Broward County Man Dies After One Day in Custody

March 12, 2022 Criminal Defense

Broward County Man Dies After One Day in Custody Despite Defense Attorney’s Pleas

John Longo, a 72-year-old man from Broward County was charged with scamming an 86-year-old boat seller out of a $75,000 boat in the April of 2018. According to the charging document, Longo filed a title transfer with the Coast Guard claiming ownership of the boat before he paid the victim, and he failed to produce any evidence to show that he had withdrawn money to pay for the vessel.

The charges included one count of theft from persons 65 of age or older, in violation of Section 812.0145 of the Florida Statutes, a first-degree felony. He was also charged with one count of fraud relating to making a false statement on vessel application in violation of Section 328.05 of the Florida Statutes, a third-degree felony. Longo was found guilty and convicted on February 4. Broward Circuit Judge Tim Bailey ordered him into custody, and his defense attorney objected, requesting that Longo be kept out of jail pending his sentencing. This request was denied, and Longo was incarcerated for less than 24 hours before he passed away.

Basis for Objection

Longo’s attorney, Marco Quesada, filed multiple motions to stay the proceedings, or stop or suspend a proceeding or trial temporarily or indefinitely, due to Longo’s serious health issues including heart and lung disease. These ailments were never in question, and he showed up to his trial using an oxygen machine. To support his motions, Quesada submitted letters from the defendant’s pulmonologist and cardiologist outlining the defendant’s health problems, as well as the risk of him contracting COVID-19, and warned that he may not survive if he was put in custody.

Legal Community at Odds

Downward departures are when a judge sentences a defendant to less than the minimum sentence that is suggested by sentencing guidelines. Such departures take into account a variety of mitigating circumstances which are codified under Section 921.0026 of the Florida Statutes. These circumstances include but are not limited to the defendant’s age, family status, and the status of their physical and mental health. But why was Longo incarcerated despite doctors’ harrowing warnings and the mitigating circumstances of his case? Retired Broward County Circuit Judge Paul Backman touched on the balance of power and mercy that judges face when determining if a downward departure should be utilized, stating:

 After a while a judge gets a good feel for what is and is not worthy of consideration. If you let someone out and they victimize someone else, it’s the judge’s name that’s going to be on the front page of the newspaper.

Backman and other legal officers argue that Judge Bailey likely had no other option but to send Longo to jail, however, his defense attorney and other defense attorneys adamantly disagree. There is no doubt that Judge Bailey had a lot of facts to consider when coming up with his decision. For one, this was not Longo’s first encounter with the law, as his criminal record began in 1987 when he was convicted  of 18 counts of grand theft. His record also includes convictions for burglary and fraud, with his most recent conviction having taken place in 2004. These past convictions are all considered when determining Longo’s “score.” Felony cases in Florida have used the scoresheet system since 1983. This system assigns a point value to charges depending on their severity, and once the total points are calculated, and if the points total to less than 44, a judge is not forced to impose incarceration. However, if the points total above 44, a minimum prison sentence will be determined. Although sentencing for Longo had not been scheduled, his score would have amounted to a sentence of 62 months when factoring in his prior convictions. To read more about Florida sentencing guidelines, visit our blog post here.

Quesada argued that this was an avoidable outcome, stating, “[w]e were talking about an economic crime, no weapons involved. It should have been a case resolved in Civil Court.” The newly elected president of the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers echoed Quesada’s sentiment, stating that Longo’s death “underscores a need to give judges more leeway in deciding when to jail a convicted defendant,” as in this case, Judge Bailey’s hands were tied.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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