TAMPA - A Florida court of appeal has reversed a lower court decision that allowed former Hillsborough County teacher Debra LaFave, who had sex with a minor, to end her probation four years early.
According to the ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal, "...it was an abuse of judicial power resulting in a gross miscarriage of justice for the circuit court to accept the negotiated plea, which included LaFave's commitment to not seek early termination of probation in exchange for the State's agreement to a downward departure sentence, and then later grant her motion for early termination. Permitting the circuit court to go behind the terms of the plea agreement would undermine the public trust and confidence in the judicial branch."
At a hearing last September, Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, argued before Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman that his client's circumstances had changed since her sentencing.
Before the hearing, Fitzgibbons said, "For almost six years now Debbie has worked hard and has been gainfully employed. She has completed all her community service hours early and doing extremely well in all aspects of her personal life. She has done everything she can to put behind her the events in this case. We hope that she can get a break on the last years of her probation."
But the higher court today disagreed, saying "...we grant the State's petition for writ of certiorari, quash the order of the circuit court, and remand with instructions that LaFave's probation be reinstated pursuant to the terms and conditions of her negotiated plea agreement and original sentence in this case. Petition granted; order quashed...".
Lafave had pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious acts involving one of her students at Greco Middle School in 2004. The boy was 14 years old. Lafave admitted she had sex with the boy at her home, in a classroom and in her car.
When reached, Fitzgibbons said "This case is not over. The court of appeals, in this major decision, re-instated Debbie's probation but then took the extraordinary step of certifying the legal issue to be a question of great public importance, which gives the Fla Supreme Court the ability, it wants, to hear Debbie's case. I will be meeting with Debbie and her family in the next few days to determine how we will be proceeding."
Prosecutor Mark Cox said, "We won... we felt this was part of the original plea agreement."
Cox went on to say a court hearing will need to be scheduled to put her back on probation. "But they (her attorney) could appeal. It could stall the process," Cox said.
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