Florida

This Republican Florida Prosecutor Wants to Start the State's First Conviction Integrity Unit

Melissa Nelson ousted notorious Florida prosecutor Angela Corey. Now she wants to turn her office around.

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Incoming Florida state attorney Melissa Nelson discusses criminal justice at a forum in Washington, D.C. // Reason

Incoming Florida state attorney Melissa Nelson is inheriting some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, they happen to be clown shoes, and she would prefer something a bit more professional.

A former assistant state attorney for 12 years before she moved to private practice, Nelson won the race for Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney after demolishing her opponent, incumbent two-term state attorney Angela Corey, by 64 to 26 percent in the GOP primary earlier this year.

Corey has been called, among other things, "the cruelest prosecutor in America" and "one of the most reviled prosecutors in Florida." Corey was most notable for prosecuting—and failing to convict—George Zimmerman. She also sent a woman to prison for 20 years who fired two warning shots to deter her allegedly abusive husband and charged a 12-year-old as an adult for first-degree murder. In addition, Corey was notoriously thin-skinned and had a habit of calling her many critics to threaten them, including the Florida Times-Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and professors at Florida State University and Harvard Law School.

Corey was one of a number of controversial prosecutors that was booted out of office in November. Nelson, speaking at a forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C. hosted by the U.S. Justice Action Network, a criminal justice advocacy group, said her victory was part of that wave of backlash from voters.

"I don't care if its a box of six jurors or twelve jurors or an electorate of thousands, people crave fair outcomes," Nelson said. "We learn it on the ball field when we're kids. People want to know that the system is fair, and that was the common denominator. This election wasn't about me. I was a tool. This was my community's repudiation of a system and an office they felt was imbalanced and no longer fair, that had lost its way."

To restore the public trust, Nelson says she wants to increase the diversity of lawyers in her office, create better diversion programs for juveniles, change the way prosecutors handle potential death penalty cases, and create Florida's first conviction integrity unit—a special team of prosecutors that reviews cases looking for wrongful convictions.

It's a fairly remarkable agenda for a Republican, NRA-endorsed prosecutor whose constituents include two of the most conservative counties in the U.S. After the forum, Reason caught up with Nelson to ask about her plans as she prepares to enter office on Jan. 3. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

REASON: You talked a lot about the way things were done under your predecessor. What's your plan going forward, and how do you hope to change that?

NELSON: One of the things I didn't talk about that matters is the metrics of success. How do we reward prosecutors? What do we teach them is good? I met with The Innocence Project on Friday, actually. We're trying to put together a conviction integrity unit, which would be the first in Florida if I can do it. I'm very excited about the prospects. One of the things [The Innocence Project] shared with me that I loved is the idea of rewarding young prosecutors for doing justice. They told me an example of a prosecutor dropping a case. He understood that, because he had so much leverage, he could likely have obtained a plea, but he didn't think it was the right thing to do, so he dropped the case. He was called in, and he thought he was going to be fired. The D.A. actually acknowledged him in front of the whole office. Instead of the metric being how many cases you try, how many convictions you obtain, how many people you put in prison, the idea is: Did you do the right thing? I want to change the culture and thinking process to one of service. We're tasked with protecting the public and seeking justice.

REASON: One thing you hear a lot of former prosecutors talk about is this "win, win, win" mentality.

NELSON: Win at all costs. When I talk about trust in the community, all it takes is one case where it's proven you fudged. You know, didn't play fair. Then it affects every case and undermines every conviction. Do the right thing every day. I was with my husband having coffee, and I said, "I really hope I have some time to build some credibility before I'm faced with a very serious challenge and end up in front of a podium." He said, "Just do the right thing. It's that simple."

REASON: We were talking about juvenile justice earlier. Florida has "direct file," which allows prosecutors to charge juveniles in adult court at their discretion. Your predecessor came under a lot of criticism for the number of juveniles she charged as adults. How will your office decide when that's appropriate?

