Mimesis Law
19 February 2017

HS Student Jose Soto: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Just Add Charges

August 19, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Poor Jose Soto probably thought he was in the clear when he bonded out after being arrested for having a gun on school grounds. Unfortunately, his freedom was short-lived:

An 18-year-old Mandarin High School student arrested Tuesday on a felony charge of possession of a firearm on school grounds was arrested again Wednesday evening.

Jose Soto was booked into the Duval County Jail on a charge of theft of a firearm about 7 p.m. Wednesday, just hours after he bonded out of jail.

For Soto, it probably felt like the criminal justice system equivalent of a buddy inching the car forward when you reach for the handle to open the door and get in. He probably didn’t have any clue just what a revolving door the system can be. He certainly didn’t think it would spin him right back into jail within hours.

It makes a little more sense if you focus on the charges and the facts, however:

According to his arrest report, Soto told an administrator and a school resource officer that he was having problems with two students at the school.

The student later told the dean and the officer that he had a firearm on school grounds, Duval County Public Schools spokeswoman Laureen Ricks said in a statement.

School officials said the student was arrested after a gun was discovered in a vehicle parked on campus on the second day of the school year. The gun, a .45-caliber Ruger, was not reported stolen, according to the initial arrest report.

These days, few things scare people more than guns. Nothing gets people more freaked out than the safety of their children at school. Combine guns and schools and it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Furthermore, Soto’s statement about having some sort of beef with two other students is problematically vague, as it’s hard to tell whether he was being threatened and had a gun for protection or if he was nabbed as he was about to do something unthinkable to some of his classmates. It’s crappy reporting that makes for a dramatic story. It also leaves open the possibility that it’s the sort of situation where we can all relax now that he’s caught, which creates a problem when he bonds out.

In Florida, like in many places, the purposes of bail are to secure a person’s appearance and to protect the community. There’s very little information available relevant to whether Soto is a flight risk, and it may be that that’s what caused the judge to impose the bond he did. It’s pretty much impossible to say what if any impact that had on Soto’s bail at all at this point.

As for the other consideration, it’s easy to see why someone might think Soto is a danger based just on the crime. Furthermore, most people probably agree that paying a certain sum to be released isn’t going to cause someone who is a danger to the community to think twice about doing something dangerous. Setting a certain amount to accomplish that is even sillier. If Soto really was about to murder some kids in his class, I doubt $10,003 would serve as a deterrent while he’d probably go out and do it if he only had $9,000 to lose.

I suspect many judges who’ve decided someone is a danger either decide not to impose bail at all or set bail so high that it has the same effect as no bail. Although it’s hard to say given the sparse facts available regarding why the judge set such a very specific bond for Soto, it may be that $10,003 was designed to be just enough so that he’d stay in. That would certainly satisfy the people who are so scared of his crime that they can’t bear the thought of him being out of custody. It would also perfectly explain Soto’s re-arrest.

Although they’re rarely willing to admit it, one of the best tools a prosecutor has in their arsenal of ways to keep people in jail is their ability to keep heaping on new charges. If at first they don’t succeed in keeping some poor guy in jail, many of them are happy to keep trying with ever-so-slightly-different new charges until they run out of plausible crimes the defendant might have committed based on the facts.

Soto’s situation has a lot of the classic traits you see in those situations, the most obvious one being that they arrested him mere hours after his release. They probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry if he hadn’t been released.

Moreover, the fact the charges seem to arise from the same weapon are suspicious. Sure, it’s possible police at first just saw the gun hadn’t been reported stolen but later found and contacted its owner only to find out that it was in fact stolen but not reported. However, that call from police to the owner might have been motivated by a desire to see if there are grounds for another charge and newer, bigger bail that’ll finally do the trick and keep him in custody.

Maybe authorities initially thought the gun wasn’t stolen and added charges when they discovered it without even considering Soto would be rearrested and held. Maybe not. Although there aren’t enough facts out there at this point to say anything for sure, especially considering we don’t even know what new bond the prosecutor requested and exactly when authorities learned the weapon was stolen, don’t be surprised if prosecutors’ decision to charge Soto was just them giving themselves a second bite at the apple after he posted a bond no one expected he could afford. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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  • Jim Shepherd
    27 August 2016 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Now how did I know without reading beyond the title that Angela Corey was the prosecuting attorney… Next Tuesday can’t come soon enough.

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