The court case observed was the STATE OF FLORIDA vs. Jeffrey A. Burke. The case appeared at the St Lucie County Courthouse, 218 S 2d st, Fort Pierce FL 34950, room 2C at 9 am. The charges against the defendant were one count of driving with a revoked license and one count of resisting arrest without violence. The judge that presided over the case was the Honorable Kathryn M. Nelson. Richard Bodek was the Assistant State Attorney (ASA) prosecuting the case. Shane Manship and Regan Shikada were the defense attorneys representing the defendant. Honorable Kathryn Nelson began the morning addressing the attorneys.
ASA Bodek informed the judge that he had seen the defendant driving the previous day knowing that one of the charges were driving without a valid driver license. He wanted to ensure that his observation was on record. The judge then asked the defense attorneys if they had anything that they needed to address, which they responded no. Judge Nelson delayed the trial for approximately 20 minutes so the bailiff could go and locate a hearing device for Mr. Burke since he was hearing impaired. Once that was taken care of, the jury was brought into the courtroom.
Judge Nelson greeted the jury and told them that opening statements would take place. Facing the Judge, the prosecution sat to the right and the defense sat to the left. Against the right wall of the courtroom is where the jury sat. Witnesses for the prosecution sat behind the ASA and witnesses or friends and family for the defense sat behind the defense attorneys. ASA Bodek paints a picture to the jury as to what transpired during a traffic stop by a Fort Pierce Police Officer conducting traffic control and training a newly hired police officer. Mr. Burke was pulled over for driving 15 miles over the speed limit.
Officer Sena, who was in training, addressed the driver and asked for his driver license, registration, and proof of insurance. Mr. burke refuses to acknowledge officer Sena. Finally, he rolls the driver side window down 2 inches and places a tape recorder outside the window. Officer Woodruff, the training officer, walks up to the driver and attempts to obtain the documents that officer Sena requested. This went on for some time. Officer Woodruff requested another officer and Sgt Nieves responded. After Mr. Burke had refused to comply with Sgt Nieves orders, they pulled out the window to get access to Mr.
Burke and placed him under arrest. Once the officers finally identified Mr. Burke they determined that he had his driver license revoked several years prior. Before the defense attorney began her opening statement, Judge Nelson called all the attorneys up to the bench for a bench conference. A bench conference is a conversation between the judge and attorneys, which is off the record and out of hearing of the jury. After the bench hearing, Judge Nelson had the jury exit the room. She then allowed Mr. Burke to talk with his attorneys off the record. After the conference, Judge Nelson asked Mr. Manship if he had anything to address.
He stated that Mr. Burke wished to represent himself. Mr. Burke told the court that he did not want his counsel to speak or represent him in this case. Judge Nelson informed Mr. Burke that he had two choices. One was that his attorneys would represent him or that he could represent himself. He would not 2 be allowed to represent himself and retain counsel as well. Judge Nelson went into great detail as to the pros of having a defense attorney represent him and what would be expected of him if he still decided to represent himself. Mr. Burke, under oath decided to represent himself. A dialogue between Judge Nelson and Mr.
Burke took place for a period of time over the charges that were filed against him. The jury was brought back into the courtroom and Judge Nelson apologized to the jury for the jury being removed again. She then told the jury that Mr. Burke would be representing himself. Mr. Burke’s opening statements were completely different from that of the ASA. He stated that his rights were violated, the police assaulted him, kidnapped him, and held him for ransom. He stated that his human rights were violated. Many times, ASA Bodek objected to what Mr. Burke was saying as being argumentative. Judge Nelson sustained every objection. When Mr.
Burke finished his opening statement, Judge Nelson instructed ASA Bodek to call his first witness. ASA Bodek called Officer Sena to the stand. After being sworn in, ASA Bodek asked Officer Sena who she worked for and how long she worked there. ASA Bodek asked for Officer Sena to explain how she does a traffic stop. Officer Sena gave a textbook answer on how to conduct a traffic stop. She approached the driver stated her name and agency, told the driver why he was pulled over, asked the driver for his license, registration, and insurance. ASA Bodek then began questioning Officer Sena about the traffic stop that she did on Mr.
Burke. She explained that this was the first time she ever had a person be noncompliant. She also stated that Officer Woodruff saw she was having difficulties and came up to assist her. ASA Bodek finished his examination, and Judge Nelson told Mr. Burke that he could cross-examine the witness. Mr. Burke began questioning Officer Sena about the citations that were given to him. She stated that Officer Woodruff was the person who wrote and issued the citations, and she agreed with Officer Woodruff. Mr. Burke questioned Officer Sena at great lengths as to whether or not she could hear him answering Officer Woodruff’s questions.