NELSON: We're going to create and publish, so the public can see it, criteria for direct file. I will make sure the office retains the ability for outlier cases to direct-file a juvenile if appropriate, but there will be criteria the public and the defense bar can rely on that we will use as factors in making the decision. Then the direct file decisions—in the last eight years they were made only in the the juvenile division—are going to go up to the highest level of leadership. I have two chief assistants and one of them is tasked with looking at every direct file decision. He will be a backstop.

REASON: The Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project found that several "outlier" death penalty counties—counties that return a high number of death penalty sentences—are in Florida. Prosecutors play a large part in this. How will your office handle potential death penalty cases?

NELSON: That's the most serious decision in the state's attorney office. Our state supreme court has just indicated, and hopefully our legislature will enact legislation this spring to reflect this decision, that unanimity is required in a death recommendation. [Florida was, until recently, one of two states in the U.S. that allowed judges to impose death penalty sentences on non-unanimous jury recommendations.] This means, on the front end, prosecutors have to be all the more careful about the cases where they intend to seek death. Whereas twelve months ago, prosecutors might pursue it if they thought it was appropriate, now you have to ask yourself if twelve people will also agree, which is a high standard. In my office, prosecutors had the unilateral ability to seek death. No longer. We're going to do what Miami-Dade does, which is a review board. So if a prosecutor thinks it's appropriate to seek death, they're going to have to come before the review board and make their case. We're going to invite the defense as well to bring their mitigation, so that we get the decision right up front.

REASON: You started out as an assistant prosecutor, and then did some criminal defense work, and now you're going to be a state attorney. How did that defense work change your perspective going into your new job?

NELSON: My dad was a law enforcement officer, and I as a prosecutor believed that I respected the power I had. It wasn't until I had a client and I was on the other side of the table that I really came to appreciate all the contours of the government's power—when I had a client who had to respond to a subpoena that affected their business, or when I had a client facing life in prison. That power, I now have a different respect for it that will hopefully inform the decisions I make in a better way.

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    1. meh painted on eyebrows are weird

  1. Conviction Integrity Unit

    Any chance it ends up doing the opposite?

    1. Of course. We are skeptics about government first and foremost. However, there’s some hope here. We can at least applaud the idea.

      1. And if it doesn’t work out, Cover It Up is a nice joke alternate meaning for the acronym.

    2. So far, no. They are charged with reviewing exculpatory claims and making recommendations to vacate convictions. It appears to work as designed, so far. Of course, none of the released have murdered a small child yet, so…

  2. Godspeed, Florida Woman.

    1. I wouldn’t recommend buying God speed from a Florida woman, especially the weekend of the Disney Marathon, “I thought I was Emporer’s New Clothes” defense notwithstanding.

      1. I like to live dangerously.

        *speeds away on Razor scooter*

  3. “In addition, Corey was notoriously thin-skinned and had a habit of calling her many critics to threaten them, including the Florida Times-Union, the Southern Poverty Law School [Center] and professors at Florida State University and Harvard Law School.”

    I believe that should be “Southern Poverty Law [Center]”.

  4. NELSON: My dad was a law enforcement officer, and I as a prosecutor believed that I respected the power I had. It wasn’t until I had a client and I was on the other side of the table that I really came to appreciate all the contours of the government’s power?when I had a client who had to respond to a subpoena that affected their business, or when I had a client facing life in prison. That power, I now have a different respect for it that will hopefully inform the decisions I make in a better way.

    Power definitely feels different when you’re catching instead of pitching.

    1. Don’t ever put yourself in a position to be catching.

    2. The question is: Did you learn anything from this? What other unquestioned assumptions do you have in your head about the way things are or ought to be that maybe could stand a reality check – starting with the unquestioned assumption that you don’t have a bunch of unquestioned assumptions?

      1. the acid test obviously lies in how she handles the job but from the answer, it seems that she did learn something.

  5. Her predecessor was so demonstrably awful that it’s easy give her the benefit of the doubt and wish her great success.

