By Matthew Weidner
On March 1, 2010 a warrant for my arrest was signed by a Pinellas County Judge. The warrant was signed based on an affidavit of probable cause that was signed by an officer of the private company that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office has contracted to process all their probable cause affidavits and arrest warrants. For hundreds of years, only actual deputized officers of the Sheriff’s office signed these affidavits and they were kept within the Pinellas County courts, but that process was recently contracted out to a private company.
When I appeared before the judge, I reviewed the affidavit and it was clear that whomever signed the affidavit got the facts all wrong. I’m 175 pounds, not 204. I’ve got brown hair, not white hair. I’ve got blue eyes, not brown eyes. And most importantly, I couldn’t have committed the serious felony crime the affidavit accused me of because I wasn’t even born yet on the date the affidavit said I committed the crime. When I appeared before the judge and pointed all this out her response was astonishing…while she admitted that the affidavit was totally wrong and that it was clear from its face that I could not have committed the crime, she told me, “The prosecutor admits that the affidavit is wrong and while you may not have committed this specific crime, the affidavit says you committed a crime. The prosecutor assures me that they believe you’ve committed a crime even if it’s not the crime that I’m going to sign this arrest warrant for and that’s enough information for me.”
The judge signed the arrest warrant even though she knew and the prosecutors admitted that the facts in the affidavit did not support my arrest.
There were hundreds of attorneys in the courtroom who had clients that were being arrested on precisely the same obviously wrong set of facts, but they could do nothing. The facts were all wrong, the files were all wrong, but the warrants were signed. If this weren’t bad enough, I thought about the thousands of files on the judge’s bench where no attorney were present. She was so busy and those accused had no attorney to challenge the facts in the affidavit, so the judge just signed thousands of those cases every single day.