyone is wearing street clothes and not jail jumpsuits so that is our 1st clue it is an Arraignment. If the arrested person pleads guilty, the judge would then sentence them according to a plea agreement or if it is an “open plea” (no agreement between the prosecutor and criminal attorney or suspect), however the judge decides is appropriate for the crime. If the person, his lawyer, or if assigned a public defender pleads “NOT GUILTY”, the case has to be set for trial or a Pre-Trial Conference/Disposition/Calendar Call/Status Conference date. Different counties in Florida use different terms, but they all act the same way. These calendar dates insure that criminal cases keep moving along. THIS IS WHAT THE ARGUMENT AND ALLEGED FIGHT WAS ABOUT!
So what was happening in that court room? Why did a judge allegedly punch a criminal defense lawyer?
The public defender was pleading people “not guilty”, so the cases had to be set for trial or the Pre-Trial court date. In Florida, criminal defendants are entitled to a speedy trial. (The speedy trial time limit for a misdemeanor is 90 days. The speedy trial time limit for a felony is 175 days). The public defender was trying to preserve his client’s speedy trial rights, but at the same time, get more time to prepare a defense to the criminal charges. In Florida, if the defendant or his attorney requests a continuance or delay of the case, the case law (appellate courts) have held that is a waiver of speedy trial. So the public defender was trying to get THE JUDGE to set the case for a Pre-Trial date instead of trial. The judge, either knowing the case law or not normally a criminal judge) wanted the Public Defender to commit to a trial or ask for a Pre-Trial date which would be a continuance (potentially) and speedy trial would be waived. The judge might also not want cases coming back for ineffective assistance of counsel or for the Public Defender to be able to complain later on that he was not prepared for trial. So we ended up with a staring contest. The lawyer wanting the judge to set it for a Pre-Trial so he could preserve his client’s speedy trial rights and the judge who wanted a commitment from the public defender to set it for trial or waive his client’s speedy trial rights. With neither side blinking, we ended up with a judge allegedly punching a public defender out in the hallway. A black eye for BOTH judges and public defenders in the public eye.
There is a time to fight for your client and a correct way to fight in court for your client. You want the attorney representing you in court to fight for you, but in a way that the prosecutor and the judge on your case respects the way the criminal lawyer fights for you!
If you have been arrested for a crime, retain an experienced criminal defense attorney that will stand up for you!
Thomas C. Grajek — 863-688-4606