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Miami-Dade County May End Costly 'Nuisance Laws'

Miami-Dade County May End Costly 'Nuisance Laws'

Miami-Dade County is considering decriminalizing certain laws that judges say clog up their courtrooms, but which police and some residents say are valuable for curbing crime.

DAVID OVALLE | The Miami Herald via YellowBrix

October 14, 2009

But while police say the ordinances curb criminals before they commit more dangerous crimes, critics say strict enforcement often labels honest, well-meaning citizens as law-breakers.

The case against flower vendor Margarito Perez-Reyes, 47, was dismissed, but he still paid a heavy price.

Perez-Reyes was charged June 2 with selling flowers in West Kendall. He agreed to attend a later court hearing, but because his paperwork was mailed to an old address, Perez-Reyes never appeared for arraignment. A judge issued a bench warrant.

Police jailed him Aug. 10. Because he was in the country illegally, officials deported him back to Mexico.

Then there was Trevin Tarver, 34, arrested last month when Miami Police Cmdr. Jose Alfonso spotted him selling gold chains in the Flagami district. When officers searched Tarver — whose record includes more than 38 arrests for drugs and minor offenses — they found a steak knife in his pocket.

``What was his intent in carrying that knife?‘’ Alfonso said. ``I would have never discovered the knife on this guy unless we stopped him for the criminal violation of doing business without a license.’’

Cases like Tarver’s are rare. Violators are rarely convicted, a Herald analysis of Miami-Dade court data shows.

Records from 2005 to early August 2009 show that more than 40,000 cases of commercial vehicle sign violations, drinking within 100 feet of a liquor store and roadside vending were filed. Yet about 93 percent of the charges were dismissed by a judge or dropped by prosecutors, and only about 7 percent resulted in convictions or withholds of adjudication.

Mitzi Berry, a petty thief, knows the drill. She has been arrested and jailed five times for drinking alcohol near markets in the Leisure City area. Every case was dropped.

Bob Holley, an activist in the Fairway Estates/Perrine neighborhood, opposes decriminalization.

``It’s not strict enough as it is,‘’ said Holley, a longtime member of the Citizens Advisory Committee, a police liaison group. ``We still have these punks and bums hanging around panhandling and drinking and bothering the businessmen. If you’re too gentle, you don’t let them know you’re serious.’’

The potential changes to county ordinances would not affect similar municipal laws in Miami-Dade’s many cities, such as Miami or Miami Beach.

In Broward, county ordinance violations usually number fewer than 1,000 cases a year, according to the state attorney’s office. Because the county is almost entirely incorporated, most ``quality of life’’ crimes are charged under municipal ordinances.

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