She repeatedly told Mr. Burke that she could hear him but could not distinguish what he was saying because of where she was positioned and that the window was rolled almost all the way up. Mr. Burke asked numerous questions about Officer Sena’s uniform, badge, and equipment. Each time Mr. Burke asked those questions, ASA Bodek would object. With only one exception, every objection was sustained. During the cross-examination, there were several bench conferences. Once Mr. Burke was finished with his cross- examination ASA Bodek began his redirect questioning. ASA Bodek had Officer Sena clarify certain questions that were asked of her from Mr.
Burke. After the redirect questioning, Judge Nelson recessed the jury for lunch. Judge Nelson then spoke to both Mr. Burke and ASA Bodek off the record. Trial resumed at 1:30 pm. 3 ASA Bodek called Officer Woodruff to the stand. ASA Bodek asked numerous questions, which corroborated what Officer Sena, had testified to. Officer also explained how the radar worked that he used to determine Mr. Burke’s speed. ASA Bodek had Officer Woodruff read and explain the information that was on Mr. Burke’s driving record. Officer detailed that Mr. Burke had his license suspended three times and finally revoked for numerous reasons.
Mr. Burke was then allowed to cross-examine Officer Woodruff. The majority of questions that were asked by Mr. Burke were objected and sustained. Most of the questions asked related to determining the exact seating location of a passenger in the van. It was evident that even Judge Nelson was getting annoyed at Mr. Burke’s line of questioning. After a short bench conference, Mr. Burke finished his cross-examination of Officer Woodruff. Sgt Nieves was called to the stand to testify. ASA Bodek began by asking Sgt Nieves about his employment location and the length of his employment with the agency.
He also explained his duties and responsibilities as a road supervisor. Sgt Nieves was asked to relate to the jury what had transpired the day of the traffic stop. ASA Bodek presented to the court a copy of the video and audio evidence of the traffic stop. During the playing of the video, Sgt Nieves explained what and why certain procedures were being conducted on the video. The video and audio clearly showed what had transpired and corroborated what each officer had stated during their testimony. All officers appeared to be professional, courteous, and patient with Mr. Burke. During the cross-examination, Mr.
Burke again had the majority of his questions objected to and sustained. At the end of what seemed like 30 objections and another bench conference, Mr. Burke told Judge Nelson that he was throwing his hands up in the air. Judge Nelson asked Mr. Burke if that meant that he was finished asking Sgt Nieves questions. He stated yes he was finished. The court took a short recess to allow everybody to stretch, and let Mr. Burke prepare for his direct examination. Once court was back in session Mr. Burke called for his first witness Sgt Nieves. Once again, most of the questions asked were objected to and sustained.
Sgt Nieves did state that he was the one that pulled out the driver side window and why he did it. Mr. Burke asked a series of questions that related to resisting arrest and if he had been violent at any time. Sgt Nieves explained the resisting arrest charge and testified that Mr. Burke was not aggressive or violent. After the direct examination ASA Bodek declined to cross- examine Sgt Nieves. Mr. Burke next called Officer Woodruff to the stand. Before a single question was answered, there were numerous objections and sustains along with two bench conferences. Officer Woodruff had to ask Mr. Burke to clarify a particular question three times.
After Officer finally answered the question, Mr. Burke yelled objection your honor. Judge Nelson explained to Mr. Burke that he should not object to an answer for a question that asked. That got the courtroom to laugh. Once again, ASA Bodek did not wish to cross-examine Officer Woodruff. 4 The final witness Mr. Burke called was himself. Judge Nelson advised Mr. Burke that since he was acting as his own attorney, he did not need to ask and answer questions. He only had to give a narration of his testimony. Every time Mr. Burke spoke ASA Bodek objected based on relevance, which Judge Nelson in turn sustained every objection.
After the last objection, Mr. Burke stated he was finished. Judge Nelson to Mr. Burke that he could then call his next witness. His response was that I’m done, and the defense rests. Judge Nelson had given a short recess before closing arguments were heard. ASA Bodek was the first person to address the jury and orate his closing arguments. He explained the elements of the crimes that were committed to the jury and recapped the facts of the case. Mr. Burke then rose and began his closing argument by stating that his constitutional rights were repeatedly violated.
He attempted to gain sympathy from the jury by admitting he had no knowledge of the justice system and that he only had a high school level of education. After Mr. Burke had finished his closing argument, Judge Nelson gave specific instructions to the jury. Explaining to them that in order to convict Mr. Burke, the State had to prove to them beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Burke had, in fact, committed the offenses for which he is being charged. The jury was the led out of the courtroom by the court security officer to deliberate. Approximately an hour later, court security came back in and spoke with Judge Nelson.
