There was nothing for Wanda to fear.
She was an innocent librarian hanging out with a friend. The red and blue lights pulled up behind Wanda Reyes and her friend while parked on the side of the road. The Polk County deputy strolled up to the driver’s side of the car. It turns out that she did have something to fear, though – the cop decided they smelled like marijuana, and that is enough for a drug conviction in Polk County. She felt in physical jeopardy – threatened. The officers insinuated sexual impropriety – that she was a prostitute. An hour later, merely in jail, the state charged Wanda with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. Her friend had absentmindedly left a “roach” on the floorboard under his seat of his car. Wanda was detained for two weeks before she was located and bonded out.
Stuck in a hole.
Wanda would miss her orientation at Disney World the next day. She was unable to contact anybody – who remembers phone numbers these days? Even if she had a number to call, it would have to be collect – and only certain cell phone carriers accept them. Her friend was also arrested and he had no way to know who to contact for her. It takes three weeks to qualify for “indigent status” in many Florida counties and receive postage for outgoing mail. Day by day her hope diminished – she was forgotten, abandoned. Locked in a cage with violent criminals, crying herself to sleep every night. She’d violated no laws, yet law enforcement had given the power of “conviction by instinct” to its officers. Surely, this power could not be abused?
No way out.
Her lawyer, public defender Carmalita Lall (FL BAR #0109159) would appear before the judge and fail to argue the lack of probable cause. How could this be? Certainly, this was a mistake. After her release, Wanda went to her arraignment, and her lawyer advised her to take probation? It would seem that her arrest was not a mistake after all, that there is a deliberate and willful abuse of power in Polk County. And it would seem the whole system is in on it. Why wasn’t she released ROR? Why is the Public Defender’s office loathe to fight for her? Her co-defendant accepted the consequences of his bad judgment and has been sentenced! He informed the state’s attorney of his culpability. The case has not been dropped.
Polk County doesn’t play.
I can understand that Polk County would want peace. I also understand that areas of criminal activity interrupt that peace. Drug possession is currently criminal activity in the state of Florida, and I believe drug use is a substantial problem. I believe that Sheriff Grady Judd believes that reducing crime is his mandate. I believe this is just and fair. I do not believe, however, that any and all measures should be leveled against criminal activity. This is where he and I apparently disagree.
Dismiss the charges!
In the state of Florida, it is currently illegal to possess marijuana without a prescription. It is not illegal to smell like marijuana or even smoke marijuana. In the deputy’s sworn affidavit, he acknowledges that Wanda was not in actual or constructive possession of either an illegal substance or paraphernalia. Further, he affirms that her co-defendant confessed to his crimes at the scene, absorbing all guilt. So why, WHY was she arrested? And why should she feel threatened by the presence of law enforcement? What is wrong here?
How does Wanda Reyes’ story make you feel?
Case: 2016MM007525A000BA filed: 8/29/16
Judge Robert G Fegers
Arrest report# 160038961: arrested on 8/27/16 by Deputy William Alexis Pastor-Cotto
10/31/2016 – Wanda is back in jail, her bond revoked for failing to appear. Her docket hearing for trial is on December 1, 2016. The state has no probable cause to hold her, but she remains detained until trial by jury.
11/16/2016 – Wanda has been released. She pled “no contest” and adjudication has been withheld. Not the perfect scenario, but just. She’s now on the hook for court costs and the damage inflicted by her unlawful arrest. This nonsense has to stop – when will we be able to count on law enforcement OFFICERS to truly protect our rights again?