Criminal Trials Starting Up Again to Reduce Backlog of Cases in South Florida

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Estinfil Filsmagre is just one of the thousands arrested who have been waiting for their day to get justice. Now criminal trials are starting up again in South Florida.  

Filsmagre was taken into custody way back in October of 2019 and had been in jail until a few days ago. His trail, like the hundreds of others over the last 14 months, was put on hold, and then as he and his lawyer Richard Della Ferra were getting ready, the charges were dropped.

Filsmagre is back at home with his daughter — a big difference from the Broward County Jail where he spent his days since he was charged with attempted murder after a man was stabbed.  

“18 months going to be 19 months. It was stressful,” he said. 

In normal times, Filsmarge, who said he didn’t stab the man, would have gone to trial in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic stopped all criminal trials in Miami-Dade and Broward. Then a few days ago — a surprise — he was told to go home.

"I was happy. My wife picked me up. I come home to my mom. She was happy to see me,” Filsmarge said. 

“We couldn’t get the case to trial because of the pandemic. Finally, the state agreed to dismiss the case, and now he's out and he’s back with his family even though he had a pretty arduous many months in there.  He caught COVID while he was in the jail,” Richard Della Ferra, his attorney, said.

While bond court hearings like this have been going all along, and thousands of pre-trial criminal hearings have kept the system moving over Zoom, Miami-Dade is holding its first criminal trial since the pandemic this month.

“We’ve tried three felonies. One is in trial this week,” said the Honorable Berta Soto, the Chief Judge in Miami-Dade. “We’ve had no transmissions of COVID within. We’ve had a couple of scares where jurors have had contact with someone that might have COVID during the trial and that’s worked out and been OK and we've been able to proceed."

On Monday corrections officials said more than 3,000 people are in jail in Broward and more than 5,000 in Miami-Dade.

“The great news Miami Dade County is starting criminal jury trials again. So, now those people who are sitting in jail there is light at the end of the tunnel. The ones who are hoping and waiting for their day in court in front of a jury, they will be able to get that time in the very near future," said Matt Meyers, the president of the Miami Chapter of the Florida Association of Defense Lawyers.

The Honorable Judge Jack Tuter, who runs the courts in Broward, said they are doing trials on some minor criminal offenses and next month will hold their first trials where people have been charged with felonies.  

When it comes to Filsmagre, his lawyer says the person who initially identified him made a mistake.  

The Broward State Attorney’s Office sent NBC 6 a statement saying in part, “Our prosecutors continued to diligently investigate the attempted murder case after Mr. Filsmagre was arrested and jailed. Mr. Filsmagre was initially identified as the assailant by the victim, according to police. There was some difficulty in interviewing the victim for a time but prosecutors worked with the defense to ensure that he was eventually located and interviewed in court. At that time, he testified that he could not remember who attacked him. The quality of the video evidence, the victim’s new testimony, and the fact that another witness (who also took some time to locate) also was unable to identify the assailant led our prosecutors to dismiss the criminal case as soon as they completed their investigation."

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