  6. . She also sent a woman to prison for 20 years who fired two warning shots to deter her allegedly abusive husband

    The woman actually left the residence of her estranged partner (that was not her residence, her partner not knowing she was there when he returned) to go to her car in the garage, returned with a gun, and fired two shots at her estranged lover who was in the same room with their children. Corey simply chose to charge the woman with aggravated assault with a weapon, successfully proved the case, and Florida’s minimum sentencing law did the rest. Its the least offensive thing Corey did as a prosecutor.

    1. Corey simply chose

      Knowing Corey from her other actions, I will guess that she chose an awful option primarily because it was awful and would show she was tough on crime.
      “Chose” implies choice. Choosing a bad choice shows mendacity.

      1. That case was sketchy. Let me just say that I think everyone would have chosen to prosecute someone who went to their car to retrieve a gun, returned to their supposed abusers house and shot at the person. Also, it was pretty apparent from the way the same woman violated her No Contact order by physically assaulting her supposed abuser in a separate, later incident that the relationship was at least mutually abusive. You can read all the documents. The problem is the 10-20-Life mandatory minimums. Because the woman discharged a firearm in commission of a felony, she was down for 20.

        1. DON’T TELL ME WHAT I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN TO DO.

          1. Sorry, everyone who chooses to become a State’s Attorney.

            1. Thank you.

    2. He’s new. I’ve only been seeing the C.J. Ciaramella byline for a few weeks. Balko’s shoes are tough to fill, and the criminal justice beat is second only to Skenazy’s in terms of nutpunchiness.

      1. We need to come up with some way to haze new writers besides just telling them in the comments that their stories are stupid or inaccurate or that we know they are secretly progressive Hillary supporters.

        Maybe make him pick up a cherry with his butt and carry it across the room and successfully drop it in a beer stein, then drink all the beer out of the stein?

        1. Ok, but instead of a beer stein make it Jill Stein.

          1. I drink your Jill Stein.

        2. Change the beer stein to a cocktail glass, and I think we’ll have our cuck-athon event.

        3. We need to come up with some way to haze new writers besides just telling them in the comments that their stories are stupid or inaccurate or that we know they are secretly progressive Hillary supporters.

          Think prank-SWAT call-in, but Preet (“Preeting?”).

        4. You’re KA, right Jim?

          1. That and his previous references to sheep are a dead give-away!

          2. I…don’t know what that means.

            *shame*

            1. Kappa Alpha fraternity, I assume

      2. What the criminal justice beat lacks in state-kidnapped children, it makes up for in murdered pets.

      3. Its my own hobby-horse. Of all the bad decisions that got made my Angela Corey, prosecuting Marissa Alexander for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon was not remotely one of them.

        1. There were a lot of grey areas in that case, but 20 years? It should have been a misdemeanor of firing a gun within city limits or something like that. She should be out with time served.

          1. She should have shut up and stayed away from the dude. Ignoring HIS restraining order on the day of the incident and HER restraining order later on makes the prosecutors think you’re a risk. Telling the cops that she fired in his direction but not at him was a big problem. There are no warning shots in FL law. If you shoot a gun in a person’s direction you’re either trying to assault them or kill them, under the law. Had she kept her mouth shut until she got a lawyer and then said that she was afraid for her safety, fired at him but missed, and then he left, she probably would have been let off.

            Its bad law, but if there was ever someone who put herself in a dangerous place on her own, it was Ms. Alexander. How many poor decisions do you get to make before you become criminally responsible for firing a gun at someone?

            1. I looked over the details again. I had forgotten a lot of it. Ok, maybe not a misdemeanor. As far as I can see she fired not with the intention of hitting the guy. The charge should have been something much less.

              Yeah, a lot of grey area there. 20 years is too much.

      4. I’ve been here since July!

        1. But Tonio’s only been seeing you for a few weeks.

          1. He probably needs glasses, is what i’m saying.

        2. Shit, I’ve been here since 2011 (or 2010? My how the time flies), and there are plenty of currently active commenters who were old hats when I first showed up.

