Charges could be dismissed against an accused murderer after Florida prosecutors notified his attorney that at least one of their conversations was recorded by jailers and sent to the state.
Dewayne Johnson is due to stand trial next month in the September shooting death of another man during a cocaine deal.
The state attorney’s office said the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail where Johnson is being held, had sent them a recording of at least one of the suspect’s conversations with his public defender.
Certain conversations between attorneys and their clients are supposed to remain confidential.
After investigating, prosecutors issued an 11-page report that found 1,905 attorney-client privileged conversations may have been recorded since April 2011.
The report showed only four of those were sent to the state attorney’s office and another one was given to a detective, and just two of the recordings partially viewed and then turned off.
“Nineteen-hundred is crazy -- it’s absolutely crazy," said Russell Kirshy, an attorney in Charlotte County for more than 20 years. "I mean, what I was hoping for was that they were gonna discover that it was one, or that it was 10 -- something like that. It didn’t even occur to me that there was a chance that it would be 1,900 different times.”
The sheriff’s office claims a software glitch and a discrepancy with the jail’s typing system incorrectly identified when conversations should be private, but authorities said problem has been fixed with a new double-check system.
Public defender Toby Oonk is asking the court to disqualify the state attorney’s office from prosecuting Johnson, and he’s also seeking the dismissal of all charges against him.
Prosecutors claim they watched only a few seconds of the video before turning off the recording.
Oonk argues that prosecutors failed to notify him immediately of the recording, but assistant state attorneys disagree and say they offered defense attorneys an opportunity to destroy the file.
A judge will hear additional arguments this week in Johnson’s case, but the report could open a floodgate of additional problems in Charlotte County.
“That’s the concern pretty much on everybody’s mind, where do we go from here,” Kirshy said. “Every defense attorney in the county who has a client who’s spent any time in the jail is going to have to make some sort of request, some sort of motion to determine whether any of their conversations have been compromised.”
That could cause chaos in the county’s criminal justice system, he said.
“There are some clients that have taken significant sentences on cases, and if their conversations have been compromised, perhaps those pleas have to be set aside, or those trials – the verdicts have to be set aside,” Kirshy said.
Watch this video report posted online by WZVN-TV: