Hold the Gate 2……Firearms, Drive By Shootings and Red Mist can end in a Death Row cell

For anyone who visits Florida Jails and prisons that is a familiar phrase.  It essentially means that the doors and gates inside the jail are locked shut and there is no escape.

“Hold the Gate’…..I enter the pre-trial detention center in Miami just as a troop of defendants, some dressed in their own clothes, most wearing orange trousers and smocks, all shacked together by the hands, cross in front of me on their way to court.  The gate behind me, which is my exit to the outside World is locked shut.

‘Morning Miss’ say some of the troop as they shuffle past, others smile or nod their head.  Due to the number of inmates being taken to court, there is a backlog and the hall begins to fill up with inmates.  The hall echoes even when empty, but with all these inmates and corrections officers in one space, it is deafening.

A guy sits down next to me, a plain clothed cop.  ‘Which floor you going to? I ask him.

“Gladiator” he replies.  The 5th floor is known as the Gladiator floor as it is the roughest floor of inmates.  My defendant I want to see that day is on the 5th floor.

“Damn…are you interviewing or taking someone away?” I ask, ever hopeful that he is not going to queue jump me.  There is only one interview room on the 5th floor and cops usually get priority.

“Picking someone up for the State’s Attorney’s Office”.  My interest is now piqued, if he is taking someone to the SAO, they are probably doing a deal, i.e. ‘snitching’, and I need to make sure it is not my defendant who is being interviewed without a lawyer being present.  To be fair, none of my defendants consider speaking to the cops without a lawyer when they know I am around.  I have threatened all of them that the work I will do on them is ten times worse than anything the cops can throw at them if they speak without a lawyer…they now seem to know the score.

The noise is still deafening, as more inmates shuffle into the room, and then the door to the courthouse is released, the inmates file out and the room is suddenly quiet again, and the gate is opened for more lawyers, and cops to enter.  I sit and chat to the cop about a recent shooting spree in North Miami and he tells me that it is a gang feud, both gangs are trying to assert their authority and take over the patch, and in the meantime innocent people end up the victims of drive past shootings.  I tell him about a woman I met a couple of weeks ago whose daughter was killed while she was asleep in her bedroom, the bullets from a drive past shooting went straight through the outside wall and into her bedroom.  It turned out that the shooters had targeted the wrong house as they had mixed up the house numbers.  He tells me that he now has at least one automatic assault rifle in in the trunk of his vehicle as well as his automatic sidearm, and he is nowhere near as well equipped as the kids carrying out these ‘drive bys’.

The cop asks me what firearm I carry and I tell him that I don’t, and don’t have a permit to carry.  He looks at me in amazement ‘but Ma’am in your job, you must have a firearm’

I tell him that I won’t carry a firearm for many reasons, but one reason is that I know I have an instinct of survival and that if I carry a gun I might just feel tempted to use it.  To which he replies “that is the point!”.  I explain that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if  I pulled the trigger and killed someone, no matter what the circumstances and he tells me “you English sure are principled”.

The reality is that I can use a firearm and I regularly visit the shooting range as I like to use all the firearms my clients are alleged to have used, so that when they give me the standard phrase ‘the gun just went off’ I can tell them that it doesn’t happen like that, I have tried the firearm and the trigger pull is such that it can’t just go off.  But I will never carry a firearm, as I know that one day I may be in a confrontation and the ‘Red Mist’ may come down, and that is when I would end up like many of my clients…a kill shot in anger can end with a cell on Death Row.

The lift doors opens and an inmate is escorted to the holding cell in the hall.  This is where he will be held until the cop has completed the paperwork to take him to the State Attorney’s Office.  In the meantime, all the inmates who walk past and see him in the holding cell, and the cop in the Hall, shout out ‘Snitches get Stitches”.  For this inmate, if he is returned to the Pre Trial Detention Centre he will not have an easy life.  It is common for the inmates to be transferred to another jail after a visit to the SAO, and often they end up with a stay in solitary confinement for their own protection, to stop them needing ‘stitches’

I scoot over to the lift and push 5 before anyone can challenge me…the Gladiator floor is often placed on lockdown after an inmate is taken out of the pen as the other inmates get worried about whether the inmate is going to snitch on them, so I want to get in to see my client before lock down comes into force.

As I get into the lift, I hear the Cop’s voice behind me…”You want to think about that firearm, Ma’am”.  He points his two fingers at me as the lift doors close and smiles..

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About gurdena

Social Justice Lawyer, interested in all things contentious. Specialising in criminal law, and anything criminal justice related, also employment law. Door tenant at 1 Grays Inn Square chambers. Find out more at www.alisongurden.com

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