          Back of the bus, newb.

          1. What? No, make him sit up front. Or next to Crusty. The cool kids get to sit in the back.

            1. Out of curiosity I went back and looked, and found comments from myself under my original handle, “Jim”, from summer 2010. And in that thread were a bunch of comments from J sub D.

              Now I’m sad : *(

              1. I went all the way back as far as you can go in the comments and saw some of the current posters here. Most of the people I know I remember from way back started to show up around 2007. Pro Libertate, Warty, Sugarfree, Episiarch(who has apparently disappeared), and several others I remember from back then.

                I was lurking a long time before commenting, because you people are fucking scary, you know, but the first comment I can find here of mine is from 2010.

                1. I was lurking a long time before commenting, because you people are fucking scary, you know, but the first comment I can find here of mine is from 2010.

                  Same. Lurked for like a year before posting as ‘Doghouse Reilly’ back in… 2012?

                  Damn, I’m never going to get seniority…

                  *sighs, kicks rock*

                2. I think i started commenting around 2006 or 2007 as Xeones, took a sabbatical in about 2010, and came back a couple years ago.

                  SugarFree put me in a couple of his stories and i even have a tag on his blog, which is why i had to change my name.

                3. Scary? It was the first forum I found where I felt at home. Everywhere else was a swamp of abject stupidity. Granted it took me a week or so to get the feel of the place but…

                  *looks in mirror*

                  Oh.

                4. Pro Libertate, Warty, Sugarfree, Episiarch(who has apparently disappeared), and several others I remember from back then.

                  There was a bit of an exodus after Obama got elected as well. Pro L et. al. stayed through that.

            2. That’s where the beer’s hidden, right?

              1. That’s where the beer’s hidden, right?

                Wait, hidden? Are we supposed to hide it? Can we not have beer on this bus? I thought it was a free country!

                *opens emergency exit, hops out with case of Old Milwaukee in the camo cans*

                1. Dude, you can’t seriously drink beer in camo cans while wearing your monocle. That’s heinous!

                  1. *chucks empty can at Hyp*

            3. Right?! I always wondered what the hell Rosa Parks was bitching about.

          2. I can’t find my first comment. Supposedly, Google claims it’s in 2008, but the links it spit out don’t have my name in the comments.

            1. Yeah, if anyone knows how to effectively deep-search the comments, please let me know.

              1. I just went to their way back calendar machine and started rambling about like a drunken sailor. I found some comments, so it worked.

                1. Where is that? I only see the one week’s worth of posts, and that page is as slow as molasses.

              2. Search for “site:reason.com” and choose a custom date range.

                I got January 2005:

                The correct answer is, “Complete Bullshit”.

                OTOH, I have no idea if that was actually my first comment.

                1. Tried that. There were links for 2008, but none of them had any comments from me.

                  1. Earliest I can find for Ted S. It 2010. Were you definitely posting before that?

                    1. I could swear John had Suki following my blog in its first year, which would be 2008.

                2. I have no idea if that was actually my first comment.

                  That’s the earliest I can find.

              3. site:reason.com [search term] open tools and it let’s you do some things with date and time

                1. Apparently it seems to be working better now, and claims that my first comment was in December 2009. I thought I’d been around longer than that. Anyhow, the comment in question is:

                  The Beatles aren’t as overrated as Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan.

                  1. I think the “S.” is throwing the searching off.

                2. Earliest one of mine i can find.

                  2008, so that’s later than i thought.

              1. VM|2.27.07 @ 1:52PM|#

                Um.

                Sugar – that was one of the most disgusting, fucking twisted things I’ve ever read.

              2. I remember a few others from that thread, thoreau, highnumber, The Wine Commonsewer, P Brooks… but that was back in the days when you could change your posting name every post. I remember when crayon used to post as me, lol.