Judge Nelson then addressed the courtroom and stated that she did not know what the verdict was and that no matter what the verdict was she did not want any outbursts from either side. Once Judge Nelson finished, she had the jury return to the courtroom. Judge Nelson asked the jury foreperson if they had reached a verdict. The foreperson stated they had and handed Judge Nelson a piece of paper. Once she reviewed the paper, Judge Nelson handed it to the clerk to be read out loud. The clerk then read the verdict, stating that the defendant was guilty as charged on both offenses.
Judge Nelson then thanked the jury for being there and doing their job. She then released the jury. Once the jury had left the room, Judge Nelson asked Mr. Burke to come forward. Judge Nelson told Mr. Burke that since the jury found him guilty she asked if he anything to say. Mr. Burke did not have anything to say. Judge Nelson sentenced Mr. Burke to 60 days in the county jail for driving on a revoked license. She then sentenced Mr. Burke to five months in the county jail for resisting an officer charge. She also placed Mr. Burke on probation for one year. This particular trial was different than what I had expected for a number of reasons.
I have never been involved or seen a trial where the defendant fired his or her counsel and represented him or herself. I was amazed at how in depth Judge Nelson went into explaining the pros, cons, and expectations of self-representation. This is also the first case that I have witnessed or been involved with where the defendant is a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen. This trial made for interesting observation showing how our justice system works with those that do not agree with our government or legal system.
On television, you see the judge instructing the jury on what their responsibilities are in 5 regards to hearing the case. In St Lucie County, the jury is given their instructions, and the foreperson is appointed prior to entering the courtroom. Judge Nelson was exceptionally professional and courteous. She made sure that everyone could be heard and understood, especially for Mr. Burke since he was hearing impaired. She appeared to give her full, undivided attention to the witnesses on the stand by facing them and acknowledging their presence. She was also quick to respond to any objections given. ASA Bodek was also professional. He was aggressive and firm in his endeavor of gaining a conviction with this case.
He presented his side of the case with confidence and determination. His questions were methodical and in a logical sequence that everyone could understand. For the short period of time they were there, the defense attorneys appeared to be well prepared for the case. Having less than a high school education, Mr. Burke appeared confused and inept. He acknowledged that he lacked the legal background needed to defend him self and still opted to do so. He did not know procedural law and was being constantly objected to by the prosecution. Even Judge Nelson several times had to instruct Mr.
Burke about court procedures. His hearing impairment did not help him either. He had to stop and adjust the hearing device given him by the court so that he could hear. Officer Sena appeared professional but slightly nervous. I had the impression that this was her first appearing on a witness stand. She answered questions appropriately and asked for clarifications when she did not understand the question. She gave very good explanations when describing things such as how she conducts a traffic stop. Officer Woodruff presented himself in a professional manner. He appeared calm while on the witness stand.
He answered every question directly and appropriately. Officer Woodruff never once waivered from his testimony. He even informed Mr. Burke that he had already answered a question that he asked earlier. He always faced the jury when he answered any question. Sgt Nieves displayed himself like a 20-year veteran should. He was professional, courteous, and well articulated. He gave the appearance of a person who knew his job and was very self-confident. He was able to articulate minute details about the traffic stop with ease and without the reference of notes. The court security officer was a rather tall and imposing figure.
He reminded me of Bull on the show Night Court. He was someone you did not want to tangle with. The deputy Sheriff was very courteous to the jury taking the time to ensure they did not slip 6 when they entered or left the jury box. He even retrieved Judge Nelson’s coffee from her chambers when asked. In my opinion, this case was an efficient way to resolve this case. There were certain unusual norms with the case, particularly with the defendant defending himself. This did not prevent the justice system to continue to function smoothly and efficiently. Every opportunity was given to Mr.
Burke to assist him with his defense as best as possible within the confines of the law. Judge Nelson explained the procedures to Mr. Burke in detail. ASA Bodek gave Mr. Burke all relevant documents of the case without question or objection. Throughout the trial, Judge Nelson often explained to Mr. Burke why his questions were being sustained, to help him so that he could ask the question again in another way or simply ask a different question. I do not see any alternatives to this particular trial process. The evidence presented; especially the video and audio recordings clearly showed that the defendant was guilty.
The fact that Mr. Burke defended himself had no bearing on his guilt or innocence. The only alternative to this case would be to change the law that would deny a person from defending him or herself. 7 Bibliography Bench Conference Law & Legal Definition. (n. d. ). Retrieved October 09, 2014, from http://definitions. uslegal. com/b/bench-conference/ Fort Pierce FL on Mar 10, 2013, criminal charges against the defendant are driving without a valid driver license, and resisting arrest without violence. State of Florida vs. Jeffrey A. Burke, personal observation at the 19th Circuit Court, Fort Pierce Florida.