Justice System Under Fire In Florida Girl’s Death


The mechanic charged with kidnapping and killing 11-year-old Carlie Brucia waived a court appearance in the case that has drawn criticism of Florida’s legal system, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Lawyers for Joseph P. Smith, 37, appeared in a Manatee County courtroom Saturday. Smith, who had been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, was ordered held without bail. His next court appearance is March 12.

The killing has prompted Florida’s attorney general to suggets stiffening penalties for offenders who violate the terms of their release. Smith is a drug felon and had been free despite violating his probation. “You can’t help but think that some of the statutes are too permissive,” Attorney General Charlie Crist said. “I think it’s important we review putting more teeth in our statutes. . . . It’s got to be ratcheted up very quickly.”

Carlie’s family has called for an investigation into whether the criminal justice system was too lenient in the way it handled his numerous past arrests. “[Smith] should have been put in jail and put away,” said Bruce Meeks, a friend of the Brucia family. “Somewhere in the cracks, our justice system failed us. Whose fault it is, we don’t know.”

The Associated Press reports that Smith has had many brushes with the law over the last decade, but has not spent more than 14 months at a time behind bars. Brucia’s family wants to know why Smith — a drug addict who admitted attacking one woman and was accused of trying to kidnap another — was a free man.

Carlie was abducted Feb. 1 while walking home from a friend’s house. Her body was found Friday in a church parking lot.

Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin, the latest judge to handle Smith’s case, said he was not at fault for not putting Smith in jail when the unemployed mechanic failed to pay court costs and fines in December. There’s no “debtor’s prison” in Florida and Smith wouldn’t have been held simply for not paying a bill, the judge said.

Link: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/state/orl-loccarlie08020804feb08,1,3410229.story

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