                1. This is from 2002, 3 comments. There may be some earlier:

                  2002 article

            2. Apparently, my first comment was a Futurama reference and my second was a decent economic evaluation of a bad Krugman piece.

              And though I know I’ve been reading this blog since 2007 or 8, I apparently did not comment for the two years I was mostly unemployed. I only got involved once I had a job to avoid.

          3. I found a comment I made in the middle of 2006.

            1. I’m finding mine from 2005, but I know those weren’t the first. It appears that some of Reason’s early 2000 articles have suffered comment purges. I remember reading the Stossel “confessions of a welfare queen” article in Reason but there are no real comments on it.

        3. I’ve been here since July!

          At my age that’s like just yesterday. Now get off my lawn!

          1. No shit, get off Tonio’s lawn! Wait, can I say that or is it a breech of etiquette to tell noobz to get off someone else’s lawn?

            1. I’m cool with that, Hyper.

        4. I noticed you, CJ!

          Pay no attention to the haters, losers, misfits, drunks, child molestors, hardened criminals, nerds, junkies, narcissistic twits, clowns, guys running around with scissors, or any other of the regulars here (did I miss any?).

          1. You left out the rapesquatches, time-traveling sex warriors, diabetics, schizophrenics, and Tulpa.

            1. Aw, man… Remember the time they hired a guy named Steve Smith without telling him about STEVE SMITH?

              1. Vaguely. When was that?

  7. If I had my way Corey would be stripped of her law license and forced to live on the streets but this is the best we will get.

    Ray of hope – Some years back we had an awful, awful judge. The arrogant SOB had a habit of drunk driving, dismissing any charges brought against him or his son, and bullying members of the public when he was about town. The final straw was the night he stopped , drunk, in the middle of the street in a bad part of town and started pissing. A man sitting on his porch protested and threatened to call the police. Dick Lee then whipped out his pistol and shot at the guy.

    He was taken off of the bench in disgrace. He tried to set up private practice but no one would darken his door. He just sat in his dark office with a whiskey bottle in one hand and a pistol in the other. After several years of that the pistol became more attractive than the whiskey. A friend of mine had an office next door and said he heard the shot.

    *winks at Angela Corey

    1. *low whistle*

      Would that more errant judges and prosecutors ended up like your judge, Suthen.

      1. It wouldn’t take many. Sociopaths learn quickly.

    2. If I had my way Corey would be stripped of her clothing and placed into a hot tub right next to me.

      You’ll never guess what happens next.

      1. She succumbs to your pet nurglings?

  8. Sounds like this Corey woman is a shoe-in for some Trump cabinet position, amirite?

    1. Sessions already has the AG spot, so she may be out of luck for now.

    2. It could be Pam Bondi, another Florida attorney.

  9. Bah! The Sessionasaurus will be riding into town soon. He’ll show you soft on crime bunch a thing or two!

  10. Is that literal alt text? Does that even count as alt text?

  11. Off topic, but too delightful to wait until the PM links.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/ . . . . . {too long, so go find the link if you want it}

    In a move signaling an intention to dismantle President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy, President-elect Trump will nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting against the agency he will now lead.

    Pruit, who has written that the debate on climate change is “far from settled,” joined a coalition of state attorneys general in suing the agency’s Clean Power Plan, the principal Obama-era policy aimed at reducing the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. He has also sued, with fellow state attorneys general, over the EPA’s recently announced regulations trying to curtail the emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the oil and gas sector.

    1. Trump to Gore: “You mad, bro?”

      1. Gore’s probably telling his wife to start collecting cans for the deposit.

        1. she’s probably reminding him that they’ve been separated since 2010.

    2. THIS IS FUCKING GLORIOUS.

    3. Learn how to do HTML links.

      1. I have learned a dozen times or so. But, I’m elderly and that information evaporates quickly.

        1. use chrome and download the reasonable extension?

