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Recent Case Highlights Importance of Probable Cause

An unfortunate situation that happened recently in a Central Florida home for the disabled has left one man dead and another man benefitting from the requirement of probable cause when filing criminal charges.

William James Lamson, a severely autistic patient at the Carlton Palms Educational Center in Central Florida, had a history of aggression and acting out against staff members and himself. In one recent incident, he quarreled with staff member, Justin Maynor, and later he was found dead. The autopsy states that the cause of death was "traumatic asphyxia," but employees at the facility claimed that he banged his head against the wall to his death.

An Unseen Death

The day that Lamson died, he and Maynor argued, and Maynor took Lamson into a dark bedroom at the center. The bedroom did not have a surveillance camera, and Maynor turned off the lights when they entered the room. Only Maynor came out of the room alive, and Lamson died sometime after the incident.

Prior to the death, Maynor had snatched Lamson's soft white helmet that he wore to protect his head from regular self-inflicted abuse and led Lamson into the room. Even though Lamson can be heard in distress, Maynor does not call 911 until 14 minutes after the incident, when he is urged to do so by another staff member at the facility.

Charges Dropped

While the employee is no longer employed with the Center, the company released an 11-page memo outlining why they would not file charges against the man. Because Lamson had a history of attacking caregivers, it was determined that the state would be unable to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Maynor's actions constituted a reckless disregard of human life that would rise to the level of culpable negligence. In other words, there was not sufficient probable cause to charge Maynor with a crime.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a requirement that stems from the Fourth Amendment and must be present in order for police to make an arrest and a prosecutor to charge someone with a crime. This means that police have an adequate reason to arrest someone based on facts and circumstances, not just suspicions.

For an arrest to occur, the officer must sign a sworn affidavit that states the facts as to why probable cause exists. The facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge must be conclusive enough that a reasonable person would believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.

If a suspect is detained by police, but not arrested, law enforcement does not need probable cause until an arrest is made. Detentions can be made on probable suspicion.

In this case, a prosecutor could not produce probable cause in order to press charges, and therefore, Maynor will not be charged with a crime.

If you are arrested and accused of a crime, it's essential that probable cause is established. You should contact an experienced defense attorney who understands the criminal justice system to assist you with your case.

References:

Miller, C. M. (n.d.). Asphyxia death an 'absolute tragedy' - but not a crime. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article214854025.html

Probable Cause. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-rights/probable-cause.html

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