MANATEE — The Florida Attorney General’s office said today it will try to reverse a recent court decision that tossed out a conviction against a reputed member of the SUR 13 criminal street gang in Manatee County.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal in early February decided to vacate a conviction against Jimmy Sanchez, sentenced to 30 years on racketeering charges, said Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman with the office of the attorney general.
“We intend to file a motion for a rehearing,” Meale said today.
Although the racketeering trials have now been moved to Tampa, Sanchez’s trial was on Feb. 26, 2009, in Manatee County.
Sanchez’s attorney, Ron Filipkowski of Sarasota, today said he expects his client to be released from Walton Correctional Institution near Pensacola any day now and to soon return to his family in Manatee County.
“They have basically acquitted Jimmy and found him not guilty,” Filipkowski said.
“That is no surprise,” Filipkowski said, when told of the rehearing motion from the state. “They do that in every case. Just about everyone asks for a rehearing and only a tiny percentage get it. It’s an exercise in futility.”
Sanchez’s case was complex, but basically the court of appeals ruled that one of the two felonies Sanchez’s was convicted of, helping a gang member escape, was not a felony and was at most, a misdemeanor, Filipkowski said.
“They charged Jimmy with 13 felonies while in the gang and the jury found him innocent of 11,” Filipkowski said. “They were possession of a firearm and aiding an escape.”
When law enforcement knocked on his door during a round-up of gang members and asked if a certain gang member was in his house, Sanchez told a detective “he’s not here,” Filipkowski said.
At the same time, the detective saw the suspect was running out of Sanchez’s back door, Filipkowski said.
“At the most, it was obstruction of justice, which is a misdemeanor,” Filipkowski said. “Misdemeanor doesn’t help them. They need felonies for making racketeering charges stick.”
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said he does not think the reversal from the court of appeal is a blow to the whole concept of using racketeering to get gang members off the street.
“This isn’t the first time that there has been an appeal of a conviction in these racketeering cases,” Steube said Tuesday. “One of the Brown Pride Locos appealed and his case was sent back to trial and he was re-convicted.
“This is all part of the process,” Steube added. “Anyone convicted of a crime has the benefit of appeal.”
Victims of gang violence are not required to testify against gang members in order to secure convictions in racketeering cases, which makes convictions easier to get, Steube has said.
“I don’t know exactly what the statewide prosecutor intends to do,” Steube asked when asked what the long range plan was for the Sanchez case. “We will have to wait and see.”
Filipkowski said that the state “over-reached” to get Sanchez behind bars.
“That cost them the conviction,” Filipkowski added.
Filipkowski said that he expects Sanchez to be released as soon as the state’s rehearing process is exhausted, which he expects will happen in the next few days.