          1. not on a work PC

            1. Elderly AND working? Only in America.

              /amsoc

              1. Elderly AND working?

                I’m not actually old enough to retire, but suddenly I find that I hurt someplace every day. I guess that is one of the first indicators of being “elderly”.

                1. I am past denial and am thoroughly pissed about it. So I have a lot of stages left to go through.

                2. suddenly I find that I hurt someplace every day

                  Also known as “late forties”. Yeah, I’m familiar with that.

                  1. Also known as “late forties”.

                    That’s what I thought too. Now I realize there is a difference between aches and a few twinges and actual pain every day — like didn’t sleep worth shit last night because back pain kept me awake.

    4. I saw that a little while back.

      The greenies are shitting their pants.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKUOB8MN4Kc

      1. They use the term Denier with full cognitive dissonance.

        Tell me, who resembles the Church and who resembles the outsiders here? People forget that it wasn’t the Church against Scientists, it was the Church AND Establishment Scientists against other Scientists

        1. By using the term ‘denier’ and refusing to a full review of the evidence and debate they discredit themselves.

          Cons are easy to spot if you know what to look for.

          Speaking of which I just ran the driveway sealers off of my property. They come fishing around this rural parish every couple of years.

      2. “The greenies are shitting their pants.”

        “My suggestion to bright youngsters out there to go to medical school and specialize in oncology. With the gutting of environmental regulations there is going to be more than enough cases of cancer to make you wealthy.”
        http://www.sfgate.com/news/pol…..779820.php

        Because the EPA is cool, man!

        1. LOL. You can’t even parody these people any more.

          1. Ha. Which ones?

            I don’t know anything about McMahon, she might be just fine. I am guessing by the pinko freakout that she is probably a free marketer.

  12. “Elections have consequences and I Won”

    Trump!Obama!

  13. “”I don’t care if its a box of six jurors or twelve jurors or an electorate of thousands”

    I don’t care what Florida or the complaisant Supreme Court says, a jury has twelve members, not six.

  14. Your fonts, bro……

  15. my friend’s ex-wife makes $79/hour on the internet. She has been unemployed for five months but last month her payment was $13079 just working on the internet for a few hours. check

    ==================================> http://www.homejobs7.com

  16. Its time to withdraw immunity to charlatans, such as this malicious prosecutor, place them in a confinement cell for months such as they allow the Florida Departament of Corrections to do to the mentally ill, and thow the the key away.

    I survived this suckers Inhuman treatment, now its My turn to persecute them and prosecute them, according to the las ofcourse.

    Everyone has skeletons in their closet…

    I wonder how many skeletons this phsico has…

  17. I Founder info on Judges Richard A. Howard from the Citrus County Felony Court…

    Things are going to get ver y interesting soon…

    FYI

  18. Assistant State Attorney Erin Corcoran Daly committed multiple crimes to prosecute my husband:

    1. In pre-trial depositions, she showed the “outcry witness” the disclosure note the accuser said she showed him, but he said HE NEVER SAW IT.
    2. She initiated plea negotiations, knowing her 2 witnesses did not agree on the only evidence in his case.
    3. To hide this, she reversed the 2 notes and renamed them.
    4. At trial, she stated the contents of what was the FIRST note (according to the outcry and LE), but falsely presented it as the SECOND note.
    5. She then showed the accuser the note the outcry said he never saw, and had her falsely identify is as the note she showed him. So no one would catch it, she intentionally did not show the outcry either note to identify.
    6. When her crime was made public, her husband, Bill Daly, logged into his Facebook page and slandered my husband.
    7. The next day, the public cyber-bulling by Bill Daly continued.
    8. Bill Daly’s hate-filled comments caused someone to write and ask if my husband is a pedophile.
    9. The trial judge’s wife asked ASA Daly a question on her Facebook page, which prompted a response that suggested she is intimate friends with the judge and his wife.

    We have petitioned the Court to charge her with contempt and take appropriate disciplinary action, to ensure that she does not frame other innocent men and send them to prison FOR LIFE! – Mary Peterson

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